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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Gage   19 October 1870

Vineland New Jersey

Oct 19/70.

Charles Darwin.

My friend.

Two years sinse I read with much interest your origin of species.1 The evidences produced were so clear to my mind that when I had finished the reading, I accepted the theory and felt the better for it, & it has been a text book for me sinse. Two months ago I was in the office of my friend Henry T Child MD, of Philadelphia,2 talking about your work Origin of Species, & he says I have another work of Darwins that you will be pleased to read, his voyage in the Beagle.3 I borrowed it & have read it with much interest, & I want to say to you that I found many things in both works, that made me wish I was where I could call on you & ask questions; & there is one on page 250 second Vol. of Voyage, in Harpers publication,4 that has caused me to write this communication. It is as follows.

“After dinner we stayed to see a curious half superstitious scene, acted by the Malay women. A large wooden spoon dressed in garments, and which had been carried to the grave of a dead man, they pretend becomes inspired at the full of the moon, and will dance & jump about. After the proper preperations, the spoon, held by two women, became convulsed, and danced in good time to the song of the surrounding children & women. It was a most foolish spectacle; but Mr Liesk maintained that many of the Malays believed in its spiritual movements.”5

How I wish you had written out all the minutiæ of this scene, & any others that you may have witnessed amongst this race of men,6 whose common parent with our white race, or the original Adam if there was one who was father to us all, must have been far back & low down in the scale of being, & possibly so low as not to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good & evil. I want to know what this race of men know, or even what they believe, of Spirit manifestations

I have been a student of this spirit intercourse for twenty two years, & have allowed no good opportunity of examining its facts to escape me; & have been well situated for observing the facts amongst the Anglo Saxon race.

Will you do me the favor to write to me all the particulars of this seance, relative to its claims to spirit origin, both for & against.

Did the spoon stand erect?

Did not the women make it dance?

How did the women hold the spoon?

Did the women & children form a circle around the spoon?

Were you so situated as to detect any deception?

If you saw any other manifestations amongst these races that gave evidence of spirit power, or presence; & will communicate them to me you will much oblige. | Your Friend. | John Gage


Gage probably read the US edition of Origin.
Henry Teas Child was a physician in Philadelphia, and a spiritualist (US Federal Census, 1870, and Britten 1870, pp. 273–5).
Prior to 1870, the American edition of Journal of researches US ed. (1846) was reprinted, unaltered, in 1855, 1859, and 1864 (R. B. Freeman 1977, p. 40).
The American editions of the Journal of researches were published by Harper & Brothers in New York.
Gage’s transcription of the passage in Journal of researches US ed., 2: 250, contains minor punctuation errors. The passage, written 3 April 1836, was part of CD’s account of the Cocos (now Cocos-Keeling) Islands. For more on the ceremony described, see Armstrong 1991, p. 59. William C. Liesk was the leader of the Cocos (Keeling) Islanders when the nominal king was away, as during CD’s visit (Hughes [1950], p. 41, and Jones 1910, p. 22).
CD wrote that the non-British people on the Keeling Islands were ‘Malays’ from different islands in the ‘East Indian Archipelago’ (Journal of researches US ed., 2: 249). However, the residents then also included people from the Cape (South Africa), New Guinea, and China (Jones 1910, pp. 16–17, 21).


Armstrong, Patrick. 1991. Under the blue vault of heaven: a study of Charles Darwin’s sojourn in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Nedlands, Western Australia: Indian Ocean Centre for Peace Studies.

Britten, Emma Hardinge. 1870. Modern American spiritualism: a twenty years’ record of the communion between earth and the world of spirits. 2d edition. New York: the author.

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.

Hughes, John Scott. [1950.] Kings of the Cocos; the story of the settlement on the atoll of the Keeling-Cocos in the Indian Ocean. London: Methuen & Co.

Jones, Frederic Wood. 1910. Coral and atolls. A history and description of the Keeling-Cocos Islands. London: Lovell Reeve & Co.

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.

Journal of researches US ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world: under the command of Capt. FitzRoy, RN. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1846.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Convinced by CD’s Origin.

As a "student of spirit intercourse", he asks CD for more details about the scene of the dancing spoon in Journal of researches [p. 546].

Letter details

Letter no.
John Gage
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Vineland, N.J.
Source of text
DAR 165: 2
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7347,” accessed on 4 October 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18