About Darwin’s Life
Shrewsbury: Birthplace and Childhood – 1809 to 1825
Charles Robert Darwin was born in the town of Shrewsbury, England on February 12th 1809 and this picturesque, well-maintained medieval town is much the same today as it would have been in Darwin’s time. The portion of Shrewsbury known as “Old Town” is almost completely surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped bend in the River Severn, as shown in this aerial view of the town below, (Figure1). The English Bridge is to the lower right and the Kingsland Bridge is to the left while the Welsh Bridge is at the center-top of this photograph. In addition there are foot bridges across the river at several points.
The only home that Charles Darwin knew from the time he was born until he returned from his five-year trip around the world on the Beagle at the age of 29, was his family home right here in Shrewsbury. In chronological order, here are the places in Shrewsbury that were important in Darwin’s life. We will visit each of these buildings in greater detail below. Darwin was born in the family home, known as The Mount or Mount House, on February 12 th, 1809. The home was built by his father, on a bluff overlooking the River Severn, and is located at the top, center-left (A) in Figure 1. On November the 15th, 1809, in the same year as he was born, Charles was baptized in Saint Chad’s Anglican Church (B). However his mother, the former Susannah Wedgwood, who was a Unitarian, took him as a young child with her to the Unitarian Church on High Street, near the center of town (C). Reverend Case was the minister of the church and also ran an elementary School at 13 Claremont Hill (D), which is close to St. Chad’s Church. At the age of eight, Charles was enrolled in Rev. Case’s school by his mother but attended this school for only one year. Unfortunately during this year his mother died and he was enrolled at Doctor Samuel Butler’s school (E) also known as the Shrewsbury School.
An aerial photograph of Shrewsbury looking north
Taken by Aerofilms Ltd. and published by MU Publishers, Shrewsbury, UK.
At age 16 his father Robert enrolled him at Edinburgh University and, while Charles would return to the family home as a college student and also returned there after his five-year voyage around the world, he never lived at The Mount permanently again after leaving for Edinburgh.
Other familiar places in Shrewsbury that would have been familiar to Darwin are the Train Station (F), the Shrewsbury Castle (G), and Shrewsbury Abby just over the English Bridge to the right, beyond the edge of the photo. Two additional places that deserved to be mentioned, even though they had not been built in Darwin’s time, are the new Shrewsbury School across the Kingsland Bridge (H), and up the hill overlooking the River Severn from the South, and the “Darwin” Shopping Center (I) in the middle of town on Castle Street. The campus at the new secondary school is attractive, consisting of a number of handsome redbrick buildings. The reason for mentioning it however is that there is a large statue of Darwin on campus in front of the Administration building. He is depicted as an energetic and active young man on the Galapagos Islands, with iguanas and other creatures around his feet. The Shopping Center is large and modern – an asset to the town that recognizes their most famous son with a month-long “Darwin Festival” which takes place throughout February each year!
The hill, overlooking the River Severn that Robert Darwin purchased to build his home on was referred to as The Mount and once the house was finished in 1800 it became known as The Mount House. Figure 2, is a plot map of the Darwin property, looking north as it appeared when the family lived there from 1800 to 1866 when it was put up for auction soon after his sister Susan, who lived there all of her life, died.
The numbered buildings on the property map are as follows (1) Farm Buildings; (2) Laundry; (3) Dairy; (4) Poultry; (5) Coal Bin; (6) Piggery; (7) Conservatory; (8) Plant Store; (9) Green House; (10) Tool Shed. The other buildings on the property are labeled.
Currently access to the Darwin Family home in Shrewsbury is restricted however, an effort by the newly formed Darwin Birthbplace Society is being made to acquire it, in order to preserve Charles Darwin’s heritage for the future. To learn more about this project and to participate go to their homepage.
To visit the home, one crosses the Welsh Bridge and proceeds up the hill on Frankwell St. towards The Mount House, you cannot see the house from the street because there is a high retaining wall that fronts the property. However, as you turn to the right into the driveway near the top of the hill, there is a plaque (Figure 3) attached to the stone wall in commemoration of Charles Darwin.
Continuing around to the right the wall changes from stone to red brick and the large, red brick home comes into view on your left (Figure 4). An expansive lawn, with large trees is on your right as you approach the front of the home. It is an imposing three-story building, with single story extensions on each end.
Beyond the extension of the house, to the West, is a rather large “Stable-Yard” (see Figure 2) that was part of the original building built in 1800. This yard was used to ready the horses and/or carriage for use by the family and for other farm related activities. It was enclosed by farm buildings at the West end, farthest from the main house and the farm itself stretched out to the West beyond the buildings. Along the North side of the enclosure there is a laundry, and a dairy where the milk, cream and cheese were kept cool with ice from the ice-house. Ice was harvested from the river during the winter and stored in the ice-house below the home on the riverbank, for use of the household during the rest of the year. Along the front side of the yard there were structures for poultry, coal and a piggery where pigs were slaughtered and made ready for the family table. A door from the stable-yard opens into the kitchens and the servants quarters, all of which were located in the one-story portion of the house at the West end of the three story portion of the home.
Charles Darwin’s father, Robert Waring Darwin was a physician and built the home in 1800 just after his marriage to Susannah Wedgwood, daughter of the famous porcelain manufacture Josiah Wedgwood. Doctor Darwin ran his medical practice from his home and the patients came to the front door of the house and waited to see the doctor in the room immediately to the left of the entryway. Doctor Darwin’s office and surgery were to the left of the waiting room and the surgery was across the hall to the back of the house.
The second floor of the main house was a series of bedrooms and one of them served as the nursery where all the children were born, including Charles. The window to this room can be seen in Figure 5, off to the upper left corner of the front entry way. Figure 6 is of the fireplace in this room.
Saint Chad’s Anglican Church and the Dingle Gardens
On November the 15th, 1809, when Charles was only nine months old, he was baptized in Saint Chad’s Anglican Church (Figure 7), where his father was a member. The church is situated on one of the highest points in Old Town Shrewsbury and overlooks the wide Water Gardens to the west of the building which now contains the beautiful Dingle Gardens (Figure9). Only a few churches in England were ever built with round auditoriums and Saint Chad’s is one of them. This feature can be seen in Figure 8, where the view is from the South across the cemetery at the side of the church. The round sanctuary is to the far right in the photograph. Even though Dr. Robert Darwin was a long-time member of this church he and his wife Susannah are buried at Montford Parish Church, a few miles north west of the Shrewsbury.
When Charles was a boy the place on the water gardens where the Dingle Gardens are now located was a quarry and he recalls going there to collect things from the water (see The Unitarian Church and Reverend Case’s School).
Today the quarry has been transformed into the Dingle Gardens, a sight to behold with brilliant flowerbeds,(Figure 10), walkways, (Figure 11) and fountains in the center of flowing water, all surrounded by beautiful trees. A truly enchanted and romantic place!
The Unitarian Church and Reverend Case’s School
As a young child, his mother, the former Susannah Wedgwood, took Charles to the Unitarian Church (Figures.12 and 13) on High Street near the center of town, where she was a member.
This attractive building has a plaque commemorating Charles as a member who attended regularly as a youth (Figure 14).
During this period, Reverend Case was the pastor at the Unitarian Church and he also ran a school at 13 Claremont Hill St. (Figure 16) next-door to St. Chad’s Church, where Charles was enrolled by his mother in 1816. The view down the hill on Claremont St. across town to the St. Alkmund Church (Figure 15) would have been a familiar sight to Charles as he came and went from the school. The rear windows of the school looked out onto the cemetery at St. Chad’s church (Figure 17). In his autobiography Charles recalls a number of events during this school year including the dogs in Barker St., newts in the quarry, fruit in the garden, monstrous fables, and the burial of a “dragoon-soldier.”
The following quotes are taken from Darwin’s autobiography and they recall the incidents mentioned above in his own words.
“In 1817, when I was 8½ years old, I attended Mr. Case’s School. I remember how very much I was afraid of meeting the dogs in Baker St. and how at school I could not get up my courage to fight. I was very timid by nature. I remember I took great delight at school in fishing for newts in the quarry pool. I had thus young formed a strong taste for collecting, chiefly seals, franks and also pebbles and minerals.
About this time, I sometimes stored fruit for the sake of eating it; and one of my schemes was ingenious. The kitchen garden was kept locked in the evening, and was surrounded by a high wall, but by the aid of neighboring trees I could easily get on the coping. I then fixed a long stick into the hole at the bottom of a rather larger flower-pot, and by dragging this upwards pulled off peaches and plums, which fell into the pot and the prizes were thus secured.
