Patrick Matthew

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Patrick Matthew

Patrick Matthew (20 October 1790 – 8 June 1874) was a Scottish grain merchant, fruit farmer, forester, and landowner, who contributed to the understanding of horticulture, silviculture, and agriculture in general, with a focus on maintaining the British navy and feeding new colonies. He published the basic concept of natural selection as a mechanism in evolutionary adaptation and speciation (i.e. resulting from positive natural selection, in contrast to its already, widely known, negative rôle in removal of individuals in the Struggle for Survival), but failed to develop or publicise his ideas. Consequently, when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, he and Alfred Russel Wallace were regarded by their scientific peers as having originated (independently of each other) the theory of evolution by natural selection; it has been suggested that Darwin and/or Wallace had encountered Matthew's earlier work, but there is no hard evidence of this. After the publication of On the Origin of Species, Matthew contacted Darwin, who in subsequent editions of the book acknowledged that the principle of natural selection had been anticipated by Matthew's brief statement, mostly contained in the appendices and addendum of his 1831 book, On Naval Timber and Aboriculture.


Patrick Matthew was born 20 October 1790 at Rome, a farm held by his father John Matthew near Scone Palace, in Perthshire.[a] His mother was Agnes Duncan, a relative of Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan[citation needed]. He was educated at Perth Academy and the University of Edinburgh, but did not graduate, as on his father's death and while only seventeen, he had to take over the responsibilities of managing and running the affairs of a property estate at Gourdiehill in the Carse of Gowrie, between Perth and Dundee. Over the years he successfully nurtured, cultivated, and transformed much of the estate's farmland and pastures into several large orchards of apple and pear trees, numbering over 10,000. He became an avid proponent as well as interested researcher of both silviculture and horticulture, both of which influenced his growing awareness of the forces of nature. This awareness, along with his own experiences acquired from years of working his own modest estate would later frame a strong base of reference to form his own opinions and theories.[2]

Between 1807 and 1831 ( when he published On Naval Timber and Arboriculture ) he periodically travelled to Europe, sometimes on business, sometimes seeking scientific enlightenment or agricultural or economic advice[citation needed]: a trip to Paris in 1815 had to be cut short when Napoleon returned from Elba . Between 1840 and 1850, Matthew travelled extensively in what is now northern Germany; recognising the commercial potential of Hamburg he bought two farms in Schleswig-Holstein.[2]

Matthew married his maternal first cousin, Christian Nicol in 1817,[2] and they had eight children: John (born 1818), Robert (1820), Alexander (1821), Charles (1824), Euphemia (1826), Agnes (1828), James Edward (1830), and Helen Amelia (1833). Robert farmed Gourdiehill in Patrick's old age, Alexander took over the German interests; the other three sons emigrated, initially to America.[citation needed] Matthew became interested in the colonisation of New Zealand and was instrumental in setting up a "Scottish New Zealand Land Company". At his urging, James and Charles Matthew emigrated to New Zealand, where they set up one of the earliest commercial orchards in Australasia using seed and seedlings from Gourdiehill.[3] John Matthew remained in America, sending botanical tree specimens back to his father; these included (in 1853) the first seedlings known to have been planted in Europe of both the Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and the Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). A group of trees of these species still thriving near Inchture in Perthshire comes from these seedlings. Matthew gave many more seedlings to friends, relatives and neighbours, and redwoods can be found throughout the Carse of Gowrie; these as well as some elsewhere in Scotland (e.g. at Gillies Hill near Stirling Castle) are thought to have been grown from the 1853 seedlings.[citation needed]


In managing his orchards, Patrick Matthew became familiar with the problems related to the principles of husbandry in horticulture for food production (and hence, by extension silviculture).

Charles Darwin and natural selection[edit]

In 1860, Matthew read in the Gardeners' Chronicle for 3 March a review (by Huxley[4]), republished from The Times, of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which said Darwin "professes to have discovered the existence and the modus operandi of natural selection, and described its principles". A letter by Matthew, published in the Gardeners' Chronicle on 7 April, said that this was what he had "published very fully and brought to apply practically to forestry" in Naval Timber and Arboriculture in 1831, as publicised in reviews. He quoted extracts from his book, firstly the opening words of Note B from pages 364–365 of the Appendix, stopping before his discussion of hereditary nobility and entail.[5]

He then quoted in its entirety a section from pages 381 to 388 of the Appendix.[6] This lacked a heading, but in the Contents appeared as "Accommodation of organized life to circumstance, by diverging ramifications".[7] In it, he commented on the difficulty of distinguishing "between species and variety". The change of the fossil record between geological eras implied living organisms having "a power of change, under a change of circumstances", in the same way as the "derangements and changes in organised existence, induced by a change of circumstance from the interference of man" gave "proof of the plastic quality of superior life" which he called "a circumstance-suiting power". Following past deluges, "an unoccupied field would be formed for new diverging ramifications of life" in "the course of time, moulding and accommodating their being anew to the change of circumstances". He proposed that "the progeny of the same parents, under great difference of circumstance, might, in several generations, even become distinct species, incapable of co-reproduction."[5]

The self-regulating adaptive disposition of organised life, may, in part, be traced to the extreme fecundity of Nature, who, as before stated, has, in all the varieties of her offspring, a prolific power much beyond (in many cases a thousandfold) what is necessary to fill up the vacancies caused by senile decay. As the field of existence is limited and pre-occupied, it is only the hardier, more robust, better suited to circumstance individuals, who are able to struggle forward to maturity, these inhabiting only the situations to which they have superior adaptation and greater power of occupancy than any other kind; the weaker, less circumstance-suited, being prematurely destroyed.[5]

