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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Peter Wallace   10 September 1856

Island of Ascension | Green Mountain

September 10th. 1856

Dear Sir—

I received your note dated June 22nd. 1856 on the 4th. of this Month,1 and in answer beg to state, that I will do everything in my power to forward your wishes,

Your informant relative to the Domesticated Fowl, and Pigeon, being found here in a wild state, must have laboured under some mistake, as nothing of the kind exist here at this time,———2 There are four pigeons living in the neighbourhood of N.E Cottage, in the cinder cliffs of the Sheep-penn Ravine, in a half wild state, but have boxes in which they roost at night, they have been there for upwards of four years, without encreasing in number why I cannot well explain, unless their young are killed by cats or their eggs destroyed by rats, during the daytime they pass their time in Black Rock Ravine, flying in the evening to roost in the Sheep-penn-Cliffs, they have a wild appearance, fly very fast, are Brown and white in colour, within twenty yards of where they roost is a fowl house belonging to the Marine who lives in N.E. Cottage but I have never seen or heard of them feeding with the fowls, These four Pigeons are the only ones existing in anything like a wild state,

Two varieties of Doves are plentiful on the Island living generally about the base of the Mountain, and in Cricket Valley, neither of which kind is the Ring Dove although they Coo in the same manner, one is light and dove coloured, the other is dark Brown, I cannot ascertain how long it is since they were introduced, and think there are about 200 on the Island,

I have heard there were some years ago a kind of Malay or Indian-fowl, which ran wild on the Island, but were all shot about 10 years since———

Guinea Fowl are tolerablely numerous,3 being now about 400 on the Island and just the end of a four months shooting season, in which as near as I can tell about 300 have been shot, they fly very fast, generally running some distance before they rise, unless suddenly approached, when they take wing at once, four birds are considered a fair days sport, they are very wary and difficult of approach, I have shot eight Guinea Fowl and a Goat in one day———being the best days sport I have heard of since I have been here, Guinea Fowl feed on the Black Cricket and a large kind of Grasshopper or Locust, both being very numerous here, also on “Woodlice” and the seeds of a kind of “Shepherds Purse” very common here after heavy rains, in every part of the Island within a Mile of the base of theMountain———which may be said to be the boundary of the Guinea Fowl districts,,

Formerly the Guinea Fowl used to frequent the higher parts of the Mountain, but latterly have become shy and rarely asscend above the level of the Mountain Hospital, about 1800 feet above the level of the sea,

In just about the Same range Rabbits are found not very numerous, and likewise very wary——— they are very fine in size and flavour, and weigh when full grown about 3 and 312 lbs, Rabbits are found from the before named districts to the very top of the Peak———

I beleive both Guinea Fowl and Rabbits are much persecuted when young by Cats and “Land Crabs” by the latter more especially, I remember one day disturbing (when out among the Sheep) a young brood of Guinea Fowl which ran among some stones for protection, hearing some of them cry as if hurt, I went to the place and found a Monstrous Crab, with one in each claw I killed the Crab and set the young Birds at liberty, they were too much hurt to recover, I imagine the young Rabbits fall a prey to the Crabs in a similar way———or they would be more numerous than they are, Cats not frequenting very much, the vicinity of the Game, they confine themselves more to the localities of the “Fairs,” a name given here to places where the sea Birds, breed, I omitted to mention that the Guinea Fowl here is a strong and fast flier, particularly when once up——— they do not rise well against a steep,, The other kinds of Game here, are Pheasants and Red-legged Partriges, the former being the least numerous may number about 100,, and Partriges about double that quantity, both frequent the higher parts of the Mountain, and exist on (Blackberries Common Bramble) and small insects, they destroy Sweet Potatoes, and Indian Corn crops for food, but in general do little damage, Many attempts were made to introduce Pheasants and Partriges but failed, untill about 15 years ago the Common Bramble was introduced from St Helena and spread with such marvelous rappidity from about a dozen plants, that at this time about 200 acres of the higher part of the Mountain are overrun with it Sometime after the ‘Bramble’ was introduced Pheasants and Partriges were sent and have done well unfortunately the parts of the Mountain they frequent is overrun with Rats (two kinds Black and Brown) which I believe destroy both eggs and young Birds——— The Birds are never fed, but left to breed and flourish (au naturel)

