skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. M. Coan   22 June 1874

325 West 27th St. | New York City, N.Y.,

22 June 1874.

Mr. Charles Darwin,

Dear Sir:

I have received this day a note from my father, the Rev. Titus Coan, dated Hilo, 23d May 1874, in answer to your question about Hawaiian infanticide.1 These are his words:

“Hawaiian Infanticide.— This was practiced on this group, but not to so great an extent as some suppose. The causes were various, one was, the desire of the mother to disburden herself of the care of nursing, that she might give herself to pleasures. Poverty sometimes led to the commission of this crime. Another cause was fear on the part of the mother that her paramour would foresake her & take another woman.

“So far as I have examined, the testimony is that infanticide made no distinction between the sexes. When one wished to be rid of a child the question of male & female had no weight in the decision.

“Such is the testimony of Paul, Barnabas, Job, & others of our old, intelligent, & reliable people. (These are old Hawaiians of perhaps 70 years: I remember them as seeming at least of my father’s age, & he was born Feb. 1; 1801—T.M.C.)2

“I would rather take the testimony of men like those I have named than all that has been published in books on the subject.

“Should I, on further enquiry, find evidence of mistake in the testimony I now send, I will report to you again.... T. Coan.”3

This is all he writes upon the subject, & I hope there may be more by & by.

—It may interest you to hear that my father was in Patagonia at the same time with yourself. He landed at Gregory’s Bay Nov. 14th 1833, explored the country with one companion, a Rev. Mr. Arms, with the view of learning whether it was a suitable field for a mission, (Protestant American,) & deciding in the negative re-embarked at Gregory’s Bay on a passing ship Jany. 25th 1834 & returned to the U. States. He lived with the Indians, & had some difficulty in escaping from them. He kept a journal, the substance of which is I think given in his correspondence with the “Missionary Herald” monthly (Boston, U.S., 1834).4

Hoping that I may be of even the slightest help to your enquiries I beg to remain, with the greatest respect, Very truly yours, | Titus Munson Coan.

P.S. I sent you on the 10th a pamphlet & notes.5 | T.M.C.

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Hewicker’6 pencil


No letter from CD to Coan has been found. For CD’s interest in infanticide, see the letter to T. N. Staley, 13 January [1874], and the letter from J. F. McLennan, 3 February 1874. See also enclosure to letter from T. M. Coan, 14 February 1874. In Descent 2d ed., pp. 588–91, CD expanded the brief discussion of the possible role of infanticide in Descent 2: 359–33.
Paul Kapohaku and Barnabas are mentioned in Titus Coan’s account of missionary life in Hawaii, although Barnabas is not further identified (Coan 1882, pp. 27, 98, and 183–5); no further information has been found on Job.
Coan’s father, Titus Coan, had run a Protestant mission in Hawaii since 1835; Coan was born there (see letter from T. M. Coan, 14 February 1874). For an account of the mission, see Coan 1882.
CD visited the Patagonia region of South America during the Beagle voyage, anchoring in Gregory Bay on the north shore of the Straits of Magellan (now in Chile), several times between 29 January and the end of May 1834 (Keynes ed. 1988, p. 217, 221, 240). An account of the missionary expedition to Patagonia by William Arms and Titus Coan, together with extracts from their diaries, was published in the Missionary Herald 30 (1834): 376–81, 397–402, 429–32; 31 (1835): 37–41. A copy of Titus Coan’s later published account (Coan 1880), is in the Darwin Library–Down.
The notes and pamphlet have not been identified, but see the enclosure to the letter from T. M. Coan, 14 February 1874.
Hewicker has not been identified.


Coan, Titus. 1880. Adventures in Patagonia: a missionary’s exploring trip. With an introduction by Rev. Henry M. Field. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company.

Coan, Titus. 1882. Life in Hawaii: an autobiographical sketch of mission life and labours (1835–1881). New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & company.

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.


Passes on his father’s answer to CD’s query about Hawaiian infanticide.

Letter details

Letter no.
Titus Munson Coan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
New York
Source of text
DAR 161: 183
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9506,” accessed on 21 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22