He described this as a "circumstance-adaptive law, operating upon the slight but continued natural disposition to sport in the progeny". Matthew then quoted the opening three paragraphs from Part III of his book, Miscellaneous Matter Connected with Naval Timber: Nurseries, pages 106 to 108, on "the luxuriance and size of timber depending upon the particular variety of the species" and the need to select seed from the best individuals when growing trees.[5][8]

On reading this, Darwin commented in a letter to Charles Lyell:

Now for a curious thing about my Book, & then I have done. In last Saturday Gardeners' Chronicle, a Mr Patrick Matthews [sic] publishes long extract from his work on Naval Timber & Arboriculture published in 1831, in which he briefly but completely anticipates the theory of Nat. Selection. I have ordered the Book, as some few passages are rather obscure but it, is certainly, I think, a complete but not developed anticipation! Erasmus always said that surely this would be shown to be the case someday. Anyhow one may be excused in not having discovered the fact in a work on Naval Timber.[9]

Darwin then wrote a letter of his own to the Gardener's Chronicle, stating,

I have been much interested by Mr. Patrick Matthew's communication in the Number of your Paper, dated April 7th. I freely acknowledge that Mr. Matthew has anticipated by many years the explanation which I have offered of the origin of species, under the name of natural selection. I think that no one will feel surprised that neither I, nor apparently any other naturalist, had heard of Mr. Matthew's views, considering how briefly they are given, and that they appeared in the appendix to a work on Naval Timber and Arboriculture. I can do no more than offer my apologies to Mr. Matthew for my entire ignorance of his publication. If another edition of my work is called for, I will insert a notice to the foregoing effect.[10]

As promised, Darwin included a statement about Matthew having anticipated "precisely the same view on the origin of species" in the third and subsequent editions of On the Origin of Species, referring to the correspondence, and quoting from a response by Matthew published in the Gardener's Chronicle. Darwin wrote that.

Unfortunately the view was given by Mr. Matthew very briefly in scattered passages in an Appendix to a work on a different subject, so that it remained unnoticed until Mr. Matthew himself drew attention to it in the 'Gardener's Chronicle,' on April 7th, 1860. The differences of Mr. Matthew's view from mine are not of much importance: he seems to consider that the world was nearly depopulated at successive periods, and then re-stocked; and he gives, as an alternative, that new forms may be generated without the presence of any mould or germ of former aggregates. I am not sure that I understand some passages; but it seems that he attributes much influence to the direct action of the conditions of life. He clearly saw, however, the full force of the principle of natural selection. In answer to a letter of mine (published in Gard. Chron., April 13th), fully acknowledging that Mr. Matthew had anticipated me, he with generous candour wrote a letter (Gard. Chron. May 12th) containing the following passage:—"To me the conception of this law of Nature came intuitively as a self-evident fact, almost without an effort of concentrated thought. Mr. Darwin here seems to have more merit in the discovery than I have had; to me it did not appear a discovery. He seems to have worked it out by inductive reason, slowly and with due caution to have made his way synthetically from fact to fact onwards; while with me it was by a general glance at the scheme of Nature that I estimated this select production of species as an à priori recognisable fact—an axiom requiring only to be pointed out to be admitted by unprejudiced minds of sufficient grasp."[11]

Matthew, Darwin and Wallace are the only three people considered to have independently discovered the principle of natural selection as a mechanism for speciation (macroevolution). Others prior to Matthew had proposed natural selection as a mechanism for the generation of varieties or races within a species: James Hutton suggested the mechanism in 1794 as leading to improvement of varieties, and an 1813 paper by William Charles Wells proposed that it would form new varieties. In 1835, after Matthew’s book, Edward Blyth published a description of the process as a mechanism preserving the unchanging essence of stable species.[12]

Matthew's legacy in evolutionary studies[edit]

Misconceived claims are made on behalf of Victorian evolutionists, with all the tedious inevitability that was predicted by Stephen Jay Gould in his piece on Natural Selection as a Creative Force,[13]

The following kind of incident has occurred over and over again, ever since Darwin. An evolutionist, browsing through some pre-Darwinian tome in natural history, comes upon a description of natural selection. Aha, he says; I have found something important, a proof that Darwin wasn't original. Perhaps I have even discovered a source of direct and nefarious pilfering by Darwin! In the most notorious of these claims, the great anthropologist and writer Loren Eiseley thought that he had detected such an anticipation in the writings of Edward Blyth. Eiseley laboriously worked through the evidence that Darwin had read (and used) Blyth's work and, making a crucial etymological mistake along the way, finally charged that Darwin may have pinched the central idea for his theory from Blyth. He published his case in a long article (Eiseley, 1959), later expanded by his executors into a posthumous volume entitled "Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X" (1979).

The equally inevitable rebuttal of these claims, tends to require an inordinately disproportionate investment of effort (see Earp 2016 for an explanation), sometimes only concluding after years of counterarguments (e.g., Roy Davies' The Darwin Conspiracy: Origins of a Scientific Crime). Unfortunately, the media coverage that accompanies these revisionist campaigns, is the version most likely to be seen and remembered by the public, not the peer-reviewed paper appearing in the scientific literature a year later. The damage is therefore multifarious and insidious, from time lost to the individual, to misinforming the public en masse. Contrary to the stated intention, the unfortunate outcome of the latest claims made in Matthew's name might very well do more damage than good.

