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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alfred Newton   2 April 1864

Magdalene College, | Cambridge.

2d. April 1864.

My dear Sir,

Pray accept my best thanks for your obliging letter of the 29th.1 which I should have acknowledged sooner had I not been away from home for a few days. I am extremely interested with the results of your examination of the lump of earth attached to the Red-legged Partridge’s foot—and marvel much at the extraordinary fact of so many seeds germinating after having been so long imbedded therein.2

I am very glad to find you agree in thinking that the clay accumulated by degrees—

When I exhibited the specimen at the Zoological Society’s meeting, Dr. Gray was very much inclined to ridicule the whole matter3—and to believe that both Mr. Stevenson and I had been imposed upon concerning it.4

Some time ago Mr. Frank Buckland expressed a wish to examine the bird’s leg.5 I then told him I had placed it in your hands, but if, now that you have done with it, you would let him have it to determine if he can the original cause of the injury—I have no objection to his doing so—but at the same time you might possibly prefer to trust to the skill of some other operator, in which case I hope you will not hesitate to do so—

I was extremely sorry last autumn to hear of your serious illness—and regret now to find that you are still suffering— Allow me to hope that you will speedily be restored to perfect health, and enabled to prosecute your researches—

Believe me, my dear Sir, | Yours very truly and obliged | Alfred Newton

Charles Darwin, Esq. F.R.S.

I have lately been much engaged in compiling an account of the wonderful visitation of Syrrhaptes paradoxus last year— I find but one way of accounting for that extraordinary phenomenon which is on the principles you have been the first to discover—6


In his letter of 31 October 1863 (Correspondence vol. 11), Newton mentioned that when he exhibited the partridge foot at the Zoological Society meeting on 21 April 1863, John Edward Gray, insisted that the earth around the foot had not been gradually aggregated (see also Newton 1863, and letter to Alfred Newton, 29 March [1864]).
Henry Stevenson, secretary of the Norfolk and Norwich Museum, had obtained the specimen from a taxidermist in Norwich in 1860 (see Newton 1863).
In his letter of 31 October 1863 (Correspondence vol. 11), Newton mentioned Francis Trevelyan Buckland’s remarks on the partridge leg in the Field, 16 October 1863, p. 368.
Newton refers to the sudden migration in 1863 of large numbers of Pallas’s sand-grouse to western Europe, 4000 miles from the western limits of their ordinary range. In his account, published in Ibis, Newton suggested that the migration was the result of a population increase in the species in its native territory; he referred to natural selection, arguing that the species was ‘probably the conquering hero of a long “struggle for existence” ’ (Newton 1864, pp. 219–20).


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

Newton, Alfred. 1863. On an illustration of the manner in which birds may occasionally aid in the dispersion of seeds. [Read 21 April 1863.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1863): 127–9.

Newton, Alfred. 1864. On the irruption of Pallas’s sand-grouse (Syrrhaptes paradoxus) in 1863. Ibis 6: 185–222.


Marvels that seeds from the lump of clay on the partridge’s foot have germinated. At Zoological Society [J. E.?] Gray ridiculed him. Now Frank Buckland would like to see the specimen.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Newton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Magdalene College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 172: 41
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4446,” accessed on 4 August 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12