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Letter 6314

Smyth, R. B. to Darwin, C. R.

13 Aug 1868


Relates some observations on expression among Australian aboriginals and encloses answers to CD’s queries from other observers. [These include letters and observations from: J. A. Hagenauer, 28 May 1868; Archibald Grahame Lang, 17 June 1868; H. B. Lane, 24 June 1868; Templeton Bunnett, 25 June 1868; J. Bulmer (1868). (See introduction to Expression.)]



17th. June 1868

Dear Sir

Herewith I have the honor to forward for the information of Mr. Darwin answers to his questions from

1. The Reverend Mr. Hagenauer, a Missionary in Gipps Landf2 who has had many years experie⟨nce⟩ of the Aborigines of Australia, and who is an inte⟨lligent⟩ clever observer.

2. Mr. La⟨n⟩g ⟨    ⟩ Teacher at the Aborig⟨ine⟩ st⟨ation⟩ ⟨ 4 5 line missing⟩ and ⟨    ⟩ from all ⟨sor⟩ts ofth⟨e⟩ Color⟨    ⟩ ⟨c⟩ollected in n⟨  ⟩mb⟨  ⟩

3. Mr. Lane a Polic⟨e M⟩agistrate, a⟨n⟩d Wa⟨rd⟩en—⟨a⟩ gentleman, on whose o⟨b⟩servations the utmost reliance may be placed.

4. Mr. Templeton Bunnet—whose Station ⟨i⟩s ⟨on⟩ theborders of the Colony—and by reason of its situation enables the observer to see some Aboriginals who have not had much intercourse with the Whites.f3

5. Mr. Bulmerf4—a Missionary in a remote part of Gipps Land.

It was my intention to have visited Coranderrk;f5 and to have made observations as closely in accordance with Mr. Darwin’s requirements as practicable but urgent business, which has occupied my attention ever since I received Mr. Gowen Evans’f6 letter has prevented me from fulfilling this duty. I have however made observations wherever a suitable subject presented himself—

“Jim Cane” a very lively and intelligent full-blooded Aboriginal came from Warrnambool t⟨o⟩ see me—as the ⟨    ⟩ in reference to the removal of his children to the school ⟨at⟩ Lak⟨e⟩ Condah.f7

I ex⟨    ⟩ ⟨rest of line missing⟩ with questio⟨ns of⟩gr⟨a⟩ve impor⟨tance⟩ ⟨    ⟩ made a f⟨    ⟩

When laug⟨h⟩ing the skin o⟨    ⟩ ⟨    ⟩ eyelids wr⟨in⟩kled ⟨    ⟩ head was bent forward—the ⟨shou⟩lders were elevated—and ⟨the⟩ hands were removed from the body—the fingers gathered t⟨o⟩geth⟨er⟩ as if picking up fruit; and again the hands were drawn backwards—lightly touching the hips.

When trying to remember a word he had forgotten—the body was bent forward—the head thrown slightly backwards—and the eyes were half or nearly closed.

The upper eyelids quivered.

I showed Jim Cane a mass of silver in a glass case—beautifully mounted, and bearing a slight resemblance to the form of a sheep—a thing surprising and singularly attractive to a Black fellow.

His curiosity was excited. The upper lip was slightly drawn together, and slightly protruded, and all the muscles about the corner of the nose worked rapidly.

Something being named on which he felt strongly (the injustice done him as he conceived by the removal of his children) he threw his half opened hand up to his he⟨ad⟩ and spoke very rapidly.

When shewn a mas⟨s⟩ of off⟨i⟩cial papers in a large ro⟨om⟩ ⟨1 line missingcluck-cluck ⟨ 4 5 line missing⟩ the mouth ⟨3 or 4 words missing⟩ and again he ⟨    ⟩ back his hands towards ⟨    ⟩ hips.

In endeavouring to explain any point of difficulty he turned out his hands, and exposed the flat palms—the ⟨t⟩humb being bent outwards from the fingers.

