Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
Comments on the Effect of Contact Between
the Higher and Lower Races of Man
(S87: 1864)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: An account of Wallace's discussion of papers on the extinction of races by Richard Lee and T. Bendyshe, presented at the Anthropological Society of London meeting of 19 January 1864. Recorded later that year in Volume Two of the Society's Journal series. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S087.htm


    [[p. cx]] Mr. Alfred R. Wallace referred to the question of the effect of contact between the higher and lower races of man. Mr. Lee's paper gave undoubted cases of the extinction of races, and Mr. Bendyshe stated that there was no natural law operating to cause extinction of races except when the land was taken away. The possession of the land was the essential point; nobody imagined that the mere presence of the white man effects the extinction. The real question was, Does extinction follow when each of the races brought into contact acts simply in accordance with its own nature. Of course the white man takes the land; it is simply a question of whether the native can himself cultivate the soil. If he cannot, he must evidently decrease independently of the introduction of diseases or spirituous liquors, for the white man will cultivate and spread, and the land cannot support more than a limited number of inhabitants. Savage races are distinguished by the small amount of population subsisting on a given area of land; and the more savage a race is the more scanty is the population. The Australians are an instance in point. Of the [[p. cxi]] great diminution of many native races there can be no doubt, and there is not much difficulty in tracing special causes to which this is attributable. Suppose, for example, that in New Zealand, on the first appearance of the white man, the proportion of the sexes was equal. The immigrants were, of course, chiefly male, and unless New Zealand was different from all the rest of the world, they would take a certain number of the native women to live with them, and would thus destroy the balance which previously existed between the sexes. The native men would then be compelled to obtain wives, either by taking the women younger, or by having one woman common to several men. Either of these causes must, for well-known physiological reasons, occasion sterility. One great cause of the scanty population of countries occupied by savage tribes is the treatment of the women. In the lowest races the women perform the most laborious work, to the great prejudice of their fertility; and it is found that exactly in proportion as the women are relieved of their hard labour, and are thus enabled to devote more time and attention to their offspring, the population increases. Mr. Bendyshe had cited a number of cases where native populations are on the increase, though in contact with civilised man, but the cases given by him are exactly those where the proportion of whites is very small. In the Philippine and Fiji Islands, the number of Europeans is very few; there the population does not decrease; but in the Sandwich Islands, where the whites are numerous, the population is well known to have decreased immensely. He believed, therefore, that there were ample and real causes which must, whenever a very high and a very low race came into contact and competition, lead to the diminution and final extermination of the latter. The greater vital energy, the superior health, and more rapid increase of the European, would lead him, in all cases where the climate was congenial, to occupy the soil, and thus diminish the resources of the native inhabitants. The introduction of new diseases and of alcoholic drinks, of course produced their effects, and with the selection of numbers of the young and healthy women by the intruders, would inevitably lead to those results, more or less plainly visible, in America, Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. The only thing that could save these lowest races was their becoming rapidly civilised. But civilisation was a slow process. It implied great organic and psychical changes in the race, which could only be brought about by slow steps in successive generations. A forced and superficial polish was not civilisation, and he believed, therefore, it was a mere question of time, and sooner or later the lowest races, those we designate as savages, must disappear from the face of the earth.


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