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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. F. Stephens to Robert Peel   8 June 1846

Eltham Cottage | Foxley road | Kennington

8 June 46.


Emboldened by the numerous signatures of men of the highest rank and talent, in Zoological science (including Dr Buckland, Sir W. J. Hooker, Professors Owen, Grant, Bell &c, Messrs Kirby, Brown1 and others) attached to the accompanying Memorial, I beg to forward the same for your perusal, trusting its contents may call your serious consideration to its prayer.

I have the honour to be | Sir | Your most obedient Servant | J F Stephens.

I enclose an abstract of my scientific labours


To the right honourable the First Lord of the Treasury.

The Memorial of James Francis Stephens; Fellow of the Linnæan Society; Member of the Entomological Societies of London, and of Paris, &c.

Humbly sheweth:

That he is the author of the following scientific publications, vizt:


General Zoology: illustrated with 362 Plates2 in 12

Systematic Catalogue of British Insects3 " 1

Illustrations of British Entomology; embellished with 400 highly finished coloured engravings4 " 12

Nomenclature of British Insects (2 editions)5 " 2

Manual of British Beetles6 " 1

Total 28;

of several hundred Articles in the Encyclopædia Metropolitana,7 and of a few detailed papers in sundry periodical works, and Transactions of Learned Societies.

That the work first mentioned was commenced, at an early age (19), at the instigation of the late Dr Leach8 of the British Museum, and published under the auspices of the leading Booksellers;—and that the others were undertaken upon your Memorialist’s own responsibility:—the entire costs exceeding £20,000.

That your Memorialist, not being blinded by the splendour attached to the name of the great Linnæus,9 presumed at the onset of his career to depart from the system promulgated by him; and, in the course of the 12 volumes on Ornithology, ventured to carry out the modern continental views, on that science, throughout the entire Class of Birds, for the first time in Britain, and thus opened the way for their present universal adoption.

That the same feelings guided him in the production of his Catalogue of British Insects,—in which are not only recorded 10,012 species, with above 50,000 references to about 700 volumes,—but it forms an index to all previous English writers on the subject—in whose works only 3673 species are mentioned, and in the arrangement therein adopted (as more fully developed in his Illustrations, containing above 8000 descriptions) he was so eminently successful in the opinion of competent judges, as to have formed by its publication an epoch in the science of Entomology, and thus to have produced a favourable impression abroad in regard to the labours of British Naturalists in opposition to the obloquy previously cast upon them, as servile adherents of Linné; and, moreover, from the stimulus thus created, an infinity of work on Entomology, based upon the same views, has been published in this country, within these few years, and slowly his exertions have conduced materially to the national glory and benefit.10

That the celebrity of his labour, induced Professor Rennie, late of King’s College, to pirate one division thereof, and your Memorialist was compelled to resort to the Court of Chancery for protection, whereby he incurred enormous charges for Law costs, which with their concomitant losses during a period of severe domestic illness and intense disquietude, exceeded £1500, to the serious injury of your memorialist, and obliging him for several years to relinquish housekeeping.11

That your memorialist was for upwards of 38 years a Clerk in the Admiralty Office, whence he has recently been superannuated, in a reorganization thereof, on the small pension of £225 per annum:—the proportion for 35 years only, thus losing 3 years.

Finally, that your Memorialist upon learning that the Trustees of the British Museum, intended to form a collection of Native Animals in the year 1816, presented to that Establishment—from his own collection—then forming with great exertions, and with unwearied assiduity and enthusiasm,—for the purpose of corroborating his views—many hundreds of specimens of British Birds, Insects and Shells,—several of which are the only examples now extant;—that he lent his gratuitous assistance for some months (with the sanction of the Admiralty Board) at the above period, towards the first arrangement thereof; has subsequently given his aid thereto; and at the present moment he fortunately possesses the means of enabling the said Trustees to publish more perfectly, a portion of the contents of this Museum by the use of some, otherwise unobtainable, works in his Library, which latter, as also his collection;—both unrivalled in extent on the subject,—the Library from the munificent present of numerous individuals—has been gratuitously thrown open for these last 25 years, during which period many thousands of students have availed themselves thereof.

Your Memorialist therefore under these circumstances, and the advantage that has accrued to his country from his scientific exertions, as testified by the eminent men, whose names are hereunto appended, humbly prays that your Lordship would take his case into your serious consideration, and obtain for him a small grant from the Civil List, in order that he may maintain his station in society, and be enabled to carry forward his scientific pursuits, with greater benefit to his country.12

And your Memorialist, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c | J F Stephens. | Eltham Cottage, Foxley road | Kennington

March 1846.

Wm. Jackson Hooker | F.RS.

Wm. Kirby, F.R.S

W. Spence. F.R.S.

Willm Buckland. F.R.S.

Robert E. Grant. MD.

Charles R. Darwin. F.R.S.

Thomas Bell F.R.S. F.L.S. &c | Profr. Zooly King’s Coll.

Richard Owen Hunterian Professor, Rl College of Surgeons.

Robt Brown V.P.L.S.—

[And 45 others]


Vols. 9 to 14 (ornithology) of General zoology, which had been started by George Shaw, were by Stephens (Shaw 1800–26).
J. F. Stephens 1828–46. CD had sent Stephens specimens and was delighted to have been cited in Stephens’s Illustrations of British entomology (‘Recollections’, p. 342).
J. F. Stephens 1829b; a second edition was published in 1833.
Encyclopaedia metropolitana was issued in parts between 1817 and 1845.
Stephens commented on his efforts to update the Linnean system in the introduction to his Systematic catalogue of British insects (J. F. Stephens 1829a)
Stephens accused James Rennie of pirating his work in Rennie’s Conspectus of the butterflies and moths found in Britain (Rennie 1832). For more on the dispute between Stephens and Rennie, see ODNB s.v. Stephens, James Francis.
Stephens’s application for a Civil List pension was unsuccessful (ODNB).


Encyclopaedia metropolitana. 30 vols. London: Rest Fenner [and others]. 1817–45.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

‘Recollections’: Recollections of the development of my mind and character. By Charles Darwin. In Evolutionary writings, edited by James A. Secord. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008.

Rennie, James. 1832b. A conspectus of the butterflies and moths found in Britain. London: William Orr.

Shaw, George. 1800–26. General zoology, or a systematic natural history. 14 vols., vols. 9–14 continued by J. F. Stephens. London: George Kearsley [and others].

Stephens, James Francis. 1828–46. Illustrations of British entomology; or, a synopsis of indigenous insects: containing their generic and specific distinctions. 11 vols. and supplement. London: Baldwin and Cradock.

Stephens, James Francis. 1829a. A systematic catalogue of British insects: being an attempt to arrange all the hitherto discovered indigenous insects in accordance with their natural affinities. London: Baldwin and Cradock.

Stephens, James Francis. 1829b. The nomenclature of British insects; being a compendious list of such species as are contained in the Systemic catalogue of British insects, and forming a guide to their classification. London: Baldwin and Cradock.

Stephens, James Francis. 1839. A manual of British coleoptera, or beetles. Containing a brief description of all the species of beetles hitherto ascertained to inhabit Great Britain and Ireland; together with a notice of their chief localities, times and places of appearances. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans.


Petitions for a Civil Pension.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Francis Stephens
Robert Peel, 2d baronet
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Add MS 40593: 187–91 Papers of Sir Robert Peel)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 983G,” accessed on 15 July 2024,