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Darwin Correspondence Project

Richard Henry Corfield

Richard Henry Corfield was in his final year at Shrewsbury School when Darwin started there. It’s hard to say how well they knew each other, but fifteen years later Corfield appeared again in Darwin’s life as a surprisingly familiar face on the other side of the world. For when Darwin arrived in Valparaiso, Chile, in 1834, Corfield was living there and working as a shipping merchant. Corfield originally had neither warehouse nor business partner in the United Kingdom, so he used agents to obtain British products to trade in South America (Llorca-Jaña pp. 68-9). Darwin stayed with him throughout his time in Valparaiso, and was much relieved to have a taste of home after so many years away. Corfield does not seem to have been very interested in natural history (when Darwin was heading to St Iago to admire the geology of the Andes mountains, Corfield was going to 'admire the beauties of nature, in the form of Signoritas'), but they got on well and Darwin was grateful for his hospitality. Darwin was very ill while in Valparaiso, so it was particularly gratifying to be staying with an old friend. By the time of Darwin’s departure, Corfield intended to return to England and take up a new business there. We have no indication, though, that Corfield and Darwin were ever in touch once they were both back on English soil.

Very little is known of Corfield once he passes out of the Correspondence.  He was back in England in 1838 where he married a woman named Mary in Exeter (BMD: (Marriage index)). In 1840 there was a notice in the London Gazette that the firm of Corfield, Alison, and Co. was being dissolved both in Valparaiso and in London on 31 October 1839 (London Gazette 1: 309). Thereafter he continued to work as a merchant, this time in Newton, Lancashire (1861 England Census). Eventually he retired and he and his wife lived with his daughter, Elinor, and her husband Edward K. Ellison (1881 England Census).

References

Llorca-Jaña, Manuel. 2012. The British textile trade in South America in the nineteenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.