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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Thompson1   26 November [1856]2

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 26th.—

My dear Sir

I thank you much for your promise of the rabbit: whenever the misfortune happens to you will be time enough for the good fortune for me.—3

I am much obliged to you for telling me about the Rabbit at Zoolog. Gardens; & I have written to the Secretary to bespeak the carcase.—4 I think you spoke as if you knew Mr. Vivian well; should you have any communication with him, I shd. be extremely much obliged, if you would state to him how great a favour he would confer if he would let me have the carcase of one of his Creve-Coeur, old Cocks, whenever one should die.5 This Breed is mentioned as very peculiar in the Poultry Chronicle, as having 2 horn-li〈ke〉 combs, & when the comb is much developed, I find to my surprise the skull is modified to support it.—6 You might, if so inclined & intimate with Mr Vivian, say that I shd. be most grateful for the bodies of any old birds of curious breeds of Rabbits, Poultry, Pigeon, or Ducks, as I mean to work at the skeletons of all these, & horrid work it will be.— You see I have taken you at your word of kindly offering me assistance with a vengeance.

Pray do not trouble yourself to acknowledge this note; only forgive me sending it. & believe me, my dear Sir | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin

The best address for parcels (I mention it for chance of your being able to assist me) is C. Darwin Esqe Care of Mr. Acton Post Office Bromley Kent.—


The recipient is conjectured from an entry in CD’s Account book (Down House MS), dated 22 January 1857, recording a payment of 12s. 6d. to ‘Thompson’ for a silver grey and Himalayan rabbit. John Thompson was superintendent of the Zoological gardens in London from 1852 to 1859 (Scherren 1905, p. 104).
The year is given by the relationship to the letter to W. D. Fox, 14 June [1856], in which CD refers to having asked for the carcass of a Himalayan rabbit from the gardens of the Zoological Society. The letter also precedes a payment for rabbits made in January 1857 (see n. 1, above).
Probably the silver grey rabbit paid for in January 1857 (see n. 1, above). CD’s interest in silver grey rabbits later led him to study the origin of their peculiar colouring and their possible contribution to the ancestry of other well-known breeds, in particular the Himalayan rabbit (see Variation 1: 109–11). CD was assisted in his investigation by Abraham Dee Bartlett, Thompson’s successor as superintendent of the Zoological gardens.
The secretary of the Zoological Society was David William Mitchell. A previous letter to William Darwin Fox, 16 June [1856], indicates that CD had requested a carcase of a Himalayan rabbit.
Probably Edward Vivian, who was a founder of the Torquay Natural History Society and an exhibitor of ducks and poultry (Cottage Gardener 10 (1853): 386).
William Bernhard Tegetmeier had described the French fowl known as crève-coeur in Cottage Gardener 16 (1856): 265–6. In Cottage Gardener 18 (1857): 336–7, he reported the results of cross-breeding experiments with his own stock of crève-coeur fowl. CD had possibly acquired a carcass from him after his first notice. CD described this breed briefly in Variation 1: 229.


Scherren, Henry. 1905. The Zoological Society of London: a sketch of its foundation and development and the story of its farm, museum, gardens, menagerie and library. London: Cassell.

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


Thanks for promise of rabbit carcase and for information about rabbit at Zoological Society’s Garden.

Requests correspondent to ask Mr Vivian for carcase of an old "Creve-coeur" cock. CD has found that the skull in this breed is modified to support its comb.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Thompson
Sent from
Source of text
Cambridge University Library Add 4251: 337
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2001,” accessed on 6 August 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6