skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Gerard Krefft   [c. 1 November 1873?]1

of the “shudder” of horses on such occasions. I have a lively recollection when an old mare bestridden by a friend (and german countryman) stretched her hind quarters passed water and then shuddered to such an extend that Charles J. Müller Esq, the rider, exclaimed “what te devil is te matter with my horse”   Poor man he did not know what had been going on but ladies being present, we all galloped off every one in convulsions.— I mention this so fully because horses may not shudder as a rule but I think many of them do.—

Now a few words about donkeys. I got one in the Museum2 paddock (a cut male) who was given to me by a gentleman who parted with him because he worried some brood mares on his estate   It took four men to pull him into the gate but since he got used to the place he appears no longer inclined to leave it. This donkey follows me like a dog whenever I enter the paddock and he knows my voice so well that he begins to “bellow” as soon as I speak rather loud, though he cannot be less than 100 to 200 yards away from me and certainly could not see me.— He once followed me into the Museum without my knowledge & appeared on the first floor up two flights of steps!

I give him corn occasionally which accounts for his affections. When I throw some “green Corn” to him the cows, who run in the same paddock join him but he jumps about and kicks or tries to bite in the most absurd manner, but he never hurts his companions who take little notice of his antics. I have noticed him to kick most violently at a cow, quite within reach of his heels, but he never hurt her, in fact as soon as he found that he had touched the animal he kept quite. He hates boys (who try to ride him) and dogs. When some unfortunate cur gets inside the fence, he charges him with ears flat on his head (which then is quite low & close to the ground) his lips are drawn back & the teeth exposed he stretches the fore legs far out & tries to strike the dog with them. One dog I had, a regular cattle dog worried him considerably & on one occasion he had him in a corner. I saw the situation just in time and called out Jack! Jack dont! he instantly stopped & allowed the dog to escape. Another time a strange dog had remained in the place and he followed me into the paddock when “Jack” made a dead set at him and bailed him up just when he tried to get out beneath the gate I called out, as once before & the donkey never hurt the dog & allowed him to escape. Jack seldom drinks; Water only lodges in the paddock during heavy rain & as months often pass without a heavy shower I am certain that he does not drink in the mean time. Once he came into the inner fence or garden where I keep a hogshead full of water and I noticed him drinking a little in his cautious & suspicious manner   I therefore withdrew & 10 minutes after found the cask almost half empty— I measured 18 gallons of water into it. could not see a leak & I am certain no person could have taken water out of the cask without my knowledge   The cask was full & I only turned the water off when I noticed the donkey’s desire to drink   I have sold Jack several times in fun people will buy him for “breeding purposes” & they look very foolish when they try to remove him & he wont come— of course the farce ends by my pointing out the donkey’s inability to propagate his species.—

I keep a pig— it is against the law to keep these creatures but my pig had peculiar spots & looked curious when young just like a toy-pig with round dots all over it & on this account it was given to my little son.3 Well I broke the “Corporation” law & kept this porker for about four months within the precints of the city of Sydney (where many people kept pigs when you were here my dear Mr Darwin)4 and to tell you the truth I do not like to see the animal killed to be turned into sausages. The “stye” was formerly an aviary “wire on all sides & boards below” a trough is fixed at one end and on the opposite side the pig deposits its excrements and I have never yet seen dung in any other part of the Cage   This reminds me of the habit of the guanacos mentioned by you.5 The pig first savage like a lion is tame as a lamb now & I think would follow me about if let loose.— It is jealous of the donkey and does not like to see me pet him, whenever I do so it rushes about and grunts till I leave off.— I have kept Dingoes reared them, and obtained them grown up, and as savage that no person could approach them and I always had them quite tame in a few days   I will tell you more about these wild dogs in my next.—

I have noticed some of my old habits in my little son lately, one of which was to stand with the feet turned over, in fact on the side of the foot and he often does the same though he seldom is in company of other children   May I ask you to accept his portrait which I beg to enclose.6

I remain | dear Mr Darwin | very sincerely yours | Gerard Krefft

P.S. | I hear just now from a good observer that when the “making of young men” takes place in certain black tribes, the candidates are obliged to eat the “excrements” of some of the older members— this beats my pig! | G K


This letter is not currently dateable, but probably falls within the course of Krefft’s other extant correspondence with CD (1872–6), and has been put near another letter that discusses a pig (albeit a different one) for the sake of convenience.
The Australian Museum, Sydney.
Rudolf Gerard H. W. Krefft.
CD visited Sydney on the Beagle voyage in January 1836 (Correspondence vol. 1, Appendix I). Sydney was incorporated in 1842 (Sydney City Incorporation Act 1842 6 Vic No 3, 1842 (NSW)).
In Journal of researches (1860), p. 167, CD had described as ‘quite inexplicable’ the habit that guanacos had of dropping their dung in the same defined heap.
The portrait of Rudolf Krefft has not been found.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Journal of researches (1860): Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle around the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. By Charles Darwin. Reprint edition. London: John Murray. 1860.


Describes the behaviour of a pet donkey and pig.

Letter details

Letter no.
Johann Louis Gerard (Gerard) Krefft
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 169: 115
Physical description
6pp inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8834,” accessed on 4 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21