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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Roland Trimen   13 December 1865

Colonial Office, | Cape Town.

13th. December, 1865.

My dear Mr. Darwin,

I am very greatly obliged for your kindness in sending me copies of the Bonatea paper. They reached me yesterday morning. I am very glad that the Linnean Society has at length published the paper, and do not doubt that I owe its having done so to your recommendation.1 Fitch has copied my sketches with his usual accuracy.2 The only thing that does not clearly appear in the lithograph is the aspect of the caudicles of pollinia in situ in figures A & B. The caudicles are rather conspicuous in nature, owing to their bright-yellow colour, and the line of their inverting membrane is rather marked, immediately within the reverted edge of the horns of rostellum, as shown in Fig. C.

I rejoice to observe that the address on the cover of the packet is in your own writing, as it leads me to think that your health must be better again.

I have done nothing in Orchid observation lately, or I should have written to you.3

Yesterday, I looked through a series of drawings of Natal Orchids made by Mr. Sanderson for Dr. Harvey.4 They are very characteristic, but in most cases lack the careful detail so essential for studying the mode of fertilisation.

I regret to see Dr. Lindley’s death announced in the English newspapers: botanical Science in England can ill spare such an able and devoted leader.5

Since I last wrote to you, I have paid a hurried visit to Mauritius. I was of course greatly interested in the Island and its productions; & I was fortunate in finding such friendly & hospitable naturalists as Sir Henry Barkly and Mr. Newton there.6 My time was too short to do much, and was principally devoted to the collection of Lepidoptera. I think I have pretty clearly established that the Butterflies (at least) of Mauritius are all but one natives of Africa or Madagascar, & mostly of both Island & Continent. I am preparing a short paper on the subject.7

I was longing to visit Madagascar when in so close proximity to it, but could not arrange to do so.

I suppose you have heard of the very curious Raptorial Bird sent to Mr. Gurney by Andersson.8 I have not seen it (there was but a single specimen), but it appears to combine the different characters of most of the chief groups of Raptores with the wide gape of a Goatsucker. Its flying by twilight & feeding on bats are also remarkable facts.9 Andersson says that he only saw this solitary specimen during all his travels.

Sir H. Barkly & Mr. Newton have both written to me about the great Dodo discovery in Mauritius: there seems to be no doubt about the remains being really those of Didus ineptus.10

