Darwin at Home

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The Museum's library is part of the Darwin Manuscripts Project, which aims to digitize the papers, manuscripts, and correspondence of Charles Darwin. Many of these papers were retrieved from Darwin's home in Kent, England, known as Down House.

Down House Darwin
Darwin's family home, Down House, is preserved as a landmark and tourist attraction.
Courtesy of S. Woodmore

Scrap Paper

Darwin’s study was part of his busy, active family home. The children often drew pictures or wrote stories using their father’s writing paper or the backs of discarded manuscript pages, including his original handwritten draft of On the Origin of Species. Only 45 pages of that draft are known to exist, one batch salvaged by his daughter Henrietta as an adult and four pages with children’s drawings.

Place Apart

Down House, drawn below by Darwin’s third son, Francis, was the family home in Kent, England, where the naturalist did the bulk of his writing—stowing manuscript pages in cubby holes in the now carefully preserved study. Today, the home is an English Heritage site and a popular tourist destination.

House by Francis Darwin, verso of Origin Ms p. 555
Reproduced with the permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin

Family Legacy

Darwin’s wife—who was also his first cousin—and his mother were both descendants of Josiah Wedgwood, who founded the pottery company in 1759. Combined with finances from his father, a wealthy physician, the Darwin-Wedgwood family connection provided Darwin an inheritance that allowed him to pursue his studies unhindered by worries about money. Can you find the Wedgwood china plates in Francis’ drawing?

Field Work

The garden at Down House, seen though the open door in the drawing above, and the surrounding fields, walks, and woods served as Darwin’s laboratory. Here, with the help of his family, friends, and even household staff, he tested his theory through countless experiments.

Love and Loss

Emma and Charles Darwin had 10 children. Two died in infancy, and one, Annie, passed away at age 10, possibly of tuberculosis. Devastated by her death, Darwin, who was ill for much of his adult life, worried that he had passed constitutional weaknesses on to his children.

For more about the origin of the Darwin Manuscripts Project, read Digitizing Darwin’s Work.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of the Member magazine Rotunda