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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. B. Tegetmeier   2 August 1866

Muswell Hill | N

Aug 2./66

My dear Sir

I enclose a letter from Mr Hewitt1 to myself with some feathers of a sebright hen that has assumed Male plumage—not the plumage of the hen feathered sebright cock but the more complete male plumage of a full feathered bird, this is rather curious I think—2 Of course she has diseased or abortive ovaria— Will you send the feathers back when you have done with them— You shall have a photo of the bird when it has moulted again, and some of the other feathers if you wish for them

I forward by this post all the proofs and hope they will meet your approbation— Shall I direct the engravers to forward the blocks to Murrays—and the Artist to send in his account also—3

Did you ever see a half bred Gallus Varius? or Eneus? with common fowl.— He was some years since in the Zoological Gardens. He was remarkable as having transverse bright blue bands on his tail coverts like a so called “cuckoo cock” I have some of the feathers if you would like to see them4

If you should have occasion to quote any points from the Poultry Book, would you kindly refer to the current edition by myself— the other was never completed and except your own numbers and one set in the B. Museum Library I do not know where a copy could be seen— I ask you this favour without wishing to disguise the fact that your mention of the work would be of great service to me.5

I am sorry to say that I am not enjoying good health—but I have too many hostages in the hands of Fortune to cease “the struggle for life”.

I trust you are enjoying good health and that we may soon be gratified with a sight of the new work.— Should you like me to look over the proofs of the poultry and pigeon chapters I should be much pleased to do so.—

Believe me My dear Sir | Very truly Yours | W B Tegetmeier

C Darwin Esq.

Pray excuse copy slips but I forgot I was writing a letter.6

CD annotations

Verso of last page: ‘Name of Artist | Return Proofs’ ink


Tegetmeier refers to Edward Hewitt; his observations of poultry are cited extensively in Variation. The enclosure has not been found.
The Sebright hen with male plumage is described in Variation 2: 54, as a case of reversion to the Polish fowl or common bantam, whence it originated as a cross: ‘we thus see that … masculine characters derived from the first progenitors of the breed, removed by a period of above sixty years, were lying latent in this hen-bird’. CD cited Hewitt’s account of the hen (Hewitt 1864), and Tegetmeier’s discussion of the lineage of the Sebright fowl (Tegetmeier 1867, pp. 241–2), adding that he had examined the feathers of Hewitt’s bird ‘through the kindness of Mr. Tegetmeier’ (Variation 2: 54 n. 61).
Tegetmeier had read the manuscripts, and had overseen the making of illustrations, for CD’s chapters on pigeons and fowls for Variation. The artist was Luke Wells, and the engravers were Butterworth and Heath. See Correspondence vol. 13, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 2 June [1865], and this volume, letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 22 January [1866] and nn. 4 and 7. The publisher of Variation was John Murray.
Hybrids between Gallus varius (native to Java and the lesser Sunda Islands) and the common hen are described in Variation 1: 234–5; CD remarked that the hybrids were once thought specifically distinct, and were named G. aeneus. CD reported Tegetmeier’s observation that hybrids bred in the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park, London, had transverse blue bands on their tail feathers similar to those found on some domestic fowls from Borneo, possibly indicating that the latter had been affected by crosses with G. varius. CD briefly discussed ‘“Cuckoo” sub-breeds’ of fowl as cases of ‘analogous variation’; such birds were characterised by slaty-blue or grey feathers, transversely barred with darker lines, resembling the plumage of the cuckoo (Variation 1: 244).
Tegetmeier had edited a revised edition of Wingfield and Johnson 1853; the work had not been completed because the publisher went out of business. A new edition, with Tegetmeier as author, was issued in instalments, beginning in January 1866 (Tegetmeier 1867). See letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 22 January [1866] and nn. 10–12. Tegetmeier refers to the library of the British Museum.
The letter is written on small sheets of blue-lined paper.


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

Hewitt, Edward. 1864. Hen pheasant assuming the plumage of the male bird. Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener n.s. 6 (1864): 37–8.

Tegetmeier, William Bernhard. 1867. The poultry book: comprising the breeding and management of profitable and ornamental poultry, their qualities and characteristics; to which is added ‘The standard of excellence in exhibition birds’, authorized by the Poultry Club. London and New York: George Routledge & Sons.

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


Encloses feathers from a diseased hen which has assumed cock plumage.

Forwards proofs of the engravings for Variation.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Bernhard Tegetmeier
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Muswell Hill
Source of text
DAR 178: 73
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5171,” accessed on 22 June 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14