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Darwin Correspondence Project

To James Philip Mansel Weale   6 May [1865]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

May 6

Dear Sir

From your obliging letter of Feb. 19. it appears that you have many interesting subjects of investigation.1

I am sorry to say that the state of my health prevents my writing at any great length.

Your case of the mule is very curious but I have heard of an analogous instance.2

I do not believe there is any book which wd aid you in naming the Cape orchids except extremely expensive illustrated works. Nor can I aid you with any suggestion about Zoological works. Few foreign countries are so well off botanically as the Cape will be with Harvey’s work.3

Although I feel great interest in the fertilisation of orchids yet I wd suggest to you not to spend too much time on this subject as I suspect botanists will think that enough has been written on it, unless indeed you find something quite new.4

You are probably aware that Robt Brown published in Linn: Transact: about 25 years ago a grand paper on the structure & fertilisation of Asclepias; yet I dare say there is a good deal to be made out in this genus, on its manner of fertilisation.5

I have seen a Hymenopter from America with its tarsi covered with the pollen masses of Asclepias;6 but how they get placed on the stigma I do not know.

Your researches in the Caverns of S. Africa, if thoroughly carried out, wd probably be very interesting.7 I fear that you will find it impossible to name the plants & animals which you may observe until you can bring or send specimens to Europe.

With sincere thanks for your obliging letter & your tracings8

I am dear Sir | yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin


A note on the cover of this letter reads, ‘First letter from C.Dn 1865 in answer to one from P.E. 1864’. The letter was addressed to Port Elizabeth in South Africa, and forwarded to Adelaide, South Africa. No earlier letter from Weale has been found; however, a letter from Weale describing his natural history interests was published in the January 1865 issue of the Natural History Review (Weale 1865); Weale noted that he wrote to the editors of the Natural History Review ‘with the hopes of drawing the attention of such men as Messrs. Darwin and Wallace to some interesting caves’ (ibid. p. 145). CD communicated Weale’s papers on the pollination of orchids and asclepiads (milkweeds) to the Linnean Society (Weale 1867 and 1870a–d), and cited him several times in the second edition of Orchids. Weale also provided CD with material for Descent, the fifth edition of Origin, and Expression. There is an annotated copy of Weale 1867 in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
The reference has not been identified. It may have concerned the inheritance of shoulder- and leg-stripes in horses and mules, as Weale reported seeing dun-coloured foals with leg-stripes in his letter in the January 1865 issue of the Natural History Review (Weale 1865, p. 146). The subject is discussed by CD in Origin, pp. 163–7, and in Variation 1: 56–61 and 2: 41–3 and 351, as an example of reversion to an ancestral type. CD had asked several of his correspondents to report any observations that they had made on this subject and added further examples in later editions of Origin (see Correspondence vols. 6–8 and 11, and Peckham ed. 1959, pp. 313–17). Weale is not cited in any of these discussions.
CD refers to William Henry Harvey and probably to W. H. Harvey and Sonder 1859–65. Harvey had corresponded with CD and was the author of a number of works on the taxonomy of South African plants; see, for example, W. H. Harvey 1838 and W. H. Harvey 1859–63.
Weale went on to produce five papers on orchid and asclepiad pollination, which CD communicated to the Linnean Society (see n. 1, above).
The reference is to Robert Brown and to Robert Brown 1831. CD was himself interested in pollination in Asclepiadaceae (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to Asa Gray, 5 September [1857], Correspondence vol. 10, letter to H. G. Bronn, 30 June [1862], and Natural selection, p. 53), and he may have intended to study the family more closely; several Asclepiadaceae species were included in CD’s list of hothouse plants (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VI).
CD presumably refers to specimens of Hymenoptera sent by John Obadiah Westwood in 1861. See Correspondence vol. 9, annotations to letter from J. O. Westwood, 26 September 1861. CD made the same observation in the letter to Roland Trimen, 27 August [1863] (Correspondence vol. 11).
In his letter published in the January 1865 issue of the Natural History Review (Weale 1865), Weale referred to his wish to investigate some recently discovered caves in the Transvaal Republic, on the Vaal River basin, and in George District (see n. 1, above). George District was a small municipality surrounding the town of George, Cape Colony (New school room map of South Africa).
Weale’s tracings have not been found.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Harvey, William Henry. 1838. The genera of South African plants, arranged according to the natural system. Cape Town, South Africa: A. S. Robertson.

Harvey, William Henry. 1859–63. Thesaurus Capensis: or, illustrations of the South African flora, being figures and brief descriptions of South African plants selected from the Dublin University Herbarium. 2 vols. in 1. Dublin: Hodges, Smith & Co. London: John van Voorst.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

New school room map of South Africa: A new school room map of South Africa containing Cape Colony, Natal, South African Republic, Orange Free State … and other territories. New and revised edition. Cape Town: J. C. Juta & Co. 1888.

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.

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

Weale, James Philip Mansel. 1865. Natural history in Natal. Natural History Review n.s. 5: 145–6.

Weale, James Philip Mansel. 1867. Notes on the structure and fertilization of the genus Bonatea, with a special description of a species found at Bedford, South Africa. [Read 7 March 1867.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 10 (1869): 470–6.


Sends advice on naturalist matters.

W. H. Harvey’s work [with Wilhelm Sonder, Flora capensis (1859–65)],

and Robert Brown’s publication ["On the organs and mode of fecundation in Orchideae and Asclepiadeae", Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 16 (1833): 685–745].

Writes of having seen in S. America a Hymenopteran with tarsi covered with pollen-masses of Asclepias.

Interested in JPMW’s researches in South American caverns.

Mentions poor health.

Thanks for tracings.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
James Philip Mansel Weale
Sent from
MY 6 65
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.308)
Physical description
LS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4828,” accessed on 4 October 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13