Modern claims for Matthew's priority[edit]

Although Darwin insisted he had been unaware of Matthew's work, some modern commentators have held that he and Wallace were likely to have known of it, or could have been influenced indirectly by other naturalists who read and cited Matthew's book.

  • Ronald W. Clark, in his 1984 biography of Darwin, commented that Only the transparent honesty of Darwin's character... makes it possible to believe that by the 1850s he had no recollection of Matthew's work.[14] This begs the question, for it assumes he did read Matthew's book. Clark continues by suggesting: If Darwin had any previous knowledge of Arboriculture, it had slipped down into the unconscious.[15][16]
  • In 2014, Nottingham Trent University criminologist Mike Sutton published in a non-peer-reviewed proceedings, a research paper that he presented to a British Society of Criminology conference proposing that both Darwin and Wallace had "more likely than not committed the world's greatest science fraud by apparently plagiarising the entire theory of natural selection from a book written by Patrick Matthew and then claiming to have no prior knowledge of it."[17] On 28 May 2014 The Daily Telegraph science correspondent reported Sutton's views, and also the opinion of Darwin biographer James Moore that this was a non-issue (below).[18] Sutton published a 2014 e-book Nullius in Verba: Darwin's Greatest Secret[19] reiterating his argument, and alleging that "the orthodox Darwinist account" is wrong as "Darwin/Wallace corresponded with, were editorially assisted by, admitted to being influenced by and met with other naturalists who - it is newly discovered - had read and cited Matthew's book long before 1858".[20] Sutton included as one of these naturalists the publisher Robert Chambers, and said it was significant that the book by Matthew had been cited in the weekly magazine Chambers's Edinburgh Journal on 24 March 1832,[21] then in 1844 Chambers had published anonymously the best selling Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation which, according to Sutton, had influenced Darwin and Wallace.[20] In 2015, Sutton further repeated his assertion of "knowledge contamination" in the Polish journal, Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (F.A.G.) (Philosophical Aspects of Genesis),[22] which Sutton asserts is peer-reviewed, and about which, one of the journal's editors responded, "As to Sutton, he cannot justifiably claim much credibility for his ideas just because these are published in such a journal like ours, i.e. one adopting Feyerabendian pluralism. If he thinks otherwise, it is only his problem. Any reasonable person should know better."[23] In addition to his papers and e-book, Sutton disseminates his claims against Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace via several blog sites and twitter accounts, and public lectures: to the Ethical Society, at the Conway Hall, on 27 July 2014; to the Teeside Skeptics in the Pub, at O'Connells Pub in Middlehaven, a ward of Middlesbrough, on 2 October 2014; and to the Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group, at the James Hutton Institute, at Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, on 17 March 2016. During this visit to Scotland, Sutton also presented his claims to The Junior Carsonians, "the junior division of The Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group who represent the 6 Carse Primary Schools, some 1000 pupils, who work collectively on various climate change, heritage and sustainability project [sic]", who, "got to hear about Dr Sutton’s work and the evidence he has uncovered about Patrick Matthew and Charles Darwin".[24]

However, there is no direct evidence that Darwin had read the book, and his letter to Charles Lyell stating that he had ordered the book clearly indicates that he did not have a copy in his extensive library or access to it elsewhere. The particular claim that Robert Chambers had read and transmitted Matthew's ideas that are relevant to natural selection is also not supported by the facts. The article in the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (1832, vol. 1, no. 8, 24 March, p. 63) is not a review but only an abridged excerpt from pp. 8–14 of On Naval Timber that amounts to no more than a recipe for pruning and contains nothing of relevance to natural selection. It is headed "ON THE TRAINING OF PLANK TIMBER" and ends with ".— Matthew on Naval Timber."[25] Even if it had been penned by Robert Chambers, this does not mean that he had read or understood, leave alone transmitted, the other passages of Matthew's book that do contain anything relevant to natural selection. Further, The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation contain nothing of relevance about natural selection. Combining these facts, Robert Chambers had probably not read or received the message about natural selection in Matthew's book, but has surely not promulgated it in the Vestiges, and probably neither in conversations.

In subsequent editions of The Origin of Species, Darwin acknowledged Matthew's earlier work, stating that Matthew "clearly saw...the full force of the principle of natural selection". It is an urban myth that, from 1860 onward, Matthew would claim credit for natural selection and even had calling cards printed with Discoverer of the Principle of Natural Selection. This probably started with Loren Eiseley (1958. Darwin's Century), who apparently misunderstood a comment made by Darwin in a letter to Hooker (22 and 28 October 1865).[26] Concerning the finding that William Charles Wells had published the idea of evolutionary change through natural selection before Matthew, Darwin wrote to Hooker: "So poor old Patrick Matthew, is not the first, & he cannot or ought not any longer put on his Title pages “Discoverer of the principle of Natural Selection”!" However, this was already inaccurate on Darwin's part. What the title page of Matthew's pamphlet Schleswig-Holstein really said was:


Rebuttal of claims[edit]

Challenges to Matthew's claim to priority, or those made since he died, have essentially made reference to the same issues, that his description of natural selection was not accessible and it lacked lengthier development. Other criticisms have focussed on the differences between Darwin's and Matthew's versions of natural selection, and sometimes Wallace's too (e.g., Weale 2015). If Matthew's ideas had made the impact on subsequent evolutionary thinking, as claimed, the signals ought to be there, either during Matthew's lifetime, or Darwin's. Yet, modern claims for Matthew's priority have been unable to provide evidence for this, that has withstood fact checking.

