skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Thomas Bridges   [October 1860 or after]1

– 1. The Fuegians do nod their heads vertically, to express assent;

and horizontally to express dissent.2

2. They blush much, but chiefly in regard to women, but they certainly blush also at their own personal appearance.3

3. They certainly, express astonishment by widely openning their eyes, by raising the eyebrows, and openning the mouth.4

4. They evince anger with the same signs as we do, with an angry face, which becomes pale. They stamp their feet, and walk about distractedly, and if very angry they cry, and inflict pain on themselves.5

5. When out of spirits, they evince it in the very same manner as we do.

6. They express contempt by shooting out the lips, and hissing through them, and by turning up the nose. To spit at one, is the highest mark of contempt6

7. They frown greatly when deep in thought, as I have frequently seen.7

8. The Fuegians consider a woman a pretty one, who has a round face, who is slender, yet compact, and strong. And it is very certain that the nearer a person approaches to the Caucasian race, the most beautiful, for what European females they have seen, they decidedly looked upon them as beautiful.8section missing9 their noses, and are clever to knock off the shellfish at the first blow. They are excellent swimmers, and ready to bring any bird out of the sea. They are allowed to use the wigwams as their dormitories, and are very good watch dogs. To make their dogs lighter, the Fuegians, whilst they are puppies cut off their tails.10 The two last questions I cannot answer.11

CD annotations

9.1 their noses … answer. 9.5] crossed ink
Top of first page: ‘(America)’ pencil; ‘29’12 brown crayon; ‘S. America’ brown crayon
End of letter: ‘Informat’ ink, del ink; ‘Answer received through Mr Stirling, from the catechist to the Fuegian Mission, Mr Bridges.’ ink; ‘Information from Mr Bridges, Catechist to Fuegian Mission, through Mr Stirling—’13 ink


The date reflects the minimum time required for Bridges to have received and answered CD’s letter of 6 January 1860. Bridges’s letter, however, could have been written later in 1860 or in 1861. A missionary working with Fuegians, Bridges was based on Keppel Island in the Falklands. The letter was forwarded to CD by Waite Hockin Stirling, the secretary of the Patagonian Mission Society in London (see CD’s annotations).
Cited in Expression, p. 276.
This information is cited in Expression, p. 318, together with CD’s remark that his own experience of Fuegians during the Beagle voyage confirmed Bridges’s observations.
Cited in Expression, p. 279.
Cited in Expression, p. 248.
Cited in Expression, pp. 260–1.
The letter has been cut in two at this point and the two parts subsequently reunited.
This observation is cited in Descent 2: 351 n. 62, followed by CD’s comment: ‘I cannot but think that this must be a mistake, unless indeed the statement refers to the few Fuegians who have lived for some time with Europeans, and who must consider us as superior beings.’
The missing section of the letter probably addressed the question posed by CD in his letter of 6 January 1860 relating to the breeding and habits of dogs in Tierra del Fuego. See n. 10, below.
This remark about dogs was cited in Variation 1: 39. A second reference to Bridges indicates that the missing portion of the letter contained further information about dogs (ibid., 2: 207): Hardly any nation is more barbarous than the Fuegians, but I hear from Mr. Bridges, the Catechist to the Mission, that, “when these savages have a large, strong, and active bitch, they take care to put her to a fine dog, and even take care to feed her well, that her young may be strong and well favoured.”
The questions concerned the colour of young pigs and calves in the Falkland Islands. See letter to Thomas Bridges, 6 January 1860 and n. 5.
This may be the number of one of CD’s portfolios of notes on expression.
The annotations at the end of the letter were duplicated because the letter was at one time cut in two (see n. 7, above). The first remark about Bridges was written on the verso of paragraphs 1–7, which also carries the number ‘29’; the second was written on the verso of paragraph 8. The letter was subsequently glued together again. In 1867, when CD came to work on his notes for Expression, he attempted to acquire further details about the behaviour of Fuegians from Stirling (see n. 1, above), who was by then the senior missionary on Keppel Island. Stirling was in England in 1866 (Macdonald 1929). See Calendar nos. 5330 and 5357.


Answers to queries on expression with respect to Fuegians.

Letter details

Letter no.
Bridges, Thomas (b)
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 85: 39
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2643,” accessed on 16 January 2017,