skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. N. Staley   20 February 1874

Croxall Vc, Lichfield

Feb. 20th. 1874

My Dear Sir

I have been away from home or should have written sooner in reply to your last note.1

Cook went to the Islands 1779.2 The habits and institutions of the people will be gathered from my brief survey in ‘Mission Life’, which I herewith send by Book Post.3 They were athletic, skilled in throwing the spear & javelin, wonderful swimmers & divers. This last characteristic they have now. But the race of chiefs—men of immense size & strength—has died out completely. There are none left.

Under the reign of civilization,—deterioration, diminution to a mere fragment, that, not as you know, a healthy one—have gone on till now.

Undoubtedly, this began after the discovery of the Islands, at least, the deterioration; while the diminution due before only to the limited area perhaps, and incestuous connexions, and continued war, has gone on with greater rapidity.

The men formerly wore only a malo (a belt covering the loins &c for decency); the women a loose skirt of Kapa (a cloth made of bark, in fact a sort of paper). Their food was saltfish, a small species of fish eaten raw, & the Kalo of which I spoke in my last.4 Now I cannot say as regards food this has ever altered to any great extent. The bulk of the people still live on this food.5 Those who are better off will eat beef & mutton now, which are there very cheap. Before the arrival there of Vancouver in 17946 they had as their only quadrupeds the pig & the dog. At great feasts these were served up as delicacies—. But Vancouver introduced sheep, cattle, horses & these have been multiplied (the breeds of the former being improved from time to time by new importations) to an enormous extent. A horse can be bought to ride on for a few dollars. Every Native man & woman will have a horse & ride; this certainly was an acquired habit. The women riding astride, even in pregnancy greatly suffer as regards fertility. I shd. however say on the whole as regards food there has not been change enough to account for sterility on your principle, with one exception: the very general use of European liquors, notwithstanding a severe liquor law passed under the influence of the New England Missionaries.

But when we come to clothing, that I think has been a serious element. The women are fond of dress as much as European women: besides under clothing they ordinarily wear a loose gown of printed calico (not generally gathered in at the waist). But on Sundays & on special occasions they dress themselves à outrance,7 in silks, smart hats &c. in the European style. The men working on their Kalo patches will be naked saving the malo. But on Sundays & in town they go about wearing over a shirt of calico a suit of black or other warm cloth (woollen), stockings, boots &c. with a “chimney pot” hat. Now in this attire both men & women are uncomfortable. As soon as they get home they throw them off perhaps, when in a great heat & often catch cold in this primeval state almost of nudity, & all the medical men have told me how disastrous this is to health though it has never I believe been viewed in relation to fertility.

Before 1819, there were for 30 or 40 years frequent visits of American whalers, & familiarity with the customs & ideas on the clothing, food & habits of life of the white man resulted. Love of imitation of the white man is a great trait in these people

But undoubtedly with the acceptance of Xty in a few years after that date by the King,8 (though for long, even now, I fear much of their Xty is only skin-deep) came a very complete change. The early Missionaries tabooed their athletic amusements, prescribed European dress, as I have described, their dances were forbidden—&c. Many of these amusements were associated with Heathenism & it was perhaps unavoidable.

But a puritanical system of Xty was an unfortunate one to introduce changing their habits of life so completely. The fact account for it how you will does remain, that our religion has not saved the race, now so fast dying out.—nor caused more children to be born. As I have said few, indeed, are born now; children are becoming rarer phenomena all over; & of those born so many die of neglect & want of proper treatment.

The only form of infanticide I have ever known of there, is abortion, which is too common now, which of course must be indiscriminate.9 On the whole I should say the present diminution of the race (in 50 years probably it will be extinct, longevity is rare.) is so to say “a function of many variables”. Some I pointed out in my last. But I have no doubt a preponderating one has been change of habits; that change might have been less mischievous with a more judicious & less sweeping mode of dealing with those habits on the part of the first Evangelizers of the Islands. This I have publicly stated more than once & brought upon my head for it a proportionate amount of ill will & hard words. Take for example the entire abolition of chiefdom feudal ideas &cc & the substitution of a constitution based on Universal suffrage & the ballot box! Their last three Kings have died respectively at 30, 43 and 37 years of age!10 Ex uno disce omnes.11

I am My dear Sir, yours very truly | T. N. Staley Bp.

C. Darwin Esq. F.R.S

My papers are pages 66, 124, 327.12 I enclose some Kapa (cloth)


CD’s letter to Staley has not been found, but see the letter from T. N. Staley, 12 February 1874.
Staley refers to James Cook and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).
Staley had published a paper, ‘Hawaii before the introduction of Christianity’ (Staley 1871), in the periodical Mission Life. No copy has been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
In Descent 2d ed., p. 187, CD cited Staley for the information that the diet of the poor on Hawaii had not changed.
George Vancouver made his third and final visit to Hawaii in 1794; it was on this visit that he completed his survey of the islands (ODNB).
À outrance: to the utmost extremity (French; see Chambers).
Kamehameha III was educated partly by Protestant missionaries and married in a Christian ceremony, although he never formally accepted Christianity (ANB).
In Descent 2d ed., p. 257, CD cited Staley for the information that Hawaiians practised infanticide of both males and females.
Kamehameha IV, Kamehameha V, and Lunalilo died at the ages of 29, 42, and 39 respectively.
Ex uno disce omnes (Latin): from one instance understand all.
See n. 3, above.


ANB: American national biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. and supplement. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999–2002.

Chambers: The Chambers dictionary. Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap Publishers. 1998.

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

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 Nettleship. 1871. Hawaii before the introduction of Christianity. Mission Life n.s. 2: 66–70, 124–30, 327–34.


General observations on the native Hawaiian population.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Nettleship Staley
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 89: 191–4
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9307,” accessed on 2 December 2021,

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