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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. B. Dobell   12 May 1863

29 Duncan Terr

May 12 1863.

Dear Mr Darwin

I have delayed writing that I might send you a copy of the “Table”.1 Allow me now to thank you very much for your kind & valuable suggestions for the improvement of the table—all of which you will find embodied in the enclosed form.2

I have this day had a letter from the country informing me of the birth of a child with two thumbs on one hand, & I am going to ask that one may be amputated & the result watched. I have just obtained the particulars of a case of a man with two thumbs on one hand (never amputated) who had 8 children neither of whom has any defect in the digits.3

I have just been informed that one child of the married cousins with deformed hands, is showing signs of disposition in the hands to assume the family deformity— I have not seen it yet but will report progress to you when I have.4

With many thanks | Believe me very truly, | Horace Dobell

Ch. Darwin Esq.

CD annotations

1.1 I have … digits. 2.5] crossed ink


Dobell had drafted forms for recording genealogical information with the aim of assisting physicians and others in the collection of accurate data on the hereditary transmission of morphological characteristics and diseases (see letter from H. B. Dobell, 20 April 1863). CD suggested several amendments to the draft (see letter to H. B. Dobell, 21 April [1863]). Neither the original draft nor the amended version of the form has been found.
CD asked Dobell to send him information on the regrowth of supernumerary digits following amputation and on inherited characteristics in humans (see letter to H. B. Dobell, 21 April [1863]). CD was collecting information for the chapters on inheritance in Variation (Variation 2: 1–84).
Dobell refers to a case of inheritance of fingers with thickened joints in a family through five generations. In the fifth generation, the offspring from the marriage of two first cousins with the deformity did not initially appear to have inherited the defect. See also letter from James Paget, 7 February 1863, n. 1, and letter to H. B. Dobell, 16 February [1863] and n. 12. The case was documented in Dobell 1862. There is an annotated presentation copy of Dobell 1862 in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.


Dobell, Horace. 1862. A contribution to the natural history of hereditary transmission. [Read 25 November 1862.] Medico-Chirurgical Transactions 46: 25–8.

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


Sends copy of the table, which now embodies CD’s suggestions [see 4117].

Gives instances of persons born with two thumbs and comments on hereditary factor.

Letter details

Letter no.
Horace Benge Dobell
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Duncan Terrace, 29
Source of text
Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL (bound with G 395, Dobell 1862)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4158A,” accessed on 29 October 2020,

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