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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Harrison Weir   28 March 1868

9 Lyndhurst Road | Peckham London S.E

March 28th. 1868.

Dear Sir

I saw my brother a few days since when he told me you would like to know the effect on birds and animals from their being stained or otherwise colored1   I mean the optical effect

When I was judging at Birmingham a few years since, I discovered that an Almond Tumbler hen had been dyed by its owner with the idea of deceiving the judges and getting the prize for fine color, (it was the natural color heightened with a sort of canary color)   It succeeded at one show, but I detected it in a moment.2 As I knew no such shade of color could exist in pigeons I therefore disqualified it. I observed on this occasion the hen was in good health, but the cock took no more notice of it than if not colored.

Again last year there were two pairs of pigeons shewn at Birmingham. One pair white Fantail, the other black & white mongrels   That is too say their color before being dyed   when shewn their white had been turned to a bright canary color, which the the birds seemed to me to be totally unconscious of, and did not behave differently from those not colored

Again at Lewes, Sussex, There is generally to be seen a poodle dog sometimes pink with a blue tail and scarlet head other times varied in color. It is very ludicrous to see this animal running about the street apparently totally unconscious of its appearance   I often watched it and never saw other dogs notice its peculiar color in any way. I can make further enquiries in this case if you wish.

My brother said you wished to know if birds had certain liking. I have given him some notes of my own and since then made some enquiries for you. Mr. Volckman3 informs me that he had a dun carrier hen which he never could match to a black though he often tried, but she would immediately match to a dun.4 Again he had a Pouter hen who although strongly matched to a pouter cock, allowed gallantries from another old Cock, yet still kept paired to her own lord, The old Pouter cock was also paired.

As I judge at two of the largest shows held in England and meet many Fanciers & Naturalists, I will prosecute any inquiries you may wish me to, and will send them to you in the way of notes. I grieve much to hear of your continued ill health and sincerely hope and trust that you will soon find relief from pain, though as regards myself it is years since I passed a day without it.5 Yet few people know of it,

I am Dear Sir | Yours Truly | Harrison Weir.

To | Charles Darwin Esquire F.L.S. &c....

P.S. Is there any thing in season, locality &c that affects animals in the way of breeding   I see this year the lambing season is said to be very good there being very few drops but twins. And I have noticed that some seasons the report has been bad very few twins, this does not appear to apply to flocks in particular, but to flocks in general, such as in Yorkshire the lambing is good this season, on the Southdowns, &c &c    I fancy there is something in it.

It would be a “sunny day” with me if I ever have the pleasure of meeting you again.6

Excuse mistakes as my head is very bad today.

CD annotations

1.1 I saw … you wish. 4.5] crossed pencil
2.5 I observed … colored. 2.7] double scored pencil
3.3 which the … not colored 3.5] double scored pencil
4.1 There is … in color. 4.2] double scored pencil
4.3 I often … if you wish. 4.5] scored pencil
5.2 Mr. Volckman … to a dun. 5.4] scored blue crayon
6.1 As … in it. 9.6] crossed pencil


The almond tumbler is a subvariety of the short-faced tumbler pigeon (see Variation 1: 152–3). Weir was an experienced breeder and judge (ODNB).
Mr Volckman has not been identified.
In Descent 2: 118, CD mentioned Weir’s information on the preference of the female dun carrier pigeon for males of the same colour.
In his letter to J. J. Weir of 13 March [1868], CD had referred to himself as an invalid and mentioned being very ill the previous day.
CD and Harrison Weir probably met at a meeting of the Philoperisteron Society (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 19 November [1856]).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 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.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Recognition of colour by animals.

Letter details

Letter no.
Harrison William Weir
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 84.1: 86–7
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6066,” accessed on 23 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16