Sue Young Histories

Erasmus Alvey Darwin 1804 - 1881

July 02, 2008

Erasmus Alvey Darwin 1804 – 1881, nicknamed Eras or Ras, was the older brother of Charles Darwin, born five years earlier, and also brought up at the family home, The Mount House, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.

He was the only other boy in the family, the fourth of six children of Robert and Susannah Darwin (née Wedgwood), and the grandson of Erasmus Darwin, and of Josiah Wedgwood, a family of the Unitarian church.

Erasmus Darwin was a friend of homeopath Moncure Daniel Conway, who linked together Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Charles Lyell, and Thomas Carlyle. Erasmus Darwin was part of a social set which included homeopathic supporters Charles Babbage, Erasmus Darwin’s brother Charles Darwin, Harriet Martineau, George Everest and his brother, homeopath Thomas Roupell Everest, Robert Everest (?brother of George and Thomas Everest - a geographer who lived in India). Publisher John Chapman and Thomas Henry Huxley were also part of this group.

March 06 1837 Charles Darwin left Cambridge and moved in with his brother in London. Over the next few weeks his brother, Erasmus, introduced him to London’s more influential scientific elite’s.

There was an open secret in the family in 1833 that Erasmus was carrying on with Fanny Wedgwood (who was a friend of homeopathic advocate Harriet Martineau)… Erasmus was “paired off” with Emma Wedgwood to avert “an action in the Papers.”

However, Charles Darwin subsequently married Emma Wedgwood on 29 January 1839.

Erasmus Alvery Darwin then ‘took up’ with Harriet Martineau:

In October 1836 after Charles returned from the Beagle voyage, he stayed with his brother in a bustling London, where Erasmus enjoyed a life of literary leisure, his week revolving around intellectual dinner parties, spending his days “driving out Miss Martineau”.

Their father was concerned that Harriet Martineau’s radicalism made her unsuitable as a daughter-in-law, and possibly a bad influence on his boys.

Charles Darwin wrote that “Our only protection from so admirable a sister-in-law is in her working [Eras] too hard. He is beginning to perceive.. he shall be not much better than her ‘nigger’. – imagine poor Eras a nigger to so philosophical & energetic a lady… She already takes him to task about his idleness.”

Charles Darwin called on Harriet Martineau and remarked that “She was very agreeable, and managed to talk on a most wonderful number of subjects, considering the limited time…

In April 1838 Charles Darwin sent his parents the gossip that Harriet Martineau had been “as frisky lately as the Rhinoceros. – Erasmus has been with her noon, morning & night: – if her character is not as secure, as a mountain in the polar regions she would certainly lose it”…

Charles Darwin would still visit Erasmus as one of his relatives and friends who provided safe havens. One such occasion was the Great Exhibition in 1851 when the family came to London and stayed with “Uncle Ras”…

Francis Galton (cousin of the Darwin’s), having caught the fad for Spiritualism, arranged a séance in January 1874 at Erasmus’s house with those attending including Charles Darwin, Hensleigh Wedgwood and Thomas Henry Huxley. Charles Darwin’s son George Darwin hired the medium Charles Williams…

In September 1881 Charles Darwin stayed with Erasmus while his portrait was painted by John Collier.

When Erasmus Alvery Darwin died, Thomas Carlyle wrote the words to be carved onto his memorial marble slab ”one of the sincerest, truest and most modest of men“.

Of interest:

Charles Darwin visited Llandudno in 1824, and his visit is written up in *John Price’s guidebook Llandudno And How To Enjoy It. Charles Darwin was a life long friend of ‘Old Price’, as he called his friend John Price. They had first met as children when Charles Darwin was aged 15 and ‘Old Price’ was aged 21. John Price also knew Francis Darwin and Darwin’s brother Erasmus Alvey Darwin, who was known as ‘Old Strol’. John Price was in correspondence with the children of Henry Thomas, homeopathic proprietor of the Llandudno Hydropathic Establishment.

Charles Darwin’s niece Margaret Susan Wedgwood lived in Llandudno.


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