One little event during this year has fixed itself very firmly in my mind, and I hope that it has done so from my conscience having been afterwards sorely troubled by it; it is curious as showing that apparently I was interested at this early age in the variability of plants! I told another little boy (I believe it was Leighton, who afterwards became a well-known botanist) that I could produce variously coloured Polyanthus and Primroses by watering them with certain coloured fluids, which was of course a monstrous fable, and had never been tried by me. I may here also confess that as a little boy I was much given to inventing deliberate falsehoods, and this was always done for the sake of causing excitement.
I remember clearly only one other incident during the year whilst at Mr. Case’s daily school-namely, the burial of a dragoon-soldier; and it is surprising how clearly I can still see the horse with the man’s empty boot and carbine suspended to the saddle, and the firing over the grave. (Figure17) This scene deeply stirred whatever poetic fancy there was in me.”
After his mother’s death in July 1817, his older sisters, particularly Caroline continued to take him to the Unitarian Church and to see to his continuing education. However, later that year his father enrolled him in Doctor Butler’s Shrewsbury school.
“My mother died in July 1817, when I was a little over eight years old, and it is odd that I can remember hardly anything about her except her death-bed, her black velvet gown, her curiously constructed work-table and one or two walks with her. I have no distinct remembrances of any conversations, and those only of very trivial nature. I do remember her saying that if she did ask me to do something, which I said she had, it was solely for my good.”
Dr. Butler’s Shrewsbury School
Doctor Butler’s Shrewsbury school (Figure18) was considered a very fine institution at that time. However Charles was not very complementary about what the curriculum there had done for his mind.
“In the summer of 1818 I went to Dr. Butler’s great school in Shrewsbury, and remained there for seven years till mid-summer 1825, when I was sixteen years old. Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than Dr. Butler’s school, as it was strictly classical, nothing else being taught except a little ancient geography and history. The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank.”
Robert Darwin was not pleased with Charles’ lack of application to his school work and when Charles exchanged his passion for chemistry for that of game shooting at age 15, his father finally exploded saying, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all the family.”
This handsome building (Figure 18) is now the city library and is very modern inside. Some of the heavy timber, used in the original construction has been left exposed so that visitors can see its interesting configuration (Figures 19 & 20).
Not withstanding Charles’s misgivings about his education at his former school, there is now a statue of him promiment placed at the entry to the building (Figure 21). He is sitting in a likeness of the chair he used for so many years in his study at Down House where it can still be seen. Charles attended Dr. Butler’s school until he was 16, when his father enrolled him in Edinburgh University to study to become a physician.
A large number of the buildings still standing in Shrewsbury would have been there in Darwin’s day and, for the most part, they have been kept in excellent repair. Some of the more prominent structures would have been the train station and Shrewsbury Castle (Figure 22) both of which are at the Northern end of the Old City not far from Dr. Butler’s school and the castle can also be seen in Figure 21 across from the school.
Shrewsbury Abbey, (Figure 23) is an imposing structure a short way beyond the English Bridge to the east of the town. This structure dates to before King Henry VII and it was severely damaged as a result of his decree that all Catholic Abbeys were to be destroyed. Evidence of the destruction can be seen in Figure 24. Note the ragged bricks where a large portion of the Abby has been removed as a result of King Henry’s decree.
Although the New Shrewsbury School was not in existence until more recently one should take the time to visit this campus across the Kingston Bridge and up the winding street to the top of the hill on the South side of town. There are several attractive red brick buildings on campus and in front of the administrative building to your right as you enter the well-manicured grounds there is a very attractive statue of a younger Charles Darwin depicted in action on the Galapagos Islands with iguanas and other familiar creatures that he studied there (Figure 25).
The most recent addition to the Darwin Legacy in Shrewsbury is the naming of a modern shopping center for him on Pride Hill, near the center of Old Town (Figure 26).
In conclusion it should be said that visitors to Shrewsbury will find that one can easily walk to all the sites important to Darwin’s life here and each is no more than a fifteen minute walk from the center of this charming town where the man who influenced modern thought so profoundly, was born.
Sources and Further Reading:
Charles Darwin – The Power of Place, Janet Browne, 2002
Charles Darwin – Voyaging, Janet Browne, 1995
Darwin Day Collection One, Amanda Chesworth, 2002
Baruch College – http://darwin.baruch.cuny.edu/biography/index.html
Darwin Country – http://www.darwincountry.org/
AboutDarwin.com – http://www.aboutdarwin.com/
World of Dawkins – http://www.world-of-dawkins.com/
At the tender age of sixteen, Charles was enrolled at Edinburgh University by his father to study medicine and follow in the footsteps of both his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and his father Robert as a physician. To prepare Charles for Edinburgh, Dr. Robert Darwin had spent considerable time with Charles the previous summer, taking him on visits to his patients at the hospital and teaching him the skills he used as a physician. Charles was enthusiastic about what he was learning and Dr. Darwin concluded that Charles would make a very fine physician. At that time, Edinburgh had gained an equal footing with Leiden in Holland (the medical school where Robert received most of his training) and Padua in Italy as an eminent medical school. In addition, during the mid-1700s Edinburgh was the center of the Scottish enlightenment with David Hume as a resident philosopher. But Charles could stand neither the sight of blood nor the practice of performing amputations without an anesthetic and refused to complete his studies. In general, he found the classes required for medical practice uninteresting, although he did enjoy a return to his early interest in chemistry, which was taught by Professor Thomas Hope. Charles and his older brother Erasmus had shared in a ‘lab’ they had put together in the family garden tool shed at The Mount.
While at Edinburgh in 1826 and early 1827, Charles forged an important friendship with Professor Robert Grant who taught zoology, and they would take walks along the Firth of Forth collecting specimens. Grant taught him to do dissections and to make detailed observations under a microscope. It was also from Grant that he learned about the French naturalist Lamarck and his ideas about transmutation. Interestingly, Erasmus Darwin, Charles’s grandfather, and Jean Baptiste Lamarck were contemporaries, and whereas Erasmus was referred to as “the English Lamarck”, Lamarck was referred to as“the Parisian Darwin”. Both men were avid proponents of the principle of transmutation, a term later replaced by evolution. Grant’s interest in both Lamarck and particularly in the work of Erasmus Darwin spurred Charles’ interest in the writings of both men. And it was at this time that Darwin read Lamarck’s Systeme des Animaux sans Vertebras and studied his grandfather’s extensive work entitled Zoonomia. He thoroughly acquainted himself with their views on the principles of transmutation, or evolution, the subject that would eventually consume his interest for most of his life.
While at Edinburgh Charles appeared to learn more from his informal activities than he learned in the classroom. He pursued his interest in natural history by frequent visits to the museum where Mr. William MacGillivary was the curator. They also became friends, and MacGillivary taught Darwin about the anatomy of animals, and some botany, and how to take notes on the observations he made. It was through another friend, John Edmonstone, that Darwin learned the art of taxidermy. Edmonstone was a freed slave from Guyana, and while they worked they talked about the rain forests of South America that inspired Darwin and influenced his decision to go around the world on the Beagle.
On trips home to Shrewsbury while he was a student at Edinburgh, Darwin made extended forays into northern Wales where he used a book by Gilbert White, entitled The Natural History of Selborne as a guide to developing an interest in the beauty of birds and insects. It was at this point in his life that Darwin began to keep his own field notebook and to record detailed observations on the subjects of his studies.
Charles Darwin was becoming a self-trained naturalist with a keen interest in basic science even though he was only seventeen or eighteen years of age. It was no surprise when he started to attend the Plinian Society, a science club that emphasized studies of the natural world instead of the idea of supernaturalism. Darwin’s very first talk, on the marine biology of the Firth of Forth, was given to this group on March 27, 1827
Even though his father did not appreciate it, his son was developing the skills he would need for his lifelong work, largely on his own, outside the confinement of the classrooms at Edinburgh. Darwin was destined to become the most respected and remembered naturalist of the 19th Century.
Sources, Further reading and Websites:
Charles Darwin Voyaging, by Janet Broune
Baruch College http://darwin.baruch.cuny.edu/biography/
Excerpts from Erasmus Darwin’s
href="http://darwin.baruch.cuny.edu/biography/erasmus_darwin/zoonomia.html">Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life
href="http://darwin.baruch.cuny.edu/biography/erasmus_darwin/zoonomia.html">Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life
At age 19 Charles enrolled at Christ’s College, Cambridge, intending to become a clergyman in the Anglican Church (fig.). His disappointed father saw this as a necessity because Charles had been unwilling to complete his studies at Edinburgh and enter the traditional family profession as a physician. Darwin arrived at Cambridge in January 1828. To go to either Cambridge or Oxford was to enter the world of the Victorian gentlemen and to hobnob with the elite and ruling classes of England. Both the Darwins and the Wedgwoods were prominent country gentlemen, and Charles found Cambridge rather suited his taste. His father provided him with a very adequate allowance of 200 pounds a year. Charles soon felt at home at Cambridge where he became reacquainted with past friends from both Reverend Case’s school as well as from Dr. Butler’s school in Shrewsbury. Of even more significance, however, he found a cousin there by the name of William Darwin Fox who would become a close, life-long friend. As young men they were much the same in temperament and enjoyed each other’s company. Later in life they would comfort each other in times of severe tragedy, particularly when they had members of their immediate family die. Hensleigh Wedgewood, another cousin from the Wedgwood side of the family and a good friend of his brother Erasmus (Ras) was also at Christ’s College when Charles arrived, and they too would maintain a lifelong friendship.
