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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Cupples   21 February 1874

Saturday forenoon

Feby. 21/74.

My Dear Mr Darwin,

Not to lose anymore time than necessary, I send what answers I have as yet had to my queries.1

I had sent out others (along with those which have been answered) but they drop in from time to time. I have written to one leading Greyhound man, and am getting the addresses of others. Please say, at your convenience, if there is any value in the kind of stuff I have sent—and if so, pray suggest any improvements that may occur to you in the sort of queries.

I send all the papers for you to keep, if they are of any use—and so onward with the others that may come next week.

In haste | yours | George Cupples

To | Mr Darwin

[Enclosure 1]

Wemys’s Hall Lodge | Nr Cupar | Fife

Dr Sir

Enclosed please find a list of pups bred by me this year past   I have had besides a very great many others thro’ my hounds bred by other folks and it was a very unfortunate year for I lost the old Champion Retriever Bitch of England “Old Bounce” and lost the Heat of several good Bitches not getting the sort of any at the time I wanted.

No 1— I know it to be a regular practise with keepers to kill all or all but one Bitch pup simply because one cannot get so good sale for them

No 2— I would consider 4 an average number kept out of each litter but I know I am considered hard on Bitches and they have their work to do with me—

No 3. I consider it quite a matter of chance if the Bitches happen to have male or female pups. for I have remarked it often that if a Bitch has most or all dog pups one litter the next is most sure to be all Bitches or nearly so.

4. My humble opinion of Greyhounds is that Bitches are as often kept as dogs—& from what I have seen Bitches show the most speed— & in sporting dogs I’ve proved them to be the keenest hunters.

I have frequently noticed the higher & better the breed they come in use much less than you see—in cross bred Bitches. [This means, as I ascertained afterwards from Mr. Rayner this winter—that thorough-bred or pure-bred bitches do not come into heat nearly so often as other bitches]2

I shall be pleased if my experience is of any service to you & at any future time it will always be a pleasure to give you any information I’m able. [So say I also. | G. Cupples]

I am | Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Wm. Fh. Rayner3

Puppies bred by Wm. F. Rayner Gamekeeper Wemyss’ Hall Lodge Cupar,

Fife during the year 1873.

Breed Name Number in each litter Dogs in each litter Number & sex of puppies kept.
Retriever “Belle” 11 5 4. This Bitch Fostered & brought up well also 3 Spaniels & 2 Colleys
Fox Terrier “Fly” 3 2 This Bitch (little) broughtbup her 3 pups & a pointer pup wonderfully well
King Charles Spaniel “Dido” 5 3 3 dog pups all did well—
Colley “Lassie” 3 3 3— and Fostered 2 Deerhounds—
Deerhound “Shulach” 9 6 4 dogs & 1 Bitch pup kept
Pointer “Juno” 8 4 4 dogs & 3 Bitches
Spaniels Fanny 8 2 2 dogs & 1 Bitch
Sussex Flo 9 4 4 dogs & 1 Bitch

[from Mr Rayner | Gamekeeper | &c | sent to Ch Darwin by G. C. | for what it is worth— the schedule of births &c as a good model of what statistics should be]

[Enclosure 2]

Mount Massy

9th. Feb 74—

Dear Sir

There is no rule as to dogs or bitches in greyhounds, it is all a matter of fancy, all mine being well bred I generally keep what I can get the mother to rear, often up to eight, but four or five are enough for most bitches as they are almost invariably bad nurses the higher they are bred, I pick for color often as I am partial to blacks or any whole color, I hate a partly color’d dog— I always find bitches run truest and can be most depended on, but one good dog is worth a dozen of them, they are continually coming to heat, after which bred from or not they are for a long time useless for racing purposes.—

Very truly ys | W H Massy

[Enclosure 3]

Blenheim House, Barton Street. | Gloucester.

Febry 10th. 1874.

Dr Sir,

Your favor to hand this day— in reply I beg to say if you like to send me your Cheque or POO4 by return of post I will guarantee to reserve the pup for you & keep it for one month free of cost & take every care of it— the pup is a fine healthy pup & growing fast— of course it would not be fair for me to do so unless you deposited the value—as I should doubtless have the opportunity of selling him.

