The Descent of Man – Day 47 of 151

With respect to the cause of this extraordinary state of things, Dr. Story remarks that death followed the attempts to civilise the natives. “If left to themselves to roam as they were wont and undisturbed, they would have reared more children, and there would have been less mortality.” Another careful observer of the natives, Mr. Davis, remarks, “The births have been few and the deaths numerous. This may have been in a great measure owing to their change of living and food; but more so to their banishment from the mainland of Van Diemen’s Land, and consequent depression of spirits” (Bonwick, pp. 388, 390).

Similar facts have been observed in two widely different parts of Australia. The celebrated explorer, Mr. Gregory, told Mr. Bonwick, that in Queensland “the want of reproduction was being already felt with the blacks, even in the most recently settled parts, and that decay would set in.” Of thirteen aborigines from Shark’s Bay who visited Murchison River, twelve died of consumption within three months. (39. For these cases, see Bonwick’s ‘Daily Life of the Tasmanians,’ 1870, p. 90: and the ‘Last of the Tasmanians,’ 1870, p. 386.)

The decrease of the Maories of New Zealand has been carefully investigated by Mr. Fenton, in an admirable Report, from which all the following statements, with one exception, are taken. (40. ‘Observations on the Aboriginal Inhabitants of New Zealand,’ published by the Government, 1859.) The decrease in number since 1830 is admitted by every one, including the natives themselves, and is still steadily progressing. Although it has hitherto been found impossible to take an actual census of the natives, their numbers were carefully estimated by residents in many districts. The result seems trustworthy, and shows that during the fourteen years, previous to 1858, the decrease was 19.42 per cent. Some of the tribes, thus carefully examined, lived above a hundred miles apart, some on the coast, some inland; and their means of subsistence and habits differed to a certain extent (p. 28). The total number in 1858 was believed to be 53,700, and in 1872, after a second interval of fourteen years, another census was taken, and the number is given as only 36,359, shewing a decrease of 32.29 per cent! (41. ‘New Zealand,’ by Alex. Kennedy, 1873, p. 47.) Mr. Fenton, after shewing in detail the insufficiency of the various causes, usually assigned in explanation of this extraordinary decrease, such as new diseases, the profligacy of the women, drunkenness, wars, etc., concludes on weighty grounds that it depends chiefly on the unproductiveness of the women, and on the extraordinary mortality of the young children (pp. 31, 34). In proof of this he shews (p. 33) that in 1844 there was one non-adult for every 2.57 adults; whereas in 1858 there was only one non-adult for every 3.27 adults. The mortality of the adults is also great. He adduces as a further cause of the decrease the inequality of the sexes; for fewer females are born than males. To this latter point, depending perhaps on a widely distinct cause, I shall return in a future chapter. Mr. Fenton contrasts with astonishment the decrease in New Zealand with the increase in Ireland; countries not very dissimilar in climate, and where the inhabitants now follow nearly similar habits. The Maories themselves (p. 35) “attribute their decadence, in some measure, to the introduction of new food and clothing, and the attendant change of habits”; and it will be seen, when we consider the influence of changed conditions on fertility, that they are probably right. The diminution began between the years 1830 and 1840; and Mr. Fenton shews (p. 40) that about 1830, the art of manufacturing putrid corn (maize), by long steeping in water, was discovered and largely practised; and this proves that a change of habits was beginning amongst the natives, even when New Zealand was only thinly inhabited by Europeans. When I visited the Bay of Islands in 1835, the dress and food of the inhabitants had already been much modified: they raised potatoes, maize, and other agricultural produce, and exchanged them for English manufactured goods and tobacco.

It is evident from many statements in the life of Bishop Patteson (42. ‘Life of J.C. Patteson,’ by C.M. Younge, 1874; see more especially vol. i. p. 530.), that the Melanesians of the New Hebrides and neighbouring archipelagoes, suffered to an extraordinary degree in health, and perished in large numbers, when they were removed to New Zealand, Norfolk Island, and other salubrious places, in order to be educated as missionaries.

The decrease of the native population of the Sandwich Islands is as notorious as that of New Zealand. It has been roughly estimated by those best capable of judging, that when Cook discovered the Islands in 1779, the population amounted to about 300,000. According to a loose census in 1823, the numbers then were 142,050. In 1832, and at several subsequent periods, an accurate census was officially taken, but I have been able to obtain only the following returns:

Year Native Population (Except during 1832 and 1836, when the few foreigners in the islands were included.) Annual rate of decrease per cent., assuming it to have been uniform between the successive censuses; these censuses being taken at irregular intervals.

