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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Rolleston   29 December 1876


Dec 29. | 1876.

Dear Mr Darwin—

I am very much obliged to you for returning Mr Moseley’s Certificate with the right name in the right place—1

Also for the picture of the Goat also French gentleman’s letter which I understand I may keep.2 I have been getting quantities of boxes from Ireland in the hopes of getting some of their early pig, and I have various agents looking out for Richardson’s pig. But though of course there must be some pig bones in every cargo from Ireland they sometimes have been only in a minority amongst Deer, Horse, Cow &c!3

Dr Emil Bessels’ paper is in the Archiv für Anthropologie Bd viii. 1875. p 107. He was one of a crew of an Arctic ship part of which was obliged to winter 1873–1874 and also spent part of the summer of 1874 in NL. 78o. Long. 61o. near Ita on Smith’s Sound— In looking through his paper I find that instead of connecting these poor people with Miocene Man he more scientifically looks at them as representations of Glacial man— He thinks them to be degenerated inasmuch as they have no longer either Boats or Bows & arrows though they retain the names for these commodities— It is curious that in spite of this some of them (there are only about 100 left in the horde) are as much as 6 feet in heighth.

I enclose the two passages I referred to in my last—4

Please do not trouble yourself to answer this—

I am | Yours very Truly | George Rolleston


From Dr Emil Bessels’ Paper in the Archiv für Anthropologie viii. 18755

Einige Wörte über die Inuit (Eskimo) des Smith Sondes.

Note at p.. 111

Ich will hier nicht unerwähnt lassen dass der Itaner mit besonderer Vorliebe den Coitus nach Art der Vierfüsser vollzieht, was nach der mündlichen Mittheilung eines meiner Freunde auch bei den Konjaken üblich ist.

P. 113.

Eine wirklich thierische Handlung erblicken wir bei den in Rede stehenden Inuit darin dass das neugeborene Kind von den Mutter trocken geleckt wird; eine Sitte die unseres Wissens von keinem anderen Volke bekannt ist. Freilich mag zu diesen Verfahren die unbedingte Nothwendigkeit, Mangel an geeignetem Material zum Abtrocknen des Saugling’s, den Hauptimpuls geben.


CD had signed Henry Nottidge Moseley’s nomination certificate for fellowship of the Royal Society of London; see letter from George Rolleston, 26 December 1876 and n. 2.
CD’s reply to Rolleston’s letter of 26 December 1876 has not been found. He probably enclosed the sketch and letter from H. Ramu, 9 September 1871 (Correspondence vol. 19), describing the maxillary appendages of domestic goats native to Lorraine in France. The sketch has not been found. See also letter to George Rolleston, 24 August [1876].
See letter from George Rolleston, 18 August 1876 and n. 3. H. D. Richardson 1847, pp. 48–51, described the Irish greyhound pig and the remains of its supposed ancestor found at Loch Gur, Limerick. Rolleston cited these investigations in Rolleston 1876, p. 260.
See letter from George Rolleston, 26 December 1876 and n. 3. Bessels joined the US Polaris expedition to the Arctic in 1871 as ship’s physician and lead scientist. The crew had to spend the winter of 1872–3 ashore near Etah, Greenland, after the ship hit an iceberg in Smith Sound (for more, see Davis ed. 1876, pp. 439–64).
The extracts are from Bessels 1875. The first passage reads: ‘A few words about the Inuit (Eskimo) of Smith Sound. I cannot fail to mention here that the Itaner are especially fond of performing coitus in the manner of quadrupeds, which according to a verbal report of one of my friends is also customary among the Konjak.’ The second passage reads: ‘We see a truly animal act in the Inuit in question in that the newborn baby is licked dry by its mother; a custom that is unknown in any other people as far as we know. Of course this procedure may principally arise from absolute necessity, a lack of suitable material for the drying of the infant.’ ‘Itaner’ refers to Inuit people who lived around their principal village Etah, Greenland (F. W. Hodge ed. 1907–10, 2: 625); ‘Konjak’ or Konyag refers to the inhabitants of Kodiak Island, south of Alaska (Thalbitzer 1941, p. 683).


Bessels, Emil. 1875. Einige Worte über die Inuit (Eskimo) des Smith-Sundes: nebst Bemerkungen über Inuit-Schädel. Archiv für Anthropologie: Zeitschrift für Naturgeschichte und Urgeschichte des Menschen. 8: 107–22.

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

Rolleston, George. 1876. On the domestic pig of prehistoric times in Britain, and on the mutual relations of this variety of pig and Sus scrofa ferus, Sus cristatus, Sus andamanensis, and Sus barbatus. [Read 15 June 1876.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London (Zoology) 2d ser. 1 (1875–9): 251–86.

Thalbitzer, William. 1941. The Ammassalik Eskimo: contributions to the ethnology of the East Greenland natives. Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzels.


Studying anatomy of the Irish pig.

Emil Bessels’ paper is in Archiv für Anthropologie 8 (1875): 107. He connects a band of poor Eskimos encountered at Smith’s Sound with glacial man.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Rolleston
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 176: 213
Physical description
ALS 3pp, encl 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10737,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24