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Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. W. C. Simmons   10 December 1871

Nelson College

10 Dec. 1871.


The following fact, which came under my own observation appears to me to illustrate some of your remarks in the “Descent”

Some time since I was on board a coasting steamer with some European ladies, and some Maoris, whom I knew well. I had with me some Eau de Cologne, which was highly appreciated by the lady passengers. The Maoris observed the process of damping foreheads and handkerchiefs with so much curiosity that I handed the bottle to the chief man. He had no sooner smelt it than his face assumed much the same expression as a European’s might if a piece of carrion were thrust under his nose. He firmly refused to repeat the experiment, and when I tried some of his companions, he poured forth a torrent of dissuasive eloquence, which made my best efforts vain. Can this strange want of appreciation of the agreeable in odour be in any way connected with the remarkable absence of sweet smelling plants in New Zealand?

A few days since I met the same Maori—a very intelligent man—and having lately read the “Descent,” I questioned him as to the estimation in which beards are held among Maoris, and especially by the ladies—1 He assured me they were considered very attractive— He had never heard of the Proverb you quote vol: ii. p. 349.2 He informed me however that “the old people” plucked out the hair which interfered with the pattern of the tattoo—the New Zealanders’ armorial bearings.

I happen to have a full and long beard myself and frequently when I have passed a number of Maoris, or when I have gone to a pah3 they have raised a sort of chorus of “Kapai te pahi”— good beard— Possibly it was ironical, and it may be my vanity which prevents me from thinking so.

I should not call the Maoris a beardless race, and Dr. Hector4 and others who have seen more of them than I are of the same opinion— Most of those whom I know are bearded—indeed I should call them quite as well bearded as Europeans, though their beards, which are generally thick, are seldom or never long. They are harsh, crisp, curly—like the stuffing of an old chair.

I am Sir | your obedient Servant | Frank C Simmons.

CD annotations

1.1 The … vain. 2.9] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘(New Zealand)’ pencil; ‘Descent— Beards. | The fashion has apparently changed, perhaps owing to the arrival of Europeans5 | Embalmed Heads Beardless?’6 ink


In Descent 2: 348–9, CD noted that beardless races disliked hair on the face or body.
CD cited Mantegazza 1867, p. 526, as the source for the proverb ‘There is no woman for a hairy man’ (Descent 2: 349 n. 58).
Pah: hill fortification (Maori). The word, now more commonly spelled ‘pa’, or ‘pā’ can also refer to a village, and Simmons probably uses it in this sense (see Fox 1976).
James Hector.
In Descent 2d ed., p. 581, CD added Simmons’s information that among New Zealanders the fashion for beards had changed, describing the men as having short, curled beards. He did not cite Simmons by name.
CD refers to the Maori practice of embalming and preserving heads. In war, the embalmed heads of victims would customarily be returned to their families, but in the 1820s some tribes began to trade them for muskets. Many European museums obtained such heads for their collections. For more on the practice, see Tristram Besterman, Report to the Board of Trustees of the British Museum. Request from Te Papa Tongarewa for the return of sixteen Māori kōiwi tangata to New Zealand, 22 Tristram Besterman report dated April 07.pdf (accessed 12 November 2010), pp. 9–11.


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

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

Fox, Aileen. 1976. Prehistoric Maori fortifications in the North Island of New Zealand. Auckland: Longman Paul.


Maoris of New Zealand admire beards, contrary to statement in Descent [2: 349].

Letter details

Letter no.
Frank Walter Churchill Simmons
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Nelson College New Zealand
Source of text
DAR 89: 185–6
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8104,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19