With regard to your queries I have not observed any marked difference except where dogs have been unequally matched—if you breed from dogs of nearly the same age you get as a rule an equal nō of both sexes in the litter—but if you put a young bitch to an old dog you get two thirds at least of bitches in the litter & vice versa— you also get a larger proportion of bitches in the litter if both are old— I have had no experience with greyhounds &c but I believe it is a custom with almost all breeders to destroy the bitch pups in preference to the male ones even when the former are finer specimens

I am D Sir | Yours truly | E. L. Williams5

With regard to the pup I may simply say that if you miss him you really miss a good bargain.

[Enclosure 4]

Kingshill House | Dursley

Feby 17th.

Dear Sir,

I will be sure to let you know as soon as Dora has whelped. I bought Spey of Mr. J. M. Martin of Auchenfroe Cardross, Dumbartonshire,6 who I believe had her from you. Athol as I understand was one of the same litter, he is a fawn coloured dog with black ears, Spey is very dark grey. I shall be very pleased to answer your questions to the best of my ability   I have read the notes from yourself & others in Darwin’s “Descent of Man” and quite agree with them.7 I may here state that I used Kieldar with three different bitches and in no one case did either of the puppies resemble him in the least. I have used two of his sons with Spey and in two thirds of each litter there has been a decided reversion to Kieldar, a young dog & bitch I now have, eight months old by Rufus out of Spey, promise to be exactly like him both in colour, (which is rather peculiar—being a sort of dark slate) in growth and general appearance. In answer to your first question I cannot speak with any certainty as to any animals except dogs but with them, my experience does not go beyond Deerhounds. The females in each litter greatly preponderate being usually about three to one, my own experience is that females preponderate in the young of pigs, but not to the same extent, and taking the average of several years, in my small flock of sheep I have had rather more females than males. I believe the rule holds good in the human species in this neighbourhood & more particularly, I have also noticed that in most families you find a preponderance of either boys or girls, (in this neighbourhood the latter) I know of very few where the sexes are equal   I cannot say whether this tendency is hereditary or not. In answer to No 2— I should say that in the case of all animals, excepting cattle, the female young would be considered less worth preserving than the males— No 3. My own rule is to save all the dogs, and as many bitches as the bitch can bring up, a strong bitch can easily rear nine if well fed with plenty of flesh and milk, if a bitch had nine dogs in a litter and say two bitches I should keep the dogs and destroy the bitches, unless I wished to keep one for breeding, as I find the dogs more readily disposed of, the largest number of dogs I ever had in a litter was five, the largest litter I remember was twelve, four dogs & eight bitches   I do not know any large breeders of Greyhounds.

I shall always be pleased to give any information in my power—In haste | Yours truly | Thos. Morse

[Enclosure 5]

Osmaston Manor, | Derby.

Feb 18. 1874.

With respect to questions No 1 & No 2. I have noticed as regards both Horses cattle & dogs a disposition of some males to beget many more of one sex than another, & also some females to produce a far greater number of the sex than another even when the male was repeatedly changed.

For instance in horses I have bred seven foals in succession from an Arab mare all females & from different sires in every instance but one, & then at last a male foal.8 I have observed the same in breeding cattle & cd. give a similar instance. All extensive & observant breeders would I feel sure be agreed in this. I believe this to be so among all animals from Man downwards—

I can in no way acct. for the cause. Many reasons are given by breeders but I have never proved any to be reliable ones—

John Wright

[for Mr Darwin | G. C.9

from John Wright, Esqr. | Osmaston Manor | Derby


(The following queries refer to live-stock or animals of all kinds; but dogs, and more particularly Greyhounds, are specified because of the number of births at one time from a single mother, taken with the supposition that some sort of statistics can be got in connection with them.)

*1. Have any authentic cases been known—with Greyhounds, or any other dogs, or live-stock of any kind—where there seemed to be a tendency running in a strain or family, to produce either males or females in excess. (N.B. Such cases occur with Short-horn cattle.)? *This query is of main importance.


Yes. See my note

[2. Do such cases occur with individual brood-bitches (or brood animals of any kind)?


Yes. See my note.

[3. In such cases—if occurring—is there any practice, as a rule in general, of preserving more of the young of one sex than of the other sex? Would more of the females be destroyed than of the males (or vice versa)—?


