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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Robert Colgate1   25 June 1861

Hempsted House | Eastbourne

June 25th. 1861

My dear Sir

I wrote as I promised you to my friend Mr. Boys in New Zealand and have just received a reply dated April 4th.2 I fear the little he has said will not be sufficient to be useful to you.3 He says:—“I cannot answer your numerous queries with sufficient accuracy for a naturalist—that is to say with the positive assertions from actual observation that would be required—but I can tell you that bees have only reached as far up the country as Rangiora4 within the last twelve months, and that white clover did seed before bees were introduced, but red clover to the best of my belief did not— At all events the latter has become much more abundant during this last year. There are but very few insects indiginous to New Zealand that appear to supply the place of bees or perform their functions. I have never been able to succeed with French beans and scarlet runners during the many years I have been out here until this year, when I have had them in abundance which is I know attributable to the bees, having watched them. I have also noticed that bees prefer white clover to red; In the paddock in front of my house white and red clover being pretty evenly mixed, you would see a bee upon most of the white clover flowers and not one upon the red.”5

The rest of his letter is private gossip. If this scanty information is of any interest to you I shall be very glad.

I have been very much interested in your book on natural selection which you were so kind as to send me.6 I think I ought to have immediately thanked you on the receipt of it but I was expecting this New Zealand letter long before this. Will you think it presumption in me if I say that I think you have a slight error at p. 77. about field-mice—being destroyed by cats—7 I believe that cats never seek field-mice and if they come across one and kill they will not eat it. Owls and hawks are the great enemies of field-mice.

I wonder if we shall have the pleasure of seeing you at Eastbourne again this summer—8 I hope Miss Darwin is better and that Mrs. Darwin is well

I remain dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Robt. Colgate

CD annotations

1.1 Boys] underl blue crayon
1.7 but red … not— 1.8] double scored blue crayon
1.16 and not one upon the red.”] double scored blue crayon
2.1 The rest … this. 3.3] crossed blue crayon


Colgate was a surgeon in Eastbourne. CD apparently made his acquaintance during the seven weeks the Darwins spent there in the autumn of 1860.
The letter was from John Cowell Boys.
CD apparently mentioned to Colgate his interest in learning whether the introduction of European hive-bees had affected the pollination of clover and other leguminous flowers in New Zealand. CD had already received information from a nurseryman in Christchurch, William Swale, on this subject. See Correspondence vol. 7, letter from William Swale, 13 July 1858, and letter to the Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 13 November 1858].
A borough near Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand.
In Origin, pp. 94–5, CD stated that only humble-bees visited red clover, for hive-bees could not reach the nectar.
Colgate’s name is included in the presentation list CD drew up for the third edition of Origin (see Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix VII).
Colgate refers to CD’s statement in Origin that the number of humble-bees in a district was determined by the population of fieldmice, which destroy their comb and nests, and that: the number of mice is largely dependent, as everyone knows, on the number of cats … Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of flowers in that district! (Origin, p. 74; ibid., 3d ed., pp. 76–7). CD did not modify this statement in subsequent editions of Origin (see Peckham ed. 1959, p. 157).
The Darwins had taken a house at 15 Marine Parade, Eastbourne, from 22 September to 10 November 1860. See Correspondence vol. 8, Appendix II.


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.


Notes observations on the spread of bees in New Zealand and their importance as pollinators of clover and other introduced plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Colgate
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 76 (ser. 2): 171–2
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3197,” accessed on 20 September 2021,

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