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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Alfred Newton   14 March 1874

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Mar 14 1874

My dear Professor Newton

I have no definite information to give on the point about which you write.1 I agree with you that the destruction of eggs is of subordinate, tho’ of course of some importance, as I believe all birds will lay a second time. Have we not evidence how little the taking of the eggs lessens the numbers of a species, on some of the Northern islands where the eggs of sea-fowl are annually collected?2 From my own observations here I infer that occasional severe winters are by far the most important check; & this must apply to the adults.

In St John’s Tour in Sutherlandshire Vol 2 1849 p 178–179 you will find some particulars (if not already known to you) of the recent increase of certain birds, by the destruction of vermin.3 (Misseltoe Thrushes compete in my garden with thrushes & blackbirds for yew-berries)4 The famous horticulturist Rivers, now an old man, & whose father & grandfather have kept the same garden, told me that birds have increased greatly, so that he is now obliged to protect almost every thing by nets, which was not the case in his father’s time.5

I fear this letter will be of very little use—

I cannot remember about the Fulmar—6

yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Up to 80,000 guillemot eggs a week were collected in early summer on the Faroe Islands, for example (see Williamson 1970, p. 146).
CD refers to Charles St John and St John 1849, 2: 178–9; his annotated copy of St John 1849 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 738).
Thomas Rivers (1798–1877), his father, Thomas Rivers (1770–1844), and his grandfather John Rivers had all worked at the family nursery business in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire.
See letter from Alfred Newton, 10 March 1874 and n. 4. Newton had queried CD’s claim that the fulmar petrel was believed to be the most numerous bird in the world.


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.

Williamson, Kenneth. 1970. The Atlantic Islands: a study of the Faeroe life and scene. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Can give no definite information. Believes severe winters are by far the most important check on numbers of birds; the destruction of eggs is of subordinate importance.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Newton
Sent from
Source of text
Cambridge University Library (MS Add. 9839/1D/62)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9359,” accessed on 1 December 2021,

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