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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Robert Patterson   18 October 1860

6 College Square North. Belfast

Oct 18. 1860

My dear Sir

I copy for you a note, that I hope may possess some interest.1 Should you ever think of publishing it, I think it would be only right to the gentleman who is my authority for the fact, to send a copy of the note to him for revision so as to avoid all chance of error.

I am Very truly Yours | Robert Patterson.

Chas. Darwin Esq

PS. Your old friend Ogilby,2 and Dr. E. P. Wright of Dublin,3 spent last Tuesday evening in my house.


Copy Augt 27 1860. When visiting the Copeland-Islands at the entrance to Belfast Lough this day, Captn Nesbitt RN.4 one of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House,5 told me the following fact. In 1845, when the Trinity House bought up all the private Lighthouses round the Coast, the Skerries near Holyhead,6 had immense numbers of rabbits, which were extensively used by the lighthouse-keepers. A few years ago an American vessel was wrecked there, on board of which there were a number of rats. These swam to the shore. They have now increased prodigiously in numbers, have destroyed the wild rabbits, and are obliged to live in a great degree on the shellfish of the shore. The light-house men not only have lost the wild rabbits, but find a difficulty in rearing any tame ones, because of the attacks of the rats.

CD annotations

1.3 to send … revision] double scored ink
Top of first page: ‘Struggle for Existence’ ink; ‘Ch 5.’7 brown crayon


Robert Patterson, a Belfast naturalist, had corresponded with CD since 1847. See especially Correspondence vol. 5.
William Ogilby, also an Irish naturalist, had in 1842 served with CD on a committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science charged with drawing up rules for standardising zoological nomenclature. See Correspondence vol. 2, letter to H. E. Strickland, 17 February [1842]. Ogilby had been secretary of the Zoological Society from 1840 to 1847.
Edward Perceval Wright was a lecturer in zoology at Trinity College, Dublin. He was editor of the Natural History Review until it changed hands in 1860. Afterwards he remained one of a team of editors that included Thomas Henry Huxley and John Lubbock. See letter to T. H. Huxley, 20 July [1860].
Edward Parry Nisbet.
The Corporation of Trinity House is an association of English mariners, chartered in 1514, whose duties include the erection and maintenance of lighthouses and beacons and the supervision of pilots. The Elder Brethren were initially a select group of thirteen charged with the management of the corporation’s affairs, two of whom were elected from the Royal Navy and eleven from the merchant service; as a mark of honour, persons of rank and eminence were also sometimes admitted as honorary Elder Brethren (EB).
Skerries Lighthouse is located on the highest of a group of rocky islands off the north-west coast of Anglesey, North Wales.
CD refers to chapter 5 of his ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection, pp. 173–212). The information does not seem to have been included in later editions of Origin.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Sends an account of the destruction of wild rabbits by rats introduced from a wrecked ship.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Patterson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 46.1: 89–90
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2954,” accessed on 28 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8