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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Robert Swinhoe   12 November 1862

18 Royal Avenue Terrace | Chelsea— SW.

12 Novr. 1862.

My dear Sir,

I have just returned from the country, and been engaged in unpacking some of the bones from Formosa—1In the large collections I have made I have many things that confirm your theory of species which I will bring to your notice so soon as my series are arranged.2 At the present my chief object in writing to you is to forward you a specimen of the ordinary domestic Pigeon of China. It is unfortunately somewhat albino, but in form and proportions it is quite typical of the bird reared in the dovecots of China—3

I have further a remark to make regarding Anatidae— you questioned me some time ago as to whether the hybrid between the Muscovy and Chinese domestic Duck ever interbred.4 Notwithstanding what Pallas states to the contrary in his Zoograph—Ross—Asiat.5 I am confident that a thorough race has been produced between these two species, which though constantly bred in and in still preserves its characters, viz those of being much larger than the common chinese Duck, and of having the legs placed more central under the belly giving it a more goose-like appearance. This race has a smooth head, never wattled, and is usually black, has in Amoy (China) the name of Aw-ah or Black Duck, as distinguishing it from the Ah or Duck proper and the Liengtasu ah (Dragon-headed Duck) or Muscovy.

I remain, | Your’s very truly, | Robert Swinhoe

P.S. The Pigeon is from Foochow. (Foochow)6

Charles Darwin, Esqe.


Swinhoe was an amateur naturalist, who had served with the British Foreign Office in the Far East since 1854, latterly as vice-consul of Formosa (now called Taiwan). He returned to London in September 1862, bringing with him a large collection of specimens that included examples of sixteen new bird species from Formosa (P. B. Hall 1987).
Swinhoe’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Origin (see Correspondence vol. 8, Appendix III). Although this is the earliest known letter between Swinhoe and CD, they evidently corresponded from as early as 1855, when Swinhoe sent CD specimens of bird skins (see Correspondence vol. 5, CD memorandum, [December 1855], and Variation 1: 132 n.1); they had subsequently continued to correspond about pigeons (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to P. L. Sclater, 4 May [1861]).
CD referred to Swinhoe having sent him a ‘dovecot-pigeon’ from Foochow, China, in Variation 1: 186; see also n. 6, below.
CD’s letter has not been found; however, he wrote the section of Variation dealing with ducks in May 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix II).
Swinhoe apparently repeated the word ‘Foochow’ in order to make the word clear; on the first occasion he had altered the spelling.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Hall, Philip B. 1987. Robert Swinhoe (1836–1877), FRS, FZS, FRGS: a Victorian naturalist in Treaty Port China. Geographical Journal 153: 37–47.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Pallas, Pyotr Simon. 1811–31. Zoographia Rosso-Asiatica, sistens omnium animalium in extenso imperio Rossico et adjacentibus maribus observatorum recensionem, domicilia, mores et descriptiones, anatomen atque icones plurimorum. 3 vols. St Petersburg: Caes. Academiae Scientiarum Impress.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Sends CD a specimen of the domestic pigeon of China.

Discusses a race of ducks he believes are hybrids between the Muscovy and Chinese domestic duck.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Swinhoe
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 326
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3803,” accessed on 8 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10