To Francis Galton 28 May 1
Down Bromley Kent
My dear Galton
I heartily wish I could give you a spark of information on lighting fires worth your having.—2 I know nothing of myself. But FitzRoy in his voyage (vol 2 p. 187)3 says the Fuegians procure a spark with two stones, usually Iron pyrites, “which received among tinder & then whisked round in the air, soon kindles into a flame. The tinder used is the inner down of birds well dried; very fine dry moss; or a dry kind of fungus found on the under side of half-rotten-trees.”
I have seen the Iron pyrites in the possession of the savages.
You may remember the apparatus which was made, & I believe used, to light mines in order to avoid explosion of gas, viz a steel wheel revolving, & rubbed against iron-pyrites: & this was said to produce quite a fair light.— I do not know where I read the description.—
I have got some most vague idea I have heard that the wool of the leaves of the Mullein or Verbascum serves as tinder.
I remember that the finely triturated dust of the wood of the Hibiscus produced by the friction of the wood, in the Tahitian fashion of getting fire, acted as tinder, & the accumulation of this fibrous dust was said to be an important part of operation.
I am very much surprised at FitzRoy’s statement of down of Birds serving: would it not be well to try that of some water Bird, as of Duck or Goose.—
I wish I cd have given better information.—
Your’s most sincerely | Ch Darwin
Discusses how Fuegians and other primitive peoples light fires.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1881,” accessed on 28 September 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-1881