RECORD: Tegetmeier, W. B. 1891. How Darwin accumulated his facts. St James's Gazette (7 April), p. 6.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe. 12.2019. RN1

NOTE: Another version of the same recollection was published in Richardson, E. W. 1916. A veteran naturalist, being the life and work of W.B. Tegetmeier. A658.

In Illustrated London News, 1892 (9 April), p. 462 and The Tatler, 1904, no. 146 (13 April), p. 60, Tegetmeier shared another recollection on how he first met Darwin.

[Tegetmeier, W. B. 1892. [Recollection of Darwin]. Pigeons. Illustrated London News (9 April), p. 462.]


To those who have not considered the subject from a scientific point of view, it would appear almost incredible that all the numerous varieties of fancy pigeons, varying as much as they do in size, form, and colour, should be descended from one wild original; yet, if one fact more clearly than another is made out in the history of our domestic animals, it is that the common blue rock pigeon, a native of the most inaccessible part of our coasts, is the progenitor of every species of fancy pigeon.

The late Mr. Charles Darwin, in his large work on variation in animals and plants, fully demonstrated the fact that no other bird could have had any share in the origin of our domestic pigeon, and he showed by a series of experiments in which I had the pleasure of assisting him, that by mating together the most extreme varieties, however dissimilar in form and colour, they would, after a few generations, revert more or less completely to their ancestral type, and show the blue colour and black-barred wings of the blue rock.

My acquaintance with Mr. Darwin commenced at pigeon show held many years since in the great room Freemasons' Hall, when Mr. Yarrell, the well-known ornithologist, who had known me a boy, introduced me to a stranger, saying,

"Oh, Mr. Darwin, here's Tegetmeier; he will tell you what you want to know." Our introduction resulted in an acquaintance which endured during the lifetime of the great naturalist, who availed himself of the very considerable collection of specimens that I had made, illustrative of the variations that occur in domestic birds.

[In The Boy: What we he become? XVIII. – How I became a naturalist. The Tatler, 1904, no. 146 (13 April), p. 60.]



My friendship with Yarrell ended only with his life, and to him I owe my personal introduction to Darwin. Continuing my love for pigeons I became the secretary of the most exclusive pigeon association, the Philoperisteron Society, which held its annual meetings in the great hall at the Freemasons' Tavern.

At one of these exhibitions I heard a voice which said, "Oh, here's Tegetmeier; he will tell you all about these birds better than I can." I turned round and saw Yarrell with a stranger, whom he introduced as Mr. Darwin. l had not before known him personally although he had done me the distinguished honour of quoting in his Origin of Species some of my observations on the formation of the cells made by the honey bee, a distinction of which I am indeed proud. Dr. Wallace, the eminent traveller and naturalist, and myself are the only two men now living amongst those mentioned by Darwin in the first edition of that important book. Darwin was at that time accumulating evidence for his large work on The Variation of Animals. He was surprised and gratified when he found that so humble and obscure an individual as myself bad been working at the same subject for some years, and had collected and prepared with his own hands a large number of skulls and anatomical specimens bearing on the subject. How eagerly he embraced the opportunity of adding to his materials may be inferred from the fact that the next morning brought him to my little country cottage at Wood Green. When he went away he took with him a box of skulls and other specimens, many of which have been engraved in his well-known volumes on variation, and this led to a friendship which lasted until his death. I have still in my possession many scores of letters, and his son in his last volume of More Letters of Darwin states that these "give a striking picture of the amount of assistance which Darwin received from him during many years" and "how much his co-operation was valued."





Mr. W.B. Tegetmeier, of the Field, sends an interesting letter to that paper apropos of a discussion on the cackling of hens. Incidentally Mr. Tegetmeier enlarges our knowledge of Charles Darwin's passion for accuracy in his work. "I have," he says, "been greatly amused with the correspondence which has taken place with regard to the cackling of hens after having laid their eggs. The manner in which some persons theorize on subjects on which they are confessedly ignorant is, to say the least, amusing.

When I compare the manner in which Darwin exhaustively investigated any subject before proceeding to theorize upon it, with the complacency with which his successors, without any preliminary investigations, evolve, I cannot help making a contrast which is not complimentary to the latter.

I had the distinguished honour of working with Darwin for many years, and as an example of the pains-taking and conscientious manner in which he accumulated facts, I may mention that on one occasion I employed a clerk for several weeks to investigate the proportion of sexes in the births of domesticated animals, and that the whole of this work, so carefully done, made three lines in the 'Variation of Animals.'

It may seem an easy matter to ascertain the proportion in which the two sexes occur in the births of many species. In reality, there are only three in which any trustworthy record has been kept - that is to say, in numbers sufficiently large to afford an accurate ground for a general statement.

These are in the genus Homo (the species which is by courtesy called sapiens), in thoroughbred horses, and greyhounds - no other animals, that I am aware of, having had such a record kept of the proportion of sexes in any large number of births. It was in this way that Darwin worked out the investigation of the subject, which, limited as it was, cost him £10, and only made, as I have said, some three lines in his great work."


[Darwin, C. R. 1871. The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex, pp. 263-4:

"Thus with race-horses, 25,560 births have been recorded during twenty-one years, and the male births have been to the female births as 99.7 to 100.

With greyhounds the inequality is greater than with any other animal, for during twelve years, out of 6878 births, the male births have been as 110·1 to 100 female births. It is, however, in some degree doubtful whether it is safe to infer that the same proportional numbers would hold good under natural conditions as under domestication; for slight and unknown differences in the conditions affect to a certain extent the proportion of the sexes."] C.C.

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