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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Thomas Bridges1   6 January 1860

Do the Fuegians or Patagonians, or both, nod their heads vertically to express assent, and shake their heads horizontally to express dissent?2

Do they blush? and at what sort of things? Is it chiefly or most commonly in relation to personal appearance, or in relation to women?

Do they express astonishment by widely open eyes, uplifted eyebrows and open mouth?

Do they evince anger or fear by same expression of countenance and actions as we do?

When out of spirits or dejected do they turn down the corners of the mouth?

Do they express contempt by the same gestures as we do, namely, by turning up nose and puffing out their breath or even by spitting?

Do they sneer, which is chiefly shown by turning up the corners of upper lip?

Do they frown when trying to understand anything or considering any difficulty?

Do they ever shrug their shoulders to show that they are incapable of doing or understanding anything?

Any information on the manner of expression of countenance of any emotion in savages would be curious, and I believe is a subject, which has been wholly overlooked.—3

The only satisfactory method to collect information is to make notes at the time.

What ideas of feminine beauty have the Fuegians? do they admire women with strong American cast of countenance, or such as at all approach Europeans in appearance?

Do the Fuegians take any pains in breeding or matching their dogs; or is all left to chance.—   The habits of the Fuegian dogs would be worth observing.4

Are the young of the wild Pigs at the Falkland Islands striped lengthways on the back when first born?

What colour are the calves of the wild White cattle with red ears, in the Falkland Islands?5

Charles Darwin

Down Bromley Kent

Jan. 6th— 1860.


Bridges had lived on Keppel Island, in the West Falklands, since 1856. As a boy, he accompanied George Packenham Despard on an expedition to found an Anglican mission in Tierra del Fuego. Although Despard had the help of Orundellico (Jemmy Button), the Fuegian who had come to England with Robert FitzRoy and returned to his country on the Beagle voyage with CD, the attempt ended in disaster. Despard returned to England leaving Bridges in charge of mission work on Keppel Island. Bridges was ordained in 1869 during a visit to England. See Bridges 1933, pp. xiv–xv. The text of the letter has been taken from a copy made by an amanuensis and dated and signed by CD (see also n. 6, below).
CD believed that human facial expressions, their relation to those of animals, and the expression of emotions in general could be explained by natural selection. As early as 1838, he began to record and make observations on expressions, noting the behaviour of animals as well as the development of his own children in this respect (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix III). See also the letter to Charles Lyell, 10 January [1860], in which CD states that he had collected much information on the subject of expression. Notes on this subject dating from January 1860 are in DAR 189. The information requested from Bridges was published in Expression and his contribution acknowledged in the introduction (Expression, p. 22). See letter from Thomas Bridges, [after October 1860?].
CD distributed a printed circular of questions similar to these in 1867. See Freeman and Gautrey 1972; Freeman 1977, pp. 120–2; and Collected papers 2: 136–7.
CD cited information from Bridges about Fuegian dogs in Variation 1: 39 and 2: 207. See also letter from Thomas Bridges, [after October 1860?].
In January 1860, CD began looking over his manuscript on the variation of domesticated animals and plants (‘Journal’; Appendix II). He had received information in 1843 about the colour variation of Falkland cattle from his Beagle shipmate Bartholomew James Sulivan, who had surveyed the islands. Sulivan also described the Falkland wild pigs. See Correspondence vol. 2, letter from B. J. Sulivan, [10 May 1843].


Bridges, Thomas. 1933. Yamana-English. A dictionary of the speech of Tierra del Fuego. Edited by Ferdinand Hestermann and Martin Gusinde. Mödling, Austria: privately printed.

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Queries on expression among Fuegians and Patagonians.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Bridges
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 185: 72
Physical description
LS 4pp & ADraft 2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2640,” accessed on 28 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8