Fox introduced Charles to beetles, and the two of them spent many hours in pursuit of rare specimens — entomology united them! In Charles’s own words “ no pursuit was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me more pleasure as collecting beetles.” At this time he also subscribed to a natural history periodical on entomology published by James Stephens. Darwin established contact with Stephens and sent him a number of beetles and a moth; as a result, his name appeared in the publication. He took pleasure in telling Fox that “you will see my name in Stephen’s last number.” The challenge of catching rare beetles was particularly rewarding and Darwin recalls this interesting experience: “one day on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost as well as the third one.” There is no doubt that he was a natural born entomologist as he quipped “it is quite absurd how interested I am getting to be about the science.”
Unlike the more secular universities of Edinburgh or University College London (known as the Godless College), Oxford and Cambridge were mainly theological training schools for the Anglican Church and had been an integral part of the church since Henry VIII. Darwin accepted the idea of becoming a member of the clergy, and he envisioned himself in a parish church with plenty of time to participate in activities involving his interest in natural history. It is clear that Charles’s enthusiasm for the natural sciences, first exhibited while he was in Edinburgh, became even more central to his interests at Cambridge. He and his close friend Fox read William Paley’s book on Natural Theology which suggested that the way of understanding the natural world was to see it as evidence of God’s creative powers. However, in 1830, Charles read John Hershel’s Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy that gave an expansive view of the future of scientific understanding, and as a result he developed a burning desire to add his own contribution to the “noble structure of natural sciences.”
Professor John Stevens Henslow, from whom Charles took a course in botany, befriended him, as Henslow recognized Darwin’s promise as a naturalist. He also encouraged Charles to take a course in geology as he thought it would be valuable to his future studies. Charles had already developed an interest in geology, but Professor Adam Sedgwick’s lectures on the subject gave him a greatly expanded appreciation for the time-line that was available for the development of biological systems.
After Charles completed his degree at Cambridge in 1831, he and Adam Sedgwick spent some time working on a geological map and studying rock formations in northern Wales. When they returned to Shrewsbury two letters were waiting for Charles, one was from Professor Henslow and the other from George Peacock who was responsible for nominating naturalists for navy ships making surveys. Henslow had recommended Darwin to Peacock and so Darwin was offered the post of unpaid naturalist to go on a trip around the world on the HMS Beagle. All this was a complete surprise to Charles who did not consider himself qualified as a naturalist but was eager to accept. Robert Darwin thought it was a wild scheme, and although not absolutely forbidding Charles from going said “if you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go, I will give my consent.” Reluctantly Charles wrote to Henslow saying that he could not go.
Charles immediately left to go on a hunting trip with his uncle Josiah Wedgwood who did not agree with Charles’s father and thought that the offer to go on the Beagle was too important to turn down. Josiah returned with Charles to Shrewsbury and convinced Robert, who had always regarded Josiah as a man of common sense, that it would be a great experience for Charles. After a discussion among the three of them Robert gave his consent for Charles to go on the voyage that would eventually change his life. Charles, in a great state of excitement, wrote a letter to Henslow canceling his earlier letter of refusal.
The following morning Charles took a coach to Cambridge to see Henslow where bad news awaited. Darwin was told that an offer for the position on the Beagle had been made to a Mr. Chester. But all was not lost as the captain of the Beagle, Robert Fitzroy, had made it clear that he would only take someone whom he liked personally, as they would be sharing a cabin that was very small. As it turned out, after two meetings Fitzroy chose Charles. On learning that he had been selected Charles wrote a very prescient letter to Fitzroy saying that the day of the Beagle’s departure would be glorious."My second life will begin and it shall be as a birthday for the rest of my life.”
Sources and Further Reading:
Charles Darwin Voyaging, by Janet Browne
Baruch College: http://darwin.baruch.cuny.edu/biography/
Darwin‘s ‘Informal’ Education
It has often been repeated that, as a young boy, Charles Darwin was not a good student or that he was lazy. However, it is apparent that he had a natural inclination towards science and showed an enthusiastic willingness to devote time and effort to it at an early age. In his autobiography he recalls a situation when he was only eight years old and a student at Rev. Case’s School that suggests this orientation.
“At 8 1/2 years old I went to Mr. Case’s School. I remember I took great delight at school in fishing for newts in the quarry pool. I had thus young formed a strong taste for collecting, chiefly seals, franks, etc., but also pebbles and minerals …”. More Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume 1
“The passion for collecting which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso, or a miser, was very strong in me, and was clearly innate, as none of my sisters or brother ever had this taste.”[Autobiography of Charles Darwin, p.1]
When he was nine years old Darwin was enrolled in Dr. Butler’s Shrewsbury school where he was required to take ‘the classics’ — ancient history and Greek, which he found rather uninteresting and consequently received poor grades. On the other hand, he enjoyed reading Shakespeare’s historical plays and poems by Byron, Scott, Thomson, and the Odes of Horace. Nevertheless, his main interest was in the natural sciences, which was encouraged only informally outside the classroom. Evidence of this was seen while on vacations with his family in North Wales, when he would collect insects, sea shells, minerals, and geological specimens with enthusiasm.
When Charles was just 13 years old his brother Erasmus had set up a small chemistry lab in the garden shed which was in the kitchen garden some distance from the main house in the side yard (see fig. 2, in the section on The Mount). Charles recalled this experience with his brother in the following quote in his autobiography.
“Towards the close of my school life, my brother worked hard at chemistry, and made a fair laboratory with proper apparatus in the tool-house in the garden, and I was allowed to aid him as a servant in most of his experiments. He made all the gases and many compounds, and I read with great care several books on chemistry, such as Henry and Parkes’ ‘Chemical Catechism.’ The subject interested me greatly, and we often used to go on working till rather late at night. This was the best part of my education at school, for it showed me practically the meaning of experimental science. The fact that we worked at chemistry somehow got known at school, and as it was an unprecedented fact, I was nicknamed "Gas." I was also once publicly rebuked by the head-master, Dr. Butler, for thus wasting my time on such useless subjects; and he called me very unjustly a "poco curante," and as I did not understand what he meant, it seemed to me a fearful reproach.” Autobiography of Charles Darwin, p. 4.
[A “poco curante” is one who cares about small things, while being indifferent to important things]
While it is true that Charles did not perform well at Reverend Butler’s school and his grades were not remarkable, perhaps we should realize from his own words about his experience at the school that "nothing could have been worse for my mind," that he understood his own mind when it came to determining what he was best suited to do with his life, and was rather mature for his age. In fact, throughout his life he seemed to have an uncanny idea about what his contribution would be, in spite of what others said about his academic performance. A particularly prescient statement in this regard was in a letter of acceptance to FitzRoy just before they left England on the Beagle, "the day of the Beagle’s departure would be glorious. My second life will begin and it shall be as a birthday for the rest of my life."
In addition, consider how Darwin took advantage of the many opportunities to advance his interest in science throughout his college years when he had an opportunity to learn informally from others. For instance, Charles made a number of friends among the faculty, staff, and students at both Edinburgh and Cambridge, from whom he learned a great deal. Perhaps the most important friendship that he developed at Edinburgh was with a young professor of comparative anatomy and zoology, Robert Grant. The two of them would walk down to Leith Harbour or along the Firth of Forth to collect marine animals such as oysters and sponges, and Grant taught him how to dissect these difficult specimens under seawater using a single-lens microscope, a technique he would use for the rest of his life. Grant also informally taught him about the development of invertebrates that eventually became important to Darwins theory of evolution. One of the reasons the friendship became so rewarding was that Grant was interested in the topic of transmutation and was familiar with the work of Charles’ grandfather Erasmus Darwin published in Zoonomia, as well as the views of Lamarck and Cuvier on the topic. Grant discussed his views with Charles, and while Charles was astonished by them he did not recall that they made an impression on his mind. Nevertheless it would seem that this informal education became very important to Darwin’s approach to his research on evolution. It is fair to say that Grant’s influence led to Darwin’s first presentation of a scientific paper before the Plinian Society at Edinburgh on March 27, 1827. There were also several other scientific communications and papers that resulted from this special yet informal relationship between these two men.
