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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Henry Harvey   3 February 1863

Trin. Coll. Dublin

Feb. 3. 1863

Dear Darwin

I am right glad to find you have got so capital a worker on Cape Orchids,1 which I have been longing to have investigated on the spot, from yr point of view.2 The Ophrydeæ there are almost endless in extraordinary modifications of parts & well worth study. The two now sent are comparitively simple in modifications. Both are of the large genus Disa, & I feel confidente in calling them (Pl. V.) D. barbata & (Pl. VI) D. cornuta, both common near Capetown.3

Tell Mr. Trimen to dry specimens of everything he draws, and to send the specimens with Nos corresponding to the drawing. Then if he finds any novelty, we shall make sure of it,—& we shall also be able to name his sketches without guess. Nectariferous back sepals are quite frequent among Cape Orchids—and correspondently depauperated labella. The labellum is often a mere little tongue


sometimes a mere thread


and sometimes as as in Brownlia, nearly disappears altogether, & is adnate to the column.

In Satyrium the two spurres affair is a true labellum—the sepals & petals small & crowded together at the front of flower—the opposite to Disa.

Yours truly | W. H. Harvey

CD annotations

End of letter: ‘(Copy)’ added ink; square brackets in MS


Harvey refers to Roland Trimen. Having read Orchids, Trimen sent CD a letter, probably early in January 1863, with which he enclosed a manuscript and sketches detailing observations he had made on a number of South African orchids. CD sent Trimen’s sketches to Harvey, asking him to identify two unnamed species (see letter to Roland Trimen, 31 January [1863]). Neither Trimen’s letter to CD nor CD’s letter to Harvey has been found. Harvey was the author of several works on the taxonomy of South African plants (see W. H. Harvey 1838 and 1859–63, and W. H. Harvey and Sonder 1859–65).
Harvey’s initial response to Origin had been hostile (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter from W. H. Harvey, 24 August 1860, and Appendix VII). Harvey was more favourable to CD’s views after reading Asa Gray’s interpretation of Origin (A. Gray 1860a), which argued that natural selection provided evidence of purposeful design in nature (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Asa Gray, 26 September [1860], n. 14). CD sought to strengthen this favourable impression by ensuring that Harvey received a copy of Gray’s pamphlet Natural selection not inconsistent with natural theology (A. Gray 1861a; see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Asa Gray, 23 [January 1861], and Appendix III). Harvey was also on CD’s presentation list for Orchids (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix IV).
Harvey worked at the colonial treasury in Cape Town between 1836 and 1842 (DNB).


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

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Harvey, William Henry. 1838. The genera of South African plants, arranged according to the natural system. Cape Town, South Africa: A. S. Robertson.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

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.


Is pleased that CD has [Roland] Trimen to collect specimens of Cape orchids. Suggests directions for securing dry specimens of what he draws.

Identifies Disa barbata and D. Cornuta of the Ophridiae.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Henry Harvey
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Trin. Coll. Dublin
Source of text
Royal Entomological Society (Trimen papers, box 21: 78)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3966F,” accessed on 12 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11