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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Ferdinand von Mueller   28 February [1867]1

Down Bromley Kent

My dear Sir

I have thought that you would grant me a favour. Perhaps you know some Missionary or Protector of the Aborigines, or some acute colonist in the far interior who wd take a little trouble to oblige you.2 In this case will you have the kindness to forward soon the enclosed Queries, & beg your correspondent to make a few observations for me, as any opportunity may occur, on the expression of the aborigines under the several emotions specified. If you cd obtain answers to even 1, 2, or 3 of the questions you would do me a considerable service, for I am at present much interested on this subject.3

I hope you will excuse my begging this favour from you & I remain my dear Sir | yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin

Feb 28th


Queries about Expression

(1) Is astonishment expressed by the eyes & mouth being opened wide, & by the eyebrows being raised?

(2) Does shame excite a blush, when the colour of the skin allows it to be visible?

(3) When a man is indignant or defiant does he frown, hold his body & head erect, square his shoulders & clench his fists?

(4) When considering deeply on any subject, or trying to understand any puzzle, does he frown, or wrinkle the skin beneath the lower eyelids?

(5) When in low spirits are the corners of the mouth depressed, & the inner corner or angle of the eyebrow raised by that muscle which the French call the “Grief muscle?”

(6) When in good spirits do the eyes sparkle, with the skin round & under them a little wrinkled & with the mouth a little drawn back in the corners?

(7) When a man sneers or snarls at another, is the corner of the upper lip over the canine teeth raised on the side facing the man whom he addresses?

(8) Can a dogged or obstinate expression be recognized—which is chiefly shewn by the mouth being firmly closed, a lowering brow, & a slight frown?

(9) Is contempt expressed by a slight protusion of the lips, & turning up of the nose, with a slight expiration?

(10) Is disgust shewn by the lower lip being turned down, the upper lip slightly raised, with a sudden expiration something like incipient vomiting?

(11) Is extreme fear expressed in the same general manner as with Europeans?

(12) Is laughter ever carried to such an extreme as to bring tears into the eyes?

(13) When a man wishes to shew that he cannot prevent something being done, or cannot himself do something, does he shrug his shoulders, turn inwards his elbows, extend outwards his hands, & open the palms?

(14) Do the children when sulky, pout, or greatly protrude the lips?

(15) Can guilty, or sly, or jealous expressions be recognized—tho’ I know not how these can be defined?

(16) As a sign to keep silent, is a gentle hiss uttered?

(17) Is the head nodded vertically in affirmation, & shaken laterally in negation?

Observations on natives who have had little communication with Europeans wd be of course the most valuable; tho’ those made on any natives would be of much interest to me.

General remarks on expression are of comparatively little value?

A definite description of the countenance under any emotion or frame of mind would possess much more value; & an answer within 6 or 8 months or even a year to any single one of the foregoing questions wd be gratefully accepted.

Memory is so deceptive on subjects like these that I hope it may not be trusted to.

Down Bromley Kent. | 1867 | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the date of the enclosure.
On the development of the term ‘protector of Aborigines’ in the various colonies or states of Australia from the 1830s, see Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia. Mueller was the director of the Botanical Gardens, Melbourne, Australia.


Sends his [MS] questionnaire on expression and asks FvM’s help in obtaining answers based on observations of aborigines living in the interior of Australia.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich (Ferdinand) von Mueller
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 92: A33–5
Physical description
2pp, encl 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5424,” accessed on 27 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15