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Darwin Correspondence Project

From B. A. Renshaw   15 June 1872

London. Charing + Hotel.

15. June. 1872.


My only excuse for troubling you with these lines is the hope & belief that the subject of them may be of interest to you, as it has certainly been to myself.

In the island of Teneriffe, from which I have just returned, there lives near the “Villa de la Orotava”, at a place called “Agua Mansa”, the offspring of a man & woman, so much resembling a monkey, that she is called “La Machanga del Agua Mansa”.1 She is now 14 years old & is the pet child of her parents, tho’ her brothers & sisters are fine & unmistakeable specimens of the human species. The head of the machanga is small & her body is thickly covered with hair. Her mode of scratching herself with upturned hands, of throwing things over her shoulder; her passion for climbing trees, & her ways & habits generally resemble those of a monkey. Her hands & feet are more like the human hand & foot, only the fingers & toes are unusually long. She is very shy, but is easily allured by the sight & smell of food; she speaks only in inarticulate sounds, & is at times quite savage. She has been baptized & confirmed according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. I do not remember whether the parish priest told me that she had also made her confession: but I do not see how she could easily have managed that.

On the occasion of her confirmation the Bishop, who then saw her for the first time, was very much startled at the sight of her, & enquired whether she was a fit subject for the sacrament. I am aware that the circumstances of her birth will need, (& I presume that previously to baptism they were subjected by the ecclesiastical authorities to,) the strictest examination. Although I had been in the island already six months, & was living not very far from Orotava I did not come to know of her existence till towards the end of my stay; & that quite accidentally, while speaking one day with the “Beneficiado”, or priest of the place, about your late work on the “Descent of Man”.2 I was also surprised to find that most foreigners & some even of the natives had never heard of her. I suppose she will be victimised one of these days by some enterprizing Barnum, & I have no doubt he will make a good thing of it.3 Whatever be the ultimate explanation of the phenomenon, I am convinced of its existence.

I am extremely sorry that, in the first place, I was unable to see the creature myself, & that consequently I can only speak from hearsay, though on the most undoubted authority & testimony; & that, in the second place, being no naturalist, I did not know what were the chief points to enquire into. I was infinitely more desirous of seeing this monkey, than of making the ascent of the Peak;4 but, after having made all my arrangements, I was prevented at the last moment from making the journey by various difficulties, chiefly delicate health & the unfit state of the roads at that season. If the subject is of any interest to you, I shall be most happy to give, or gather through my relatives & friends on the island any further or more precise information which you should desire. I am going to write by the steamer of the 18th. from Liverpool, & shall endeavour to get a complete description from three separate & independent sources; from the parish priest, from the gentleman on whose estate she lives, & from an intelligent Swiss tutor, all of whom have seen the machanga & spoke to me of her. I had the idea whilst on the island of getting photographs taken of her, but gave it up as impracticable in those confines of civilization— But as Dr Carpenter,5 of the London University, to whom also I have written on this matter, suggests that some good photographs, on a sufficiently large scale, & giving the profile as well as other views of the head & face, would be especially valuable, I will do my best to get them. I am in hopes of returning to the island myself for winter after next. My address is:—“Care of Messrs. Brown, Shipley, & Co. London”.6 I shall be in London till about the 22d. of this month, & in England for a week or so longer after that date. The above is my permanent address should you care to write me a line.

I am, Sir, | Yours obedly. | Benjamin A. Renshaw. M.A.

To | Charles Darwin Esq.


La Orotava is a settlement in a valley on the north-west coast of the island of Tenerife; Aguamansa is in the mountains to the north. Machanga: a Spanish dialect term, principally in use in Latin America, for the female of a type of South American monkey (Stephens 1989); for the relationship between Canary Spanish and Latin-American Spanish, see Lipski 1994, pp. 55–61.
CD had discussed degrees and patterns of hairiness in humans and other primates in Descent, concluding that the differences were a result of sexual selection with occasional instances of reversion (Descent 2: 375–81).
Phineas Taylor Barnum, a circus owner, was famous for his lucrative touring shows featuring unusual-looking people (ANB).
Pico de Teide, Tenerife.
William Benjamin Carpenter.
The merchants Brown, Shipley, and Company had London offices at Founders’ Court, Lothbury (Post Office London directory 1872).


Reports a monkey-like child in Teneriffe.

Letter details

Letter no.
Benjamin Adolphus Renshaw
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Charing Cross Hotel
Source of text
DAR 176: 121
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8387,” accessed on 21 July 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20