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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Robert Elliot to George Cupples   4 June 1869

Laighwood, Dunkeld

4th June 1869

Dear Sir

On my return home from the North, I am last night in receipt of yours of the 31st. Ulto. and have pleasure in replying to your inquiries.—1

I have now been a Breeder of Sheep for the last 43 years; for the last 13 years, I have had fully 2.000 Lambs annually; and for many years in my life, when a younger man assisted my friends in reducing the Male Lambs into Wethers, some times to fully the extent of the number named annually, and this in the Counties of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Dumfries, and now in the County of Perth, and I can without hesitation say that the numbers of Male and Female Lambs on an average have been Equal, some years the Male will be in greater number, some years the females, but on the average Equal.— This is not only my own opinion but the opinion of all the shepherds I have had, or met with, when performing the cutting operation, and the opinion of all Farmers I have met with, who had experience; the Males have a worse life than the females, more males die than females, up till 3 years old, when the Wethers are sold,2 and after that I cannot compare the classes, but at birth the numbers are Equal; in cutting the Lambs, we have been in the habit of laying the points of the tails of the Males to one side & the points of the tails of the females to the other, and on the average I have found them equal.—

The same with Cattle.— I think on this point you now have no doubt, but may take the matter for granted, after I have had the opportunity of testing the matter in so many localities, so many numbers and all kinds of sheep— Leicester, Cheviot Blackfaced &c—

As you wish the names of some extensive flock masters and Cattle Breeders however, to ascertain their opinion also, I may mention

William Aitchison Esq of Brieryhill by Hawick3

James Oliver Esq., Howpasley, by Hawick.—4

John Graham Esq of Shaw by Lockerby.5

James Brydon Esq Kinnellhead Moffat. or Langehar6

—Mitchelson Esq, Old Fascally by Pitlochry,—7

Fletcher N. Menzies Esq. the Secretary to the Highland Society, George IV Bridge Edinr8

Allan Pagan Esq Innergeldie Crieff9

Mr. M’Combie M. P. Tillyfour Aberdeen.10

I could give you a list of a thousand, but for what good?, You may take what I have stated as a matter of fact.

I am Dear Sir | Yours truly | Robert Elliot

George Cupples Esq | The Cottage | Guard Bridge | Fifeshire

CD annotations

1.1 On … experience; 2.10] crossed pencil
2.1 the Males] square bracket added before, pencil
3.1 The same … Fifeshire 15.1] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘Old letter O | about males dying most’ pencil

CD note:

Mr Rob Elliot of Laighwood Dunkeld has bred for 43 years, about 2000 Lambs annually & otherwise much concerned with sheep—is convinced *(& they are counted) [interl] that on average *(& with cattle) [interl] sexes [‘about’ del] equal.— but fluctuate during different years. “The males have a worse Life than the ♀s, up till 3 years old”— when the whethers are sold,— he does not know— If not for castration very good for me


Cupples had offered to find statistics of the proportions of the sexes in various domestic animals for CD (see letter from George Cupples, 22 March 1869).
In Descent 1: 305 n. 41, CD mentioned that it was Elliot who first drew his attention to the premature deaths of male sheep.
Cupples added, ‘also Thomas C. Borthwick Esq Hop[illeg] by Langholm (written to)’. Borthwick has not been identified.
Cupples added, ‘written to, June 29/69’.
Cupples added, ‘written to, June 29/’. John Graham has not been identified, but see also the letter from John Graham to George Cupples, 6 July 1869.
Cupples added, ‘written to June 29th’. James Brydon has not been identified.
Cupples added, ‘written to, June 29th.’ Mitchelson has not been identified.
Fletcher Norton Menzies. Cupples added, ‘written to June 28/69’.
Cupples added, ‘written to June 28/69’. Allan C. Pagan has not been further identified but a letter from him to Cupples survives (see letter from A. C. Pagan to George Cupples, 16 July 1869).
Elliot refers to William McCombie. Cupples added, ‘(written to June 23/69) also Thos. Elliot, Esq. Hyndhope, by Jedburgh (written to June 29).’ Thomas Elliot has not been further identified. He was recommended as a source of information in the letter from William Aitchison to George Cupples, 25 June 1869.


Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.


Proportion of sexes in (new-born) lambs equal, but males more likely to die.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Elliot
George Cupples
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 86: A30–1, A62
Physical description
4pp †, †(by CD), CD note

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6775,” accessed on 14 December 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17