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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

Footnotes

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).

Summary

Butterflies of Mauritius.

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

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-4951
From
Roland Trimen
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Colonial Office, Cape Town
Source of text
DAR 178: 185
Physical description
4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4951,” accessed on 16 September 2019, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-4951.xml

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

letter