Darwin’s interest in entomology was first stimulated by his cousin William Darwin Fox, a fellow student at Cambridge who was interested in beetles. The two of them would go for walks in the countryside and collect beetles with great seriousness and enthusiasm. Although Charles was at Cambridge to study to become a member of the clergy, he did not show great intest in it and often missed classes. From this informal activity with Fox, collecting beetles and naming them, by going to reference books by Lamarck, Curtis, and Samouelle that Darwin would eventually note, "it is quite absurd how interested I am getting about the science." It was this close friendship with Fox that brought out the best in Charles while they both were at Cambridge, and it contributed much to his future. Collecting beetles became a passion for both of them and Darwin subscribed to an entomological journal, published by James Stephens in London. At one point Charles sent thirty-four beetles and a moth he had captured to Stephens, and Stephens rewarded him by mentioning his name in his publication. One can appreciate Darwin’s enthusiasm from the following quote, "No pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them and rarely compared the external characteristics with published descriptions, but I got them named anyhow …. No poet ever felt more delighted at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing in Stephens’ Illustrations of British Insects the magic words, ‘Captured by C. Darwin, Esq.’ In a letter to Fox, he bragged, " you will see my name in Stephens’ last number."
Two professors at Cambridge also became particularly important to his informal educationand to his future career. Of these, certainly John Stevens Henslow was the most important. Henslow was professor of botany but had also been professor of mineralology. Charles’ brother Erasmus had attended Henslow’s mineralology lectures and described him as "the man who knows every branch of science”. Charles established an informal friendship with Henslow, one that would prove to be excedingly important, he would eventually say of Henslow that he "influenced my career more than any other."
The most important aspects of this relationship came during Darwin’s last terms at Cambridge when he came to know Henslow very well and often joined the family for dinner. They would take long walks together and became close friends while retaining a relationship of student and teacher. It is reasonable to suggest that it was this informal knowledge of Darwin’s abilities that lead Henslow to recommend him to FizRoy for the position of naturalist aboard the Beagle, a recommendation that would open the door to Darwin’s future.
The other Cambridge professor who contributed substantially to Darwin’s informal education was Adam Sedgwick, professor of geology. Henslow had suggested to Darwin that he take Sedgwick’s course in geology but more importantly, he also asked Sedgwick to consider taking Charles on part of his field excursion to north Wales during the summer vacation of 1831.. During this informal trip Darwin learned a great deal about geology at the practical level and how to record the data they were gathering. This information came none to soo, for it was at the end ot this field trip that Charles recieved that all-important-letter from Henslow informing him of the possibility that he could be chosen as the unpaid naturalist to sail on the Beagle!
Source and Further Reading:
Charles Darwin Voyaging, by Janet Browne
The Voyage of the Beagle: 1831 to 1836
Before the voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin was living an unfocussed life made possible by his family’s wealth. However, his life was dramatically changed during the five-year voyage, where he saw vast numbers of animals and geological formations containing fossils in strata on the sides of mountains that varied in modest ways. These experiences encouraged him to think in new ways about how species came into existence.
He was offered the opportunity to sail on the Beagle by his friend Professor Henslow, who sent him a letter from a Cambridge scholar nominating Charles to the position of unpaid naturalist on board the ship. At first Charles’ father discouraged the idea, but his uncle-in-law Josiah Wedgwood supplied arguments that persuaded Charles’ father to support his participation in the voyage.
Charles Darwin, whose personal charm drew support from many people during his life, made a good impression on Robert FitzRoy, the Beagle’s captain. FitzRoy, who had a more conservative character than Darwin, chose him in the hope that Darwin’s observations would uphold the biblical view of creation by God, as described in Genesis. Darwin, who had studied to be a clergyman, did not expect any problem with this mandate from FitzRoy.
The Beagle was one of six brig sloop ships that the British navy had built to do surveying, using the recently developed accurate clocks that made it possible to measure longitude. Only 90 feet long, this sailing ship carried 74 people in very close quarters, and 22 clocks for accuracy in surveying. The voyage was planned to be two years in length, but ultimately lasted five years. Darwin shared quarters with Captain FitzRoy and had a small room near the stern for his samples and workspace.
On December 10, 1831, the Beagle sailed out of Devonport, a district of Plymouth, England, but was driven back by strong gale winds. A second attempt on December 21 had the same result. Finally on December 27, the ship successfully left Plymouth, heading for South American. A planned stop at Teneriffe never occurred, because the island was quarantined in hope of preventing the spread of cholera from arriving ships.
At the Cape Verde islands Darwin saw a geological band of seashell sediments far above the current sea level, yet covered by a layer of lava from volcanoes that had been inactive for all of known history. Darwin may have interpreted this as evidence of the Earth’s history being far longer than estimates based on the Bible.
During an extended time on shore near Rio de Janeiro, Darwin was horrified by the human brutality exhibited in the treatment of Negro slaves. The Wedgwood family had been early opponents of slavery, and Darwin’s reports supported their view. Captain FitzRoy and Darwin disagreed violently over the issue of slavery, but eventually managed to work together again.
At Punta Alta, near Bahia Blanca, Darwin unearthed fossils of huge animals that no longer lived. He and Captain FitzRoy struggled to figure out how these creatures failed to be saved by Noah’s Ark during the biblical flood. Darwin also noticed that they resembled in some ways the current animals of this area, but clearly were also different from the current animals.
At Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America, Captain FitzRoy delivered three natives of the region back to their homelands, from which they had been taken to England a year before. They were also supplied with implements of civilization and a missionary, so that they could spread Christianity to their people. The two cultures were radically different, and neither really understood the other. After a year the Beagle returned, to find that the Fuegians had decided to live their lives without the benefits of English civilization.
For roughly a year the Beagle sailed up and down the coast and nearby regions of the southern end of South America. Darwin spent much time ashore, finding, describing, collecting, and packaging the dried bodies of various unidentified living things.
Finally, in the middle of 1834, the Beagle sailed through the straights of Terra del Fuego, taking nearly a month to pass through the icy passages near Cape Horn during winter in the Southern Hemisphere. From Valparaiso Darwin took a six week trip up into the Andes Mountains, where he observed a bed of seashells at 12,000 feet, above fossilized pine trees with marine rocks. He made the reasonable deduction that the trees had been carried under the ocean and later been raised high on the mountains. This incredible motion, if it occurred at the rate of modern geological changes, suggested that the Earth was older than he, or Captain FitzRoy, had originally believed.
At Concepcion (and its port city Talcahuano) there had been a very severe earthquake, which Darwin and FitzRoy describe in detail. Darwin noted that the land had been raised several feet, and suggested that repetitions of that raising could account for the seashells in the Andes. FitzRoy and many Christians believed that the earthquake was due to God; some natives believed it was the work of an Indian woman who was a witch!
Again Darwin was able to make many exploratory journeys on land, meeting the Beagle at prearranged locations. During this part of his life Darwin showed great physical vigor, in contrast to later years when he often complained of illness. Perhaps his later symptoms were from Chagas’ disease, which he might have contracted from a Benchuga bug that he caught alive and allowed repeated bites on his fingers. Sometimes curiosity can be dangerous.
Charles Darwin’s discoveries of unique flora and fauna in the Galapagos Islands are widely mentioned as being the source of his inspiration about evolution: descent with modification. It would be more accurate to say that what he found in the Galapagos only confirmed the explanation he had been formulating for the previous three years of the Beagle’s voyage, during which he had the opportunity to view a multitude of amazing animals, plants, and land formations. It is also commonly believed that he spent a long time in the Galapagos collecting samples. In fact, his time sailing in and around the islands was a mere five weeks, from September 17 to Oct. 20, 1835. Whenever the Beagle reached an interesting point that was navigable, the ship dropped off a boatload of men to explore. Darwin spent only 17 days onshore gathering specimens of birds, animals, insects, plants, rocks, and fish.
To provide a bit of background to Darwin’s arrival, the Galapagos are a group of twelve small volcanic islands located on the equator 500 miles off the coast of Equador. They were discovered by a Panamanian Bishop in 1535. In Spanish, the word for giant tortoise is Galapago. They are also referred to as “Las Encantadas” meaning the enchanted islands, in acknowledgement of the amazing creatures that reside there. In the 1800s they were, as now, owned by Equador. In Darwin’s time, the Galapagos were a refueling and refreshment stop for a fleet of 60-70 American whaling vessels. The endemic giant tortoises provided ships with an easy-to-catch source of fresh meat that stayed alive onboard ship for months while requiring very little maintenance.
