'Among the Fuegians' covers Sir Baldwin Spencer's excursion to Tierra del Fuego, where he intended to undertake both anthropological studies (among the indigenous tribes) and zoological study (of the local fauna). Since Spencer died during the excursion, the work is written by his secretary Jean Hamilton, who accompanied him. The work begins with their departure from Newcastle, England, on 18 February 1929 and ends with Spencer's burial in Magallanes (Punta Arenas), Chile, on 26 July 1929.
Hamilton establishes her own anthropological credentials, not only through her work as Spencer's secretary, but also through her great-uncle Thomas Gibson Hamilton, who strongly influenced Aboriginal cricket players in the Hamilton-Edenthorpe region of Victoria in the 1860s (see, for example, Ashley Alexander Mallett's The Black Lords of Summer, 2002). But the work is strongly marked by Spencer's approach to anthropology, which, as D.J. Mulvaney notes in his ADB entry for Spencer, was 'paternalistic, authoritarian and reflected social Darwinism'.
For example, Spencer abandons his original plans to work with the Onas (Selk'nam) when the opportunity arose to study the Yaghans (specifically, twelve individuals from two families); in Hamilton's words, the Yaghans are, along with the Alacaluf, 'the most degraded of all the tribes'. The 'degradation' of the tribe (analysis of which forms the bulk of the work) is argued for through a general degradation of Yaghan culture, including the language ('It is thought that it may have enjoyed a higher culture at one time, but it has now sunk down to utter primitiveness'), industry (kitchen middens reveal stone arrows of 'great beauty of form and excellent workmanship' but the modern Yaghans 'knew nothing at all of the art of stone chipping'), and music (their songs 'had no meaning to them' because the words 'are handed down in parrot fashion').
The final section of the work details Hamilton's attempts to collect Spencer's museum materials after his death (on 14 July 1929) and return to Chile despite the difficult weather conditions.