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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Robert Buist   5 March 1868


5 March 1868.

Dear Sir,

I duly received your Note of the 28th. ulto, and beg to send you by this post copies of my little Pamphlet and articles on the Stormontfield Ponds which I sent to the Field Newspaper, in all of which I think you will find something for your purpose.1 In the Pamphlet you will find some strange facts regarding the anomalous nature of the Salmon, to which I request your particular attention.—2

The Keeper of our Stormontfield Breeding Ponds3 was in Perth yesterday, and I examined him regarding certain points in your communication. I allowed him to go, in the beginning of January last, to the north of England, to find impregnated ova for a Ship going to New Zealand,4 and he has given me certain facts bearing on your enquiries.

1. As to battles of male Salmon: he tells me that in the North Tyne he found about 300 dead males and only one dead female, and of these 300 males he is convinced that the whole had lost their lives by fighting with each other.—5 He had the command of the whole of the Duke of Northumberland’s6 waters in that river, and the greater part of the fish he took were landed by boat and net, and from that river and the Tweed he had made up all the number of ova that was required to complete the cargo. Of course the milt of one male is sufficient to impregnate the ova of two or three or more females. But you will find some strange facts regarding this in my book.

2. Proportional number of the Sexes. I must here also refer you to my book in which you will find and trace that about the 18th. month after hatching, the sexes of the fish are clearly discovered.7 While in some of the male fish the milt is clearly developed, when they are come to the size of a man’s finger, by shedding the milt over and mixing it with the ova of a grown Salmon of 7 or 8 lbs, it will produce young fish, as we have proved by experiment at our Ponds, where the fish are kept in separate boxes from the produce of entirely full grown fish. This well-ascertained fact shews the wonderful provision of Nature to fecundate eggs in cases where by the feuds of the larger males they might have been passed over. I have asked Mr Brown, the Secretary to our Literary and Antiquarian Society, to give me some Notes of some of his observations, which I will send you when he has leisure to give them.8

Our Ova is just about hatching, and if you wish it, I could send you specimens of fish in their earliest stage, and some of them in their second and third year now in the Ponds, both of which of the latter, second and third year, will go off to the sea in the course of next month as smelts,9 and some of them will return as grilses weighing from 3 to 7 lbs before the end of August.— I may further mention that while the males 18 months old are sufficient to impregnate full grown ova, the sac of the eggs of female fish of the same hatching can only be discovered as a

CD annotations

1.1 I duly … more females. 3.8] crossed blue crayon
3.1 1. As … each other.— 3.3] scored blue crayon
4.2 18th. month after hatching,] underl blue crayon
4.7 This … passed over. 4.9] scored blue crayon
4.9 feuds] ‘feuds’ added blue crayon
4.9 I have … discovered as a 5.7] crossed blue crayon
5.5 I may … discovered as a 5.7] scored blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘S. selection | Fishes’ blue crayon


The letter from CD has not been found, but see the letter from Robert Buist, 26 February 1868. CD’s annotated copy of Buist’s pamphlet on the Stormontfield piscicultural experiments (Buist 1866) is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Offprints of two articles from the Field, 29 June 1867 and 28 December 1867 are in DAR 85: B145–6 (Buist 1867a and 1867b). The articles are signed ‘Peter of the Pools’, a pseudonym used by Buist for his Field articles. CD cited Buist 1866 and 1867a in Descent 1: 308 and 2: 3.
Buist probably refers to information on stages in the life-cycle of salmon.
The keeper was Peter Marshall. See letter from Robert Buist, 26 February 1868 and n. 2.
Salmon are not native to New Zealand (Doak 1972). Salmon ova were shipped to Australia and New Zealand in the 1860s in an attempt to introduce species of economic benefit (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter from Edward Wilson, 7 December 1867 and n. 2). For more on the introduction of salmon to Australia and New Zealand, see Nicols 1882.
The North Tyne river rises in the south-western Cheviot Hills in Scotland and flows into the Tyne near Hexham, Northumberland (Columbia gazetteer of the world s.v. Tyne River). CD cited Buist on the ratio of dead male and female salmon in Descent 2: 3.
Algernon George Percy, sixth duke of Northumberland.
See Buist 1866, pp. 9–11. Buist does not clearly indicate in the text that sexing is possible after eighteen months, but he refers to catching female grilses (young salmon on their first return from salt water), thus implying that the sex could be determined at this point.
William Brown, secretary to the Literary and Antiquarian Society of Perth, had written The natural history of the salmon, as ascertained by the recent experiments in the artificial spawning and hatching of the ova and rearing of the fry, at Stormontfield, on the Tay (W. Brown 1862). No letter containing observations from Brown has been found.
Smelt: northern dialect for ‘smolt’, a young salmon on its first migration to the sea (OED).


Brown, William. 1862. The natural history of the salmon, as ascertained by the recent experiments in the artificial spawning and hatching of the ova and rearing of the fry, at Stormontfield, on the Tay. Glasgow: Thomas Murray and Son.

Buist, Robert. 1866. The Stormontfield piscicultural experiments. 1853–1856. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas.

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

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.

Doak, Wade. 1972. Fishes of the New Zealand region. Auckland, New Zealand: Hodder and Stoughton.

Nicols, Arthur. 1882. The acclimatisation of the Salmonidae at the Antipodes: its history and results. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington.

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.


Replies to CD on salmon: the pugnacity of males and the proportions of sexes. [see Descent 1: 308, 2: 3.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Buist
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 86: A17–18
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5984,” accessed on 10 December 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16