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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow   28 October [1845]

Down Bromley Kent

Oct 28th.

My dear Henslow

I have to thank you for several printed notices about the Potatoes &c &c—1 What a painfully interesting subject it is; I have just returned home, & have looked over my potatoes & find the crop small, a good many having rotted in the ground, but the rest well.— I am drying sand today in the oven to store with the greatest care in baskets my seed-potatoes.—2 I think it a very good suggestion of yours, about gentlefolk not buying potatoes, & I will follow it for one. The poor people, wherever I have been, seem to be in great alarm: my labourer here3 has not above a few weeks consumption & those not sound; as he complains to me, it is a dreadful addition to the evil, flour being so dear: sometime ago this same man told me, that when flour rose, his family consumed 15d pence more of his 12s earnings per week in this one article. This would be nearly as bad, as if for one of us, we had to pay an additional 50 or 100£ for our bread: how soon in that case, would those infamous corn-laws be swept away.4

At Shrewsbury we tryed the potato flour; how very curiously soon the starch separates; it really is quite a pretty experiment.5

I have been taking a little tour, primarily to see a farm, which I have purchased in Lincolnshire as an investment (& on which I have told my agent to arrange allotments for every labourer) & then I went & saw York & visited the Dean of Manchester, & had some hours hybrid talk.— I then visited Mr Waterton at Walton Hall, & was exceedingly amused with my visit, & with the man; he is the strangest mixture of extreme kindness, harshness & bigotry, that ever I saw.— Finally I visited Chatsworth, with which I was, like a child, transported with delight.— Have you ever seen it? Really the great Hot house, & especially the water part, is more wonderfully like tropical nature, than I could have conceived possible.— Art beats nature altogether there.6

I have been most sincerely grieved at Hooker’s disappointment at Edinburgh: I cannot but think he will make a great Botanist; it is admirable what a stock of general & accurate knowledge, he appears to have on all such subjects, as geographical range &c &c.—

We are all flourishing here, with the exception of my wearifull stomach.— I hope Mrs. Henslow is better: pray remember me very kindly to her.

Ever my dear Henslow | Yours truly | C. Darwin


In 1845 potato blight (caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans) destroyed much of the European crop, causing widespread famine, particularly in Ireland. The ‘notices’ may have included a report by the Hadleigh Farmers’ Club, in which Henslow was active (‘The potato crop’, Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 38, 20 September 1845, p. 648) dealing with methods of preparing the diseased potatoes for food. Jenyns 1862, pp. 204–6, discusses Henslow’s interest in the potato crop failure and his schemes for alleviating local distress. Salaman 1985 documents the history of potato blight.
Kiln drying and dry storage were widely suggested means for inhibiting the blight (see Lindley 1845a and Prideaux 1845). John William Lubbock, CD’s neighbour in Down, recorded that he also stored potatoes under sand in the autumn of 1845 (Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 11, 14 March 1846, p. 163).
Probably a man named Brooks who regularly received payments of £1 4s. a fortnight and appears to have been responsible for carrying out general labouring jobs at Down House and for hiring and supervising extra labour as required (CD’s Account Book, Down House MS).
British corn duties were reduced to a nominal figure in June 1846. See D. G. Barnes 1930, pp. 276–8.
Described by Henslow in Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 41, 11 October 1845, pp. 688–9.
See letter to Charles Lyell, 8 October [1845], for further details of CD’s tour.


Barnes, Donald Grove. 1930. A history of the English corn laws from 1600–1846. London: George Routledge.

Jenyns, Leonard. 1862. Memoir of the Rev. John Stevens Henslow, late rector of Hitcham, and professor of botany in the University of Cambridge. London: John Van Voorst.

Prideaux, J. 1845. Potatoes: storing and preserving. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 39 (27 September): 655–6.

Salaman, Redcliffe Nathan. 1985. The history and social influence of the potato. Revised edition by J. G. Hawkes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Comments on potato disease and its effects on the poor.

Describes visit to his Lincolnshire farm,

to York where he discussed hybrids with the Dean of Manchester [William Herbert],

his meeting with Charles Waterton, and his delight with Chatsworth.

Disappointed at Hooker’s failure to receive the Edinburgh chair; believes JDH will make a great botanist.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 921,” accessed on 29 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 3