Query to Army Surgeons

This is certainly a printed Darwin document and it is the only one of which no copy in its original form is known to survive, although its text does. In the first edition of The descent of man (Vol. I, pp. 244-245) Darwin writes, in a footnote, 'In the spring of 1862 I obtained permission from the Director-General of the Medical department of the Army, to transmit to the surgeons of the various regiments on foreign service a blank table, with the following appended remarks, but I have received no returns'. He does not state there that the remarks were printed, but the table is referred to in a letter to Wallace in 1864 where he writes 'printed forms'. The query is extremely important in view of recent evidence on the adaptation of dark skinned races to their environment, although Darwin should perhaps have asked his question about native troops rather than about European. I have enquired carefully of Army libraries but have been unable to trace any surviving copy. The entry here must therefore be conjectural.


799. 1862. [Query to Army Surgeons.] [?London. Single sheet, blank except for appended remarks of 269 words.] No copy known.

The text is reproduced here from the Descent of man vol. 1: 244-5:

As several well-marked cases have been recorded with our domestic animals of a relation between the colour of the dermal appendages and the constitution; and it being notorious that there is some limited degree of relation between the colour of the races of man and the climate inhabited by them; the following investigation seems worth consideration. Namely, whether there is any relation in Europeans between the colour of their hair, and their liability to the diseases of tropical countries. If the surgeons of the several regiments, when stationed in unhealthy tropical districts, would be so good as first to count, as a standard of comparison, how many men, in the force whence the sick are drawn, have dark and light-coloured hair, and hair of intermediate or doubtful tints; and if a similar account were kept by the same medical gentlemen, of all the men who suffered from malarious and yellow fevers, or from dysentery, it would soon be apparent, after some thousand cases had been tabulated, whether there exists any relation between the colour of the hair and constitutional liability to tropical diseases. Perhaps no such relation would be discovered, but the investigation is well worth making. In case any positive result were obtained, it might be of some practical use in selecting men for any particular service. Theoretically the result would be of high interest, as indicating one means by which a race of men inhabiting from a remote period an unhealthy tropical climate, might have become dark-coloured by the better preservation of dark-haired or dark-complexioned individuals during a long succession of generations.

John van Wyhe

From: Freeman, R. B. 1977. The Works of Charles Darwin: An Annotated Bibliographical Handlist. 2nd edn. Dawson: Folkstone.

NOTE: With thanks to The Charles Darwin Trust and Dr Mary Whitear for use of the Bibliographical Handlist. Copyright. All rights reserved. For private academic use only. Not for republication or reproduction in whole or in part without the prior written consent of The Charles Darwin Trust, 14 Canonbury Park South London N1 2JJ.

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