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Darwin Correspondence Project

From B. J. Sulivan   23 February 1874


Feby 23/74

My dear Darwin—

The Bishop tells me that he does not think the Fuegians suffer in health through increased civilization—1 That if at all it was at first when their mode of life was changed; but they soon got accustomed to it, and seemed to enjoy as good health as others: perhaps the more regular food with bread and potatoes compared with the precarious food, especially in winter, in the savage state, may make their case different from that of tribes changing from an open air life and plenty of food through the chase, to the less healthy civilized life in more air tight dwellings.

The second of the lads who died after returning home from England died of Brights disease of the kidneys—and they had not heard of any similar case. so perhaps that may have arisen from the very different food during two long voyages.2 There is no doubt about his complaint as the Surgeon at Stanley3 examined the body.

Jim & Fuegia living so many years after being three years away—seems to show that they did not in any way suffer from it. York was killed.4

I have no doubt the health of the more civilized Natives is better, because they do not give up entirely their mode of life. Though they grow potatoes and vegetables they only get biscuit or flour when they wish for it at the station. and they still seek for fish shell fish &c as before— On one occasion a large whale trying to pass inside an Island at the last entrance of Beagle channel—shown as a peninsula in our chart—grounded, & was killed by the Natives; who came in numbers from all quarters and carried away canoe loads of the flesh and blubber.

The Bishop tells me that one of the most marked changes in the habits of the natives through the influence of the missionaries is, that different tribes come and treat each other in a friendly way, that at first were hostile, and had feuds which led to bloodshed.

The children seem to pick up English so fast that it may end in its being the language taught in the schools to all children. The native tribes seem to have a language so different that each has to be learnt afresh. Mr. Bridges the clergyman at Ushuaia, who has been out from the first when a boy with Despard, has long known the language of Jimmy’s tribe as well or better than the Natives—but he has to study afresh to acquire that of Fuegia’s tribe, and also of the East Coast tribe5 If the children growing up all learn English it will perhaps be the easiest way of settling the different languages.

With our kind regards to Mrs Darwin | Believe me | very sincerely yours | B. J. Sulivan


Sulivan had offered to ask the bishop of the Falkland Islands, Waite Hockin Stirling, CD’s questions about the influence of European civilisation on the Fuegians. See also letter from B. J. Sulivan, 7 February 1874.
Stirling had brought four Fuegian youths of the Yámana or Yaghan tribe to England in 1865; two of them, Uroopa and Wammestriggins (Threeboys Button), died on or shortly after their return voyage. Wammestriggins was diagnosed with Bright’s disease. (Hazlewood 2000, pp. 316–18.) See also letter from B. J. Sulivan, 7 February 1874 and n. 2.
Horace N. Watts.
Orundellico (Jemmy Button) of the Yámana or Yaghan tribe, and Yokcushlu (Fuegia Basket) and Elleparu (York Minster) of the Alakaluf tribe were Fuegians brought from Tierra del Fuego in 1830 by Robert FitzRoy and returned there in 1833 on HMS Beagle (Hazlewood 2000, p. 43). In 1873, Yokcushlu told the missionary Thomas Bridges that Elleparu had been killed in retaliation for murdering a man (Hazlewood 2000, p. 327).
George Packenham Despard travelled to Tierra del Fuego in 1856 and made an ill-fated attempt to set up a mission there; Bridges, his adopted son, was left in charge when Despard resigned and returned to England. Bridges and Stirling established a mission at Ushuaia in the Beagle Channel in 1867, and made a study of local languages; Bridges compiled an Yámana dictionary. (ODNB s.v. Bridges, Thomas.)


The Bishop of Falkland says the Fuegian natives’ health does not suffer through increased civilisation. Relates the Bishop’s observations on the state of Tierra del Fuego and its populace.

Letter details

Letter no.
Bartholomew James Sulivan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 301
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9311,” accessed on 26 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22