shocked by the appearance, language (“scarcely deserves to be called articulate”) and customs of the Fuegians, dismissing them in A naturalist’s voyage in these words: “I believe in this extreme part of South America man exists in a lower state of improvement than in any other part of the world”.
“Mr. Darwin had often expressed to me his conviction that it was utterly useless to send Missionaries to such a set of savages as the Fuegians, probably the very lowest of the human race.
In 1870 Darwin wrote to Sulivan:
“The success of the Tierra del Fuego Mission is most wonderful, and charms [or shames] me, as I had always prophesied utter failure. It is a grand success. I shall feel proud if your Committee think fit to elect me an honorary member of your society”. He later added: “I certainly should have predicted that not all the Missionaries in the world could have done what has been done.”
“No one was more astonished and gratified … than Charles Darwin, [whose] subscription to the Society’s funds, continued for many years until his lamented death, was, according to the Spectator [of 26 April 1884], ‘about as emphatic an answer to the detractors of missions as can well be imagined’”
Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practice the old virtues of 'faith seeking understanding' and hope that makes some amends. But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet, and the problem is not just your religious opponents but those who falsely claim you in support of their own interests. Good religion needs to work constructively with good science – and I dare to suggest that the opposite may be true as well.