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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Dyson Lacy   [before 13 August 1868]1

Original Questions with answer’s 2

No 1 Is astonishment expressed by the eyes and mouth being opened wide and by the eyebrows’ being raised?

Ans: Astonishment I have seen expressed by the eyebrows’ being raised and a peculiar noise made with the mouth as if articulating the word “clock”.3 This note was made from observation at the time.

No 2 Does shame excite a blush when the colour of the skin allows it to be visible and especially how low down does the blush extend.?

Ans: The only ideas of shame that they seem to have are these, the men and women go about in a state of nature and of that they are not ashamed but if the foreskin of the man is turned back so as to expose him or the woman exposes herself in a similar manner according to her formation then the sense of shame comes over them but I think only in a very limited degree, as regards change of colour the coating of dirt is generally so thick that it would require more than an ordinarily strong blush to penetrate.4 If you can imagine it I may remark that I have seen them almost turn pale with fear.

No: 3. When a man is indignant or defiant does he frown hold his body and head erect square his shoulders and clench his fists.?

Ans An indignant man frowns and sets himself erect his hands clutch his weapon “Nullah Nullah”.5 they have no notion of clenching the fist at least I have never seen it done amongst wild blacks. The first part of this note was put down on the first occasion, the last is from memory.

No 4 When considering deeply on any subject; or trying to understand any puzzle does he frown or wrinkle the skin beneath the lower eyelids.?

Ans I have seen them thinking deeply when out with me tracking and in referring to events that have happened sometime previously and have always noticed them both frown and wrinkle the lower eyelids.6

No 5 When in good spirits do the eyes sparkle with the skin round and under them a little wrinkled and with the mouth a little drawn back in the corners.?

Ans I have noticed their eyes sparkle but no other sign except laughter which I have seen carried to such an excess as to bring tears.7

No 6 8 I have only seen one black who ever shewed grief   it was plainly marked by raised eyebrow’s and the lower lip inclined to hang   there were other indications but I cannot find words to explain.

No 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 adresses.?

Ans The whole upper lip is raised9 and he talks very fast laying strong emphasis on the apparent end of sentences.

No 8 Can a dogged or obstinate expression be recognized, which is chiefly shewn by the mouth being firmly closed, a lowering brow and a slight frown?

Ans I can give no better description, but may add that the arm’s are generally folded.10

No 9 Is contempt expressed by a slight protrusion of the lips and turning up of the nose with a slight expiration.?

Ans When a mans wishes to shew contempt he turns up his nose his lips protrude a little in giving vent to a noise such as little boys make sometime by blowing on their hand, the upper lip is a little turned up—11

No 10 Is disgust shewn by the lower lip being turned down the upper lip slightly raised with a sudden expiration something like incipient vomiting or spitting something out of the mouth?

Ans Disgust is shewn in the above way also by shrugging the shoulders and uttering an exclamation like “Ugh”12

No 11 Is extreme fear expressed in the same general manner as with Europeans?

Ans I have seen extreme fear expressed by a nervous twitching of hands, feet; lips, perspiration standing out on the skin,13 and an incapacity to hold their urine

No 12 Is laughter ever carried to such an excess as to bring tears in the eyes

Ans Yes,14 I have at the time this was noted made one of the boys roll over and over with laughing.

No 13 When a man wishes to shew that he cannot prevent something being done or cannot himself do something does he shrug his shoulders.?

Ans I have no note down neither do I remember anything in reference to this question worth noting.

No 14 Do children when sulky pout and greatly protrude the lips?

Ans Children both pout and protrude the lips in a manner to shew their temper and in other ways behave as a naughty European child would15

No 15 Can guilty or sly or gealous expressions be recognized? tho I know not how they can be defined.?

Ans They are easily detected expecially if the thought occurs that they are suspected   I can only define it by a restless and uneasy manner a dislike to look at you16 and a decided tendency to tell a whole packet of lies when undergoing a gentle cross examination.

No 16 As a sign to keep silent is a gentle hiss uttered?

Ans When out hunting with them I have always noticed the above sign.

No 17 Is the head nodded vertically in affirmative and shaken laterally in negative?

Ans I have noticed the head nodded vertically in affirmative, but the word (Baal) or (Ara) meaning No used as negative without any lateral inclination of the head.17

With one or two exceptions these were noted down at different times, and in one or two instances only has memory been resorted to, I have had good opportunities of remarking their habits and have come to the conclusion that they are for nearly all purposes a very useless race, and that anything that they can do well such as tracking can be equally well done by a white man   this I know as I have seen a white man able to track as well as any black that I ever saw. They are disgustingly dirty, and cannot help telling lies.18

The following are a few words used by the blacks about our district   they are not common to all for their languages vary very much   for instance you will find two tribes within one hundred miles of each other that do not understand each other’s language but go some hundreds’ of miles away, and you will tribes that can speak to either of those situated at a long distance19

I give you a case in point   The native Police up here are from the “Murray” district and can speak to those black’s on our run but the black’s upon our run do not understand those 50 miles away. The following words are spelt as they are sounded.20

