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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alfred Newton   31 October 1863

Magdalene College, | Cambridge.

31 Oct. 1863.

My dear Sir,

I have the pleasure to enclose you a copy of my remarks on the Red-legged Partridge’s foot concerning which I before wrote to you—1 The specimen I have left at the Zoological Society’s House (11 Hanover Square) and it will be delivered to any messenger you may send for it. I regret that so long a delay has taken place in this matter—which I fear must be fatal to the vitality of any seeds enclosed in the ball of Earth—2 However this was not my fault but that of the wood-cutter, who I began to think would never finish the engraving.

Mr. Buckland I see has suggested in the ‘Field’ that the conglomeration has been caused by a tumour on the bird’s foot, resulting from a wound—3 I should be glad to hear, whether you find this to be the case on examination.4

When I exhibited the specimen at the Zool. Socy’s. meeting, Dr. Gray would have it, that the ball of earth had not been gradually aggregated—5

This notion is I think erroneous and I trust you will notice what I have said in my remarks on this point, and bear them in mind when examining the specimen.6

With sincere respect | I remain, yours very truly | Alfred Newton

C. Darwin Esqre.


The reference is to Newton 1863; see letter from Alfred Newton, 21 March 1863 and n. 5. Part of the enclosure is in DAR 205.9.3: 366 and is annotated in CD’s hand. See also nn. 2 and 4, below.
Newton refers to a specimen of a foot of a red-legged partridge (Caccabis rufa) with a ball of clay attached. CD grew eighty-two plants from the seeds embedded in this specimen and reported the results in the fourth edition of Origin, p. 432. These experiments supplemented CD’s study of the geographical dispersal of seeds made in the 1850s (see letter from Alfred Newton, 21 March 1863 and n. 4). CD’s annotations to the enclosure (see n. 1, above) indicate that the seeds were planted on 13 November 1863. CD discussed the results in his letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 December [1863], and in the letter from Emma Darwin to J. D. Hooker, [7 December 1863]. See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, 26[–7] March 1864, and letter to Alfred Newton, 29 March [1864].
The reference is to remarks on the specimen by Francis Trevelyan Buckland (Field, 16 October 1863, p. 368); Buckland was a staff writer for the Field (DNB). See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Alfred Newton, 2 April 1864, and n. 4, below.
CD’s notes indicate that he examined the leg on 13 November 1863 (DAR 205.9 (3): 366). His observations read: ‘Earth broken open; no concentric arrangement— Whole tarsus crooked enormously enlarged & one toe cut off— probably viscous secretion. Three Oats were extracted from larger fragments   Leg clay weighed about 13 of oz.— Seeds planted Nov. 13th/63/’. See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Alfred Newton, 29 March [1864].
Newton exhibited the foot of the partridge at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London on 21 April 1863 (see Newton 1863). The reference is to John Edward Gray, who was keeper of the zoological collections at the British Museum. See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Alfred Newton, 29 March [1864], and letter from Alfred Newton, 2 April 1864.
Newton gave his reasons for concluding that the ball of clay had accumulated gradually in Newton 1863, pp. 128–9.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 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.

Newton, Alfred. 1863. On an illustration of the manner in which birds may occasionally aid in the dispersion of seeds. [Read 21 April 1863.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1863): 127–9.

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.


Tells CD where to pick up the partridge’s foot with the ball of earth attached; sends a copy of his remarks on the same. [See Ann. & Mag. Nat. Hist. 3d ser. 13 (1864): 99–101.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Newton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Magdalene College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 172: 40
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4326,” accessed on 20 April 2024,

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