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Ten facts about Charles Darwin’s ten children

By Tim M. Berra


Charles married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood, and together they had ten children, three died in childhood and seven lived long lives.

Charles and William Darwin. Photo by unknown. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Charles and William Darwin. Photo by unknown. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
  1. Charles Darwin began gathering data on the natural history of babies immediately upon the birth of his first child, William Erasmus Darwin, on 27 December 1839. During the first seven days after birth, he recorded William’s sneezing, hiccupping, yawning, stretching, suckling, screaming, and reaction to tickling. These observations continued into 1841 and were published in the journal Mind in 1877.
  2. Charles and Emma’s first daughter, Anne Elizabeth died of tuberculosis at age 10. Charles never fully recovered from this tragic loss. He was at Annie’s bedside as she suffered terribly for a week before dying on 23 April 1851.
  3. The Darwin’s second daughter, Mary Eleanor, was born 23 September 1842 and lived only 23 days.
  4. Henrietta Emma Darwin had a sickly childhood, but lived to the age of 84. She became her father’s editor and her mother’s biographer.
  5. George Howard Darwin is arguably the most distinguished of the Darwin offspring. He was trained in mathematics and astronomy, and became a protégé of Lord Kelvin. As a professor at Cambridge he was recognized as Britain’s leading geophysicists. George became the world’s authority on tides, was elected Fellow of the Royal Society and knighted. Sir George died on 7 December 1912.
  6. Elizabeth Darwin is the most enigmatic of the Darwin children. She never married and lived her entire life with her parents until they died. When Emma died in 1896, Elizabeth occupied her own home in Cambridge near her brothers.
  7. Francis Darwin obtained a medical degree in 1875, but never practiced medicine. He instead applied his physiological training to plants and became his father’s lab assistant and secretary. Francis is the only person to share book co-authorship with his father (The Power of Movement in Plants, 1880). He developed the field of plant hormones and elevated plant physiology to a science in its own right at Cambridge University. He was a world leader in stomatal physiology. Francis was elected FRS and knighted.
  8. Leonard Darwin had multiple careers. He was an army officer for 20 years, then retired and became a Member of Parliament, and an economic expert on monetary policy and the relationship between gold and silver prices. In the latter part of his life he was a eugenics advocate, and, most importantly, mentor to Sir Ronald Fisher, the population geneticists and one of the founders of the new evolutionary synthesis. He also holds the longevity record for Darwin children. He died on 27 March 1943, at the age of 93.
  9. Horace Darwin founded the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company and put Britain on a footing equal with Germany as a world-class instrument maker. His instruments were vitally important to Britain’s WWI effort. He was elected FRS and knighted.
  10. Emma Darwin gave birth to their tenth and last child, Charles Waring, on 6 December 1856 when she was 48 years old. The baby had Down Syndrome and died of scarlet fever after 18 months. He never learned to walk or speak. Charles wrote a loving memorial to his infant son.

Tim M. Berra is the author of Darwin and His Children: His Other Legacy. He is Professor Emeritus of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at The Ohio State University. He is also University Professorial Fellow at Charles Darwin University and Research Associate at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, both in Darwin, N.T., Australia.  He is a three-time Fulbright Fellow to Australia and has spent about ten of the past 45 years doing field work on fishes throughout Australia.

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