skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Winwood Reade   17 January 1869

Cre. Hon Charles Heddle. | Sierra Leone

Jany 17. ’69.

My dear Sir

I have postponed writing to you before in the hope that I might be able to send you some information of value before I started for the interior, which I do in two or three days to search for the source of the Niger. I have unfortunately very little to say— As regards expression I can at present answer but one query.1 The head is shaken laterally in negative & nodded in affirmative among the Gold Coast tribes.2 I find it exceedingly difficult to seize expressions if not prepared for them (as one wd. be in case of a surgical operation). Expression is sudden & momentary— In smiling by the bye I observed two crescent wrinkles at the corners of the mouth, concave side nearest mouth— However I shall try to get something more in that way for you

There is one breed of sheep only on the Gold Coast (where I have spent most of my time since coming out). The rams have horns & manes: the females neither. When castrated not only horns but hair is affected.3 I have frequently asked about the age at wh. the horns sprout but cd. get no answer. Europeans out here do not observe such things, & the blacks have no idea of time. However I have set three persons to watch, & hope to get a reply on my return from the interior, wh. will be in a few months. There is a breed with both sexes horned in Senegambia (with dewlaps) and another breed of enormous size in the Niger Country in wh. the female has rudimentary horns.4

Women in Africa at all events among the more intelligent pagan tribes have no difficulty about getting the husbands they want, although it is considered unwomanly to ask a man to marry them, & that on the Gold Coast I am informed they never do— They are quite capable of falling in love, and even of forming tender passionate and faithful attachments.5 As a rule tribes do not intermarry but I have little doubt that there are many exceptions. Women do not like to marry strangers visiting their country because they do not like to leave their own families; on the other hand when a Foula or Mandingo comes among the Soosovo or Timmanies (pagan coast tribes in this neighbourhood) they try to make him settle & marry amongst them.6 They like to breed from superior men that the offspring may be of use to the town a fact rather opposed to the vulgar ideas about African want of foresight. Girls are not forced to marry the choice of the family in certain tribes: in others (of a lower kind) she is   The intermarriage-between-tribes question is an important one. I shall pay attention to it.

I am not likely to see the gorilla up here. At present it is only found a little above Cape St. John and Loango.7 But so little is known about the interior that the question of its habitat, must be left open. Chimpanzees are found in the bush here. If I see one I will note down whether there is more hair on back or front.

My plans on returning from the Kong Mountains8 (if I get there) are not settled. I want much to study the Upper Niger & Haussa Country9 before I leave Africa but cannot tell whether I shall have the opportunity. I am not likely however to return home just yet. Any queries you may send to me shall be faithfully attended to, as far as lies in my power. The worst of it out here is that one gets no assistance; things which every resident ought to know one has to find out for oneself often in a few days—if one can.

Trusting that your health is permitting you to continue labouring in science, and so benefiting all who inquire and observe | I remain | Yours truly | Winwood Reade

CD annotations

1.1 I have … tribes. 1.5] crossed pencil
1.4 The head] opening square bracket pencil
1.5 I find … you— 1.9] crossed ink
2.1 The rams … affected 2.3] scored pencil; triple scored blue crayon; ‘Just [male mane ]added blue crayon
3.1 Women … they want, 3.2] double scored pencil
3.1 Women … to it. 3.14] crossed ink and pencil
4.1 I am … observe 6.2] crossed ink
Top of letter: ‘Expression & Sexual Selection & Man | Azara on ♀ choice10 | All marry’ blue crayon; ‘MacClellan’11 pencil; ‘Rams manes & Horns lost when castratedink


The last extant letter from Reade is that of 23 May 1868 (Correspondence vol. 16), in which Reade mentioned observations about expression that he recalled from an earlier stay in Africa. CD had enclosed a copy of his queries on expression in his letter to Reade of 21 May [1868] (ibid.). For a copy of CD’s queries on expression, see Correspondence vol. 17, Appendix VI.
The Gold Coast was the name of the former British colony that now makes up the larger part of the country of Ghana (Columbia gazetteer of the world s.v. Ghana). See query number 17 of CD’s queries on expression (Correspondence vol. 17, Appendix VI).
Reade refers to the West African dwarf or Djallonke sheep (see I. L. Mason 1951, p. 32). CD had asked Reade to make observations on sheep in his letter of 21 May [1868] (Correspondence vol. 16). In Descent 2: 247; 284–5, CD cited Reade for information on the horns and the mane of this breed.
The breeds referred to have not been identified. Senegambia was the former name of the region of west Africa that now makes up the countries of Senegal, Gambia, and Mali (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
In his letter of 21 May [1868] (Correspondence vol. 16), CD had asked Reade to observe whether and to what extent women of ‘barbarous tribes’ were able to choose husbands. In Descent 2: 374, CD quoted this section of Reade’s letter.
The people Reade refers to as ‘Mandingo’ are now known as Mandinka; ‘Timmanie’ are now called Temne. Reade probably also refers to the Susu or Sousou people (see Reade 1873, 2: 374).
Loango was a former African state in the basin of the Kouilou and Niari rivers, now largely in south-western Republic of the Congo (EB; see also Reade’s map of the area he called gorilla country in Reade 1873, 1: facing p. 1). Cape San Juan is the northern boundary of Corisco Bay in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
On the mythical Kong mountains, see Bassett and Porter 1991.
The territory of the Haussa or Hausa people was in present-day northern Nigeria with additional territory in Mali and Cameroon (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
CD refers to Félix d’Azara and probably to Azara 1809.
CD may refer to McLennan 1865, a work on primitive marriage.


Azara, Félix de. 1809. Voyages dans l’Amérique Méridionale. Edited by C. A. Walckenaer, with additional notes by G. Cuvier. 4 vols. and atlas. Paris: Dentu.

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

McLennan, John Ferguson. 1865. Primitive marriage: an inquiry into the origin of the form of capture in marriage ceremonies. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black.

Mason, Ian Lauder. 1951. The classification of West African livestock. Farnham Royal, Slough: Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux.

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


Expressions of emotions in Gold Coast tribes.

Differences between males and females in sexual characteristics.

Castrated rams lose horns and manes.

Female members of tribes have no difficulty getting the husbands they want.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Winwood Reade
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Sierra Leone
Source of text
DAR 83: 165–6
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6558,” accessed on 29 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17