Accessibility and development[edit]

Historian of science, Peter Bowler succinctly summarised some of those main reasons given for why Matthew does not deserve priority for natural selection over Darwin and Wallace,

Such efforts to denigrate Darwin misunderstand the whole point of the history of science: Matthew did suggest a basic idea of selection, but he did nothing to develop it; and he published it in the appendix to a book on the raising of trees for shipbuilding. No one took him seriously, and he played no role in the emergence of Darwinism. Simple priority is not enough to earn a thinker a place in the history of science: one has to develop the idea and convince others of its value to make a real contribution. Darwin's notebooks confirm that he drew no inspiration from Matthew or any of the other alleged precursors.[28]

Ernst Mayr's opinion was even more clear-cut:

Patrick Matthew undoubtedly had the right idea, just like Darwin did on September 28, 1838, but he did not devote the next twenty years to converting it into a cogent theory of evolution. As a result it had no impact whatsoever.[29]

Richard Dawkins also grants that Matthew had grasped the general concept of natural selection, but failed to appreciate the significance, nor develop it further,

I agree with W.J. Dempster, Patrick Matthew’s modern champion, that Matthew has been unkindly treated by history. ‘But, unlike Dempster, I hesitate to assign full priority to him. Partly, it is because he wrote in a much more obscure style than either Darwin or Wallace, which makes it hard to know in some places what he was trying to say (Darwin himself noted this). But mostly it is because he seems to have underestimated the idea, to an extent where we have to doubt whether he really understood how important it was. The same could be said, even more strongly (which is why I have not treated his case in the same detail as Matthew’s), of W.C. Wells, whom Darwin also scrupulously acknowledged (in the fourth and subsequent editions of The Origin). Wells made the leap to generalise from artificial to natural selection, but he applied it only to humans, and he thought of it as choosing among races of people rather than individuals as Darwin and Wallace did. Wells therefore seems to have arrived at a form of ‘group selection’ rather than true, Darwinian natural selection as Matthew did, which selects individual organisms for their reproductive success. Darwin also lists other partial predecessors, who had shadowy inklings of natural selection. Like Patrick Matthew, none of them seems to have grasped the earth-shattering significance of the idea they had lit upon, and I shall use Matthew’s name to represent them all. I am increasingly inclined to agree with Matthew that natural selection itself scarcely needed discovering. What needed discovering was the significance of natural selection for the evolution of all life.[30]

In response to Sutton's e-book, Darwin biographer James Moore said many people came towards a similar perception during the 19th century, but Darwin was the only one who fully developed the idea:

Patrick Matthew has always struck me as a non-issue. Many people understood the issue of natural selection but it was only Darwin who applied it to everything on the planet, as an entire vision of life. That was his legacy. I would be extremely surprised if there was any new evidence had not been already seen and interpreted in the opposite way.[18]

In response to Sutton (2015)[22] Darwin and Wallace scholar, John van Wyhe commented,

This conspiracy theory is so silly and based on such forced and contorted imitations of historical method that no qualified historian could take it seriously.[31]

To coincide with Sutton's presentation to the Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group, Darwin author, Julian F. Derry sent an open letter, saying,

contrary to what Dr Sutton has told you tonight, Patrick Matthew did not influence the course of evolutionary history in the way that is claimed [. …] Dr Sutton is not the myth-buster that he calls himself [and,] has been either, wrong, inaccurate or irrelevant in his conclusions [. …] Darwin and Wallace were the first to propose adaptive changes via incremental gradualism producing species better suited to their environment, making natural selection sufficiently novel in this sense [. …] The title of Darwin’s book could have been inspired by several sources[, …] Chambers likely never saw Matthew’s book[, … and, t]his is how the history will remain, despite Dr Sutton’s efforts to have it modified[32]

Biological concepts[edit]

The History of Science website Natural Histories has compiled a comprehensive series of blog posts on Patrick Matthew that have made a close study of his writings, while importantly ensuring an appropriate historical context. The resulting pieces of evidence largely contradict Sutton's claims. This is especially so from a biological context, one that compares and evaluates core differences between Matthew's and Darwin's concepts,[33] especially that relating to relative adaptation (Matthew's power of occupancy), and diversification as an adaptive process (Darwin's principle of divergence),

In conclusion, Matthew’s theory of evolution is a chimera pairing the old doctrine that natural selection (usually) keeps the species fixed with the catastrophism that allowed for rapid transformation and radiation of species by natural selection after a catastrophe. Darwin’s principle of divergence, however, was his final break away from the doctrine that natural selection kept species fixed. The principle of divergence differs from Matthew’s ideas in its development (from Darwin’s own studies of systematics and an analogy with economics), its causal structure and its consequences. This constitutes a negative paternity test for Matthew. It exculpates Darwin from claims of plagiarising Matthew for the time after he shifted from his early (1844) to his mature theory (1856-58). His early theory, without the principle of divergence, was equally different from Matthew’s ideas:

→ environmental change renders a species ill-adapted
→ this leads to increased variation
→ this allows species transformation by natural selection
→ adaptation is always relative
→ competition keeps species fixed in their natural place
→ catastrophe removes competition
→ species spreads and natural selection transforms it to new conditions

This exculpates Darwin for the time from his return from the Beagle voyage till 1844. Hence, the period for which there is no evidence that Matthew's ideas are present in Darwin's work, the records of his development of ideas, and expression of those concepts in his writing can be shown to extend from the time he was leaving for the Beagle voyage, up until the coalescence of his ideas into his cohesive system of evolution by natural selection in 1858. Niles Eldredge, points out the very valid point that seeing Matthew’s descriptions at any point during that extended period, would likely have resulted in an integral, preformed model being described by Darwin from the outset, whereas what we actually have in his notes is realisation of the full picture from development of incremental sketches,