Impossible to give a definite answer, as sometimes it would be the whim of the breeder to preserve more of one sex & sometimes more of the other.

[4. Be so good as say (if the above is the case in your knowledge,) how many on an average you suppose would be preserved of each sex—for example in Greyhounds (or other dogs,) if a bitch produced 4 females & 2 males at a litter, and another bithch produced 4 males and 2 females—? What would, generally speaking, be the proportion preserved of either sex?


Impossible to answer satisfactorilly, but speaking generally as regards dog breeders I believe that more males are preserved than females—

[Enclosure 6]

[from | George Hickman, Esqr. (of the Temple &c) | Birmingham | proprietor of the most distinguished Champion Deerhound of the Shows (a dog closely related to my own | G. C.

sent to Mr Darwin merely to indicate the line of inquiry I have gone upon | G. C.]

Pershore Rd. | Birmm. Feb. 19th. 1874.

Dear Sir,

I am afraid I cannot personally give you any satisfactory answer to your queries. I called on a Gentleman here, who is noted as a judge of ‘fancy’ dogs, but he told me that he had never noticed any disparities in births, never having thought of the Subject—

I will try, if possibly I meet with any one conversant with such points, to get the information but it is a matter of great difficulty, as persons scarcely recollect the sexes even of a particular litter.

Your chance of information lies mostly with Grey hound breeders who have pedigree stock, and notice such things. I do not know personally any large breeder of them—a friend of mine, who was, being now dead.

If you simply mean—do I know the address of any large breeder—I might manage to accomodate you thus far with a little enquiry.

It is a matter of much interest, but of equal difficulty to obtain any reliable data—

I am | Yours truly | G. W. Hickman

G. Cupples Esq.

Guard Bridge.

CD annotations

Enclosure 2:
Top of letter: ‘Greyhounds | no special [caring] of Bitches, [get them] less’ pencil
Back of envelope: ‘Nothing of Importance except in relation to Deer Hound on whole most ♀ are destroyed.’ pencil
Enclosure 3:
1.1 Your … him. 1.5] crossed pencil
4.1 With … bargain 4.2] crossed pencil
Enclosure 4:
1.1 I will … grey. 1.4] crossed pencil
Back of enclosure 5: ‘Nothing’ pencil

CD note:

Rayner (Keeper) regular practice to kill all but 1 bitch & gives both for 1873—

Think with greyhounds as many bitches as dogs kept—as fleeter Capt. Morse with his Deer-Hound ♀ preponderated


Cupples had circulated queries from CD about the numbers of male and females born into and preserved in litters of puppies (see letter from George Cupples, 7 February 1874).
Text in square brackets in this set of enclosures is by George Cupples, except for the Enclosure headings.
William Finch Rayner.
Post Office order.
E. L. Williams has not been identified.
John McLellan Martin.
CD cited Cupples and some of Cupples’s contacts in Descent 1: 288 n. 24, 304, and 305 n. 41, and 2: 261–2, 271–2.
CD cited John Wright for this information in Descent 2d ed., p. 255.
Cupples evidently had CD’s questions copied out and sent them to Wright. The text in square brackets is the text sent by Cupples; the rest was written by Wright.


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.


Answers to queries are being sent.


Enclosure 1: statistics on puppies bred by Rayner in 1873.


Enclosure 2 from W. N. Massey: number of males or females raised depends entirely on preference of greyhound breeders.


Enclosure 3 from E. L. Williams: breeders prefer to destroy bitch pups.


Enclosure 4: Thomas Morse answers CD’s three queries, transmitted by GC: (1) in deerhounds, females predominate, three to one; (2) in all but cattle, females are less worth preserving; (3) TM rears all the young.


Enclosure 5: John Wright responds to CD’s queries about proportion of sexes in births of horses, cattle, and dogs.


Enclosure 6: G. W. Hickman cannot give reliable answers to CD’s queries on proportion of sexes born [in greyhounds?].

Letter details

Letter no.
George Cupples
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 90: 91–2, 94–7, 102–13, 117–19; DAR 161: 301
Physical description
2pp, encl 4pp †, CD note, encl 2pp †(by CD), encl 4pp †(by CD), encl 8pp †(by CD), encl 3pp †(by CD), encl 2pp †(by CD)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9309,” accessed on 1 October 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22