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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Philip Mansel Weale   9 January 1867

Bedford, Algoa Bay | Cape Colony

9th. January 1867

My dear Sir

I send you by this mail a paper I have drawn up on a species of Bonatea I discovered here last spring, & which I believe to be new.1 My friend Mr. Mc.Owan of Grahams town informs me that he has looked through all the available literature he has, & that he cannot find any description corresponding with the specimen I sent him.2 I sent also some notes on the subject to my friend, Mr Trimen of Cape Town & he thought it a pity that I should not publish in some English Journal an account of the same.3

I had originally intended merely drawing up an account for the Port Elizabeth Natural History Society & botanists &c in the Colony.4

I send you a slightly modified paper, which if you think it worthy of further publication I will leave in your hands for the Linnean Society.

I have taken the liberty of proposing the name “Darwinii” if you will permit me to offer this humble return for the stimulus which your works have given me in the Study of Natural History.5

I am now busily engaged in examining the Asclepiids & have already made some drawings of dissections   I have a vast collection of insects belonging to various orders, but principally Hymenoters covered with the pollinia of different species. So far as my observations go I believe the impregnation of this order to be very simple, & in no way are the contrivances so wonderful as in the Orchids.6

I have now a very extensive collection of Insects, most however unnamed. Two most singular moths of which the larva cases resemble most perfectly the thorns of the “Acacia horrida”, are, I believe, discoveries of my own. These cases are not, as at first sight they appear, empty thorns, but most beautiful fabrications of the insects themselves, & are so deceptively like the real thorns that they would have entirely escaped my notice had I not seen them move.7

I believe that I have discovered four more species or varieties of Rhopalocera most from the Karoo, but have not yet been able to describe them to Mr. Trimen.8

Mr. T. has asked me to accompany him on a short tour to Natal & I write by next post to him to enquire when he starts,9 as I am just about making a month excursion to more thoroughly examine the Bushman caves mentioned by Barrow & Burchell in the Tarka Mountains, as also some recent beds near the Gt. Fish River.10

I hope to be able to obtain before many months the head of a Bushman murderer, but it is difficult to convince the authorities of the interests of Science.11 I have long been on the look-out.

Should I accompany Mr. Trimen, to Natal I shall probably return home with him in May to England, as my friends have long been pressing me12

I enjoy this country so much that I do not like to leave it for ever, but again home ties, after over 4 years, influence one’s feelings much

I shall endeavour to send you a copy of the “Gt. Eastern” with a letter by me signed ‘Gogaje Man’, a name by which I am well known out here,13 & I do so because I think Dr. Brown’s parting letter to the colonists a gross insult.

On his journey to Colesberg, he himself informed me he had collected no plants, & when I shewed him a species of “Disperis” of which I wanted to know the specific name, he did not even recognise it as an orchid.14

So far as Dr. Brown’s Blue Books are concerned they are simply compilations from other people’s works, & I do not know of a single original observation in any of his Colonial works.15

As Dr. Brown has received a salary equal to that of a Civil Commissioner in this country I think

CD annotations

1.1 I send … Society. 3.2] crossed ink
4.1 I have … Orchids. 5.5] crossed blue crayon
5.2 I have a vast … Orchids. 5.5] scored pencil
6.1 I have … move. 6.6] enclosed in square brackets blue crayon
7.1 I believe … I think 15.2] crossed blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘Mr . J. Mansel Weale’ ink


