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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   8 [February 1861]1



My dear Hooker

You mentioned in a former letter about rubbing in cod-liver oil.2 Etty cannot take it internally. I asked our Doctor here & he had never heard of such a thing.3 Emma & I would be much obliged for a little more information. How did you hear of it?4 Is evidence pretty good of benefit derived from rubbing in. As it would be a rather nasty proceeding for Etty to be thus basted, we should begin with more confidence, if we knew more. Will you take trouble to send us a line.—5

Yours affect— | C. Darwin

How long ought the oil to be rubbed in   can you tell at all?


Dated on the basis of the endorsement and by the relationship to the letter to J. D. Hooker, 20 [February 1861]. See also n. 5, below.
Hooker’s letter has not been found.
Probably Edward Augustus Williams, surgeon in Bromley, who was the Darwins’ family physician. Williams had been treating Henrietta Emma Darwin throughout her illness of the past year. Etty, whose condition had been improving, had suffered a severe vomiting attack late in January (letter to W. E. Darwin, [24 January 1861]). Late in the summer of 1860, following a bout of typhus fever, she had experienced a hardening of her abdominal tissues that the doctors believed would only gradually subside. See Correspondence vol. 8, letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 August [1860]. Cod-liver oil was believed to improve the appetite and help the patient put on weight (see n. 4, below).
Although the application of cod-liver oil as a treatment for various maladies was common on the Continent, it was not generally recommended by English physicians until the 1840s, after John Hughes Bennett published a book drawing the attention of English medical men to the beneficial effects of the oil (Bennett 1841). It was later adopted as a remedy for the loss of appetite associated with consumption. Although normally taken internally, cod-liver oil could be applied externally if the patient was unable to digest it (EB).
Hooker’s reply has not been found, but see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 20 [February 1861]. There is an entry in CD’s Account book (Down House MS) on 15 February 1861 that reads: ‘Ball. Cod Liver Oil 10s.6d’. There is a James Ball, oilman, of Duke Street, Grosvenor Square West, listed in the Post Office London directory for 1861.


Bennett, John Hughes. 1841. Treatise on the oleum jecoris aselli, or cod liver oil as a therapeutic agent in certain forms of gout, rheumatism, and scrofula; with cases. London.

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

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.


Henrietta’s continuing poor health. JDH’s suggestion to rub her with cod-liver oil.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115.2: 86
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3060,” accessed on 20 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9