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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. B. Dawkins   19 October 1869

Norman Road | Rusholme, Manchester

19 Oct. 1869.

My dear Sir,

I ought to have written to you concerning the Denbigh-shire caves—to which you gave me an introduction.1 The first one about which I wrote to you, has been fully explored by the energy of Mrs. Lloyd, and has furnished a large number of human skulls & bones, and a few implements.2 The skulls belonged to short-headed savages of Huxleys River-bed type.3 Craniologically, and Ethnologically the discovery is of some value, and I hope shortly to bring it before the Ethnological Society.4 Mrs. Wynne of Cefn invited me down to dig & supplied me with a virgin cave containing R. Leptorhinus (Owen) & the Grizzly Bear, and a stone cromlech full of short-heads.5 I have had a most enjoyable time in Denbighshire, and I owe it to you that I hope to be able to make some addition to our knowledge of Cave-short heads in Britain.

I thought that you would like to hear this upshot of your introduction to the Denbigh-shire folk.

Along with this note the three prehistoric scraps.—one of which British Prehistoric Mammals may perhaps be worth your notice. You will see that in it, I have viewed the Chillingham cattle as the lineal descendants of an old domestic breed, an〈d〉 not of the wild British Urus.6 Since it was written I have obtained more evidence on the point. The white cattle with red ears were not only the large valuable breed in Wales in the days of Howel Dha,7 but also in Ireland, in the days subseq〈uent〉 to the great Danish invasion.8 In Britain there is not the slightest proof of the Urus having existed in the wilds of Britain during the Norman occupation, or afterwards. Indeed one would hardly expect to find so large an animal capable of living side by side with civilized & quasi-civilized man in so small an Island as Britain. Moreover so far as I can make out the Urus of Northern Germany was not white   For these reasons, which are merely given in outline, I am obliged to retract my views of the Urus having lingered in Britain into the Historic Times.—(Quart Journ. Geol. Soc.)9 Possibly you may care to know this, and to have Irish authority for my bouleversement for the 2d edition of ‘The Variation’.10 I shall be delighted to tell you all my evidence.

I am looking forward to your new work, with a feeling akin to thirst in a man, and curiosity in a woman,11

I am My 〈dear〉 Sir | 〈Yo〉urs truly | 〈W.〉 B〈oyd Dawkins〉

Charles Dar〈win〉


Dawkins refers to Gertrude Jane Mary Lloyd. CD had promised her sister-in-law, Mary Charlotte Lloyd, to obtain from Dawkins the English names of the principal bones found at Perthichwareu on her family’s estate at Rhagatt (see letter from W. B. Dawkins, 17 July 1869 and nn. 2 and 3).
Thomas Henry Huxley referred to skulls of the earliest neolithic humans as ‘The River-bed’ type because they were found in the lower strata of the ancient river-beds (see T. H. Huxley 1862).
Dawkins reported on the discovery of human skulls at Perthichwareu and other Denbighshire caves at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting of 1870 (see Dawkins and Busk 1870 and Dawkins 1870).
The reference is to Anna Williams-Wynn and to the Plas-yn-Cefn estate (see Lucas 2007, pp. 327–8). Dawkins also refers to Rhinoceros leptorhinus, the slender-nosed rhinoceros, and Ursus arctos, the grizzly bear.
Dawkins refers to his paper ‘On the prehistoric Mammalia of Great Britain’ (Dawkins 1868, pp. 288–9). Dawkins argued that the Chillingham cattle were related to Bos longifrons. CD scored the relevant passages in his copy, which is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. The Chillingham cattle were kept on the Chillingham Park estate of Charles Augustus Bennet, sixth earl of Tankerville (see Ritvo 1992). They closely resembled the fossil form, Bos primigenius (the urus), a species domesticated in Switzerland during the Neolithic period. In Variation 1: 81, CD cited Ludwig Rütimeyer for the information that the Chillingham cattle were less altered from the ‘true primigenius type’ than any other known breed and described the Chillingham cattle as ‘semi-wild’ descendants of B. primigenius, though ‘much degenerated in size’; see also Variation 2: 119.
Hywel Dda was a Welsh king who ruled during the first half of the tenth century (ODNB).
The Danish Viking invasion of Ireland started in the ninth century; Vikings remained until early in the eleventh century (Somerset Fry and Somerset Fry 1988, pp. 47–57).
Dawkins refers to his conclusions in an article, ‘On the fossil British oxen. Part I. Bos urus, Caesar’ published in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (Dawkins 1866, p. 401).
The section on the origin of domestic cattle was altered in Variation 2d ed., 1: 85–9, to include Dawkins’s hypothesis.
Dawkins refers to Descent.


Dawkins, William Boyd. 1866. On the fossil British oxen. Part I. Bos urus, Caesar. [Read 21 March 1866.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 22: 391–401.

Lucas, Peter. 2007. Charles Darwin, ‘little Dawkins’ and the platycnemic Yale men: introducing a bioarchaeological tale of the descent of man. Archives of Natural History 34: 318–45.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Ritvo, Harriet. 1992. Race, breed, and myths of origin: Chillingham cattle as ancient Britons. Representations 39: 1–22.

Somerset Fry, Peter and Somerset Fry, Fiona. 1988. A history of Ireland. London and New York: Routledge.

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Reports on his findings in Denbighshire caves ["The Denbighshire caves", Trans. Manchester Geol. Soc. 9 (1869–70): 31–7].

Sends his paper ["On the prae-historic Mammalia in Great Britain", Intellect. Obs. (1868): 403–10].

Has changed his view on the descent of British cattle from the wild aurochs. No evidence that aurochs survived into historic times in Britain.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Boyd Dawkins
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 124
Physical description
4pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6944,” accessed on 24 January 2020,

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