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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edmund Alexander Parkes   8 April 1862

Frindsbury | Rochester

8 April 1862.

My dear Sir

I think if the Memorandum, which you sent to Mr. Busk & which I returned to him were attached to the form or table to be filled up it would be an advantage, as explaining the object of the enquiry, & leading men to take an interest in it.1

Do you not think it might be as well in the first instance to restrict the enquiry to Malarious & Yellow Fevers and to Dysentery. These are definite & easily recognized Complaints; if “liver diseases” are added there would be more difficulty about diagnosis.

A tabular form would perhaps be the Easiest to fill up. I enclose one for your consideration.2 The object of having columns for 1st. & 2nd or subsequent attacks is to prevent the fallacy of one man going into Hospl. many times with the same disease & so giving an apparent preponderance of attacks to a particular colour.

Did you ever happen to read a little paper by Dr. John Beddoe on the colour of the hair & eyes of the Scotch & of some of the Continental nations?3 He seems to think the colour of the Iris less trustworthy than that of the hair.

But it would be easy to introduce columns for the colour of the Irides if you thought it desirable.

If you thought some table of the kind I enclose would do, I would show it to the Director General4 & if he approves he might send it out to Calcutta, Bombay, Madras & the West Indies with a request that the attention of the Army Surgeons be drawn to the subject, but without making the return compulsory. There are sure to be some who will take with interest to the work if they know what it means.

If this course be adopted it might be well to lithograph or print a few of your memoranda and tables to be sent out.


See letter from George Busk, 1 April 1862 and n. 1. The memorandum has not been found; however, the text of the memorandum ‘explaining the object of the enquiry’ is given in Descent 1: 244–5 n. 48: As several well-marked cases have been recorded with our domestic animals of a relation between the colour of the dermal appendages and the constitution; and it being notorious that there is some limited degree of relation between the colour of the races of man and the climate inhabited by them; the following investigation seems worth consideration. Namely, whether there is any relation in Europeans between the colour of their hair, and their liability to the diseases of tropical countries. If the surgeons of the several regiments, when stationed in unhealthy tropical districts, would be so good as first to count, as a standard of comparison, how many men, in the force whence the sick are drawn, have dark and light-coloured hair, and hair of intermediate or doubtful tints; and if a similar account were kept by the same medical gentlemen, of all the men who suffered from malarious and yellow fevers, or from dysentery, it would soon be apparent, after some thousand cases had been tabulated, whether there exists any relation between the colour of the hair and constitutional liability to tropical diseases. Perhaps no such relation would be discovered, but the investigation is well worth making. In case any positive result were obtained, it might be of some practical use in selecting men for any particular service. Theoretically the result would be of high interest, as indicating one means by which a race of men inhabiting from a remote period an unhealthy tropical climate, might have become dark-coloured by the better preservation of dark-haired or dark-complexioned individuals during a long succession of generations.
The enclosure has not been found.
Beddoe 1862. There is a heavily annotated copy of this article in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection– CUL.
The reference is to James Brown Gibson, director-general of the Army Medical Department.


Beddoe, John. 1862. On the relation of temperament and complexion to disease. British Medical Journal 1 (1862): 431–4.

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


Suggests CD use a tabular form for Army doctors to write their observations on, and suggests it be limited to malaria, yellow fever, and dysentery.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edmund Alexander Parkes
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 174.1: 23

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3498,” accessed on 21 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10