Addressing me on a subject interesting to him—his face was fronting me, the eyes turned quite to the left—so as to show little more than the whites.

Thomas Bungelene—a full blooded Black—who was educated at the expense of the Government and who was for some time under my charge—showed on one occasion a complexion as nearly approaching to what we understand by paleness as could well be conceived in the case of a very Black fellow.f8

He was angry and much frightened—and almost a death like pallor was exhibited.

Mr. Thomas A. Hickey, the Clerk of the Central Board—took a full blooded Black named “Jemmy Barber” to the Theatre Royal Melbourne when the Japanese Jugglers and Acrobats were giving a performance.f9

Jemmy had never been in a theatre before, or indeed, in any lar⟨ge⟩ Hall. When he saw the place he did ⟨n⟩ot wish to go any fu⟨rther⟩ ⟨1 or 2 lines⟩ an assemblage ⟨ 2 3 line⟩ He breathed hard through ⟨1 or 2 words⟩ ⟨    ⟩ting his nostrils, whether through fear surprise ⟨or del⟩ight Mr Hickey could not ascer⟨tain.⟩ He would not answer questions put to him.

When he saw two little boys turning head over heels very quickly he was much astonished and expressed his feelings by protruding his lips and making a noise with his mouth as if he were blowing out a match.f10

R Brough Smyth

Flemington, | 13th Aug. 1868


Answers to Queries about Expression

No 1 It is a difficult matter to astonish the Aborigines but when they are astonished they raise the eyebrows and make an exclamation ‘Kooke’   to do so the mouth is drawn up as if going to whistle

No 2 I have not been able to detect anything like shame in the adult Aborigines, but I have noticed in the children when ashamed their eyes present a restless watery appearance as if they did not know where to look

No 3 In anger I have found that the mouth if firmly closed nostrils distended and the man picks up the first thing ⟨    ⟩ reach to hurl at the person against w⟨      ⟩ angry: In deliberate⟨    ⟩ I find ⟨1 line missing⟩ head ⟨1 or 2 lines missing⟩ which we do. ⟨    ⟩ rem⟨  ⟩ ⟨2 or 3 words⟩stupidity if unable to find the matter ⟨    ⟩ a rule they areincapable of mental exe⟨rtion⟩

No 5 A Black in low spirits I find shews it ⟨by⟩ a sullen silence mouth closed eyes sle⟨e⟩py looking and not inclined to walk about, but will if left to himself roll himself up in his rug

No 6 A Black in good spirits shews it by his sparkly eyes and a grin which shews his teeth all the face in a smile. As a rule Blacks are very impulsive   they are like children very easily pleased and its opposite. When a Blk’s wants are all supplied and he has health he is generally in good spirits.

No 7. In snarling at each other I find they speak with the teeth closed the upper lip drawn to on⟨e⟩ side and a general angry expression of face looking direct at the person addressed

No 8 A dogged or obstinate expression may be detected by the mouth being firmly closed and a frown

No 9 Contempt is shewn in the same way as described in the circular. the same remarks will apply to No 10 disgust

No 11 During the time I have had the circular I have not seen a case of extreme fear

No 12 Laughter is often carried to such an extent that tears are brought into the eyes   the Blks have a keen sense of the ludicrous. They are excellent mimics and when one is a⟨ble to i⟩mitate the peculiarities of some absent member of the tribe, it is very common⟨to hear⟩ all in the ⟨camp convulsed with laughter⟩

⟨No 13⟩ ⟨    ⟩ he ⟨    ⟩ not p⟨r⟩eventsometh⟨in⟩g being do⟨ne⟩ he ⟨    ⟩ merely said so andturn⟨ed⟩ away as if half ashamed

⟨No 1⟩4 When the children are sulky they pout the lips

No 15 I cannot say anything about a jealous expression not having observed a case

No 16 As a sign to keep silence I have seen the person put the mouth as if going to whistle and then suddenly open it, at the same time silently uttering the word Woo lart ba wort which means be silent. I have also observed when they wish to stop a noise they give a sudden Yah

