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Charles Darwin - Death of Annie Darwin

Annie (the daughter of Emma Wedgwood and Charles Darwin) often visited her father in his study and asked him lots of questions.  The two formed a very strong bond. 

When Annie became extremely ill, in 1851, her father took her from Down House (the family home in Kent) and entrusted her to the care of Dr. James M. Gully in Malvern, Worcestershire (near the Welsh border).  Gully had previously cared-for Darwin's stomach ailments, providing him some relief with cold-water treatments.  (See page 53 of Charles Darwin: The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man, by Tim M. Berra. Click on "Look Inside," then search for "Annie.")

Thinking his daughter may have inherited similar problems, Darwin thought Gully could be helpful.  The child, however - who'd previously suffered an attack of scarlet fever - probably had tuberculosis.

Surviving letters reveal the great consternation Annie's illness and death caused her family.  Charles sent the following message (dated 23 April 1851) to Emma, advising her their ten-year-old daughter had died at noon that day:

My dear dearest Emma

I pray God Fanny’s note may have prepared you.  She went to her final sleep most tranquilly, most sweetly at 12 oclock today.  Our poor dear dear child has had a very short life but I trust happy, & God only knows what miseries might have been in store for her.  She expired without a sigh.  How desolate it makes one to think of her frank cordial manners.  I am so thankful for the daguerreotype [from 1849 and maintained at Down House].   I cannot remember ever seeing the dear child naughty.  God bless her.  We must be more & more to each other my dear wife— Do what you can to bear up & think how invariably kind & tender you have been to her.— I am in bed not very well with my stomach.  When I shall return I cannot yet say.  My own poor dear dear wife.

C. Darwin

Annie was buried at the Priory Church Yard in Great Malvern, with her uncle and aunt (Hensliegh and Fanny Wedgwood) making the arrangements.

Although Emma found comfort in her faith, Annie's death forever changed Charles Darwin's view of religion.  Days after her death, he wrote:

We have lost the joy of the Household, and the solace of our old age:— she must have known how we loved her; oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we do still & shall ever love her dear joyous face. Blessings on her.—

Emma, meanwhile, added other treasures to Annie's Box (in which her daughter had kept writing materials).  In addition to items the child had left behind, Emma added a map (depicting the location of Annie's grave) and the notes Darwin wrote about her condition.

This clip, from "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," recreates the events of Annie's illness and death, which profoundly impacted Charles and Emma Darwin.  That story is also a key focus of the 2009 film, Creation, which is based on the book, Annie's Box, by Randal Hume Keynes.

See, also:

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Part 1

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Part 2

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Part 3

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Part 4

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Part 5

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Part 6

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Part 7

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Part 9

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Part 10

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Part 11

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 28, 2014

Updated Last Revision: Sep 11, 2016


Media Credits

Clip from the BBC's docudrama, "Evolution: Darwin's Dangerous Idea," also aired by NOVA.  Copyright, BBC, all rights reserved. Clip provided here as fair use for educational purposes and to acquaint new viewers with the production.   Online, courtesy PBS

 

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