Darwin spent much of his time in South America on land excursions. He would disembark at one port of call and rejoin the Beagle at its next landing. On these treks he viewed incredible things that could not be explained by the scientific and religious belief systems of his time. The discoveries he made not only challenged current dogma in biology, botany, zoology, and theology, they also held a huge impact to the emerging discipline of geology. In his book The Voyage of the Beagle Darwin writes of his delight and amazement at discovering such oddities as fossils of sea shells and fish on exposed cliffs 12,000 feet up in the Andes. He found living animals and fossil remains where the structure of a species remained constant (e.g., armadillos with their curved, segmented shells) but in sizes ranging from a under a foot long to over 20 feet long depending on the habitat. Darwin wrote of seeing living rheas and guanacos as well as their fossilized remains, noting that they represented a variety of sizes and colors. While similar enough to be classified as rheas and guanacos, each new group he encountered had something unique that made them just a bit different. He began to note the usefulness of these differences to the animals in terms of their success at defending their territory and obtaining food or mates.
With these discoveries in mind, and having spent many months striving to formulate a mechanism that might explain them, Darwin and the Beagle landed in the Galapagos, after being at sea for over three and a half years. In the Galapagos Darwin discovered barren, inhospitable, hot, dry volcanic islands that were, quite to his amazement, sustaining a multitude of creatures and plants. Although the islands are separated by only a few miles of ocean and are within easy sight and sailing of each other, the variety among similar species was stunningly apparent to Darwin.
Each island had iguanas in large numbers, yet they were different on each island. Some were black, some were red, one island had iguanas with both red and green markings, a few were brownish-orange; some ate cactus, others consumed algae off submerged tidal rocks. The islands’ namesake tortoises varied in shape from island to island. At one landing Darwin noted their long necks and sharply-arched shells, and on a nearby island the tortoises had short necks and nearly flat shells. On James Island (also called San Salvador) Darwin counted 26 species of land birds, all unique, and all incredibly tame.
Darwin is perhaps most famous for collecting the Galapagos finches from several of the islands he visited. While all similar in body size and color, their beaks varied in size and shape. To Darwin, it was clear: different foods were available on different islands and through successive generations the birds with the most-useful shaped beak flourished and those with less-useful beak shapes died out. There had to have been a great principle or mechanism involved. While the finches were noted in his journals without much more emphasis than other plant and animal species he collected, many years later they would become one of the biggest arguments in his theory of natural selection.
The Galapagos Islands are spectacular in their topography and contain a stunning variety of rare, unique, approachable, and vanishing species. They are a sparkling jewel to be visited, admired, revered, and protected.
Chronology of the Beagle in the Galpagos Islands, 1835:
Sept. 15: Arrive at the Galapagos Islands
Sept.17: Land on Chatham Island
Sept. 23-26: Disembark on Charles IslandSept.
Sept. 29-Oct. 3: Albemarle Island
Oct. 8-14: James Island
Oct. 20: Survey of Galapagos Archipelago completed, the Beagle heads towards Tahiti.
From the Galapagos Islands, the Beagle sailed 3200 miles to Tahiti, where Darwin was very impressed with the manners and skills of the natives. The next major stop was at New Zealand, where Darwin judged the natives as far inferior to the Tahitians. His observation of the missionaries in these areas lead to one of his earliest signed publications: a 1936 pamphlet arguing for more government support for Christian missionaries in the Pacific!
In Australia Darwin was again struck with sympathy for people in servitude — in this case the prisoners who had been sent to Australia. Darwin also remarked upon the state of the native peoples of the Pacific, who were dying out as the Europeans spread.
In the Cocos islands, Darwin made observations on how deep the coral polyps, a kind of small creature, could live. Using that data, he worked out how these creatures could build up reefs and atolls out in the midst of oceans: as they died, new layers of polyps could grow on top and build up new mass as the ocean floor subsided.
Toward the end of the voyage, Darwin, FitzRoy, and most of the crew were very eager to return to England. But the British Navy’s need for surveying accuracy required that the Beagle go first to South America again. This requirement probably came from a need to re-determine the position using the clocks at a previously surveyed location to find the amount of longitudinal error on the whole trip and then distribute that error through calculations, as if the error occurred at a steady rate, which would probably be true for clocks. Retracing their route north, the Beagle arrived back in England on October 2, 1836.
Sources and Further Reading:
Darwin and the Beagle, Alan Moorehead, 1969
The Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner, 1994
Charles Darwin: Voyaging, Janet Browne, 1995
The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin, published 1839 and 1845
had become a lifelong friend and promoter of Darwin as a scientist and
he lived on Bloomsbury Street in London. So, when Charles completed his
work in Cambridge, he moved to London in March 1837, renting
rooms in a house on Great Marlborough Street just down the road from
his brother Erasmus, who lead a leisurely social life in London but did
not accomplish anything significant during his life. The space Charles
rented was adequate to house Covington, his trusted assistant, and the
remaining boxes of Beagle specimens. At this point Darwin was
ready to participate in the scientific life of London and the place
that he rented was in walking distance of the scientific institutions,
as well as of Lyell’s home. Darwin became active in the Geological
Society meetings and on the council, and often socialized in the
company of Charles Lyell. Later on, Darwin said that he saw more of
Lyell than any other man, both before and after his marriage. Lyell had
a predilection for high society and insisted that Darwin join the
Athenaeum, an exclusive London club providing private dinner rooms, a
library, snuff, and select conversation in the heart of the West End.
Darwin became a member along with Charles Dickens in 1838. Soon, Darwin
was ‘stepping up’ with an invitation to attend Charles Babbage’s
glittering soirees. In a letter to his sister Caroline he said that he
would “meet the best in the way of literary people and a good mix of
pretty women.” It is clear that London after his voyage became an
important steping-stone where he made important connections for his
subsequent academic studies.
Erasmus who lived a life of “fussy tranquility”
took charge of Charles’ free time, introducing him to friends such as
Harriet Martineau a political author, Fanny Kimble an actress, and
writer Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane. All of these people were
intellectually stimulating and Darwin enjoyed their company. In fact
much later in his life he would look back and regret that he had become
so isolated at his home in Down. His cousin Hensleigh Wedgwood, whom
he had spent much time with as a student at Cambridge, was also in
Erasmus’ circle of friends, and Darwin found Hensleigh and his wife Fanny
very agreeable company. He joined their extended family circle for
pleasure and a wide-range of cultural activities. For the two years
1837 and 1838 Charles Darwin lived among the social elite of London and
made a number of friends who would remain friends and supporters for
the rest of his life.
Sources and Further Reading:
Charles Darwin, The Power and the Place; by Janet Browne
The Down House
Charles and Emma were married in early 1839 and had lived on Gower Street in London until July 1842 when they found a house about 16 miles south, in County Kent, near the village of Down. Within the next few years the English postal authorities changed the village’s name to “Downe”, but Darwin, and those who wrote about him, retained the original spelling of “Down” when referring to the House.
Both Emma and Charles had grown up in more rural areas in Shropshire where the air was clean and healthy in comparison to that in London where smoke and soot hung heavy in the air. In addition they were expecting their third child and they wanted to have a proper home in the country where they both wished to raise their family. At first they were going to rent the Down House but in the end Dr. Robert Darwin purchased the home and about 18 acres of land for 2,200 pounds and they moved in on September the 14th, 1842.
Figure 1: Diagram of the Charles Darwin Family Home-Site at Down
The numbers on the property represent the following: The main house (Down House) and front entrance is on north east corner of the property (1); Emma’s flower gardens (2); Orchard (3); Kitchen Garden (4); Great Meadow (5); Sand Walk (6); Great Pucklands Meadow (7); and the Service Yards (8).
At first both of them recognized that the home was not what they needed; it was square and rather small but over the years they made several additions to the home and they grew very fond of it. Emma had their third baby on the 23rd of December and named her Mary Eleanor unfortunately their new baby lived for only three weeks and was buried in the Churchyard in the nearby village of Downe. It must be said, that Charles was a very sensitive person and took each family tragedy very personally and severely, often becoming ill himself, from the emotional strain.
The Darwins both loved children and would eventually have 10 in all; William, Anne, Mary, Henrietta, George, Elizabeth, Francis, Leonard, Horace and Charles Waring. Seven of their children lived to become adults and lead very productive lives. More information about the family can be found in the section in this website on ‘The Children of Charles and Emma Darwin.’ Emma and Charles would spend the rest of their lives at their beloved ‘Down House’ and while Emma and the members of the family that were living there moved to Cambridge after his death, Emma returned nearly every summer until she died. Charles was 73 when he died in 1882 and Emma died in 1896 at the age of 88. They were married for 43 years and were a loving and compatible couple – each supported the other’s views of life and enjoyed each other’s company. Emma loved the gardens and trees and created six gardens to the rear of the house so that they could be seen from the drawing room. Charles became very content with their home and surroundings at Downe and it was here that he accomplished his prodigious scientific achievements.