To see” “Narler
To hear “Numger
The eye “Deelie
The Knee “Moo
To run “Warnung
A Gard “Moonmilly
Water “Omoo
A Spring “Omoodoolbee
A Creek “Dhūrra
Not or no “Ara Baal
Beard & hair “Yerlie
Yes “Yoi
Nose “Nootoo
Mouth “Barcer
Arms “Nulla
Hands “Murra
Feet “Thina
Thigh “Tharra
Leg “Boomera
Rain “Oroowa
Sugar “Awar
An Ant “Mooncana
Snake “Moonta
Forehead “Burler
House “Dooler
Tongue “Thalanger
Sick “O.Nong
A dray or cart “Bhoonte
Tomahahawk “Banambana
Bullock “Eurie
Sheep “Eurie Anoo
Child “Anoo
Horse “Oora
Shoulder “Oopurroo
Sun “Wiuganer
Moon “Awar
Stars “Boothoo
Whirlwind “Banitcha
Fly “Nuukun
Emu “Oolbee
Kangaroo “Bowra
Duck “Bumpattie
Pelican “Darra
[Tilly] root “Boothalla
Stomach etc “Oonah
Liver heart etc “Utcherie

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Observations made by a relative of E. Wilson on natives several hundred miles in the interior at Queensland, Australia21—Received Sept 18. 1868. | Queensland Q’ red crayon


The date is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter from R. B. Smyth, 13 August 1868, and the letter from Edward Wilson, 14 October 1868. Wilson’s letter indicates that Lacy’s answers were received, and presumably sent, before Robert Brough Smyth’s.
Edward Wilson, a neighbour of CD’s, sent CD’s list of queries on expression to several contacts in Australia, evidently including his relative, Lacy (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter from Edward Wilson, 8 November 1867, and this volume, letter from Edward Wilson, 14 October 1868). For the history of CD’s Queries about expression, see Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix V. CD acknowledged Wilson and Lacy in Expression, pp. 19 and 20.
CD gave general information from Australia regarding this question; Lacy’s reply was similar to others (see Expression, pp. 279, 286).
CD included Lacy’s comment about the dirt, without mentioning his name, in Expression, p. 321.
Nullah Nullah: ‘a club (weapon)’ (Heaton 1879, p. 7).
CD noted in Expression, p. 224, that all his replies from Australia suggested aboriginal Australians frowned when puzzled; CD cited Lacy’s observation of wrinkled eyelids on pp. 228–9.
CD wrote that four observers from Australia had seen eyes watering with laughter, as well as brightness of eyes when in good humour (see Expression, pp. 209 and 213, respectively).
Questions 5 and 6 are interchanged from CD’s printed list of questions; see Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix V.
CD cited Lacy’s observation of this expression in Expression, p. 243.
In Expression, p. 232, CD cited Lacy as observing the arms folded.
For CD’s description of expressions of contempt similar to Lacy’s reply, see Expression, pp. 92 and 255–6.
Lacy’s reply was consistent with replies CD received from different parts of the world (see Expression, pp. 258 and 260).
CD cited Lacy for this observation in Expression, pp. 294–5.
See n. 7, above.
CD noted that the pouting of children had been observed in eight different districts of Australia; see Expression, p. 233.
CD noted a general tendency, throughout the world, for a person to be unable to look directly at another when guilty; see Expression, p. 262.
CD cited Lacy’s observation in Expression, pp. 274–5.
Colonist antipathy towards aboriginal Australians was particularly strong in parts of Queensland, as was conflict between the two groups. See Evans 1999, pp. 34–47.
At least 250 languages were spoken by mainland aboriginal Australians at the time of the European invasion, most in relatively small regions (see Dixon 2002, pp. 1–7).
The words Lacy listed are from Yandjibara. For information about Yandjibara, and for help with transcription of ambiguous words, we are indebted to Professor R. M. W. Dixon of the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology at La Trobe University, Australia. Yandjibara is the northernmost dialect of a language spoken within a large area bounded by New South Wales in the south, longitude 144o in the west, and the Great Dividing Range in the east; the dialects in this area were mutually intelligible (Curr 1886–7, 3: 72–7, 88-9). People living fifty miles to the north of Lacy’s area would have spoken a different language. The Native Mounted Police was a force commanded by Europeans and intended to protect European colonists from attack by aboriginal peoples (Evans et al. 1975, pp. 55–66): the ‘Murray’ district has not been identified.
Lacy lived in Aramac, a station or small town in central Queensland, 330 miles west of Rockhampton, a city close to the coast. Wilson gave Lacy’s name and address in his letter to CD of 14 October 1868; that part of Wilson’s letter was later excised and pasted to the bottom of Lacy’s letter.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Curr, Edward Micklethwaite. 1886–7. The Australian race: its origin, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia, and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent. 4 vols. Melbourne: John Ferres. London: Trübner & Company.

Dixon, Robert M. W. 2002. Australian languages; their nature and development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Evans, Raymond. 1999. Fighting words: writing about race. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Heaton, John Henniker. 1879. The Australian dictionary of dates and men of the time: containing the history of Australasia from 1542 to May 1879. Sydney: G. Robertson.


Answers to CD’s queries on expression in natives of Queensland, Australia.

[Forwarded by Edward Wilson to CD.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Dyson Lacy
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 186: 49
Physical description
Amem 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6374,” accessed on 20 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16