Native peoples

Patagonian Indians
Patagonian Indians, Gregory Bay . CUL MS.Add. 7983, f. 31

Before arriving in Tierra del Fuego Darwin had observed locals in Cape de Verde, slaves on the coffee plantations in Brazil, and the notorious gauchos of the pampas, but the Yahgans were the first people mentioned in Darwin’s letters home. All of these would later appear in his published account of the voyagealong with the natives of Chiloé, the Tahitians, and the aboriginals of Australia and New Zealand. However, in the Yahgans, Darwin thought he had witnessed man in his most ‘primitive wildness’. For him, they represented both the yawning gap between wild and domesticated humans, and the unsettling proximity of the savage and the civilised. Like so many of his experiences during the Beagle voyage, such encounters remained with him and later formed the basis of research which broadened in scope as he developed his theory of human descent, first made public in Descent of Man (1871) and Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).