The family retained the house until 1900 when it was rented to a succession of tenants. One, Olive Willis founded a successful Girls school there in 1907 and stayed until 1922 when it was necessary for her to move to larger facilities. The house was eventually purchased by Sir George Buckston Browne, in 1927 and renovated as a National Memorial to Darwin. Browne entrusted Down House to the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) and they opened it to the public on June 7 th,1929. After World War II the care of the National Memorial was transferred to the Royal College of Surgeons. This arrangement lasted until the late 1980’s when the College negotiated a deal with English Heritage.
English Heritage purchased the property in 1996 and restored Down House, making it into a museum in honor to the life and work of Charles and Emma Darwin.
When one visits Down House today, as it has been restored by British Heritage, it is much the same as when the Darwins made their last addition to it in 1876. The front entry way is reminiscent of the one at Darwin’s boyhood home, at the Mount House in Shrewsbury. The two windows to the left of the entryway in figure 2, are located in Darwin’s old study while the two to the right look into what was his new study and is now the ticket office and gift shop for the estate. The new studie and the story above it were the last addition made by the Darwins, in 1876.
The rear-view of the house (fig. 3) is very distinctive and is readily recognizable because it has been used in many publications. The drawing room is to the left on the ground floor and opens onto a covered verandah. Perhaps the most distinctive feature is the large bay with a flat roof that reaches up three stories, and was the first addition made on the house, by the Darwins. The dinning room is on the ground floor of this structure while the kitchens are to the right. Entrance to the main house from the back is through the garden door, located between the drawing room, and the dining room.
Looking out from the drawing room across the verandah, one can sees the flower gardens that were first created by Emma (fig. 4) Farther along the pathway to the right are Darwin’s greenhouses (fig. 5) where he did research on many species of vines and exotic plants.
Additional redbrick buildings were built adjacent to the green houses to the north, and the largest one was known as Darwin’s laboratory (fig. 6). While it is uncertain what the buildings were used for, it seems likely that the largest building was used for detailed experiments
work on plants that he is known to have studied, such as orchids, vines and carnivorous plants.
In reality the famous Sand Walk (see fig. 1) that is known to have been so important to Darwin’s work started at the back of the house and continued along in front of the green houses and kitchen gardens to the west end of the great meadow where it turned left and disappeared into a small woods that Darwin himself had created. Darwin has described how he would take a ‘daily constitutional walk’ along this path while he thought about the meaning of the observations he was making and about the ideas they generated. We can only speculate on how important the sand walk was to the development of the Theory of Evolution as it took shape in the consciousness of his mind over more than 20 years.
The floor plan above (fig. 7) shows the comparative size and relationship of the rooms on the ground floor as they appear today. Note that the building faces northeast and after the restoration by British Heritage the function of some of the rooms have been changed to accommodate visitors, namely the Ticket Office and Tea Room. Darwin had built himself a ‘new study’ a few years before he died and the Ticket Office now occupies that room which is to the right of the main entrance when you are facing the house from the front. Today the Tea Room is a pleasant place where visitors can have lunch, however it was the Kitchen when the Darwins lived there. The drawing room (fig. looks out to the gardens and would have been a quiet place to read, as Charles and Emma often did, sitting in comfortable chairs in front of the fireplace. One of their favorite authors was Charles Dickens, a contemporary of theirs who was very popular at the time.
The piano in figure 9 belonged to Emma, who was a gifted pianist and often played for the family and guests. The bassoon apparently belonged to Francis, and Charles made use of it in attempts to determine if plants could ‘hear’ the instrument.
Charles’s old study (fig. 10), to the left of the front entry way, is filled with examples of the objects and specimens that he used during the 40 plus years that he and Emma lived and raised their family here. Darwin’s favorite high-back chair can be seen in the corner under the lamp and it is known that he wrote ‘On The Origins of Species’ along with his other major publications, sitting in this chair. A board, covered with cloth across the arms served for a desk. Charles is depicted sitting in this chair in the statue of him in front of Dr. Butlers school which he attended as a child in Shrewsbury.
Other items in the room include pictures of his good friends Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker hanging over the fireplace, along with one of his father-in-law Josiah Wedgwood and a Pembroke table in the foreground. The Dining room (fig. 11) is a large light-filled room in the center of the back of the house also looking out to the garden through the large windows in the bay.
The Darwins were financially very comfortable and often employed 6-8 staff members to assist with the chores around the property. Both Emma and Charles treated their staff in a kindly manner, which the staff appreciated. Consequently they stayed for many years. For instance, Parslow the butler who ran the house-hold was with them from 1839 when they were first married until he retired in 1875.
The second floor (fig. 12) of the museum (in England, called the “first floor”) is filled with items and displays from various periods throughout Darwin’s life including his Childhood, Voyage on the Beagle, and the reaction to the publication of On the Origin of Species. The third floor is not open to the public.
It is interesting to ponder the nature of Darwin’s true legacy as we see his star rising ever higher at the beginning of the 21 st century, as we move slowly towards his 200 th birthday on February 12 th, 2009. It would seem that his true legacy lies in the fact that his well-defined theory of evolution presented humanity with an intellectually acceptable alternative to supernaturalism on the question of ‘why biological systems in general and humans in particular exist.’ There is no doubt that this was the reason why he was denounced by Cardinal Manning for “relieving God of the labor of creation” and why his friend William Whewell would not permit his book to be included in the library at Trinity College. Notwithstanding modern-day detractors, science has continued to move forward in the ‘almost’ 150 years since the publication of ‘On The Origin Of Species’ and today the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution by Natural Selection rests firmly in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of genetics.
Sources and Further Reading:
Down House; The Home of Charles Darwin: by English Heritage.
Erasmus Darwin: 1731 – 1802
Mary Howard: 1740 – 1770
Josiah Wedgwood I (1730-1795) was the creator of the highly successful
Wedgwood Pottery Company. Josiah’s wealth passed to his descendants and some of it eventually became part of the inheritance of Charles Darwin’s wife Emma. This wealth contributed to the estate that made it possible for Charles to pursue his ideas concerning evolution, without concern for money.Figure 1: Josiah Wedgwood IFigure 2: Josiah Wedgwood I
Josiah was born the second son of Thomas Wedgwood, a pottery business owner. When Josiah was nine, his father died and Josiah’s older brother Thomas inherited the business. Although Josiah had limited formal education, he became very skilled at "throwing on the wheel" during the five years he was apprenticed to his brother. Three years later, in his early twenties, Josiah left the family business and apprenticed himself to the most renowned English pottery-maker of his day, Thomas Whieldon. From Whieldon he gained technical skill and acquired management skills that were to become the foundation of Josiah’s success.
Josiah went into business for himself and gradually earned a reputation as a master potter. But his life did not progress smoothly. Smallpox, and a riding accident on the way to Liverpool, left him with a permanently weakened knee, which made him unable to work the foot pedal of a potter’s wheel. During his convalescence he read widely, not only technical books on pottery, but also literature, poetry, and philosophy.
At this time he met Thomas Bentley, a Liverpool businessman with nonconformist and rationalist views, who became his close friend. Bentley introduced Josiah to some of the most creative minds of the century, men whose ideas gave rise to the Industrial Revolution. These friends of Thomas Bentley had formed a group they called the Lunar Society, and Josiah occasionally met with them. Here Josiah met Benjamin Franklin amd Dr. Erasmus Darwin, who became Josiah’s lifelong friend.
When he was fully recovered, Josiah returned to his pottery in Burslem, and concentrated on designing pottery rather than making it with his own labor. Wedgwood began experimenting with a wide variety of pottery techniques and over the course of the next decade, his experimentation lead to creation of the first true pottery factory. This endeavor was made possible by capital from his marriage to a richly endowed distant cousin, Sarah Wedgwood.
Sarah Wedgwood (1734-1815) was the daughter of Richard Wedgwood, cheese factor of Spen Green, Cheshire. The couple married in January 1764 at Astbury Church ( Cheshire).Figure 3: Sarah “Sally” Wedgwood
Josiah cherished his well educated and capable wife, whom he called ‘Sally’, and told his friend Thomas Bentley that she was his ‘chief help-mate’. He said that he never finished any of his pots without first asking Sally what she thought of them. Apparently her advice was insightful, because the Wedgwood pottery factory had an uncanny sense of how to market their pottery to their wealthy customers. For instance, the line of pottery first made for Queen Charlotte was named ‘Queen’s Ware’, and was immensely popular and profitable when sold on the mass market.
Josiah and Sarah had a family of seven children: Susannah (Charles Darwin’s mother), John, Josiah II (father to Emma Wedgwood, Charles Darwin’s wife), Thomas, Kitty (Catherine), Sarah, and Mary Anne. Unfortunately a fourth son, named Richard, died when he was very young. The Wedgwood family lived mostly at Maer, about 20 miles North-East of Shrewsbury. Josiah brought not only financial stability to his family, but endowed them with his humanitarian beliefs, especially his abolitionist position on slavery, as well as his Unitarian religious beliefs and traditions that had great influence on his children and grandchildren.Figure 4: Detail from the ‘Family Portrait’, showing Sarah and Josiah
seated under a tree in the grounds of their home, Etruria Hall.
