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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. S. Henslow   2 November 1840


2 Novr 1840

My dear Darwin,

I was very glad to see your handwriting & trust you are steadily progressing— The only doubt that crosses my mind, is the possibility of Sir. G. Wilkinson1 having been cheated by the Arabs— A case is on record of a quantity of wheat taken from a Catacomb in Egypt having been eaten by modern rats, which shows it had kept well, as far as the flavor is concerned— There is a picture in Trinity of a man with a bulb of a Scilla in his hand, which he has just taken from a mummy, & the scilla is sprouting2 I certain nothing impossible in Mr Tupper’s statement,3 but it is precisely one of those cases which need more than one experiment to authenticate the fact— I have no doubt whatever that the seeds grew, but I think it not impossible that Sir. G. W. may have been deceived—4 If I knew Sir G. W’s address I would write to him & beg a few grains— Whewell has been here for a week lately— Col. LeCouteur5 came to talk about the Wheat-Museum of the Agricl. Socy. 6 —& I have had my annual display of fireworks—so that my time has been completely occupied— Next week I go to Cambridge to vote for Ld Lyddleton,7 & if

CD annotations

crossed pencil
‘18’brown crayon, circled brown crayon
crossed pencil


No such picture has been located in the present collection of Trinity College.
A statement by Martin Farquhar Tupper of Albury, Guildford, dated ‘Sept. 1840’, was published in The Record of 15 October 1840. It describes his success in raising wheat from grains found in an Egyptian tomb by J. G. Wilkinson. A copy of the statement is in DAR 205.2: 1. But see n. 4, below.
Henslow later served on a British Association committee (1841–57) with Charles Giles Bridle Daubeny, John Lindley, and Hugh Strickland to experiment on the growth and vitality of seeds. In 1860 he read a paper at the Association meeting in which he noted that in two cases samples of mummy wheat had contained admixtures of fresh recent grains (Henslow 1860). One of the samples had come from Wilkinson, who had also supplied the grain for Tupper’s experiments.
John Le Couteur, author of Le Couteur 1836. In his Notebook M: 155, CD has: ‘A Volume published by Colonel in Army on “Wheat”. in Jarsey.— very curious facts about early production of foreign seeds.—many varieties.— Revd [interl] R. Jones has it.—very curious book.—’ There is a copy of a reissue, Le Couteur [1838?], in the Darwin Library–CUL, inscribed ‘C. Darwin Octobr 1841—’.
The Royal Agricultural Society of England had established a museum to which members were asked to send ‘such specimens as afford a fair average of their peculiar respective districts’. Henslow, Le Couteur, and John Morton were appointed to decide on the plans for the presentation and exhibition of the specimens (Report of the Council at the General Meeting, 12 December 1840, Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society 2 (1841): v).
George William, 4th Baron Lyttelton. He was defeated by Lord Lyndhurst in the election for the High Stewardship of the University (see Romilly 1967, p. 204).


Henslow, John Stevens. 1860. On the supposed germination of mummy wheat. Report of the 30th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Oxford, Transactions of the sections, pp. 110–11.

Le Couteur, John. 1836. On the varieties, properties, and classification of wheat. London: Shearsmith.

Notebook M. See Barrett 1980; Gruber and Barrett 1974; Theoretical notebooks.

Romilly, Joseph. 1967. Romilly’s Cambridge diary 1832–42. Selected passages from the diary of the Reverend Joseph Romilly, fellow of Trinity College and registrary of the University of Cambridge. Chosen, introduced and annotated by J. P. T. Bury. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Would like further experimentation to confirm report about germination of wheat from Egyptian tombs. Sir G. Wilkinson may have been deceived by the Arabs.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Stevens Henslow
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.2: 236
Physical description
inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 579,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2