⟨No 1⟩7 In making a sign in the affirmative the head is nodded vertically with an expression gna which means yes. but they do not like us nod the head silently

In making a sign in the negative they throw the head a little back and put out the tongue

These are the fruits of my observation   I hope I have made my remarks plain so that they may be of use to you. I may say all which I have stated I have seen among the Blks and if you think that the modes of expression is nearly similar to European expression, Ican only say I think the Blk ⟨    ⟩ ⟨w⟩ild state would expresshimself just th⟨    ⟩ ⟨    ⟩uld. N⟨    ⟩ be anythingwhich I ha⟨    ⟩ ⟨1 line missing

fai⟨thf⟩ully yo⟨urs⟩ | J. M. Bulmer

DAR 177: 205–12



Smyth’s letter and its enclosures were sent to CD by Edward Wilson(letter from Edward Wilson, 14 October 1868).
Smyth refers to Friedrich August Hagenauer. Gipps Land: Gippsland,a region in Victoria, Australia.
Archibald Grahame Lang and H. B. Lane have not been further identified.
John Bulmer.
Coranderrk was a station in Victoria for aboriginal peoples; it wasestablished in 1863 (Barwick 1972, p. 24). See also Correspondencevol. 15, letter from Ferdinand von Mueller, 8 October 1867 and nn. 7 and 8.
Gowen Evans was Wilson’s representative on the board of the Argusnewspaper in Victoria (Wilson, the proprietor, had moved back toEngland in 1864; see Aust. dict. biog. s.v. Wilson, Edward).
An Anglican mission was established at Lake Condah, Victoria, in1867 (Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia). Jim Cane and hischildren have not been identified.
CD quoted Smyth’s remarks about Bungelene’s pallor in Expression,p. 294.
The ‘Central Board’ was presumably the Board for the Protection ofthe Aborigines. Thomas A. Hickey and Jemmy Barber have not beenfurther identified.
CD quoted the last part of Smyth’s remarks on Barber’s expressionin Expression, p. 285.
Hagenauer also answered CD’s questions in his letter to Ferdinandvon Mueller, [12 September 1867] (Correspondence vol. 15).
CD quoted Hagenauer’s remarks in Expression, p. 321.
See Expression, p. 194.
See Expression, p. 292.
See Expression, pp. 262–3.
CD quoted Lang’s reply in Expression, p. 321.
Lane wrote his answers on a handwritten copy of CD’s queries aboutexpression that was probably made in Australia. Where the text isdamaged in this and the questionnaire following (enclosure 4), missing words have been supplied based on other handwrittenquestionnaires.
Lane’s answer has been reconstructed based on CD’s summary ofresponses in DAR 186.
In other lists of queries, this phrase reads, ‘General remarks onexpression’.
The copyist or another person has scored out all but the ‘6’ of ‘6or 8 months or even a year to any single one of the foregoingquestions’ and interlined ‘weeks’.
The gentlemen have not been identified.
Bunnet, like Lang, wrote his answers on a handwritten copy of CD’squeries about expression. The questionnaire is in the same hand andcontains the same divergences from the usual text as Lang’s (seenn. 19 and 20, above).
Bunnet’s answer has been destroyed: in DAR 186: 6, CD noted byBunnet’s name under this question: ‘A chapfallen expression observed  no g muscle’. See also Expression, pp. 178–9.
CD quoted Bunnet’s answer in Expression, p. 269.
CD quoted from Bulmer’s answer (writing ‘Korki’ instead of ‘Kooke’)in Expression, pp. 285–6.
CD quoted Bulmer’s answer in Expression, p. 321.
CD quoted Bulmer’s answer in Expression, p. 252.
Missing sections in Bulmer’s answer to question 12 have beenrestored from CD’s quotation of it in Expression, p. 209.
CD quoted Bulmer’s answer in Expression, p. 275.
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