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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. W. Reade   23 May 1868

Conservative Club

May 23, ’68

Dear Sir

I will study your queries in Africa, & answer such as I am able—1 Some may easily be answered: others require profound & concentrated observation—

I will write to you with great pleasure from Africa, & shall indeed consider it an honour if I am able to contribute any materials for your next work—

With regard to (1) I will mention at once that when passing through the Fans (Gabon country) who in that part saw a white man for the first time I was particularly struck by the amazement of one woman who held her mouth opened as wide (in proportion) as that of the hippopotamus at the Zoolog: Gardens—2 Another person once took the attitude of a cricketer fielding out—body stooped—hands resting on upper part of thighs—I forget whether a man or woman— The usual exclamation of surprise in Equatorial Africa (w/ is Heigh! heigh! However my recollections are now five years old & I did not observe well then.

Mr Gabriel of Loanda3 told me that certain fowls there had black bones—

It would be of importance perhaps to specify the exact part of Guinea where you heard of the rams &c. If I do not visit such a part I mt perhaps ascertain about it, or procure specimens. In case anything else shd occur to you, I will mention that I do not sail before Monday week

〈    〉 thanking you for replying to my letter, & trusting it may not be trouble in vain I remain | Yours truly | Winwood Reade

In case you should write again would you mention whether measurements of limbs &c. are worth taking trouble about?

CD annotations

1.1 I will … work— 2.2] crossed blue crayon
4.1 Mr.... about? 7.2] crossed blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘Africa’ pencil; ‘Africa | 20’ brown crayon


The Fang (or Fans) are a people of northern Gabon. Reade had travelled in West Africa in 1862 and 1863; his account of his travels was published as Reade 1863. Question 1 of CD’s Queries about expression was, in his own printed version: ‘Is astonishment expressed by the eyes and mouth being opened wide, and by the eyebrows being raised?’ (Appendix V).
Reade describes his encounter with Edmund Gabriel of São Paulo de Loanda (now Luanda), Angola, in Reade 1863, pp. 303–12, and Reade 1873, 1: 252.


Reade, William Winwood. 1863. Savage Africa: being the narrative of a tour in equatorial, south-western, and north-western Africa. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.

Reade, William Winwood. 1873. The African sketch-book. 2 vols. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.


Will answer CD’s queries from Africa.

Reports extreme amazement of some natives in Gabon upon seeing a white man for the first time.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 34
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6202,” accessed on 28 February 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16