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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. D. Fox   12 March [1863]1

Delamere Ry | Northwich

March 12

My dear Darwin

I remember well what you mention about the slate coloured & White Muscovy Ducks.2 The Slate coloured, I imagine, were the produce of some cross raised at Birmingham. I have never seen them since nor do I think I ever reared any, as I lost the Drake.

The white always breed true to colour, as far as my experience goes, & I keep a large flock of them—(I have about 20 now)—

With however this exception that they have a great tendency to a Black Topper on head (exactly as represented in Bewicks plate).3

Unless some considerable pains are taken in weeding out all these black topped Birds—the pure white would soon cease.

I never saw however a single black feather any where but on the top of Head.

The Black Lambs I also well remember.4 They were Southdown Ewes. The Ram I never saw— He was provided by Giblitt the Great Butcher5—and I was told in answer to my enquiries that he was all but white, having a small patch only of Black—I think about the head. The flock was the queerest I ever saw, and every lamb being black in the lot, looks as if there was a positive law of some kind in the matter.

I will write to ask if Mr Woodds man6 remembers where the Black was in Ram, but I fear it will not be satisfactorily answered.

The Ram appeared cross bred with a good deal of Southdown in him.

The only pure cross of Sheep I know (if one can use such a term)—are between pure Leicester & Southdown. I think it was the late Earl Morton7 who had a beautiful flock of these. They had no horns—& partook of each strain.

I have a small flock of the black & white sheep—which keep very true to shape & colour. When crossed with Leicester they produce a race pretty nearly balanced—except that there is a great tendency to Black lambs. The only 3 born this year are black. Having once got the black strain in this way from a cross with the black & white & Leicester—it takes many generations—at least 6 or 7—I am told by a friend of mine—to get back the white colour—by continual crossing with a Leicester. I can only speak to the 3d generation—which was as black as the first.8 I have never seen or heard of horned produce from hornless crosses. I do not think they exist so in our English crosses. The Cheviot & Leicester are often crossed—& certainly have no horns— Neither have the Southdown & Leicester.

There seems little tendency in crosses of Sheep to return to primordial wildness—as the Irish have been almost renovated by the Leicester cross: and the Shropshire Down sheep are a greatly improved cross bred sheep.

I fear I have not added much to my former notes on these points.9

What I wrote at time, may be strictly depended upon— In this letter you will see what are surmises only.

I should be very glad to hear of your getting to Malvern for 6 or 8 weeks.10 It is a glorious place for renovating the health in. If my time & means would allow of it, I shd go for a month every spring & be got into condition. I quite believe I owe my life to it in my last illness—and it was a curious illustration of the System versus the Drs. as Gully completely denied the existence of what I told him was my conceived idea of my wretchedness—but added “Well if it is so, the water cure will prove its existence—and so it did. I have never met with more than one similar case, which was most carefully treated according to rule, and the young man died of it.

I cannot tell you how glad I was to see you so well in London.11 It was a great pleasure to see so many old & valued faces—& all looking so well. I very much want to see Susan and Caroline again.12

If you go to Malvern I shall try to come over & get a weeks bathing while you are there. I have some curious enquiries about you & your Book sometime. You ought to occupy a cage by the side of the Gorilla in the British Museum sometimes to let the Public see you.—

Kindest regards to Mrs Darwin.— Ever yours sincerely | W D Fox


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to W. D. Fox, 9 March [1863].
Bewick 1826, 2: 317. Topping: ‘the crest of a bird’ (OED).
The reference is possibly to William Giblett, who had a butcher’s shop at 110 Bond Street, London (Post Office London directory 1854).
The reference is probably to Fox’s father-in-law, Basil George Woodd; his ‘man’ has not been identified.
CD summarised Fox’s information on the inheritance of colour in sheep in Variation 2: 30–1.
The letter in which Fox originally provided information on these subjects has not been found; however, see the letter to W. D. Fox, 9 March [1863] and n. 1.
CD stayed at 6 Queen Anne Street, London, the home of his brother Erasmus Alvey Darwin, between 4 and 14 February 1863. He met with Fox on 13 February (see letter to W. D. Fox, [10 February 1863], and letter from W. D. Fox, [11 February 1863]).
The reference is to CD’s sisters, Susan Elizabeth Darwin and Caroline Sarah Wedgwood. See also letter from W. D. Fox, 6 February [1863].


Bewick, Thomas. 1826. A history of British birds. 2 vols. Newcastle: T. Bewick.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

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


Discusses crossed varieties of sheep and ducks.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Darwin Fox
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 164: 178
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4037,” accessed on 19 April 2024,

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