Oil on panel, painted by George Stubbs in 1780
In 1780, Josiah’s long-time business partner Thomas Bentley died, and Wedgwood turned to his friend Erasmus Darwin for help in running the business. As a result of the close association that grew up between the Wedgwood and Darwin families, one of Josiah’s daughters, Susannah, later married Erasmus’ son Robert, and they subsequently became the parents of Charles Robert Darwin. Charles Robert would continue the connection between the two families by marrying Emma Wedgwood (daughter of Josiah Wedgwood II), who was a first cousin to Charles. At that time cousin marriage was not prohibited, but Charles Darwin was aware that inbreeding could increase the expression of unhealthy traits, and he sometimes blamed his marital choice for the illnesses among his children.
Sources and Further Reading:
Sarah Wedgwood selection at the Wedgwood Museum family biographies
The Parents of Charles Darwin
Robert Waring Darwin: 1766 – 1848. Robert Darwin studied medicine at the University of Leyden in Holland and completed his medical studies at Edinburgh, England, in 1786. That autumas he set up as a doctor in Shrewsbury, though he was only 20. His father, Erasmus Darwin, had taken Robert to Shrewsbury and given him 20 pounds to start a medical practice. Erasmus also wrote to friends in Birmingham asking them to recommend Robert to their friends in the Shrewsbury area.
Robert was very successful: He was sympathetic and observant and had more than fifty patients within six months. He remained financially successful during sixty years of practice in Shrewsbury. He also served patients over a large area, sometimes traveling by carriage across the border into Wales. He increased his wealth further through real estate speculation, stock and bond investments, and through lending money to the landed gentry.
Standing 6 foot 2 inches tall, and being very portly, “He was an enormous man both physically and in personality. Charles described him as the largest man he had ever seen and compared his return to the family home at the end of the day to the coming in of the tide.”Figure 1: Dr. Robert Darwin
Susannah Wedgwood: 1765 – 1817. Susannah was the first child of Josiah Wedgwoood I, who had started the highly successful Wedgwood pottery company. Susannah married Robert Darwin in 1796, increasing his wealth by bringing a large dowry. She attended the Unitarian Chapel in Shrewsbury, and due to her influence Charles attended the Unitarian school, operated by Reverend Case, for two years.
From about 1800, Robert and Susannah lived at The Mount, built by Robert Darwin in an elevated position overlooking the town of Shrewsbury:
Charles Darwin’s mother Susannah died in 1817, when Charles was only 8 years old. He was subsequently raised by his three older sisters.
Sources and Further Reading:
King-Hele, Desmond. Doctor of Revolution: The Life and Genius of Erasmus Darwin. London, Faber & Faber, 1977.
Marianne – b. 1798 d. 1858. Married Henry Parker, M.D., in 1824. They had 5 children: Robert, Henry, Francis, Charles and Mary Susan.
Caroline Sarah – b.1800 d. 1888. When her mother died in 1817, Caroline raised Charles Darwin. Caroline married Josia Wedgewood III. They had 4 children: Sophie Marianne, Sophy, Margaret, and Lucy. “Two days after Charles and Emma’s wedding, Caroline lost her six-week-old baby.”
Susan Elizabeth – b.1803 d. 1866. Susan never married and lived at the family home in Shrewsbury her whole life . She was the last member of the Darwin Family to live at The Mount.
Erasmus Alvey – b. 1804 d. 1881. Attended Shrewsbury School, 1815–22. In October, 1822, Erasmus left home to study medicine at Christ’s College, Cambridge University. Later was sent to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, known as having one of the best medical schools in all of Europe. “ Erasmus came to Edinburgh in 1825 for a hospital residency after completing his course work at Christ’s College in Cambridge. Charles and Erasmus stayed in a hotel at first, but quickly found a boarding house at eleven Lothian Street. At first they were both enthusiastic about learning if not about lectures, checking out more books from the library than all the other students combined. But Erasmus stayed in Edinburgh for only four months, after which he returned to Shrewsbury to assist his father, leaving Charles to face the trials of medical training alone.”
Erasmus later completed a medical degree but never practiced, instead choosing to live most of his adult life in London, from 1829 on, where he had a rich social and intellectual life. This was possible because his father gave Erasmus a generous pension.
Erasmus and Charles had a very good relationship. They shared quarters in Edinburgh while both of them were in medical school there. When Charles returned from the voyage on the Beagle, Erasmus assisted him to settle in London. Charles often visited and seems to have derived a great deal of valuable information about a wide range of topics, including philosophy and economics, from Erasmus and his friends.
Erasmus never married.
Charles Robert – b. 1809 d. 1882. Darwin was called “Bobby” during his childhood, and nicknamed “Gas” during an adolescent period of chemistry experiments.
Charles became the most prominent naturalist in England and the world. His scientific theory of evolution by natural selection is now supported by our knowledge of molecular genetics. The full description of his life is given in many other places.
He married Emma Wedgwood in January, 1839, and they had 10 children: William, Anne, Mary, Henrietta, George, Elizabeth, Francis, Leonard, Horace and Charles.
- Emily “Catty” Catherine – b. 1810 d. 1866. Resided at The Mount (the family home), Shrewsbury, until she married her cousin Charles Langton in 1863. They had no children.
When Emma Wedgwood married Charles Darwin she brought to the marriage an intellectual inheritance very complimentary to his own, for she was brought up in a family that valued the importance of a good education. Both Darwin and Emma had many talented ancestors, and it is not surprising that their own children were very gifted. In addition, their families were part of a rising middle class of professionals, inventors, merchants, and scholars that grew in the wake of the burgeoning industrial revolution that had its roots in the Midlands of England.
Darwin’s father, Robert Darwin, and his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, were successful physicians. Robert Darwin was sent to study medicine at Edinburgh when he was seventeen, then to Leyden in Holland, where he received his doctor’s degree. He also went to Paris where he met Benjamin Franklin, who had been an old friend of his father, Erasmus. At age twenty, he began his medical practice in the town of Shrewsbury. The practice grew rapidly and in April, 1796 he married Susannah Wedgwood, the eldest daughter of Josiah I. In he purchased the property known as The Mount and built a comfortable home for his family. It was there that Charles Darwin was born.
Emma’s grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood I was the creator of the highly successful Wedgwood Pottery. Her father, Josiah (Jos) Wedgwood II, was educated at Edinburgh University. He then became his father’s assistant at the pottery. Following sales trips to Holland, Berlin and Frankfurt he was recognized as a distinguished “man of business.” Jos inherited the pottery on his father’s death and continued its expansion.
Her mother’s family were the Allens of Cressely in Pembrokeshire. Her grandfather, John Bartlett Allen, was educated at Westminster School in London, then joined the army, served in Germany and fought in the Seven Years War. Following his retirement as a Captain, he married an heiress, Elizabeth Hensleigh, and became established as a country gentleman. The Allen house at Cressely was solid and plain on the outside, but quite elegant inside, with a well stocked library. Emma’s mother, Elizabeth (Bessy) Allen, grew up here. She and her sisters received a good education, probably taught at home; they wrote fluently and were well read. The brothers were sent to Westminster and were later trained as lawyers. In this atmosphere, Bessy grew up and developed into a young woman of exceptional grace and charm.
Emma was born on May 2, 1808 at Maer Hall. She was youngest of the eight children of Josiah (Jos) Wedgwood II and Elizabeth (Bessy) Allen. The Wedgwood home was a happy place, set in the countryside of Staffordshire. Her three older sisters, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Fanny, and her four brothers, Joe (Josiah III), Harry, Frank and Hensleigh, treated her with special kindness, and the Wedgwood and Allen aunts adored her. In this affectionate atmosphere she acquired a stability and tranquility that followed her throughout her life. As were her older sisters, she was educated at home for her father believed in the importance of women’s education. She and her sister Fanny, who was two years older, were close companions and were nicknamed “The Dovelies” or “Miss Pepper and Salt.” Fanny was plain and orderly, Emma, pretty and lively.
When she was five years old, the family moved to the old home and pottery at Etruria Hall, due to financial circumstances. When she was ten, the family was able to move back into Maer Hall, but before the move Jos took Bessy and the four girls on a seven month “educational” trip to Paris and Geneva, where Emma learned to speak fluent idiomatic French. It was an exciting time for a ten year old, for they attended operas, balls and and receptions and met many famous people.
