skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry Reeks   30 May 1871

North End, | East Woodhay, | Newbury—

May 30th 1871

My dear Mr Darwin,

Many thanks for your kind note just received, and which I hasten to answer—1 You may, perhaps, have seen in my “Notes” on the fauna of Newfoundland that I met with a very severe accident from frost, by which I lost nearly half of my right foot, and being 500 miles from a medical man, I had to let Nature take its course, with the exception of the charming operation of having my toes struck off with a mallet and chisel—a performance which, of course, I had to superintend.2 This kept me a prisoner to the house throughout the summer of 1867; but, as I was walking from a settlement called Daniel’s Harbour, to another called Parson’s Pond—a distance of 16 miles—a day or two before Midsummer day 1868 I saw a female cariboo with a good-sized fawn beside her, and she certainly had not shed her horns.3 You will say that this is only a solitary instance, which I candidly admit, but, I think, it goes far to prove that the Indians must have observed many similar cases whereon to found their theory.

With regard to this fact I have had no experience on the Mainland of America, but should not the fact have been proved to hold good then I see no difficulty (unless I carry your theory too far) in accounting for it on the theory of sexual selection. The island of N.F.D.4 has evidently been seperated from the mainland for an immense number of years (as, I think, is partly proved by my finding an Iris sp. n.,5 Rubus arcticus—not yet found on the mainland I believe—,6 Cornas suecica— ditto—,7 and a little Euphrasia which I named E. purpurea but which Mr Baker (from a dried specimen) thinks is a European form called E. gracilis8   I also found Gentiana Amarella9 abundant at Cow Head—and until very recently wolves abounded to such an extent that they were a perfect nuisance; in fact £5 per head has been paid for them by the Government for very many years: I therefore take it that a female Cariboo which retained her horns, if only for a short period after the birth of the fawn, would

CD annotations

1.1 Many … course, 1.6] crossed blue crayon
1.5 having my … 16 miles— 1.9] crossed pencil
1.9 female … instance, 1.11] scored blue crayon
2.2 but should … would 2.12] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘Rein-deer ♀ | H. Reeks’ pencil


CD’s letter to Reeks has not been found.
Reeks wrote a series of articles in the Zoologist titled ‘Notes on the zoology of Newfoundland’; the accident is mentioned in Zoologist 2d ser. 6 (1871): 2542.
On the retention of horns in female reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), known as caribou in North America, see the letter from Henry Reeks, 25 May 1871 and n. 3.
The iris was probably Iris setosa ssp. canadensis, which grows wild in Newfoundland.
Rubus arcticus (the Arctic raspberry) is found in British Columbia and other mainland parts of Canada, but not the east coast mainland.
Cornas suecica is the bunchberry.
Euphrasia purpurea is now Euphrasia randii (small eyebright). Euphrasia gracilis is now Euphrasia micrantha (northern eyebright). Mr Baker is probably John Gilbert Baker.
Gentiana amarella is the autumn gentian.


Retention of horns by female deer with fawn [see Descent, 2d ed., p. 503].

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Stephen (Henry) Reeks
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 88: 108–9
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7782,” accessed on 8 March 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19