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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. C. Tait   5 March 1869


March 5th 1869.

Charles Darwin Esqr. | Down | Bromley | Kent

Dear Sir,

I this morning received your letter of the 24th. ultmo. and am glad to say that the plants are now in my possession and I am sending 12 by the “Beta” S.S leaving tomorrow morning.1 I send them in a shallow wooden box covered over with bars and the Captain has promised to take care of them during the voyage   he has also given me the address of a man in London who will forward them on to your address thus obviating troubling your brother who lives at a considerable distance from the wharf.2 I have therefore asked

Mr. T. Allen3

British & Foreign Wharf

Lower East Smithfield

London E.C.

to receive and forward the plants without delay immediately they arrive.

I hope you will receive them in good condition and if you should wish me to forward some more I shall be most happy to do so.

Please notice the manner in which the flies are held on the leaves and the strong resinous smell of the plant. The man who brought me the plant made a mistake I think in putting too rich soil over the natural soil which is at the bottom of the flower pots and from which you will be able to judge more or less what is suitable for them.

The situation in which I found them was dry and sunny but from my short experience with them the plants seem to like plenty of water, my resuscitated plant looking very well under the hydropathic treatment. I do not know how they will get on without their animal diet.

I shall make notes on all the peculiar circumstances relating to tail-less dogs and also as to systematic selection4   I am also making enquiries about what I suppose is an interesting case of correlation of growth in the cultivation of the common orange.

Every enquiry shall be made about sheep also but unfortunately this northern part of Portugal is too mountainous for merino sheep which breed (or a similar one) is kept on the plains of the Alemtejo near Lisbon.5

I am in the habit of buying wool for shipment to England but do not see any thing of the sheep, the Wool district being up the river round the Wine country   I shall try to pick up as much reliable information as possible. I have noticed the effect of selection (artificial) on the quality of Wool from various districts but the pasturage has an immense influence and the quality of the Wool may be foretold by knowing the locality from which it comes.

On the Gerez Mountains6 near the Borders of Spain almost due NW from this city there is a curious wild goat   I am told it is of a very rare species—7 This serra is very interesting on account of its great wildness. I saw the old trees growing there covered with moss and falling around from sheer old age or too much crowding   Several rare plants are to be found there and large birds of prey are common   Wild boar and roebuck may be shot there. And the scenery is very fine–

Have you ever heard that if a fig shoot is planted upside down the tree from it will be pendulous? I have been told so and am trying whether such is the case— I shall be most happy to try to obtain any plants or birds you may wish for and remain | Dear Sir, | Yours very truly, | William C. Tait.

CD annotations

1.1 I this … wharf. 1.6] crossed blue crayon
3.1 Please … plant. 3.2] double scored blue crayon
4.1 The … diet. 4.4] double scored blue crayon; ‘Tap-root’ added blue crayon
5.1 I shall … crowding 8.4] crossed blue crayon


CD had suggested the plants could be sent to Erasmus Alvey Darwin’s address in London (see letter to W. C. Tait, 24 February 1869).
T. Allen has not been further identified.
See letter to W. C. Tait, 24 February 1869 and n. 4. Alemtejo (now Alentejo) was a province in south-east Portugal (Columbia gazetteer of the world). For more on the breeding of merino sheep in Portugal, see Wood and Orel 2001, pp. 23–4.
Tait refers to the Serra Do Gerês, a short mountain chain that extends from north-west Portugal into Spanish Galicia (EB).
Tait probably refers to the Geres goat (Capra pyrenaica lusitanica, a subspecies of the Spanish ibex), which became extinct around the end of the nineteenth century (Moço et al. 2006, p. 351).


Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

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


Is forwarding potted specimens of Drosophyllum.

Will make inquiries about sheep.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Chester Tait
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 45
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6644,” accessed on 1 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17