skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Jonathan Peel   4 December 1873

Knowlmere Manor— Clitheroe

4. Decr. 1873

Dear Sir

While lately looking over your “descent of Man”, to refresh my memory, the thought of mentioning 3 facts within my own observation, again, as on first reading the work, occurred to me.

1. Death from perforation of the vermiform appendage of the Cæcum. p. 27.1 My Father2 died in 1839 after an illness which utterly confounded 3 medical men one of whom was the late Sir Henry, then Dr., Holland. On a post-mortem examination,—which, in the interests of medical science I was strongly urged to permit—it was found that the appendix Cæci had been perforated by a grape seed. The fatal termination of an illness previously appearing wholly anomalous was thus held to have been fully accounted for.

2d.Snipes,— not breeding in England. p. 260.3 These birds breed here every year, not in great numbers, but still sufficiently to make it worth while to go out with the gun in July, before the young broods are dispersed.

3d.Horns in Sheep. pp. 289–90.4 In the “Lonk” breed of Sheep the presence of horns is a “firmly fixed character”. But in my attempts to improve the breed by crossing with the hornless Leicesters, & Shropshire Downs,—an account of which I sent you some 5 years ago—the horn, as the late Mr. Dixon put it in his paper on my flock & herd, (Farmers Magazine March 1861.) was “knocked completely out” of the female lambs, while in the males it still remained, though considerably reduced in size.5 In Provence, I remember to have seen occasionally Rams with a 3d. Horn, projecting straight out from the centre of the forehead, greatly resembling the horn of the conventional Unicorn of the Supporters of the Royal Arms.6 Owing to my imperfect French & the Provencal patois of the Shepherds we were never able to understand each other, & thus I failed to obtain any information respecting these, to me, strange animals.

I know not whether these few facts will have any interest for you, if not I would pray you to accept my apologies for thus intruding upon your time & attention.

very truly yours | Jonn Peel

Charles Darwin Esqre.

CD annotations

0.1 Knowlmere] ‘mere’ pencil
5.1 These … dispersed. 5.3] scored red crayon
7.1 In … in size. 7.7] scored red crayon; ‘& Von Nathusius shows that castration produces in them much greater effect so that they stand in closer to sexual organs.’7 added pencil; ‘As in Rein Deer Horns not affected by castration still further removed from influences of sexual organs’8 added pencil
Top of letter: ‘Sheep Horns perhaps [illeg] a Rein-Deer | Can Nathusius relate to Merinos?’ pencil
Verso of last page: ‘Progressive improvement of man—education & transmitted Knowledge | (Sheep Horns Castration) [square brackets in MS] | Horns of Rein Deer’ pencil


In Descent 1: 27–8, CD discussed the ‘vermiform appendage of the cæcum’ (appendix) as an example of a rudimentary organ and noted that small hard bodies such as seeds could cause inflammation.
Robert Peel.
Peel must have been reading the third printing of Descent, which was published in April 1871; in this issue CD added a statement that snipes did not breed in Britain (Descent 1: 200). He removed the statement from the second edition of Descent.
CD had noted that the development of horns in domesticated sheep was variable (Descent 1: 289–90).
Peel had sent CD a copy of his article ‘The Lonks on the ling. A flock on a Yorkshire fell’, published in the Farmer, 23 May 1866, pp. 652–3, and 6 June 1866, pp. 716–18 (see Correspondence vol. 16, letter from Jonathan Peel, 4 March 1868). Henry Hall Dixon had written on Peel’s lonk sheep as part of his series on the herds of Great Britain (see Dixon 1861, p. 155).
From 1603, the animals depicted on the arms of the British monarch have been the lion, representing England, and the unicorn, representing Scotland (Brooke-Little 1978).
In Descent 2d ed., p. 506 n. 18, CD referred to Hermann Engelhard von Nathusius’s observation that the horns of sheep castrated at an early age either disappeared or were rudimentary (Nathusius 1872–80, 1: 64). CD’s annotated copy of Nathusius 1872–80 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 636).
CD added information on castration’s not affecting the development of horns in reindeer to Descent 2d ed., p. 506.


Brooke-Little, John Philip. 1978. Royal heraldry: beasts and badges of Britain. Derby: Pilgrim.

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

Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

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

Dixon, Henry Hall. 1861. The herds of Great Britain. Chapter XXIV. Mr. Jonathan Peel’s herd. Farmer’s Magazine 3d ser. 19: 155–8.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Nathusius, Hermann von. 1872–80. Vorträge über Viehzucht und Raßenkenntniß. 2 vols. and supplement. Berlin: Verlag von Wiegandt & Hempel.


On the vermiform appendix,

snipes breeding in England,

and the horns of crossbred sheep.

Letter details

Letter no.
Jonathan Peel
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Knowlmere Manor
Source of text
DAR 88: 132–3
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9172,” accessed on 7 April 2020,

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