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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Richard Hill   8 August [1859]1

Down, Bromley, Kent.

Aug. 8th,

My dear sir,

I have delayed answering your last kind note, until I got the hive (after some delay owing to mercantile forms) from Mr. Bishop. Mr. B. has been very obliging and when you see Mr. Wilkie pray give him my best thanks.2 The quality of honey was astonishing and so excellent that honey for him then repaid the cost of the hive. The combs were rather too crowded and old (till all fully formed) to be very good for measurement; yet I can clearly see that the cells are larger (in about proportion of 60 to 51) than the cells of British combs. This is a curious fact (and shows that Latraille was correct):3 the size of the cells of European cells are so uniform that I think that I remember that some wild [?]4 man proposed them as a standard unit of measurement! The walls of the cells are, I am almost sure, considerably thicker than in our cells; but I have as yet made no precise measurements. Now these facts made me anxious to obtain 12 dozen dead Bees and perhaps 2 or 3 drones: until5 you oblige me by trying to get them from Mr. Wilkie’s Stock , and send them in box in letter, as they could not weigh one 12 oz. It is possible that the species may be different, or that our species may have grown larger under your magnificent climate. I have lately returned from spending a week at a Hydropathic establishment for my health-sake,6 and then I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr… . and charming Mrs. Wilkinson of Jamaica.7 Your letters have excited in me much interest about you, and I was quite delighted (if you will not think it impertinent in me to say so) to hear of all your varied accomplishments and knowledge, and of your higher attributes in the sacred cause of humanity.8 I am sure I feel grateful to you for all your kind assistance, and I beg leave to remain with sincere respects,

My dear Sir, Yours very faithfully, | (Sgd.) Charles Darwin.

My little Book will not be ready till the autumn, when a copy shall be sent you. I fear you will not at all approve of the results arrived at, but I hope and believe that you will give me credit for an honest zeal for truth.

For a bare chance of you proposing any information on two following heads, I will append two questions.

Do the cattle or horses or sheep or pigs which have long been bred in Jamaica (without crosses) tend to assume any particular colour, or other character? Several years ago poor Sir H. Delabeche told me he believed that they did.9

Secondly is there any current belief in the W. Indies that there is any difference in the liability of pure Europeans of a light complexion and hair, or of a dark complexion and hair, to take the Yellow Fever or other Tropical complaints?10


The date as given in Cundall 1915.
See letter from Richard Hill, 10 January 1859. Robert Wilkie was a clerk of the peace in Middlesex, Jamaica (Jamaica Almanack 1843). Mr Bishop was probably a London agent with Jamaican connections.
Pierre André Latreille made this statement in his description of Apis amalthée, known to inhabit Cayenne and Surinam (Latreille [1802–5], 14: 40).
The query was inserted by Frank Cundall in Cundall 1915.
Cundall probably misread this word: the sense would indicate that CD wrote ‘will’.
CD returned to Down from Moor Park hydropathic establishment on 26 July 1859 (‘Journal’; Appendix II).
The Wilkinsons have not been identified.
Hill was prominent in the anti-slavery movement. See Cundall 1920.
See Correspondence vol. 2, letter to H. T. De la Beche, 7 February 1842. Henry Thomas De la Beche had formerly owned a sugar plantation in Jamaica.
CD had posed the same question to Asa Gray (letter to Asa Gray, 18 November [1858]). There had been a major outbreak of yellow fever among the British troops stationed in Jamaica in 1856, which Hill had studied in relation to sanitary improvements.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Cundall, Frank. 1915. Darwin and Hill. West India Committee Circular, 28 December 1915.

Cundall, Frank. 1920. Richard Hill. Journal of Negro History 5: 37–44.

Latreille, Pierre André. [1802–5.] Histoire naturelle, générale et particuliere, des crustacés et des insectes. (Suites à Buffon.) 14 vols. Paris: F. Dufart.


Compares Jamaican with British and European honey combs.

Requests one-half dozen dead bees and 2 or 3 drones from Mr Wilkie’s stock.

His admiration for RH’s varied accomplishments and service "in the sacred cause of humanity" [the abolition of slavery].

Asks whether it is believed that domestic animals long bred in Jamaica tend to assume a particular colour or character.

Are differences observed in the West Indies in the liability of pure Europeans of light complexion and hair to take the yellow fever or other tropical complaints?

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Richard Hill
Sent from
Source of text
Cundall 1915

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2479A,” accessed on 16 August 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7