In January 1822, Emma and Fanny were sent to Grenville House, a boarding school outside London, where Emma’s talent for music was recognized and she was presented as a star piano student to perform for Mrs. Fitzherbert, George IV’s wife. However, one year was enough; the girls became homesick, and Emma claimed in later life that she had learned very little there. At the end of the year they returned to Maer, and were taught by Elizabeth, and visiting tutors. The library at Maer was well stocked with books covering all subjects—art, science, politics, literature and history, and Emma was claimed by the family to have read all of Paradise Lost as a little girl. Years later she wrote to Charles, “I remember being more interested in it when I was a child than in almost any book”
As a young woman Emma again traveled to the continent. In February, 1818, the year before the family moved back to Maer Hall, Jos took Bessy and the four girls on the “Grand Tour” — Paris, Geneva, Florence, Rome, Naples and Milan. The trip was filled with tours of museums and churches, with concerts and operas, and long walks in the countryside. Throughout the trip the young women were inspired by their inner desires to seek out educational opportunities, and it is believed to have been during this tour that Emma took some piano lessons with Chopin. In 1826 Emma and Fanny traveled to Geneva to spend six months with Aunt Jessie Allen, whose husband was the noted Italian historian, Sismondi. Through her friendship with him she gained a deep understanding of the continent’s intellectual and political affairs, which lasted all her life. Again, there were balls and other entertainments, and Emma became fond of dancing, especially the waltz, which was all the rage. When Jos went to Geneva to bring Fanny and Emma home, he invited their cousins, Charles and Caroline Darwin, to go with him. Charles traveled with his uncle to Paris, but then returned to England, as he did not want to miss the opening of hunting season at Maer Hall. This was the only time in his life that Charles traveled to Europe.
On returning to Maer Hall Emma continued to live in an atmosphere of intellectual stimulation for the Wedgwoods were involved in many social and political causes, especially the abolition of slavery. And there were visits from the aunts, uncles and cousins of the three related families, the Wedgwoods, the Allens and the Darwins. One of the uncles, Sir James Mackintosh, husband of Emma’s Aunt Kitty Allen, came to Maer for six months to work on his History of the World and Emma enjoyed all the ongoing conversations. Charles Darwin usually visited Maer Hall for the opening of the hunting season, for he enjoyed the shooting and the free country life of walking and riding, as well as the intellectual conversations and the music. On one occasion he was very impressed with Mackintosh, and was later to learn that the feeling was mutual, as Sir James had commented “There is something in that man that interests me.”
During the years 1830 to 1832 many changes were taking place in the lives of both Emma Wedgwood and Charles Darwin. In December,1831, Darwin left for his famous voyage on the Beagle, and Emma’s family became involved in the battle for the reform of Parliament. Her father Jos, her uncles John Allen and Sir James Mackintosh all stood as Whig candidates in the elections of 1831 and 1832. Emma and her sisters were in London for a good part of this time, and her sister Fanny became quite involved in the anti-slavery campaign. But Emma, although showing much interest in the causes, was not one for sitting through long political speeches. The political debate in London over the Reform bill was intense and Jos Wedgwood and John Allen were staunch supporters of Mackintosh in his efforts to get it passed. On June 4, 1832, the bill was finally passed and the king gave his assent on June 8. Unfortunately, Sir James had died a few day before on May 30, so never saw the success of his tireless campaigning. In the election of 1832, Jos stood successfully for the new seat of Stoke-on Trent and Uncle John became MP for Pembroke.
That same year brought tragedy to the family. Emma’s beloved sister, Fanny, became ill on August 13, 1832, and though lovingly cared for by Elizabeth and Emma, died the following Sunday of what is believed to have been cholera. As result of Fanny’s untimely death, Emma became more serious. Although at the urging of her mother she had been confirmed in the Anglican Church when sixteen years old, she turned to the Unitarian faith with its humanitarian principles which she had learned during her childhood through her father’s example. At this time of intense grief she developed an unshakable faith that brought her comfort throughout her life. During the following years Emma’s time was spent helping her sister, Elizabeth, care for their ailing mother, and in other domestic pursuits. She spent more time with her Allen aunts, Fanny and Emma, and she wrote long letters to Aunt Jessie in Geneva.
In October of 1836 Emma’s father, Jos, received a letter from Charles Darwin. The Beagle had just returned and Charles wrote that he wished to visit Maer as soon as his responsibilities on the Beagle were taken care of. This was a letter that changed Emma’s life.
Charles and Emma Darwin were both fond of children and would eventually have a total of ten with the first one born towards the end of 1839 and the last one in 1856 when Emma was 48 yeas old. Many stories are told about how Charles liked to play with the children and while doing so made many observations about their behavior. Below is a list of the children in chronological order and a few facts about their lives including their date of birth and death.
- William Erasmus – b.1839 d.1914. Also called “Doddy” and “Willy” by his parents, who were apparently fond of using nicknames. William was a graduate of Christ’s College at Cambridge University, and became a banker, after Charles Darwin guaranteed the sum of 5,000 pounds enabling William to become a partner in a bank.
William married Sara Sedgwick from Massachusetts, in November 1877. They had no children.
- Anne “Annie” Elizabeth – b. 1841 d. 1851. Anne died of tuberculosis. This deeply challenged Darwin’s belief in Christianity.
Mary Eleanor – b. & d.1842. Died a few weeks after birth.
- Henrietta Emma (Etty) – b. 1843 d. 1930. Henrietta read proofs for Darwin when she was 18, and edited his manuscript for the Descent of Man. She also edited her mother Emma’s personal letters and had them published in 1904 as Emma Darwin: wife of Charles Darwin. A Century of Family Letters.
Henrietta married Richard Buckley Litchfield in 1871. They had no children.
- George Howard – b.1845 d. 1912. Studied at Trinity College. George was an astronomer and mathematician. He made statistical studies of cousin marriages and studied the evolution and origins of the solar system. George wrote a paper on the age of the earth that lead to his nomination to the Royal Society in 1877 and his becoming a Fellow in 1879. In 1883 he became the Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge University, and was a Barrister-at-Law.
George married Martha (Maud) du Puy from Philadelphia. They had two sons, and two daughters.
- Elizabeth (Lizzie, Betty, Bessy) – b. 1847 d. 1926 [1928 according to Keynes]. Apparently had communication difficulties with words and pronunciation. After living awhile in London near Erasmus Darwin, Elizabeth bought Tromer Lodge, a house in Downe near Henrietta’s residence, in 1868. Elizabeth never married and had no children.
- Francis (Frank) – b. 1848 d. 1925. Studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, first studying mathematics, then studying and graduating in natural sciences in 1870. Studied medicine at St. Georges Medical School, London, earning M.B. in 1875, but did not practice medicine.
Darwin nominated Francis to the Linnean Society in 1875 and promoted a paper Francis sent to the Royal Society. He became a botanist specializing in plant physiology. He helped his father with his experiments on plants and was of great influence in Darwin’s writing of “The Power of Movement in Plants” (1880). He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1879, and taught at Cambridge University from 1884, as a Professor of Botany, until 1904.
He married Amy Ruck but she died when their first child, Bernard, was born in September of 1876. Bernard was raised by Emma and Charles Darwin, his grandparents. Francis married Ellen Crofts in September of 1883, and they had one daughter, Frances in 1886.
He edited many of Darwin’s correspondence and published
Life and Letters of Charles Darwin in 1887, and
More Letters of Charles Darwin in 1903. He also edited and published Darwin’s Autobiography.
Francis was knighted in 1913.
Sir Francis Darwin
- Leonard – b.1850 d. 1943. Leonard considered himself the stupidest of the children. He was sent to Clapham School in 1862 and joined the army after school. Attended Woolwich Military Academy and trained as military engineer.
He became a soldier in the Royal Engineers in 1871, and was a Major from 1890 onwards. He taught at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham from 1877 to 1882, and served in the Ministry of War, Intelligence Division, from 1885-90.
Leonard married Elizabeth Fraser in July of 1882. Later he married Charlotte Mildred Massingberd (1868–1940), but had no children with either wife.
Leonard later became a Liberal-unionist MP for the town of Lichfield in Staffordshire 1892-95.
He was interested in photography and surveying. [Browne, Power, p.333] He was an officer of the Royal Geographical Society from 1908 to 1911 and then its President.
He was Chairman of the British Eugenics Society between 1911 and 1928. Served as President of the First International Congress of Eugenics in 1912.
- Horace – b. 1851 d. 1928. His schooling was interrupted by illness. Around 1860 the apparent illness may have been motivated by feelings for Camilla Ludwig, the Darwin’s young German governess. He had a tutor before entering Trinity College in 1868. He graduated in 1874, later than normally expected. Horace suffered from self-doubts about his abilities.
Horace was also a designer of scientific instruments. In 1885 he founded the leading instrument maker Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company.
He was the Mayor of Cambridge from 1896-97, and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1903. Horace married Emma Farrer in January of 1880 and they had three children.
- Charles Waring – b. 1856 d. 1858. Died of scarlet fever.
Emma and Charles Waring Darwin