skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Richard Harte   30 August 1872

To Charles Darwin Esqre | F.R.S. &c—


Crossing a few days ago from Cork to Bristol I noticed a cat on board with enormous paws, and I found that it had six well formed claws on each of the hind feet and five on each of the fore feet   on enquiry the steward informed me that the mother of this cat had an abnormal number of claws (he could not exactly say how many) and that most of her kittens had extra claws, one of them as many as seven on each hind paw. he further told me that he had at home a sister of the cat I saw on board which had six claws on both fore and hind feet and that this cat had some young ones with extra claws one of which I could have.1

one of these kittens I have brought with me to London a tom cat with six claws on the front paws and five on the hind, and as I find I shall have to leave London for some time it struck me that the case was a sufficiently interesting one, as illustrating the persistance of a variation, to warrant me in writing to offer you my pussy if you will be pleased to accept it.

I should mention that the fore paws of this kitten are a singular travestie of a hand being in this form


If you will kindly let me know whether you care for the kitten, I shall, in case you do, send or leave it at any address you mention

yours obediently | Richard Harte

P.S The stewards name is Curran2 (of the ship P. Adler.) | Cork and Bristol | S.S. Company.

30/8/72 | 2 Devonshire Terrace | W. Nottinghill Gate

CD annotations

1.8 one … have.] ‘—grandchildren’ added pencil
Top of letter: ‘Cats 6 toes | 3 generations’ pencil


CD had briefly discussed the inheritance of polydactylism, including cases of six-toed cats, in Variation 2: 12–17.
The steward has not been further identified.


Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Report about six-toed cats; trait persistent for three generations.

Letter details

Letter no.
Richard Harte
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Devonshire Terrace, 2
Source of text
DAR 166: 110
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8496,” accessed on 20 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20