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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. N. Staley   13 January [1874]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Jan. 13th

My Lord

I hope that you will forgive the liberty which I take in addressing you. From your interesting article on the Sandwich Islds in the Geograph. Journal 1868,2 I have thought that you would perhaps be so good as to give me some information, if in your power.

Firstly, it seems generally admitted that the natives have largely decreased since the time of Cook,3 & what I especially want to know is whether a statement which I have seen quoted from Mr. Bishop4 (I believe a Missionary) is correct, viz that the women of late years have become decidedly less fertile, & that a very large proportion of the children which are born die early.

Secondly, I suppose no census has ever been taken, so that the proportion between the males & females cannot be told.5 But if there is reason to believe that males are in considerable excess over females, I shd. much like to learn whether it is true that in old times female infanticide was much practised; so that mothers which bore several daughters used to kill a considerable proportion of them, as has been the habit with so many savages.— Whether or not you can spare time & are inclined to assist me; I trust that you will forgive my intrusion.— With much respect | I remain Your Lordship’s | Obedient servant | Charles Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from T. N. Staley, 12 February 1874.
In his article, ‘On the geography and recent volcanic eruption of the Sandwich Islands’, Staley had discussed the decrease of the native population (Staley 1868, pp. 364–5). The Sandwich Islands are now Hawaii.
James Cook first sighted the islands of Oahu and Kauai in January 1778 (ODNB).
Artemas Bishop had written that very many older and middle-aged women had no children and that the great majority of children died before the age of two (Bishop 1838, p. 54).
Staley had referred to a census of the Hawaiian population taken in 1867 in his discussion of the decline of the native population (Staley 1868, p. 364). CD was preparing a new edition of Descent and was seeking information on population decline and proportion of sexes in different groups of people.


Bishop, Artemas. 1838. An inquiry into the causes of decrease in the population of the Sandwich Islands. Hawaiian Spectator 1: 52–66.

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

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Staley, Thomas. 1868. On the geography and recent volcanic eruption of the Sandwich Islands. [Read 22 June 1868.] Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 38: 361–9.


Has read TNS’s article ["On the geography and recent volcanic eruption of the Sandwich Islands", J. R. Geogr. Soc. 38 (1868): 361–9].

Asks for information on decline in population and infanticide in the Sandwich Islands. Seeks corroboration of A. Bishop’s reports.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Nettleship Staley
Sent from
London, Queen Anne St, 6 Down letterhead
Source of text
The Hawaiian Historical Society (MS B St1)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9239,” accessed on 27 January 2020,

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