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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Freeman Daniell   8 October – 7 November 1856

Marine View. Ventnor | Isle of Wight

Oct 8th. 1856

My dear Sir

I have just received your letter1 and am much pleased that any cursory observation of mine may prove of utility to you, and as I am now just out of bed after a weeks very severe sickness, I think there is no better opportunity than the present when the mind is purified by this physical tornado. Any observations contained in my letters are always at your service for publication if you think them sufficiently worthy. The pigeons although procured from different houses evidently belong to the same breed, in fact the only domesticated one in Sierra Leone. With regard to the wild fowls I am of your opinion that they originally came from a domesticated breed, and were set free by the ravages of civil commotions in the neighbour where they abound. 2 It is a country which has always been famous for intestinal wars, and even now is a kind of “debateable land”. I think it may therefore be assumed with some confidence that their descent may be claimed from the African domestic fowl.

1st. With regard to your first qn. whether any tendency to temporary infertility or sterility exists in any European Animal &c With regard to dogs there is no difference in West Africa as in England.3 They breed almost immediately, cats ditto, with regard to fowls it is very doubtful: I have no data to give

European women also become frequently pregnant in S. Leo on the whole I should think there might be a temporary infertility but only for a brief period, or until the animals were fully acclimated—

2. With regard to your 2d. qn. whether differences in constitution with reference to light or dark complexions in the European resisting the influences of an African climate, I am distinctly of opinion based on the results of a vast experience in human suffering, that a sanguineous or choleric, or light complexioned man stands the African climate twice as well and as long again as the melancholic or dark complexioned man— I am of a light complexion myself, and have suffered from yellow bilic remittent fevers, dysentery, ulcers &c and in fact most of the tropical diseases to which Europeans are subject and yet am still alive— I will give you an anedote which will prove at least that your qy. has been solved some 18 years ago by an African potentate. When I was a boy, I went with a party to visit the King of Warré, who resided on an island situated on a communicating stream between the rivers Rio Formosa and Niger in the Bight of Benin. The King after alluding among other topics to the mortality that occurred so frequently among his European friends who resided at the mouth of the former river, and particularly to some recent deaths that had taken place turned round and looked me fully in the face, at the same time inquiring what age I was. “Ah! said his sable majesty! it is the right age to bring white men to Africa, the younger the better, and he is a true child of the sun, his fire (light) hair will save him from many bad diseases; he and others like him, will live”!!

London. Oct 20th. The physiological explanation of the sanguineous or choleric temperament enjoying better health than the melancholic, may be chiefly attributed to the greater vascular organization of the skin of the former, by which from perspiration being more easily excited, they are enabled to throw off the febrile paroxysms, and relieve the congested states of the internal organs. It is true, they suffer severely while the disease exists, but they throw it off much sooner than the melancholic temperament. In the latter, disease is much slower in its progress, the cutaneous surface is more difficult to act upon, and the patient suffers greatly from despondency and permanent debility. I do not know whether you can understand me sufficiently, but I perhaps could explain my self better verbally. I may observe that I have always had less difficulty in curing light than dark complexioned men.4

The only notices you can find of the Mammalia of the Isles of Anno Bon Principe and St Thomas, will be in some Portuguese works published on the subject, a general view of the animals (most of which have been imported from the main-land, and blended with European species) will be found in Barbot Astleys or Churchills collection of voyages—5 I have been to all these islands, and see no difference in the live stock from the main land. The voyagers (D. J. Santarem and Don Juan Escobar) were the first Portuguese that discovered and visited the island of Princes’ &c I published a work some years since with the information relative to the earlier Portuguese voyagers, but it is unfortunately out of print or you should have had a copy with pleasure.6 I will however look out the information you require.

With regard to the soundings between Fernando Po, and the mainland, they vary from 24 to 36 or 40 fathoms, clayey mud, black or dark green, nearer the lowlands or alluvial flats— The soundings between Anno Bon and the continent are so deep that they have not been recorded. The water is blue [having] frequently passed down in that direction in sailing vessels.

Nov. 7. I hope you will excuse this imperfect account, the greater part of which has been written while laboring under sickness— With the exception of a slight enlargement of the spleen, I am now quite recoved, and have my usual John Bull looks—

Trusting to have the pleasure of seeing you in town soon | I remain | Yours ever sincerely | W. F. Daniell C. Darwin Esqr. | Down—

CD annotations

double scored pencil
double scored pencil
double scored pencil CD note:
Abstract of Letter.7 1 Thinks Fowls of Africa, feral. (2) No infertility in Dogs or women first arriving in W. Africa d[itt]o the African Cocks & Pigeons when introduced here.— (3) Light or Sanguineous men withstand climate better than melancholic men: so, also, African King thought (4) O. J. Santarem & Don J. Escobar first visited Annobon. St. Thomas & Principe— Ocean between them & mainland. (5) Between Fernando Po & mainland vary from 24 to 36 or 40 fathoms—


This letter has not been located, but it was presumably written after CD received the pigeons and fowls Daniell sent from Sierra Leone (see n. 2, below).
CD received live fowls and pigeons sent by Daniell from Sierra Leone (Natural selection, p. 80). CD later gave some of them to William Bernhard Tegetmeier (see letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 19 October [1856]). Information from this letter was repeated in Variation 2: 161.
This information was cited by CD in Natural selection, p. 80, and in Variation 2: 161.
Daniell’s information was used by CD in Descent 1: 244–5.
John Barbot’s description of his travels in western Africa was published in several collections of voyages. Barbot 1732 is volume 5 of the collection published by Awnsham Churchill. Astley 1745–7 extensively cites Barbot’s work and that of his brother James Barbot, who travelled in the same region.
This abstract is preserved with the letter in DAR 205.2 (Letters). CD marked it ‘18’ in brown crayon, the number of his portfolio of notes on the means of dispersal of plants and animals.


Astley, Thomas. [Publisher]. 1745–7. A new general collection of voyages and travels . . . in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. 4 vols. London.

Barbot, John. 1732. A description of the coasts of North and SouthGuinea; and of Ethiopia Inferior, vulgarly Angola: being a new and accurate account of the western maritime countries of Africa. Vol. 5 of A collection of voyages and travels, by Awnsham Churchill. London.

Daniell, William Freeman. 1849. Sketches of the medical topography and native diseases of the gulf of Guinea western Africa. London.

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

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Responds to CD’s queries on Sierra Leone: fertility of European animals introduced to W. Africa, relationship of health and complexion of Europeans, etc.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Freeman Daniell
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Isle of Wight
Source of text
DAR 205.2: 223
Physical description
4pp †, CD note

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1970,” accessed on 21 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6