And though some have suggested that Darwin, in particular, had actually co-opted Matthew’s ideas, it seems to me highly improbable. Recall that Darwin knew that adaptation must be explained, and that there is in fact a causal explanation for adaption that must involve ‘generation’ (including heredity) as well as heritable variation, as early as Notebook B in late 1837. It took him another year or so to find Malthus and the geometric growth of populations that supplied the third, until-then missing component of a complete theory of selection articulated in Notebooks D and E. Had Darwin read Matthew, he would have seen the whole thing - all three components of natural selection - in one concise statement.[34]

Matthew's contemporaries[edit]

Accepting these irreconcilable differences in theory, a remaining route has been proposed, by which Darwin may have got to gain knowledge of Matthew's evolutionary ideas, that is, by knowledge being passed along a network of associates, by word of mouth, or an equally indirect pathway, such as via the influence of an editor.[19][22] Evidence that such a network existed could be found if there was documentation of anyone having discussed Matthew's ideas on evolution. However, there is no single contemporary record of anyone having even recognised any value in Matthew's concept. Of the 3 sources to mention the existence of evolutionary content in On Naval Timber,[35] two were rejections,

  • Prideaux John Selby, wrote,

Matthew, however, in his able treatise on naval timber seems to think that its indigenous location in such districts arises not so much from preference of soils of the nature above-mentioned, as from its having more power of occupancy in such soils than any other plant of the country; and this opinion he endeavours to support by stating that the Pinus sylvestris, planted in a good or rich soil, attains larger dimensions and its best timber properties, and that it is only driven from this superior soil by the greater power of occupancy, and that it is only driven from this superior soil by the greater power of occupancy possessed by the oak and other deciduous trees, an opinion in which we cannot altogether acquiesce, as we see no reason why the fir, if it grows with such additional vigour in a richer soil, as Mr. Matthew asserts, should, at the same time, be unable to maintain a contest with the oak or other tree.[36]


  • while an anonymous reviewer in the United Service Journal and Naval and Military Magazine wrote,

we disclaim participation in his rumination on the law of Nature, or on the outrages committed upon reason and justice by our burthens of hereditary nobility, entailed property, and insane enactments[37]

  • The other was in a review where the writer, assumed to be John Claudius Loudon, confesses to being confused,

One of the subjects discussed in this appendix is the puzzling one, of the origin of species and varieties; and if the author has hereon originated no original views (and of this we are far from certain), he has certainly exhibited his own in an original manner[38]

Darwin's contemporaries[edit]

While completing a doctoral thesis on Disputes of Plagiarism in Darwin's Theory of Evolution at the University of Zielona Gora, where the journal Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (F.A.G.) (Philosophical Aspects of Genesis) is based, Grzegorz Malec published a critical review of Sutton (2015), in which the main difficulty of valid identification of communication pathways was discussed, along with observations on Sutton's alternative approach,

If Sutton is right and Darwin was a plagiarist, it will be the most shocking discovery in the history of science. But he must present hard evidence to convince anyone that Darwin read Matthew’s book before 1859 and had known those fragments concerning natural selection. Eventually, he should prove that Darwin learned about Matthew’s idea from one of his friends or correspondences […] Sutton’s line of reasoning can be reduced to one simple pattern: since Wilkin could read Matthew, then he must have done so, and because he could have discussed his evolutionary views with Joseph Hooker (1817-1911), then he did, and since Hooker could have informed Darwin about Matthew’s book, then he did. But all of this is inferred by Sutton without offering any hard evidence that this really happened. Similar situation concerns Mudie, Main, Conrad, Roget, Johnson, Selby, Emmons, Laycock, Powell and Leidy […] It seems that Darwin’s acknowledgement to Matthew in his letter to The Gardeners’ Chronicle, and putting the latter’s name in the list of predecessors in the historical sketch in On the Origin of Species, was fair enough.[39]

Natural Histories analysed the set of pathways that Sutton claims could have conveyed information on evolution from Matthew to Darwin and Wallace,[40] also noting the same arbitrary determinism detected by Malec (above), they explain that,

Sutton […] has used google, in order to track down the provenience of certain quotes that are often attributed wrongly. He now thinks he has sufficient evidence to conclude that both Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace plagiarized Patrick Matthew (1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture) and stole Matthew's idea of evolution through natural selection from it. One part of his exercise […] was to find phrases in Matthew (1831) that were apparently never used before. Concluding that Matthew was first to coin and use these phrases (called Matthewisms), authors who used the same phrase afterwards were taken to have them from Matthew (1831). These authors were called first to be second […] the implication being that they all read Matthew's book and, if they didn't cite Matthew, betray this by the use of the phrases in question […] Let me summarize […]:

