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Our Poor Dear, Dear Child

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Portrait of Darwin's daughter Annie

Darwin Heirlooms Trust, ¬© English Heritage Photo Library B990676


Annie Darwin was a lovable girl: high-spirited, inquisitive, affectionate. But Annie fell ill, and her death at the age of 10, likely from tuberculosis, left Emma and Charles reeling. "We have lost the joy of the household and the solace of our old age," wrote Darwin, days after her death. "Oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we still do and ever shall love her dear joyous face." The heartsick Emma filled her daughter's writing box with some of her childhood treasures and kept it until her own death.

Guilt made Darwin's grief even sharper. Troubled by bouts of severe illness since Beagle days, he was tormented by the idea that he had passed his weakness on to his children. He treated her with a popular remedy, the water cure, and took anxious daily notes on her condition: "Languid and pale," "Two little crys in evening." Eventually he took her for water treatment some distance from home. There she rallied briefly, then slipped away.

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Annie's box

Courtesy Professor Richard D. Keynes; Photo:©AMNH / Craig Chesek


Though childhood death was a fact of life among Victorian families, Annie had a special place in her parents' hearts. Emma could imagine Annie in heaven, but Charles--the faith of his youth now gone--could not. He mourned the loss of his "poor dear, dear child" all his life.

Childish Things

In addition to Annie's small treasures, Emma tucked into her daughter's writing box a map showing the location of her grave at Malvern and the daily notes Darwin took on his child's condition.

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