Fuegians and Wigwams

Date: 1833
Owner: D. Appleton and Company
Source Type: Images


Darwin drew this sketch of six Indians from Tierra del Fuego. The Beagle brought three Fuegians back to their homeland who, after being kidnapped a few years earlier, had been living in England. Jemmy Button (a young man), Fuegia Basket (a young woman), and York Minister (an older man) had all adopted European dress and spoke some English. Fitzroy, captain of the Beagle, hoped that these three would serve as an example of "civilized" ways and help bring the Fuegians out of "savagery." But when the Beagle returned to Tierra del Fuego one year after dropping the Indians back home, Fitzroy and Darwin found that Button, Basket, and Minister had all reverted to their native dress, language and customs. Darwin wrote in his journal that "we could hardly recognize poor Jemmy, instead of the clean, well dressed, stout lad we left him, we found him a naked thin squalid savage" (quoted in Moorehead 1982).

Although Darwin saw all people as the same biological species, the Indians he met in South America who promoted cannibalism and went about naked did appall his English sensibilities. His anthropological observations of Fuegian life were far from objective and he saw Indians as a less developed order of human, a thought which may have helped to formulate his ideas about evolution. Great as he was as both a naturalist and abolitionist, Darwin's notions were not always in accordance with those that are politically correct today.

CITATION: "Fuegians and Wigwams." Darwin, Charles. Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage Round the World of H.M.S. 'Beagle' Under the Command of Captain Fitz Roy, R.N. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1890.