  1. [Sutton] mistook the translation of a Swiss-French pastor's failure to teach his peasants proper potato cultivation with Matthew's observations on self-thinning in forest rejuvenations (Ellerby 1832).[41]
  2. He failed to check whether anything in Matthew (1831) could be from non-English sources (Conrad 1834, Roget 1834).[42][43]
  3. He mistook a rant by Rafinesque (1836)[44] against the Linnean system for a rant of Matthew against the poor selection regimes of nurserymen.
  4. He mistook political rants for biological ones (see Wilson 1837).[45]
  5. He mistook a theatre critique with a scientific piece (Anon. 1837).[46]
  6. He failed concerning an ostensibly anonymous translation, that was neither a translation nor even contained the phrase in question (Anon. translator 1842).[47] Note: Sutton mis-references this as 1838.
  7. He mistook poor selection regimes with hybridization (Armstrong and Buel 1840).[48]
  8. He mistook an anecdote about a parlor games with the competitive advantage of established trees (Rush & Butler 1840).[49] Sutton wrongly attributes this to the periodical's owner-editor, Conrad Swackhamer.
  9. He mistook the failure of a contemporary (i.e., Selby 1842)[36] to get Matthew's idea as a proof that Selby did get Matthew's idea. Furthermore, Selby doesn't actually ever use the phrase as claimed by Sutton.
  10. He mistook law-stuff with natural history (Alabama Supreme Court 1846).[50]
  11. He mistook an editor and re-publisher for the original author. Sutton cites Wilkin (1852)[51] which is an edited collected works, within which the matching phrase occurs, in Browne (1658).[52]
  12. He mistook the worst that's ever been published on education with the best that's been published on natural history (see Andrews 1853).[53]
  13. He mistook a piece on language and historiography with one on natural history (see Mure 1854).[54]
  14. He mistook cultural (religious) causes with natural (ecological) ones (see Fishbourne 1855).[55]
  15. He took a review of Baden Powell's 1857 essay, Christianity without Judaism[56] on theology to be an original natural history source. Joseph Hooker commented on how parsons such as Powell, are so in the habit of dealing with the abstractions of doctrines as if there was no difficulty about them whatever, a criticism that could be levied at others who wander outside their academic and intellectual limits.
  16. He mistook an account of a spiritualist ranting about the polygamy of Mormons and the celibacy of Shakers with science (see Hallock 1858).[57]
  17. He mistook communicating member's report of a debate about neurophysiology involving Hartshorne (1858)[58] with an original statement by Leidy and took it to be on natural history.

Natural theology[edit]

Writing to Darwin in 1871, Matthew enclosed an article he had written for The Scotsman and, as well as wishing that he had time to write a critique of The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, expressed the belief that there is evidence of design and benevolence in nature, and that beauty cannot be accounted for by natural selection.[59] Such a belief is mainstream natural theology, and reveals how far Matthew was from Darwin in realising the potential of evolutionary explanations: for him as well as others, man was the sticking-point.

There is little or no evidence that Matthew held these views as a younger man: there is no discussion of a religious nature in Arboriculture.

Socio-political views[edit]

Matthew's idea on society were radical for their times. Although he was a landowner, he was involved with the Chartist movement, and argued that institutions of hereditary nobility were detrimental to society. It has been suggested that these views worked against acceptance of his theory of natural selection, being politically incorrect at the time (see Barker, 2001). The more likely reason is that the obscurity of the location hid the ideas from many who would have been interested. Only after Darwin's Origin did Matthew come forward in a popular journal, the Gardeners' Chronicle. Matthew also published a book in 1839, Emigration Fields (Black, Edinburgh), suggesting that overpopulation, as predicted by Malthus, could be solved by mass migration to North America and the Dominions.

Matthew supported the invasion of Schleswig-Holstein by Bismarck in 1864: his pamphlet on the event was denounced by the Dundee Advertiser. He also supported the Germans against the French in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), a war which marked the final unification of the German Empire and the end of the Second French Empire.

In 1870 Matthew became aware of the terrible housing conditions of the workers in Dundee. In a letter to the Dundee Advertiser he told readers that the death rate of children under five in the town was 40%, and outlined a blueprint for the redevelopment of the city.

The Tay bridge[edit]

When the Edinburgh and Northern Railway (E&N) and the Dundee and Perth Railway (D&P) were seeking Parliamentary approval in 1845, it was proposed by their engineers that from Perth both should share a line running along the south bank of the Tay as far as Newburgh, where the D&P would cross to the north bank, and the E&N leave the Tay and head south to a ferry crossing of the Forth. Matthew had been in a very small minority supporting this, and the D&P as built crossed the Tay at Perth. In 1864, when a bridge crossing the Tay at Dundee was proposed, Matthew urged that a bridge at Newburgh was preferable to a bridge at Dundee, a Newburgh bridge giving much the same reduction in the rail distance between Dundee and the Forth ferry-ports from which passengers could cross to Edinburgh as a bridge at Dundee but doing so by a shorter (and therefore cheaper) crossing of the Tay.[60] He argued the costs of a Dundee bridge were being grossly under-estimated To erect a substantial bridge, not a flimsy spectral thing, which might or not vanish as a phantom the first storm, or break down under the vibration caused by a heavy, rapid, moving train, would, in my opinion cost nearly double, and probably much more than double, the sum the Engineer states; upon this I stake my judgement against that of the Engineer, noting in passing from the geological indices, I would expect the foundation to be more regular at Newburgh than at Dundee, consequently better.[60]

The financial crisis of 1866 put an end to the 1864 Tay Bridge proposal, but it was revived in 1869. Matthew responded with a series of letters to the Dundee papers arguing for a Newburgh bridge, and advancing all manner of additional arguments against a Dundee bridge; it would have a deleterious effect on silting and tidal scour in the Firth;[61] it would prevent navigation upstream of it;[62] it would be torn apart by the centrifugal force from heavy trains rapidly descending the curve at its northern end; it was vulnerable to earthquake, a ship colliding with a pier, or to high wind.[63]

