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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Richard Hill   10 January 1857

Spanish Town Jamaica

10th January 1857.

My dear Sir

I duly received your communication by the early December packet,1 and I shall feel pleasure in attending to all and any subject here, in which you are desirous of information.

Mr Shakspear of whom I spoke as a needful assistant, in getting specimens of the Cithagra, has just returned from England.2 I communicated what you wished. He has promised me his assistance. He told me that Mr. Leyden of Black-river, who is now in England, attempted to breed the Cithagra Braziliensis with the Canary, but they refused to pair, and he found the Brazilian Birds so impatient of restraint that they seldom endured the cage long. Another friend who has offered me his ready aid, tells me that in another part of the island, the true Canary has been naturalized, and that it is a ready singer.— I suspect he has mistaken the Canary Warbler of America for it,—the Sylvicola petechia (æstiva). He is however a good Naturalist, and will not err on investigation.

We have a well ascertained collection of the Land Mollusca of Jamaica in the British Museum presented by Mr Edward Chitty one of our late Chairmen of Quarter Sessions now in England.—3 He will give you with pleasure information on the limited localities of species, or their special diffusion. He has made that branch of our Natural History a subject of minute study. In very many instances with us particular species have no extension beyond a particular Valley. Mr Edward Chitty will be found at his Brothers, Mr Thomas Chitty, King’s Bench Walk, in the Temple London.

I should ascribe considerable influence to Hurricanes, in the work of diffusion in our West Indian Islands. New Continental birds are occasionally driven before these winds to us, and so doubtless are insects.— Water spouts do something also in this way. There is a record of frogs having been brought to Port au prince Haiti in a whirlwind. In April last year we suffered exceedingly in the vicinity of Kingston by Tornado rains. I was at the East end of the Island, and saw from the Hills the morning after the deluging rains that fell, a spout passing along the coast, and three had been approaching the island the day previous. We owe the diffusion of crustacea in our mountain streams to migratory Ducks, through whom the eggs pass undigested.

Instances have been recorded of some of the large Boas reaching the West Indian Islands on trees pushed out into our Seas, by freshets from the great Cotinental rivers. There is a particular instance recorded of the Island of Saint Vincent receiving such a Visitor.

Seeds are certainty spread by the prevailing Currents. The Hibiscus populneus a Malabar tree mallow,—called by us the Gamboge Mallow, has been naturalized at Port-Royal, where it is very common now. It has been carried out to the out keys and Islets, by the land breeze and will become common enough upon them.

I take the liberty of sending you a little brochure I printed, entitled “a Week at Port Royal”,—not that it contains anything of any kind of service to you, but because it is a contribution to our local Natural History.4

I have a finished paper rather long on migratory birds, which I will copy out on an early opportunity and send you. 5

Any-thing and every-thing I have are at your Service to be used when and how you please.6 So long as they are accepted as information my object is accomplished.

With respectful assurances, believe me, very faithfully, | Your obedient Servant, | Richard Hill Charles Darwin Esqre.

CD annotations

crossed pencil
double scored pencil
triple scored pencil
double scored pencil; ‘Ask’added pencil
crossed pencil
scored pencil
Top of first page: ‘18’7 brown crayon
Bottom of last page: ‘Tropical Fish eat seed?’pencil, del pencil


CD’s letter has not been found. CD had written to Hill at the suggestion of Philip Henry Gosse, from whom he had requested information concerning the domesticated animals found in Jamaica. See letters to P. H. Gosse, 22 September [1856] and 28 September 1856.
In the description of Crithagra braziliensis, the golden crowned canary, in P. H. Gosse 1847, pp. 245–7, Gosse stated: These birds are believed in Jamaica to be the descendants of some pairs of the common Canary turned out. “A gentleman of the colony named Shakspeare,” observes Mr. Hill, “many years ago, touching at Madeira on his voyage to this island, is said to have procured several male and female Canaries, which he set at large in the fields about the rectory at Black River, where they have multiplied, and have become wild birds of the country… .”
Edward Chitty had lived in Jamaica since 1840. In 1854 he presented a large collection of land and freshwater shells of Jamaica to the British Museum (British Museum (Natural History) 1904–6, 2: 707).
Hill 1855. This paper is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
This paper has not been located in the Darwin archive, but another one on the fishes of Jamaica, published in the Transactions of the Jamaica Society of Arts 2 (1855): 115–16, is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
In Variation 1: 294 nn. 43 and 44, CD referred to information on the guinea-fowl of Jamaica that Hill provided in a subsequent letter, now missing.
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on the means of geographical dispersal of plants and animals


British Museum (Natural History). 1904–6. The history of the collections contained in the natural history departments of the British Museum. 2 vols. London: the Trustees.

Gosse, Philip Henry. 1847. The birds of Jamaica. London: John Van Voorst.

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


Will attend to any subject in Jamaica about which CD wants information.

Crithagra brasiliensis and canary refused to pair.

A collection of Jamaican land Mollusca will be presented to the British Museum.

Hurricanes are a considerable influence on diffusion of birds and insects.

Letter details

Letter no.
Richard Hill
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Spanish Town, Jamaica
Source of text
DAR 205.2: 237
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2038,” accessed on 26 September 2021,

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