Charles Robert Darwin was born 12 February 1809 at The Mount, the Darwin home in Shrewsbury, in the county of Shropshire. His father, Dr. Robert Waring Darwin (1766-1848), was a prosperous physician and businessman; his mother was Susanna Wedgwood (1765-1817), daughter of the famous founder of the Wedgwood Pottery works. Charles was the fifth of six children, and the youngest son.
Although he did not appear to benefit from the formal education he was given in Edinburgh and at Cambridge, Charles amply made up for it with his voyage of exploration on the Beagle. Upon his return to England, he married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood on 29 January 1839 at St. Peter's Anglican Church near her home at Maer.
For a few years they lived in London, and then retired to Down House, where Charles worked and studied, with the result that eventually his ideas completely changed the way that scientists now look at the world. Charles Darwin died 19 April 1882 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Erasmus Darwin and Mary Howard
The first famous Darwin was Charles’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), a physician, natural philosopher, poet, and member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a group of intellectuals, industrialists, and natural philosophers who met regularly between 1765 and 1813. He was a close friend of Josiah Wedgwood, whose creativity and dedication to developing pottery and other industries made history in the Industrial Revolution in England.
Erasmus Darwin was born in Elston, near Newark, the son of a lawyer and naturalist. He was educated at Cambridge and at Edinburgh’s medical school, and then settled in Litchfield, where he was a great success as a physician. He became known as well for his verse and scientific pursuits. His first wife, Mary Howard, was the daughter of Charles Howard, a Litchfield solicitor. She was just 17 when they married in 1757.
Erasmus and Mary Howard had five children:
- Charles Darwin (1758-1778) died from an infection while a medical student in Edinburgh
- Erasmus Darwin (1759–1799) unmarried, suicide
- Elizabeth Darwin, 1763 (died as an infant)
- Robert Waring Darwin (1766-1848) married Susannah Wedgwood and became the father of Charles Robert Darwin
- William Alvey Darwin, (1767) (died as an infant)
- Susanna Parker (1772–1856)
- Mary Parker (1774–1859)
- Edward Darwin, (1782–1829)
- Frances Violetta Darwin, (1783–1874); married Samuel Galton
- Emma Georgina Elizabeth Darwin (born 1784)
- Sir Frances Sacheverel Darwin (1786–1859)
- John Darwin (1787–1865)
- Henry Darwin (born 1789)
- Harriot Darwin (1790–1825) married Admiral Thomas James Malling
Robert Waring Darwin and Susannah Wedgwood
Robert Waring Darwin married Susannah Wedgwood (1765-1817), daughter of Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), who founded the Wedgwood pottery dynasty. Josiah Wedgwood was born in Burslem, in the area known as the Potteries in Staffordshire. Josiah’s wife, Sarah Wedgwood (1734-1815), was also his cousin.
Robert Darwin followed his father in becoming a physician, starting his practice in Shrewsbury.
Robert and Susannah produced six children:
- Marianne (1798-1858) married Henry Parker
- Caroline Sarah (1800-1888) married her cousin Josiah Wedgwood II, son of the first Josiah
- Susan Elizabeth (called Elizabeth) (1803-1866) (unmarried)
- Erasmus Alvey (called Ras) (1804–1881)
- Emily Catherine (1810-1866) married Charles Langton, whose first wife had been Emily’s cousin, Charlotte Wedgwood
- Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) married Emma Wedgwood
The Darwin and Wedgwood Heritage
Both the Darwins and Wedgwood families were educated and intelligent – they were solicitors or lawyers, physicians, poets, scientists, and inventors, giving Charles Darwin a strong heritage in both the arts and sciences. He grew up surrounded by people who read, thought, discussed, and acted upon the ideas they exchanged, and thus it can be claimed that both families contributed greatly to his genius.
- John Bowlby, Charles Darwin, a New Life. Norton & Company, 1990
- Barbara and Hensleigh Wedgwood, The Wedgwood Circle 1730-1897. Eastview Editions, 1980
- Ernst Krause, Erasmus Darwin (translated from the German by W. S. Dallas), D. Appleton and Company, NY, 1880. At the beginning of this book a 128-page “Preliminary Notice” by Charles Darwin provides a biographical sketch of Erasmus.