Matthew's objections were not heeded,[64] and were not persisted in once Parliament had passed the Bill authorising construction of the Tay Bridge. During construction of the bridge some of Matthew's criticisms were borne out: it became apparent that bedrock could not be found at a depth allowing the use of brick piers; the design had to be modified to use lattice-work iron piers of reduced width, and there was considerable cost overrun. The bridge opened in June 1878 and was destroyed in a storm in December 1879: the lattice work piers supporting the centre section of the bridge (the high girders) failed catastrophically as a train was crossing the bridge. The high girders and the train fell into the Tay and about seventy-five lives were lost. Whilst it was recalled in the immediate aftermath of the disaster that Matthew had predicted collapse in a high wind as one of the horrible ends to which a bridge at Dundee could come,[65] the disaster is generally ascribed to defects in the design and manufacture of the lattice work piers introduced into the design well after Matthew's campaign against the bridge.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ John Thomson's Atlas of Scotland, 1832: Perthshire with Clackmannan[1] shows Rome as east of the River Tay, roughly opposite the mouth of the Almond - if so the site now lies within the park of Scone Palace


  1. ^ Thomson, John; Johnson, William (1827). Atlas of Scotland: Perthshire with Clackmannan. Edinburgh: J Thomson & Co. 
  2. ^ a b c Calman, WT (1912) "Patrick Matthew of Gourdiehill, Naturalist", Handbook and Guide to Dundee and District, AW Paton and AH Millar (Eds), the British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp. 451-7 (see The Patrick Matthew Project » More On Matthew
  3. ^ Dempster W.J. 1983. Patrick Matthew and natural selection: nineteenth century gentleman-farmer, naturalist and writer. Harris. Edinburgh. with corrections/additions from review of Dempster By G J Tee in "Reviews" (PDF). New Zealand Journal of History: 66–67. 1984. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  4. ^ [T. H. Huxley] (26 December 1859) Darwin on the origin of species, The Times, pp. 8–9
  5. ^ a b c d Matthew, P. 1860. Nature's law of selection. Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (7 April): 312-13
  6. ^ Matthew 1831, pp. 381–388.
  7. ^ Matthew 1831, p. xvi.
  8. ^ Matthew 1831, pp. 106–108.
  9. ^ Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles, 10 Apr (1860) Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2754,” accessed on 4 February 2011,
  10. ^ Darwin, C. R. to Gardeners' Chronicle, 13 Apr (1860) Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2766,” accessed on 4 February 2011,
  11. ^ Darwin, C.R. (1861) On the Origin of Species, 3rd Edition, John Murray, London, pp. xiv–xv
  12. ^ "More on James Hutton". The Dispersal of Darwin. 5 June 2007. Retrieved 12 August 2015. , John Wilkins (2003). "Darwin's precursors and influences: 4. Natural selection". TalkOrigins Archive. Retrieved 2015-08-12. 
  13. ^ Stephen Jay Gould (2002) The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 137-141. Available: Accessed: 31-05-17
  14. ^ Clark, Ronald W. 1984. The survival of Charles Darwin. p130-131 ISBN 0-380-69991-5
  15. ^ Clark, Survival of Charles Darwin, p131
  16. ^ If Darwin had read the book, it might have been an example of cryptomnesia.
  17. ^ Sutton MR (2014) The hi-tech detection of Darwin’s and Wallace’s possible science fraud: Big data criminology re-writes the history of contested discovery. Papers from the British Criminology Conference, Vol. 14: 49-64
  18. ^ a b Did Charles Darwin 'borrow' the theory of natural selection? The Daily Telegraph, 28 May 2014
  19. ^ a b Sutton, MR (2014) Nullius in Verba: Darwin's Greatest Secret. Thinker Media, Inc.
  20. ^ a b Sutton, MR (2015) On Nullius in Verba: The book that uniquely re-wrote the history of the discovery of natural selection. Bestthinking, 12 September.
  21. ^ Chambers, W. and Chambers, R (1832). Chambers's Edinburgh Journal. William Orr. Saturday March 24th . p. 63
  22. ^ a b c Sutton, M. (2015) On Knowledge Contamination:New Data Challenges Claims of Darwin’s and Wallace’s Independent Conceptions of Matthew’s Prior-Published Hypothesis. Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (F.A.G.) (Philosophical Aspects of Genesis), Volume 12.
  23. ^ Dariusz Sagan pers. comm. to JF Derry 07-09-16.
  24. ^ Bell, Coral (2016) The Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group Junior Carsonians.
  25. ^ "Published excerpts (1831-32)". PMP--The Patrick Matthew Project (by Mike Weale). 2015-05-12. Retrieved 2017-05-29. 
  26. ^ Darwin, C. R. to J. D. Hooker 22 and 28 [October 1865] Darwin Correspondence Project, "Letter no. 4921," accessed on 2017-05-29,
  27. ^ Matthew, Patrick (1864). Schleswig-Holstein /. London : Spottiswoode & Co. 
  28. ^ Bowler, Peter J. 2003. Evolution: the history of an idea, 3rd. revised edn. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p158
  29. ^ Mayr, Ernst 1982. The growth of biological thought. Harvard.
  30. ^ Dawkins, Richard(2010) “Darwin’s Five Bridges: The Way To Natural Selection”. In Bill Bryson “Seeing Further: the Story of Science & the Royal Society”. HarperPress.
  31. ^ Alexander, Michael (2016) Perthshire Charles Darwin claims are ‘so silly’, claims leading international academic. The Courier, May 17
  32. ^ Julian F. Derry (2016) An Open Letter, 17 March 2016
  33. ^ Natural Histories: Comparing Matthew's and Darwin's theories
