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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   20 July 1868

7 Princess Terrace, | Regent’s Pk,

July 20/68—

Dear Mr. Darwin,

The following quotation from the Ibis for this month will interest you, & probably you have not yet heard of the discovery of Pavo nigripennis, Sclater, in Cochin China—1 Swinhoe writes—“In the aviary of the Prefect of Hainan I saw Sclater’s peafowl (Pavo nigripennis), which the Prefect assured me came from Annam or Cochin China (proper).2 There is a pair of the same species at this moment in a bird shop here” (Hong Kong); “and I now believe P. nigripennis to be the species known as the ‘bird of Confucius’, the train feathers of which are worn in mandarin’s hats as tokens of merit. Chinese works state that the peacock occurs in the west of China, bordering Cochin China”.3

I wish he had mentioned how the Chinese pea-hen is coloured, for that whitish colouring of the hen of P. nigripennis here is very remarkable, and unlike that of a wild bird—

Yours very truly, | E. Blyth

Ibis, July, 1868, p. 353.

CD annotations

1.1 The following … Cochin China— 1.2] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘Keep | Domestic Anim’ pencil


The quotation appears in a letter from Robert Swinhoe printed in Ibis n.s. 4 (1868): 353–4. On ‘Pavo nigripennis’, the japan or black-shouldered peacock, see the letter from J. J. Weir, 23 March 1868, n. 6.
Hainan is an island off the south-east coast of China. Cochin China, then a French colony (EB), is a historic region in the south of Vietnam; the historic region of Annam borders it to the north-east. The term Cochin China was sometimes applied to the whole of the former Annamese empire, that is, Tongking, Annam, and (lower) Cochin China (EB). Pavo nigripennis is now considered a variety of P. cristatus (the common Indian peacock), but it is possible that the birds Swinhoe saw were P. muticus (the green peacock): P. muticus is found in Vietnam, but P. cristatus is not (see EB s.v. Peacock, and Birds of the world vol. 2).
In Ibis (see n. 1, above), Swinhoe wrote ‘Sclater’s peacock’, not ‘Sclater’s peafowl’, and ‘tail-feathers’, not ‘train feathers’. ‘Bird of Confucius’ appears to be a mistranslation of the Chinese word for peacock (see Bretschneider 1875, p. 92 n. 140).


Birds of the world: Handbook of the birds of the world. By Josep del Hoyo et al. 17 vols. Barcelona: Lynx editions. 1991–2013.

Bretschneider, E. 1875. Notes on Chinese mediæval travellers to the West. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press. London: Trübner & Co.

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


Reports on newly discovered Sclater’s pea-fowl from Cochin China.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Princess Terrace, 7
Source of text
DAR 160: 218
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6281,” accessed on 25 October 2021,

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