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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Robert Swinhoe   14 August 1863

18 Royal Avenue Terrace. | Chelsea.

14 Augt. 1863.

My dear Sir,

Many thanks for the vignette you have sent me. I do not think it quite does you justice.1

I have been lately spending a few days with an Uncle, a retired Indian officer, who has been a great hunter & sportsman in his day;2 and in conversation with him I learnt two facts which I think will interest you. The first is that on one occasion he shot a female Flamingo in India, the legs of which were thickly covered with small barnacles (Balanus).

Now it is a known fact that the Flamingo sits on her nest astraddle, and probably in this instance the birds legs were left during incubation soaking in salt water during which time the barnacles had time to adhere to them.

The other fact is with reference to the Wild Ass (Asinus sp—) of Kutch.3   There is a story prevailing among the natives that the old male bites off the testes of all the young males he can overpower. Sir W. Harris shot many wild asses while in Kutch,4 and he several times met with males which had been gelded & with every appearance about the parts of the testes having been roughly torn away, which to his mind confirmed the stories of the natives. This fact my Uncle heard from Sir W. Harris himself, and I think it is trustworthy, though it sounds much like an exaggerated eastern tale—

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

Chas Darwin, Esqre

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘18’ brown crayon; ‘(good as queer case)’ pencil


In the postscript to his letter of 29 July 1863, Robert Swinhoe requested a photograph of CD. The letter to Swinhoe enclosing CD’s photograph has not been found. Presumably CD sent him a copy of the photograph taken by William Erasmus Darwin in 1861 (see, for example, letter to J. D. Dana, 7 January [1863]).
Probably Samuel Swinhoe, who retired from the Bengal Army in 1855 (Army list 1858).
Kutch is an area in the north of the province of Gujarat on the north-west coast of India (Edinburgh world atlas).
William Cornwallis Harris served as a major in the Bombay engineers (DNB).


Army list: The army list. London: printed for the compiler of the annual official army list; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. 1815–1900.

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.

Edinburgh world atlas: The Edinburgh world atlas or advanced atlas of modern geography. By John C. Bartholomew. 7th edition. Edinburgh: John Bartholomew & Son. 1970.


Sends two interesting cases: a flamingo with barnacles covering its legs

and castrated wild asses of Kutch.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Swinhoe
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.2 (Letters): 253
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4268,” accessed on 15 September 2023,

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