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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Emma Darwin to WDFox   16 May [1864]

Down Bromley | Kent.

May 16

Dear Mr Fox

This is only a business letter upon traps.1 I do wish you would send your invention to the exhibition of traps that the Society in Pall Mall is just going to have at St James’s Hall for the purpose of awarding a prize of 50£2 & it would be such a good way of making it known, supposing it should answer. I think a concourse of traps must be useful in order to compare the merits & demerits. Have you heard of this one of which I send the advertisement?3 I do not want it back—

I do hope you will have no further anxiety about throats but we have found in this part of the world that Diphtheria is not nearly so alarming a thing as it used to be. Charles has escaped sickness & on the whole goes on well. He is very much obliged to your for mentioning that way of taking chalk—4

The Secretary’s address is J. Colam Esq5   Soc. for the Prevention of Cruelty   Pall Mall

I am dear Mr Fox with kindest remembrances to Mrs Fox6 | yours very sincerely | E. Darwin

I think the traps are to be on view on the from the 18th to 23rd. of May.



Having for a number of years noticed the vast increase of running vermin, without any adequate means being taken to lessen the evil, has induced me to offer to the public my Patent Wire Vermin Traps, which are proved to be far superior to any other for the destruction of foumarts, weasels, stoats, rats, &c. Their advantage consists in being light and easily moved about, in being openly constructed, so that the vermin go in without the least fear of danger. They are easily set, and may be kept in use all the year round. They may be used amongst all kinds of game or poultry, without the possibility of their doing the least injury to them, which is not the case with steel traps; also causing less cruelty to the animals caught than any other trap yet invented. And where foxes are preserved they are invaluable.7 They have been used on various preserves for some time, where they have given entire satisfaction, causing great destruction of rats, stoats, &c. (testimonials of which will be given if required), and in some instances three, four, and five rats have been caught at once in a single trap. Cash price per dozen, 2l. 16s.; larger size for cats, &c., 6s. each; for otters or other large animals (either for home or abroad), price according to size and quality.— Address RICHARD BRAILSFORD, Knowsley, Prescot, Lancashire. R. B. has on hand his celebrated Ointment for mange in dogs, Worm Powders &c., which only require one trial to prove their efficacy. Also his Check Collars for breaking dogs, and which no sportsman ought to be without.


Emma and CD had for some time been involved in a campaign against the cruelty of the steel vermin-traps commonly used to control pests by farmers and gamekeepers. Their campaign included raising a fund for a prize, in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for a new design of humane trap; sufficient funds were raised to sponsor a £50 prize (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix IX).
Over 200 humane traps entered for the £50 prize were displayed at the annual meeting of the RSPCA held at St James’s Hall, Regent Street, London, on 26 May 1864. The society subsequently mounted an exhibition of more than 100 humane traps at the Royal Horticultural Gardens, South Kensington, in June 1864 (The Times, 27 May 1864, p. 11, and 28 May 1864, p. 14). For a discussion of the outcome of the competition, see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix IX.
See enclosure.
No letter from Fox mentioning a way of taking chalk has been found. CD had begun taking chalk for his stomach in March 1864 as part of a course of treatment prescribed by William Jenner (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 April [1864] and n. 6, and letter from Emma Darwin to WDFox, [6 May 1864]).
John Colam.
Ellen Sophia Fox.
In hunting areas farmers were required to preserve foxes unharmed and vulpicide carried a powerful social stigma (see Carr 1986, pp. 112–14). A humane method of trapping offered a solution to the problem of controlling vermin while at the same time preserving foxes. In areas where fox-hunting was a popular rural pastime artificial coverts were planted to provide habitat for foxes; this resulted in increased problems of pest control on the neighbouring agricultural land. Under the Game Laws, tenant farmers could only kill rabbits and hares with the permission of their landlord, and trapping was one of few methods of control available to them; they were not allowed to shoot rabbits and hares until the passage of the Ground Game Act of 1880, while the Poisoned Grain Prohibition Act of 1863 had recently further reduced the range of options available for the control of other categories of vermin in agriculture. (Select Committee on the Amendment of Game Laws (British parliamentary papers, Session 1872, 10), Statutes, public and general, 26 & 27 Vict. c. 113, and 43 & 44 Vict. c. 47.)


Carr, Raymond. 1986. English fox hunting: a history. Revised paperback edition. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

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


Urges WDF to send trap he has invented to the exhibition and competition of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Advertisement of Brailsford’s Patent Vermin Trap enclosed.

Letter details

Letter no.
Emma Wedgwood/Emma Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
MY 16 64
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 144)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4497,” accessed on 31 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12