skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Richard Hill   10 January 1859

Spanish Town Jamaica

10th January 1859.

My dear Sir,

I should have acknowledged your letter of the 22nd November by last packet had the mail not been more than ordinarily late, leaving only a day for acknowledgments.1 I shall not fail to attend to all your requests relative to the naturalized hive and the indigenous Bee,—their honey and their honey comb— A friend who has a fine apiary will put up for me the specimens of the broodless cells you require.2

Our Melipona I think on examination will be found to be different from that of Mexico.3 Living specimens were sent to Sir William Jardine by Mr Edward Chitty, now of the King’s Bench Walk Temple.4 Through him you will probably obtain some specific intelligence relating to those native bees. The honey cells are sacklets, the honey dark coloured, and the wax nearly as deep in tint as obsidian. We have a log in the Museum of our Society of Arts containing a living hive at work, and if I do not possess myself of what you desire early, I shall be able from this stock to get for you Specimens

We have the Xylocopa teredo of Lansdowne Guilding.—5 I shall see if I can procure these. They are rather scarce, but come occasionally under the notice of the Logwood cutters.

I shall enquire generally what are our variety of Social and Solitary Apidæ and let you know. Westwood I see gives us the Apis grossa, but I have never seen it.6 We have a rose-leaf-cutter bee, lining its nest with circular cuttings from the Rose as the Megachile, but in what respect it is specifically distinguished I do not know. All this ignorance serves to render your enquiry very interesting, and therefore a labour of pleasure.

With much respect, I remain | My dear Sir, | Very faithfully your obet Srvt | Richard Hill Charles Darwin Esqe FRS.

CD annotations

triple scored ink
Bottom of last page: ‘Read Jardines Book7 Send copy of my Book to Mr. Hill—’ ink


CD’s letter has not been found. In 1857, he had corresponded with Hill about the natural history of Jamaica (see Correspondence vol. 6).
The specimens were received by CD in August (see letter to Richard Hill, 8 August [1859]). CD had studied the geometry and construction of bees’ and wasps’ cells in the summer and autumn of 1858.
CD was especially interested in the cell-building instinct of the domestic bee of Mexico, Melipona domestica, for it appeared to represent an intermediate stage in development between the humble-bee, which produced crude round cells, at the lower end of the scale, and the hive-bee, with its highly developed instinct for constructing regular, hexagonal prisms. See Natural selection, pp. 514–16, and Origin, pp. 225–8.
Before returning to London, where he worked as a legal reporter and writer, Edward Chitty had spent several years in Jamaica; his gift of a swarm of Jamaican bees is mentioned in Jardine ed. 1840, p. 290 n.
Guilding 1825.
John Obadiah Westwood. The reference has not been traced.
Jardine ed. 1840. CD recorded this work in his list of books to be read (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, *119: 10v. and 21).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Will secure information on indigenous and naturalised bees as CD requests.

Believes Mexican and Jamaican Melipona are different.

Letter details

Letter no.
Richard Hill
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Spanish Town, Jamaica
Source of text
DAR 166: 218
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2399,” accessed on 7 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7