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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Robert Ball   25 March [1848]1

Down Farnborough | Kent

March 25

My dear Sir

I am sorry to say, that you could hardly have applied to one less likely to give you information on the points you require. I wish it had been otherwise: it would have given me real pleasure to have been of the smallest assistance to your good work or to yourself.—2

As you say the Fuegians are the simplest of Fishermen: the women catch many little fish, 3 or 4 inches long, with hairs lines,, baited, but without any hooks: they jerk the fish into their bark canoes whilst entangled with their teeth in the line & bait.3 The women at once clean the fish by the simple process of biting out their whole abdomens.— So numerous are the little fish in the great beds of Kelp in T. del Fuego, that our seamen in the Beagle, lived on them for some time, not taking up their salt-meat & thus pocketing the value.— The Fuegians, also, use well-barbed spear heads made of bone, for harpooning porpoises & I believe large fish.—

On the west coast of S. America, at Chiloe a large simple Ascidia is eated & reckoned a great delicacy: the large Balanus psittacus is, also, eaten: I never heard elsewhere of either these tribes being eaten.

I am sorry to say that I can throw no light on the hook; I never saw such a thing before.—

A suggestion from you, sent me by Mr. Mallet, about a place for specimens, being given to officers on board men of War, appears to me very good. I have sent it on to Sir J. Herschel & hope he will mention it to the Admiralty.

I am sorry to hear that you have not been well lately.

Pray believe me, | My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin To | R. Ball Esqe


The references in the letter to Robert Mallet and to John Frederick William Herschel make 1848 the likely year (see letter to J. F. W. Herschel, [21 March 1848]).
Ball wrote many papers on Irish animals and plants and donated his large collection of natural history objects to the Dublin University Museum. It is possible that his inquiry had been concerned with the cataloguing or display of items in the collection.
CD referred to Fuegian women and their fishing practices in Journal of researches, p. 236.


Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.


Cannot give information about hook. Fuegian women fish without hooks.

Robert Mallet’s suggestion about space for specimens on board men-of-war forwarded to Sir J. Herschel.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Robert Ball
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (Fellows' Papers 54.i)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1165,” accessed on 10 December 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4