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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. H. Howorth   3 January [1874]1

Derby House Eccles

Jany 3rd/73.

Dear Mr Darwin

I need not say that I should feel very much flattered by any reference to myself in one of your Classics, but the importance of the note would be its truth and not its being my suggestion, and as it is a subject I have taken much interest in & referred to in a paper on Darwinism I wrote for the Anthropological Institute some time ago, I have sent you by this post the authority upon which I stated it namely a Government Report which I sent out to New Zealand for.2 You will find it exceedingly interesting and valuable and I hope you will keep it as long as you like. This refers to New Zealand only but the same facts have I have been told been observed in the Sandwich Islands3 & in Tasmania. I will try and find more definite authority which I will send you.

Another cause of extinction which has been little examined but which has operated in certain small islands is the impossibility of rearing children   This is so in St Kilda. my friend Dr. Morgan has written a paper about it & Dr Angus Smith who was there last year quite confirms it.4 The children cant suck and are attacked by tetanus I believe   there are only 3 persons on the island now under 16 I believe. He intends to print his observations & I will send them you, the same effects have been noticed in the Lofoden islands near Iceland.5

I much wish that you would write a chapter on disease as a cause of extinction. It always seems a puzzle to me why epidemics should be so deadly in Siberia & the South Sea islands where all the conditions of health are found & so comparatively innocuous in such miserable places as the poorer parts of Salford & Manchester. The fact that a disease seems to gradually lose its deadliness has been frequently noticed   it would be very interesting to have it proved. It seems certain that whooping cough & chicken pox which are so innocent here are very deadly in South America & the Pacific & we cant account for this unless we have become acclimatized to use a symbolic phrase by the gradual weakening of the disease through several generations of victims

My only excuse for my garrulity is the habit of talking acquired by idle barristers who have no other work to do. May I ask you to excuse it & to make me useful whenever you can.

Yours very respectfully | Henry H. Howorth

CD annotations

1.7 This … Tasmania. 1.9] ‘Can it be effect of changed conditions like animals in menageries’ blue crayon
1.9 Tasmania] underl red crayon
Top of letter: ‘Descent Vol I p. 238’6 blue crayon, circled blue crayon


The year is established by the reference to Angus Smith’s visit to St Kilda (see n. 4, below). Howorth wrote ‘1873’ in error.
CD’s letters to Howorth have not been found, but see Correspondence vol. 21, letter from H. H. Howorth, 31 December 1873. Howorth sent CD a copy of the first part of his ‘Strictures on Darwinism’ (Howorth 1872a) in 1872 (see Correspondence vol. 20, letter from H. H. Howorth, 30 July 1872). In Howorth 1872a, pp. 35–6, Howorth quoted a passage on the decline of the birth rate among the Maori people from Observations on the state of the aboriginal inhabitants of New Zealand (Fenton 1859). In Descent 2d ed., p. 183, CD thanked Howorth for information on the extinction of native peoples following the arrival of Europeans; he cited Fenton 1859 in ibid., pp. 184–5.
The Sandwich Islands are now Hawaii.
John Edward Morgan’s article on St Kilda, in the Hebrides, was published in Macmillan’s Magazine in 1861 (J. E. Morgan 1861). Smith published an article, ‘A visit to St Kilda in 1873’, in Good Words in 1875 (Angus Smith 1875).
No copy of Angus Smith 1875 has been found in the Darwin Library–CUL. The Lofoten islands are within the Arctic Circle off the coast of Norway in the Norwegian Sea.
In Descent 1: 238, CD had discussed the causes of extinction among human groups, including sickness.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

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

Fenton, Francis Dart. 1859. Observations on the state of the aboriginal inhabitants of New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Government.

Morgan, John Edward. 1861. The falcon among the fulmars; or, six hours at St. Kilda. Macmillan’s Magazine 4: 104–11.

Smith, Angus. 1875. A visit to St. Kilda in 1873. Good Words 16: 141–4, 264–9.


On the extinction of populations. [See Descent, 2d ed., p. 183.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Hoyle Howorth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 90: 28–9
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8722,” accessed on 15 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22