Weale refers to the manuscript of Weale 1867, which included a description of ‘Bonatea Darwinii’. Bonatea darwinii is now B. cassidea; for more on the taxonomy of this group of orchids, see, for example, Pridgeon et al. eds. 1999–2003, 2: 263–5. The manuscript is in the Linnean Society archives (SP1249). There is an annotated copy of Weale 1867 in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Weale’s friend was the botanist Peter MacOwan, principal of Shaw College in Grahamstown (R. Desmond 1994). Grahamstown lies approximately fifty miles south-east of Bedford (Weale’s place of residence) in Cape Colony (now the Eastern Cape province of the Republic of South Africa).
CD had communicated two papers of Roland Trimen’s on two other orchids from South Africa (Trimen 1863 and 1864) to the Linnean Society of London in 1864 (see Correspondence vols. 11–13).
A natural history society was formed in Port Elizabeth in 1866; meetings were held in a building that also housed the Town Hall, Library, and Athenaeum Society (personal communication, Margaret Harradine, Port Elizabeth Municipal Libraries). Bedford lies inland, almost directly north of Port Elizabeth, which is on Algoa Bay, on the south-eastern coast of Cape Colony. The area near Algoa Bay was settled by the British in 1820 (EB).
In the manuscript of Weale 1867 (see n. 1, above), Weale proposed the specific name ‘Darwinii’ for the Bonatea orchid, in honour of the ‘great naturalist’ from whose works he had ‘derived so much enlightenment & incitement to prosecute the study of living beings’.
In a letter that has not been found, Weale evidently wrote to CD about the family Asclepiadaceae; CD replied that there was still much to be discovered regarding its pollination, and that he once saw a hymenopter from America with its tarsi covered with pollen from an Asclepias (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. P. M. Weale, 6 May [1865] and nn. 5 and 6). Weale later published a paper on pollination in the Asclepiadaceae (Weale 1870).
The moth that Weale refers to is an unidentified species of the family Psychidae, whose members are now commonly known as bagworms. CD referred to Weale and his observation of the caterpillars’ cases ‘on the mimosas in South Africa’ in Descent 1: 416. Weale later published a paper on the thorn and foliage imitators found on Acacia horrida (Weale 1878); he mentioned the caterpillar he had described to CD, without giving its scientific name, on page 185.
Trimen had recently completed publication of his three-volume work on South African butterflies, Rhopalocera Africæ Australis (Trimen 1862–6). Weale later published on the Rhopalocera; see Weale 1877.
In March and April 1867, Trimen visited Natal, collecting insects along the South Coast and as far inland as Pietermaritzburg and Noodsberg (Gunn and Codd 1981, p. 351).
Weale refers to the accounts by John Barrow and William John Burchell of their respective travels in South Africa (J. Barrow 1801–4 and Burchell 1822–4). Barrow mentioned ‘Bushman’ caves and rock drawings on the east side of the Tarka Mountains, north of Algoa Bay (J. Barrow 1801–4, 1: 239–41, 307–8). For eighteenth and nineteenth-century European perceptions of indigenous South Africans, and contemporary meanings of the term ‘Bushman’, see Dubow 1995, pp. 20–32; the peoples known to many nineteenth-century Europeans as ‘Bushmen’ are now considered to be members of the Khoisan peoples. Barrow also described the Great Fish River and some adjacent hot springs (J. Barrow 1801–4, 1: 184–91, 307–8); the Great Fish River drains into the Indian Ocean north-east of Port Elizabeth. In an 1865 letter written to the Natural History Review (Weale 1865), Weale also mentioned his intention of visiting some caves (see also Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. P. M. Weale, 6 May [1865] and n. 7).
In Weale 1865, Weale had mentioned that he was seeking a ‘Bushman’s’ cranium for Thomas Henry Huxley; Huxley had been embroiled in a dispute (the ‘hippocampus controversy’) with Richard Owen regarding structures in the brains of humans and the higher apes (see A. Desmond 1982, Rupke 1994, and Correspondence vols. 8–11). For European interest in South African anthropology in the nineteenth century, see Dubow 1995, pp. 32–4. For Weale’s attitude towards Africans, see Shanafelt 2003. For the general attitudes of Victorian colonists towards the people inhabiting the land they settled, see, for example, Stocking 1987, pp. 144–237.
Trimen did travel to England later in 1867 (see letter to Roland Trimen, 24 December [1867]), returning to South Africa the following year (see Correspondence vol. 16, letter from Roland Trimen, 13 April 1868). Judging from Weale’s 1867 correspondence with CD, it is unlikely that Weale also travelled to England in 1867.
Weale’s letter of 5 January 1867 appeared in the 10 January 1867 issue of the Great Eastern, a newspaper published in Grahamstown. Another letter of his of 12 January 1867 appeared in the 19 January 1867 issue. See n. 14, below. It is not known whether he sent either letter to CD.
Weale refers to John Croumbie Brown, who had returned to the United Kingdom late in 1866 after his appointment as colonial botanist was terminated, evidently owing to budget constraints. Brown’s parting letter in the 1 January 1867 issue of the Great Eastern stressed his work on ‘the natural history, botanical characters, and economic uses of the trees, shrubs, and economic herbs of Southern Africa’; he also noted the minimal expense to the government required for his work and associated travel. According to a testimonial and a notice in the Great Eastern, 8 January 1867, pp. 2 and 3, the termination of Brown’s appointment was controversial. Weale’s two letters to the Great Eastern (see n. 13, above) were intensely critical of Brown’s botanical knowledge and skill. Weale also accused Brown of preaching rather than collecting specimens, and of extravagant spending.
Brown promoted the study of botany while in South Africa as colonial botanist; however, his own publications during this time were limited to government reports, in which he dealt with agricultural problems, forestry, and soil erosion. He later published books and papers primarily on forestry (A. C. Brown 1977, p. 465, Gunn and Codd 1981). Blue books contain the official publications of the British Parliament and Privy Council, and the term is extended to other official publications (OED). Weale criticised Brown’s blue books in the Great Eastern of 10 and 19 January 1867 (see n. 14, above).


