skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Busk   1 April 1862

15 Harley St

April 1 1862—

My dear Darwin

There seems to be more difficulty in the matter of the Army returns than we anticipated, from the enclosed letter from Dr Parkes you will see that the usual official nonsense or obstructiveness has got into the Director General’s head.1 Parkes however is so zealous & efficient a man, that I have little doubt, the matter with his assistance may yet be achieved. I have written to him to say that you will communicate with him on the subject—2

Ever Yours very truly | Geo Busk


Frindsbury | Rochester 30 March 1862. My dear Busk

I brought Mr. Darwins communication under the notice of the Director General of the Army Medical Department, yesterday.

The Director General wished me to say that while he is always anxious to do what he can to promote any scientific object, he has yet to consider that the Army Surgeons have their own duties to perform, and that additional labour should not be thrown on them without consideration. After looking over Mr. Darwins memorandum he was of opinion that a very careful & probably elaborate investigation would alone give results of any value. Before therefore taking the subject into further consideration, or pledging himself to any course, he would wish to know the exact form, in which the information will have to be put, and if Mr. Darwin would not mind the trouble of preparing some definite scheme, the Director General will then consider whether or not he can carry it out.

It has occurred to me that if Mr. Darwin’s wishes could be made known in a non-official way, there would be some Army Surgeons who would be glad to assist in the collection of these facts, and that this voluntary aid would be more likely to be well don〈e〉 than if compulsory returns were called for, which might be hastily and incorrectly filled up.

However on this point I can talk to the Director General when we see the exact form the investigation should assume.

Believe me | Very sincerely yours | E. A. Parkes.

George Busk Eqre


See enclosure. Busk refers to Edmund Alexander Parkes, professor of hygiene at the Army Medical School, Chatham, and James Brown Gibson, director-general of the Army Medical Department. CD was seeking information from colonial army medical staff to help him establish whether there was a relationship between hair colour and disease susceptibility among British soldiers serving in tropical climates. In Descent 1: 244 n. 48, CD wrote: In the spring of 1862 I obtained permission from the Director-General of the Medical department of the Army, to transmit to the surgeons of the various regiments on foreign service a blank table, with the following appended remarks, but I have received no returns. No copy of the printed document survives (Freeman 1977, pp. 111–12), but see the letter from E. A. Parkes, 8 April 1862, n. 1, for a transcription of the ‘appended remarks’ that accompanied the table. The correlation between complexion and resistance to disease was of long-standing interest to CD, who had, over a number of years, written ‘several letters to various parts of the world’ seeking information on the subject (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Asa Gray, 18 November [1858]). See also Correspondence vol. 6, letter from W. F. Daniell, 8 October – 7 November 1856, and Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Jeffries Wyman, 3 October [1860]. The material CD was able to collect on this point was used in Descent in a chapter on human races (Descent 1: 214–50).
See letter from E. A. Parkes, 8 April 1862.


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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.


E. A. Parkes informs him there will be difficulty about the Army returns [on CD’s Query to Army surgeons, see Freeman, Works of Charles Darwin, p. 111] owing to official obstructions by Director General. [Enclosed letter from Parkes to GB says that the Director General does not think that Army surgeons could be asked to collect information systematically for CD, but perhaps some informal, voluntary arrangement could be made.]

Letter details

Letter no.
George Busk
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Harley St, 15
Source of text
DAR 160.3: 377, DAR 174.1: 22
Physical description
2pp, encl ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3492,” accessed on 20 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10