We here see that in the interval of forty years, between 1832 and 1872, the population has decreased no less than sixty-eight per cent.! This has been attributed by most writers to the profligacy of the women, to former bloody wars, and to the severe labour imposed on conquered tribes and to newly introduced diseases, which have been on several occasions extremely destructive. No doubt these and other such causes have been highly efficient, and may account for the extraordinary rate of decrease between the years 1832 and 1836; but the most potent of all the causes seems to be lessened fertility. According to Dr. Ruschenberger of the U.S. Navy, who visited these islands between 1835 and 1837, in one district of Hawaii, only twenty-five men out of 1134, and in another district only ten out of 637, had a family with as many as three children. Of eighty married women, only thirty-nine had ever borne children; and “the official report gives an average of half a child to each married couple in the whole island.” This is almost exactly the same average as with the Tasmanians at Oyster Cove. Jarves, who published his History in 1843, says that “families who have three children are freed from all taxes; those having more, are rewarded by gifts of land and other encouragements.” This unparalleled enactment by the government well shews how infertile the race had become. The Rev. A. Bishop stated in the Hawaiian ‘Spectator’ in 1839, that a large proportion of the children die at early ages, and Bishop Staley informs me that this is still the case, just as in New Zealand. This has been attributed to the neglect of the children by the women, but it is probably in large part due to innate weakness of constitution in the children, in relation to the lessened fertility of their parents. There is, moreover, a further resemblance to the case of New Zealand, in the fact that there is a large excess of male over female births: the census of 1872 gives 31,650 males to 25,247 females of all ages, that is 125.36 males for every 100 females; whereas in all civilised countries the females exceed the males. No doubt the profligacy of the women may in part account for their small fertility; but their changed habits of life is a much more probable cause, and which will at the same time account for the increased mortality, especially of the children. The islands were visited by Cook in 1779, Vancouver in 1794, and often subsequently by whalers. In 1819 missionaries arrived, and found that idolatry had been already abolished, and other changes effected by the king. After this period there was a rapid change in almost all the habits of life of the natives, and they soon became “the most civilised of the Pacific Islanders.” One of my informants, Mr. Coan, who was born on the islands, remarks that the natives have undergone a greater change in their habits of life in the course of fifty years than Englishmen during a thousand years. From information received from Bishop Staley, it does not appear that the poorer classes have ever much changed their diet, although many new kinds of fruit have been introduced, and the sugar-cane is in universal use. Owing, however, to their passion for imitating Europeans, they altered their manner of dressing at an early period, and the use of alcoholic drinks became very general. Although these changes appear inconsiderable, I can well believe, from what is known with respect to animals, that they might suffice to lessen the fertility of the natives. (43. The foregoing statements are taken chiefly from the following works: Jarves’ ‘History of the Hawaiian Islands,’ 1843, pp. 400-407. Cheever, ‘Life in the Sandwich Islands,’ 1851, p. 277. Ruschenberger is quoted by Bonwick, ‘Last of the Tasmanians,’ 1870, p. 378. Bishop is quoted by Sir E. Belcher, ‘Voyage Round the World,’ 1843, vol. i. p. 272. I owe the census of the several years to the kindness of Mr. Coan, at the request of Dr. Youmans of New York; and in most cases I have compared the Youmans figures with those given in several of the above-named works. I have omitted the census for 1850, as I have seen two widely different numbers given.)

Lastly, Mr. Macnamara states (44. ‘The Indian Medical Gazette,’ Nov. 1, 1871, p. 240.) that the low and degraded inhabitants of the Andaman Islands, on the eastern side of the Gulf of Bengal, are “eminently susceptible to any change of climate: in fact, take them away from their island homes, and they are almost certain to die, and that independently of diet or extraneous influences.” He further states that the inhabitants of the Valley of Nepal, which is extremely hot in summer, and also the various hill-tribes of India, suffer from dysentery and fever when on the plains; and they die if they attempt to pass the whole year there.

We thus see that many of the wilder races of man are apt to suffer much in health when subjected to changed conditions or habits of life, and not exclusively from being transported to a new climate. Mere alterations in habits, which do not appear injurious in themselves, seem to have this same effect; and in several cases the children are particularly liable to suffer. It has often been said, as Mr. Macnamara remarks, that man can resist with impunity the greatest diversities of climate and other changes; but this is true only of the civilised races. Man in his wild condition seems to be in this respect almost as susceptible as his nearest allies, the anthropoid apes, which have never yet survived long, when removed from their native country.

Lessened fertility from changed conditions, as in the case of the Tasmanians, Maories, Sandwich Islanders, and apparently the Australians, is still more interesting than their liability to ill-health and death; for even a slight degree of infertility, combined with those other causes which tend to check the increase of every population, would sooner or later lead to extinction. The diminution of fertility may be explained in some cases by the profligacy of the women (as until lately with the Tahitians), but Mr. Fenton has shewn that this explanation by no means suffices with the New Zealanders, nor does it with the Tasmanians.

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