  34. ^ Eldridge, Niles (2015) Eternal Ephemera: Adaptation and the Origin of Species from the Nineteenth Century Through Punctuated Equilibria and Beyond. Columbia University Press.
  35. ^ On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; with critical notes on authors who have recently treated the subject of planting Patrick Matthew, 1831. Edinburgh: Black; Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green: London.
  36. ^ a b Selby, Prideaux John (1842) A History of British Forest-Trees: Indigenous and Introduced. London: John Van Voorst.
  37. ^ Anon. (1831) “The United Service Journal and Naval and Military Magazine, 1831 part II. London: Colburn and Bentley. pp. 457-466.
  38. ^ J.C. Loudon, F.L.S. H.S. & C. (attributed) (1832). The Gardener's Magazine. pp. 702–703. 
  39. ^ Malec, Grzegorz (2015) There Is No Darwin's Greatest Secret. Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (F.A.G.) (Philosophical Aspects of Genesis), Vol. 12, pp. 325-331
  40. ^ Natural Histories: Did Darwin plagiarize Matthew? Part 2: Debunking claims about parroting Matthew (1831)
  41. ^ Ellerby, T.S. (1832) Memorial of Felix Neff, the alpine pastor. London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co.
  42. ^ Conrad, T.A. (1834) Observations on the Tertiary and more recent formations of a portion of the Southern States. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 7, 116-157
  43. ^ Roget, P. M. (1834) The Bridgewater Treatise on the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God As Manifested in the Creation. Treatise V. Animal and Vegetable Physiology. London, Pickering.
  44. ^ Rafinesque, C. S. (1836) Flora Telluriana. First Part. Philadelphia.
  45. ^ Wilson. J. (1837) The Elections, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 42. pp. 238-247.
  46. ^ Anon. critic (1837) The Theatres. The Spectator, 7 October, Page 9
  47. ^ Anonymous (1842) Economical uses of the willow. The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Volume 11. London. Charles Knight & Co.
  48. ^ Armstrong, John and Jesse Buel (1840) A Treatise on Agriculture, Comprising a Concise History of Its Origin and Progress: The Present Condition of the Art Abroad and at Home, and the Theory and Practice of Husbandry. To which is Added, a Dissertation on the Kitchen and Fruit Garden. Harper & Brothers.
  49. ^ Rush, Richard & Pierce Butler (1840) The Game of Twenty Questions. The United States Democratic Review. v.7 1840 Jan-Jun. p63.
  50. ^ Alabama Supreme Court (1846) Reports of Cases at Law and in Equity, Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Alabama, New Series, Band 8. West Publishing Company, 1846
  51. ^ Wilkin, Simon ed. (1852) Sir Thomas Browne's Works, Including His Life and Correspondence. London, W. Pickering.
  52. ^ Browne, Thomas (1658) Pseudodoxia Epidemica; Or, Enquiries Into Very Many Received Tenents, and Commonly Presumed Truths. R.W. for Nath. Ekins, London, p. 312.
  53. ^ “Andrews, Christopher Columbus (1853) Reflections On The Operation Of The Present System Of Education. Boston: Crosby Nichols and Company.
  54. ^ “Mure, William (1854) A Critical History of the Language and Literature of Antient [sic] Greece, Volume 3. London: Longman and Co..
  55. ^ “Fishbourne, Edmund Gardiner (1855) Impressions of China and the present Revolution its Progress and Prospects. London. Seeley and Co.
  56. ^ Powell, Baden (1857) Christianity without Judaism: A second series of essays, including the substance of sermons delivered in London and other places. London: Longman, Brown, Green. Reviewed in The British and Foreign Evangelical Review, vol. VII, no. XXV, July, 1858. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.
  57. ^ Hallock, Robert T. (1858) The Road to Spiritualism : being a series of four lectures delivered at the opening of the New-York Lyceum. Reviewed in Floy, James, ed. (1858) The National Magazine: Devoted to Literature, Art, and Religion, Volumes 13. Jul.-Dec. New York: Carlton & Porter. p.183.
  58. ^ Summary of the Transactions of The Philadelphia Biological Society: reported by Henry Hartshorne, M.D., Recording Secretary. Biological Department of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, April 1858.
  59. ^ "Darwin Correspondence Project – Letter 7576 – Matthew, Patrick to Darwin, C. R., 12 Mar 1871". Retrieved 13 January 2008. 
  60. ^ a b Matthew, Patrick (31 October 1864). "Bridge over Tay Firth". Dundee Courier and Argus. 
  61. ^ Matthew, Patrick (8 December 1869). "Dundee Bridge". Dundee Courier and Argus. 
  62. ^ Matthew, Patrick (6 April 1870). "The Spanish Castles in the Air Defunct". Dundee Courier and Argus. 
  63. ^ Matthew's objections are summarised (and mocked) by one of Bouch's subordinates in Groethe, Albert (1878). The Tay Bridge, Its History and Construction. Dundee. Retrieved 22 January 2015. . A more sympathetic summary (apparently following closely an account in Dempster (1983)) can be found in McKean, Charles (2007). Battle for the North: The Tay and Forth Bridges and the 19th-Century Railway Wars. London: Granta. pp. 93–94. ISBN 978-1-86207-940-3. 
  64. ^ The Dundee-Perth line had fallen into the hands of the Caledonian Railway in 1865; after that the wish of Dundee and the North British Railway for an NBR line into Dundee not at the mercy of the Caledonian could only be met by crossing the Tay at Dundee
  65. ^ "The Disaster Predicted". Dundee Advertiser. 31 December 1879.  repeating an article with the same title in the Newcastle Chronicle


External links[edit]