The Cock Pheasant is a very handsome bird having a white ring under his throat and generally brighter plumage, than they have at home, (I may here mention I have never seen a greater variety of domestic fowls, nor so rich in plumage as they are here, I will take some of handsomest home with me when I go,) the Pheasant and Partriges have much the same habits here as in England, except the Phesant seldom roosts in Trees, owing I presume to the want of high trees, in their district by this means they fall an easy prey to Cats, I have counted as many as fifteen in a brood of young Pheasants but seldom saw more than 4 or 5 reared———owing probablely as much to not having proper drinking places as anything else———

Cats are very numerous in the Lowlands and attain a large size, I have seen them killed weigh in 15 lbs and have heard of them weighing 20 lbs——— I have shot a fine black She Cat for you and have her preserved in a jar, in a solution of “Corosive Sublimate” as soon as I have a collection worth sending I will do so———

Goats are very fine, and first rate sport to shoot them, they were very numerous when I came here, but have been greatly reduced, owing I think, to poachers, I have a skin and a pair of horns of one I shot, which I intend for Dr Lindley4 being the only ones I have saved, but if an opportunity occurs of getting others I will do so for you at present Goat shooting owing to their number being so much reduced, I believe there are about 200 on the Island now 4 years ago there were 600——— they are of various colours, some white some red, and fawn colour, but chiefly black they are difficult to stalk, and bound over the Rocks with wonderful fleetness,

I am sorry I am not skillfull at skinning and curing skins, there in most case I must send them whole, but I find they will preserve well in Corrosive Sublimate solution—

I have many interesting and curious stories relative to the Wild Cat, and Goats, which time will not admit of my telling now———

The plants which have spread most widely over the Island, I mean naturally is the Bramble, the Guava, and the (Pride of India Melia azerderachta) and Aloe Vulgaris———also a plant known here as the (Madagascar Rose, Vinca rosea, and the Prickley-pear are very numerous———

Being forced to conclude in a hurry to catch a mail (things very uncertain here) I beg you will excuse any errors I have made

I beg leave to remain | dear Sir | Your very obedient Servant | Peter Wallace To Mr. C. Darwin | Down, Bromley—Kent

P.S. I have just heard that a colony of Pigeons is found on a detached rock near English Bay my informant stating that they fed on fish, it the first time I have heard of them, and will go down at once to ascertain the Truth of the statement which I have every reason to doubt———

I omitted to state that about 9 years ago I received some Starlings from the Admiralty which I turned out, they have done well and fly about in flocks of about 40, being in all about 150—reared from about a dozen Birds which survived out of twenty Starlings sent by the Admiralty5

Peter Wallace

CD annotations

crossed pencil
‘Doves feral’added pencil
double scored pencil
double scored pencil; ‘Rabbits’added pencil
double scored pencil
scored brown crayon
underl pencil
double scored brown crayon
scored brown crayon
scored brown crayon
19.1 9 years … Admiralty 19.4] scored brown crayon
Top of first page: ‘Naturalised Animals’ink; ‘18’6 brown crayon, circled brown crayon; ‘no wild Pigeons or Fowls’pencil

Footnotes

The letter has not been found. CD wrote to several overseas naturalists in June 1856 (see letters to E. L. Layard, 8 June [1856], and to Robert Everest, 18 June [1856]). CD had included Wallace’s name in an earlier list of people to contact for pigeon and poultry skins (see Correspondence vol. 5, CD memorandum, [December 1855]).
CD’s ‘informant’ was probably Edgar Leopold Layard, whose acquaintance ‘Mr Fry’ had resided on Ascension. See letter to E. L. Layard, 8 June [1856].
CD himself saw wild guinea-fowl on Ascension during the Beagle voyage (Journal of researches, p. 587). In Variation 1: 190, he stated that the guinea-fowl ‘has become perfectly wild at Ascension’.
John Lindley.
The island of Ascension was run by the British Admiralty from 1815. It was governed by a naval captain borne on the books of the flagship of the admiral stationed in Gibraltar.
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on the means of geographical dispersal of animals and plants.

Summary

Reports on the naturalised animal life of Ascension.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-1953
From
Peter Wallace
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Ascension
Source of text
DAR 205.2: 261
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1953,” accessed on 23 August 2019, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-1953

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6

letter