With kind regards | Believe me yours very truly | Roland Trimen


CD had communicated Trimen’s paper on Bonatea speciosa, an orchid found in the Cape region of South Africa, to the Linnean Society, where it was read on 1 December 1864 (Trimen 1864; see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Richard Kippist, 24 November [1864]). For CD’s interest in B. speciosa, see also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Roland Trimen, 25 November 1864 and nn. 1–3, and Orchids pp. 302–5. CD’s annotated copy of Trimen 1864 is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. It is cited in ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 157 (Collected papers 1: 154), and Orchids 2d ed., pp. 76–7.
Walter Hood Fitch was employed regularly as a lithographer for the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany). His lithograph of Bonatea speciosa, produced from Trimen’s sketches, appeared in the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): tab. I.
CD began to correspond with Trimen in January 1863, after Trimen sent notes and drawings of South African orchids (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Roland Trimen, 31 January [1863]).
John Sanderson, a merchant and botanical collector based in Durban, in the Natal Province of South Africa, contributed specimens and drawings to William Henry Harvey’s works on the flora of the Cape region (Gunn and Codd 1981).
John Lindley died on 1 November 1865. His death was reported in the 4 November 1865 issue of Gardeners’ Chronicle; an obituary notice appeared in the 11 November and 18 November issues, pp. 1058–9 and 1082–3. His death was also announced in The Times, 4 November 1865, p. 5.
Trimen spent three weeks on Mauritius in July 1865. He collected butterflies with Henry Barkly, the governor of the island, and received notes on the distribution of birds on Mauritius and neighbouring islands from the ornithologist Edward Newton, acting auditor-general of the colony (see Trimen 1866, pp. 329, 335, 342 n.).
In an 1866 paper on the butterflies of Mauritius, Trimen concluded that, with the exception of two native species, nearly all of the island’s butterflies had dispersed from Africa, via Madagascar (Trimen 1866, p. 344).
John Henry Gurney, an expert on raptors, had published several papers on the birds of south-western Africa based on notes from his friend, the explorer Charles John Andersson (see, for example, Gurney 1864). CD had been introduced to Andersson by Francis Galton, who had organised an expedition with Andersson to Lake Ngami, South Africa, in 1850 (DSAB). CD had requested information from Andersson on the cattle and dogs kept by native peoples of the west coast of South Africa (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to E. L. Layard, 9 December 1855).
Gurney described the raptorial bird at the 14 November 1865 meeting of the Zoological Society of London (Gurney 1865). The specimen, later identified as Machaerhamphus alcinus (bat hawk), had been shot by a servant of Andersson’s. The bird’s stomach contained a bat, and on this basis the bird was believed to be nocturnal or semi-nocturnal in habit. The specimen was deposited in the Norwich Museum, of which Gurney was a leading patron (Gurney 1865, Modern English biography).
A large number of bones of the dodo (Didus ineptus), an extinct flightless bird, had been found on Mauritius in October 1865. Two largely complete skeletons were sent to England: one to Richard Owen, who concluded that the dodo most nearly resembled birds of the family Columbidae (pigeons) (R. Owen 1866, pp. 50–2, 72–9). The other skeleton was sent to Alfred Newton, who announced the discovery in Ibis (A. Newton 1866). Newton had recently described bones of another species, Didus nazarenus, that had been found in November 1864 by his brother, Edward, on the neighbouring Rodriguez Island (see A. Newton 1865a and 1865b, and E. Newton 1865).


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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

DSAB: Dictionary of South African biography. Edited by W. J. de Kock et al. 4 vols. Pretoria and Cape Town: Nasionale Boekhandel Beperk [and others]. 1968–81.

‘Fertilization of orchids’: Notes on the fertilization of orchids. By Charles Darwin. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 4 (1869): 141–59. [Collected papers 2: 138–56.]

Gurney, John Henry. 1864. A list of birds collected in Damara Land by Mr. C. J. Andersson. [Read 12 January 1864.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1864): 1–8.

Gurney, John Henry. 1865. On a raptoral bird transmitted by Mr. Andersson from Damara Land. [Read 14 November 1865.] Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 6 (1869): 117–18.

Modern English biography: Modern English biography, containing many thousand concise memoirs of persons who have died since the year 1850. By Frederick Boase. 3 vols. and supplement (3 vols.). Truro, Cornwall: the author. 1892–1921.

Newton, Alfred. 1866. Note on an interesting discovery of Didine bones in Mauritius. Ibis n.s. 2: 128.

Newton, Edward. 1865. On a remarkable discovery of bones of Didus in the Island of Rodriguez. Report of the thirty-fifth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Birmingham, Transactions of the sections, p. 92.

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Owen, Richard. 1866. On the osteology of the Dodo (Didus ineptus Linn.). [Read 9 January 1866.] Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 6 (1869): 49–85.

Trimen, Roland. 1864. On the structure of Bonatea speciosa, Linn. sp., with reference to its fertilisation. [Read 1 December 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): 156–60.

Trimen, Roland. 1866. Notes on the butterflies of Mauritius. [Read 3 September 1866.] Transactions of the Entomological Society of London 3d ser. 5 (1865–7): 329–44.


Butterflies of Mauritius.

RT’s Bonatea paper published by Linnean Society [J. Linn. Soc. Lond. (Bot.) 9 (1867): 156–60].

Letter details

Letter no.
Roland Trimen
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Colonial Office, Cape Town
Source of text
DAR 178: 185
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4951,” accessed on 20 April 2021,

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