Charles Darwin (1809-82)

Charles Darwin was the son of Susannah Wedgwood and Robert Waring Darwin, and born at the family home 'The Mount' in Shrewsbury. His grandfather was Erasmus Darwin, a close friend, advisor and family physician to Josiah I, and founder of the Lunar Society. Charles was educated until the age of eight by his sister, Caroline who was later to marry Josiah Wedgwood lll. After a brief spell at a Unitarian day school, at nine Charles became a boarder at Dr. Butler’s school near his home. However, he was later to remark that his interest in birds, insects, plants and collecting were natural traits, developed very early on in his life and were not taught. As was thought proper for a young man of his background, Charles was sent to Edinburgh to study medicine. He disliked this except that he had to learn about birds and animals. The next course of action was to train for the clergy at Christ's College, Cambridge. This again was found by Charles to be unsuited to his character although it proved to be an important stage in his life, if only because it brought him into contact with botanists and geologists at the university.

Without doubt his decision to join the voyage of the Beagle in 1831 was a turning point in his own life but the conclusions he drew from observations he made as the journey took him through South America, New Zealand and Australia, would challenge the way most Victorians understood the world in which they lived. Darwin put forward the idea that instead of the whole of mankind being able to trace back their beginnings to Adam and Eve, it had actually developed very slowly from an ape-like creature, a theory which he published amongst great controversy in 1859 in his book 'The Origin of Species'. In this way, the theory of evolution was developed. He also authored numerous books and papers, including the 'Descent of Man', 1871, and a biography of his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, in 1879.

It is quite likely that Charles would never have persuaded his father to allow him to embark on the Beagle without the help of his uncle, Josiah Wedgwood ll. At Maer Hall, Charles found much comfort in the company of his uncle, aunt and cousins, one of whom, Emma (the youngest daughter of Josiah II), he married in 1839. She was to be greatly influential in his life. On his death, Charles Darwin, arguably the world’s greatest naturalist, was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.


Charles Robert Darwin (1809-92), Charles Robert Darwin (1809-82), © This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired

Charles Robert Darwin (1809-92), Charles Robert Darwin (1809-82)
© This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired