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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. S. G. Canning   23 February 1874

31. Portman Square

Febry 23d. | 1874.


I received your letter & wish to supply any information, as you seem to think it may be useful for the next edition of your book,—1 it seems remarkable that unlike the pure white peafowl, which produce often pied young ones when crossed with the common,—that the black-wings never vary; whether produced from common peacocks & peahens; or from differing parents or from black-winged male & female; the young birds are precisely the same, either pure common or pure black-wing— also I have on three occasions known black-wing young ones in the same brood with common ones; always rather the smallest & weakest.— you are doubtless aware that as in pheasants, the hen peafowl sometimes, throw cock feathers, & leave off laying; this is the case with the mother of a black-wing hen I have at present; the old brown bird when I last saw her had several tail feathers like the peacocks train; & the neck also coloring; she had left off laying for a year so before this change— Mr Sclater inclines to think this variety may yet be found wild in Cochin China,2 but I do not know if this has been ascertained or not.— I have at present at my house in Ireland (Rostrevor Co. Down) four old & four young black-winged peafowl— the plumage of the young cocks I consider very remarkable. hatched entirely white except the chestnut quills they get darker & darker till every vestige of white disappears; the female growing up comparatively unaltered— I remember seeing in an old painting at a public Exhibition in Piccadilly some few years ago: two black-wing cocks; they were merely as accessories to other figures in the picture, & I remember no more about the picture except that it was decidedly an old one & thus apparently the variety must have been known for many years past.3

I hope you will excuse my troubling you with all these particulars, which I should not have done, but for your last letter which encourages me to think they may not be unacceptable—

I am, Sir | Yr obednt Servt | ASG Canning

C. Darwin Esqre.

CD annotations

1.10 brown] underl pencil
Back of envelope: ‘2nd letter from Hon.4 Canning on Black-shouldered Pea[illeg]’ blue crayon


CD’s letter has not been found, but see the letters from A. S. G. Canning, 16 February 1874 and 18 February 1874. Canning had offered information on peafowl for the second edition of Variation.
Canning refers to Philip Lutley Sclater. See also Sclater 1860.
CD cited Canning for the reference to this picture in Variation 2d ed. 1: 307.
Hon: honourable. Canning was the second son of a baron.


Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.


More details on pea-fowl.

Letter details

Letter no.
Albert Stratford George Canning
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Portman Square, 31
Source of text
DAR 161: 42
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9313,” accessed on 5 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22