Shootings, Dogs, and Rat-Catching main content.

Shootings, Dogs, and Rat-Catching

Part of the Darwin exhibition.

Charles's mother was often sick when he was young and died when he was eight years old. The next year he was sent to a local boarding school near his home in Shrewsbury. He hated the school's stifling curriculum based on rote memorization of Greek and Latin. "Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than Dr. Butler's school," Darwin recalled.

Impatient with Charles's lack of progress, Darwin's father pulled him from the school and sent him to Edinburgh University in Scotland to study medicine, like his father and grandfather before him. When Charles showed no interest in becoming a doctor, Robert exploded, "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family." His father next sent Charles to the University of Cambridge to prepare for a career in the church. Charles had no objection. A quiet country parish might be just the place to pursue his interest in natural history.

Young Charles and Catherine: Darwin Heirloom's Trust
English Heritage Photo Library

The Fifth of Six Children

Even before her death, Darwin's mother, Susannah, was a distant presence because sickness often kept her bedridden. Darwin claimed, "I can remember hardly anything about her." The loss was cushioned by the attention of his three older sisters, who doted on the two youngest children, Charles and Catherine. Charles was also very close to his brother Erasmus all his life.