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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Henry Thomas De la Beche   7 February 1842

(1). What colour are the horses, which have been bred for some generations (without a cross with any foreign blood) in Jamaica,1 referring, especially to such horses, as have been little taken care of & have run loose.— Have you ever heard of horses of certain colours, having been introduced, whose descendants are now of a different colour.—

(2) The same question with respect to cattle. Are the cattle in half or quite wild herds of the same colour, and marked about the face in the same manner, one with another: that is do they resemble each other closely (like the individuals of those animals which at no time have been domesticated by man) in those points, namely length & curvature of horns size of dewlap, length & fineness of hair, size form & proportions of body, head, & limbs—points, in which different breeds of cattle usually differ from each other.— Please to give a brief description of the half wild cattle.—

(3.) Can you give me any information on the above points (with brief description) regarding dogs, cats, poultry, pigs, goats, run wild in the woods.— If there are any dogs, cats or pigs wild, & if very young ones be caught & reared in a house, do they become quite as tame; and with the same disposition, as the ordinary tame breeds.— If they differ in disposition, & if crossed with ordinary tame breeds, do their offspring still retain any traces of the peculiarities of their half wild parent?—

(4) In your own experience, have you observed any evident deterioration in the character of the wool of imported sheep, after having been bred for a few generations in Jamaica.—

C. Darwin Feb. 7th. 1842.

12 Up. Gower St.


De la Beche, at this time director of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, was, by reason of having once owned an estate in Jamaica, frequently consulted for information about that island (see McCartney 1975, p. 14).


McCartney, Paul J. 1975. Henry De la Beche–a new kind of geologist. Amgueddfa. Bulletin of the National Museum of Wales 21: 13–28.


Asks De la Beche about variation among domesticated animals in Jamaica.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Henry Thomas De la Beche
Sent from
London, Upper Gower St, 12
Source of text
National Museum of Wales, Department of Natural Sciences (De la Beche)
Physical description
3pp inc & Adraft 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 618,” accessed on 7 March 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2