Posted by: Rob Viens | February 11, 2012

Darwin Day Part I

February 11th, tomorrow is Darwin’s birthday – celebrated today as “Darwin Day” (by those of us who rightfully celebrate Darwin). Today’s entry was again short:

” We are rapidly gaining on our voyage to the Equator.” (Feb 11)

So I thought I would devote the weekend to a little more information about Darwin himself.  In honor of his birthday I’ve read the first couple of chapters of his autobiography –  essentially the ones that cover the first two decades of his life.

Charles Robert Darwin at 7 years old:

Charles Darwin as a boy

Today some general information and Darwin’s heritage:

Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 Shrewsbury, England to Robert Waring Darwin and Susannah Wedgwood. He came from a family of scientists (philosophers), doctors and businessmen. His paternal grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a doctor, poet, scientist and social activist.  He wrote poetry (steeped in science), composed popular science books (including Zoonomia) and was a founding member of the Lunar Society,  He supported his friend Ben Franklin for American independence, opposed the slave trade and believed strongly that women had a right to a good education. On the other side of the gene ppol, Darwin’s maternal grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood, the founder of the Wedgwood Pottery Company (now Waterford Wedgwood).

Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood:

Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood

Darwin’s father, Robert, was a well-respected physician and became rather wealthy by investing in real estate, mortgages, and civil infrastructure. It is more difficult to find information about Darwin’s mother, though she was only a part of his life for eight years – dying in 1817. He spends some time in his autobiography describing and praising his father ‘s skills as a physician (calling him a “remarkable man”), however ends on this interesting note:

“My father’s mind was not scientific, and he did not try to generalise his knowledge under general laws; yet he formed a theory for almost everything which occurred. I do not think that I gained much from him intellectually; but his example ought to have been of much moral service to all his children. One of his golden rules (a hard one to follow) was, ‘Never become the friend of any one whom you cannot respect.'”

Robert Waring Darwin:

Robert Waring Darwin

Charles (referred to as Bobby or Charley by his family) had four sisters and a brother.  Marianne, Caroline, Susan and Erasmus were all older (by 5-11 years) and Catherine (who was 1 year younger).  He seemed to be close to his siblings, and throughout the voyage is in regular correspondence with is family (letters to and from Caroline, Susan and Catherine are relatively common).

Bottom line – at least several generations of Darwin’s family were involved in science and business, often referred to as being rather liberal,  and were generally well respected. From fairly early on he would have been exposed to all of these things, and he would have known that her would be wealthy enough to not have to “work” much. He had a good relationship with his siblings and they were always very supportive of him. All in all, he was in an environment that encouraged his success.

Part of Darwin’s family tree (from his Autobiography):

Darwin family tree

Darwin’s interest in the natural world stared early and is reflected in this quote regarding being eight years old:

“By the time I went to this day-school my taste for natural history, and more especially for collecting, was well developed. I tried to make out the names of plants, and collected all sorts of things, shells, seals, franks, coins, and minerals.”

More on this topic, and my overall impressions of his early years tomorrow on Bobby’s birthday. (RJV)


  1. Any discussion on how he took his mother’s last name and not his father’s? I find it interesting that Darwin’s father had a system of theorizing everything, yet Darwin at this age feels he inherited little of his father’s intellect. Seems like he had not yet discovered this in himself, having later developed one of greatest theories ever.

    • Thanks Terri -Bad wording on my part – his parents were Robert Waring Darwin and Susannah Wedgwood. I think I’ll go back and edit the post to make it more clear.

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