Posted by: Rob Viens | June 13, 2013

Good Ole Uncle Jos

Darwin’s two week journey into the interior of Uruguay ended on May 20th with his return to Maldonado:

“We arrived there in the afternoon. I am well satisfied with this little excursion, which besides an outline of the geology, has given me a very good opportunity of seeing both the country & its wild Gaucho inhabitants. — The Beagle on the 18th brought a party of working hands for the Schooner, but did not stay more than hour. — She left letters for me. —one from home, dated Jan. 13th.” (May 20)

More letters awaited him on the Beaglethis particular one, dated January 13th, was from his older sister Caroline. As always it shows a deep affection for her brother and notes that the sisters take turns writing to their brother each month (Caroline’s self-appointed job is to write a letter in the event her sisters do not. ) I particularly like how in every other letter or so, Darwin’s sisters remind him about the parsonage.  One can almost see his father’s hand behind the off-hand remarks – making sure Charles’  “wild scheme” doesn’t divert him from this future as a country parson.

“I do hope my very dear Charles the cold & rains whilst coasting Patagonia have not made you ill— we are all impatient for your next letter, & if you find all these changes of Climate do not agree with your health come home & think of your snug parsonage… Parky & Henry feel proud in finding the place on the Map where their Uncle Charles is” (Correspondence, Caroline Darwin, 13 January 1833)

A lot of he letter deals with deaths, marriages, and the election of Uncle Jos (Josiah Wedgewood II) to Parliament for the Stoke-upon-Trent borough. Caroline notes:

“the week after I came home we had a visit from our new member Uncle Jos.f1 he seems very much pleased to have been returned with such a fine Majority & he says he has been at no expence & no trouble doing nothing but what his Committee ordered him & they were very merciful he even escaped being chaired … so he will soon have to leave Maer I hope the experiment will answer to him & that he will not repent” (Correspondence, Caroline Darwin, 13 January 1833)

Uncle Jos, or Josiah Wedgewood II, was both Darwin’s Uncle (his mother’s brother), his father-in-law, and a good friend, supporter and role-model of Charles’. If you recall, if it where not for his uncle’s intervention back in 1831, Darwin would not even be on the trip to South America (see How Darwin Almost Stayed Home Part II).

Maer Hall – Uncle Jos’s place (from the Come Step Back in Time blog):

Maer Hall

Josiah comes up in many of Darwin’s correspondence in several capacities. His daughter Fanny passed away last year, and was the subject of several early letters from Darwin’s sisters.  Two of Josiah’s six children married into the Darwin family. Josiah Wedgewood III married Darwin’s sister Caroline (the author of this very letter), an another daughter – Emma Wedgewood – married Charles. In fact, the widower of third of Josiah’s daughters – a man named Charles Langdon – married Darwin’s other sister Catherine.  So, there was a pretty strong bond between the Wedgewood’s and the Darwin’s.

Josiah II is also remembered for a few other things:

  • He inherited and ran his father’s pottery business (which, of course, is still around today)
  • He was a benefactor to Samuel Coleridge (Darwin seems to have a number of indirect connections with the literary characters of his day)
  • He was the first representative to parliament from Stoke-upon-Trent
  • He was a fierce abolitionist – probably one of the reasons Darwin detested it, too. He certainly had a major influence on his nephew.

One a related note, Darwin often referred to the Reform Act throughout 1832. This was a major reform in parliament that was meant to reduce corruption, and as a result, it is sometimes credited with being the beginning of modern democracy in England. As part of the reform new voting districts – including Stoke-upon-Trent –  were drawn up. That was the very distract that Uncle Jos represented,

Uncle Jos(iah Wegewood II)

Josiah Wedgewood II

Caroline also mentions going to a play in here recent letter:

“The piece they acted was The Irish Tutor a merry little bustling farcef3 & they all played their parts very well— there was afterwards a dance”

The Irish Tutor was written by Richard Butler. You can read the whole thing here if you are so included.

Over the next few days Darwin stayed home cleaning up and sorting out all his new field specimens and watching the Beagle prepare for the next round of survey work:

“Employed in arranging the fruits of my excursion, & in collecting in the neighbourhood of the Town.” (May 21/22/23)

“The Beagle returned from M. Video. — Mr Hammond is discharged into the Pylades & ultimately intends leaving the service. ” (May 24)

Tomorrow Darwin goes birding on the Rio de la Plata… (RJV)


  1. Thanks for the look into the personal side of Chuck…

    • Thanks Jim – It is always great to have folks traveling along!

  2. Another great post!

  3. I’ve nominated you for the ”Shine on award”

    • Thanks so much Tamara! It is always an honor knowing what a great site you have!

      • You are welcome! Sometimes I have not enough time to read your posts, but then I try to catch up! it feels like travelling with the crew!

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