Barrow, John. 1801–4. An account of travels into the interior of southern Africa, in the years 1797 and 1798. 2 vols. London: T. Cadell jun. and W. Davies.

Brown, Alesander Claude. 1977. The amateur scientist. In A history of scientific endeavour in South Africa, edited by A. C. Brown. Cape Town: Royal Society of South Africa and Rustica Press.

Burchell, William John. 1822–4. Travels in the interior of Southern Africa. 2 vols. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 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.

Desmond, Adrian. 1982. Archetypes and ancestors: palaeontology in Victorian London, 1850–1875. London: Blond & Briggs.

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

Dubow, Saul. 1995. Scientific racism in modern South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Rupke, Nicolaas A. 1994. Richard Owen, Victorian naturalist. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.

Shanafelt, Robert. 2003. How Charles Darwin got emotional expression out of South Africa (and the people who helped him). Comparative Studies in Society and History 45: 815–42.

Stocking, George W., Jr. 1987. Victorian anthropology. New York: The Free Press. London: Collier Macmillan.

Trimen, Roland. 1862–6. Rhopalocera Africæ Australis; a catalogue of South African butterflies, comprising descriptions of all the known species with notices of their larvæ, pupæ, localities, habits, seasons of appearance, and geographical distribution. London: Trübner. Cape Town, South Africa: W. F. Mathew.

Trimen, Roland. 1863. On the fertilization of Disa grandiflora, Linn.... drawn up from notes and drawings sent to C. Darwin, Esq., FLS, &c. [Read 4 June 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 144–7.

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.

Weale, James Philip Mansel. 1877. On the variation of rhopalocerous forms in South Africa. [Read 4 July 1877.] Transactions of the Entomological Society of London (1877): 265–75.

Weale, James Philip Mansel. 1878. Notes on South African insects. [Read 3 April 1878.] Transactions of the Entomological Society of London (1878): 183–8.


Sends paper on new species of Bonatea, to which he has given the name Darwinii.

Has now an extensive collection of insects.

Has discovered moths whose larva cases resemble perfectly the thorns of the Acacia horrida.

Has asked for the head of a Bushman murderer. Difficult to convince authorities of interest of science.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Philip Mansel Weale
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Bedford, Algoa Bay, Cape Colony
Source of text
DAR 82: A113–14
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5355,” accessed on 27 January 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15