Darwin’s Photographic Portraits

Charles Darwin, 1878, Leonard Darwin, Dar 225:119, ©Cambridge University Library

Charles Darwin, 1878, Leonard Darwin, Dar 225:119, ©Cambridge University Library

Darwin’s picture is everywhere. It’s on the £10 bank note, it’s all over this website, and in most science textbooks. But where exactly did these images that we know so well come from?


The archives of the Darwin Correspondence Project are full of various photographs made for and of Darwin – the largest collection relating to Darwin’s work on Expressions and Emotions in Man and Animal. But when you look more closely at his letters, there are hundreds more photos – ones that were sent and received in the post by Darwin and his scientific friends. Many of these photographic letters now only contain a reference to the portrait – with the image removed from the enclosure and placed in a frame or in an album.


Darwin’s photographic portraits were sent everywhere. They were included in letters, sold in shops and reproduced in newspapers. Here, we bring together a list of the various photographs which were produced of Darwin throughout his life, and a discussion of who did the producing.


For more information please see our new article on Darwin’s Photographic Portraits.


Posted by Geoff Belknap

The elusive Mr Roberts

Bridegroom or Priest? A ring intwined with a dog-collar.   In 1874, when Darwin fell out spectacularly with the zoologist St George Jackson Mivart, and refused to communicate any further with him, an intermediary was proposed – a Mr Roberts. But Mr Roberts proved intriguingly elusive: was he a Catholic priest, or an eager bridegroom – or possibly even both?


In the 1860’s Mivart had supported Darwin’s theories, but later he became less enthusiastic and more disputatious (as discussed in volume 19 of the Correspondence. After an unforgivable anonymous attack on an article by Darwin’s eldest son, George, Thomas Huxley suggested approaching Mivart through an intermediary, a Mr Roberts, who came to his public lectures.


So who was Mr Roberts? A letter from Huxley to Hooker (19 December 1874) refers to Roberts as Mivart’s ‘ghostly father’ and also describes him as ‘a gentleman’. Rome’s recruits (a list of English converts to Catholicism) lists in its earlier editions a ‘William W. Roberts, M.A., Oxford. A priest’ and in the published lists of Oxford students we find ‘Roberts, William Walter, [first son of] John Walter, of London . . . Merton College, matric[ulated] 15 March, 1849, aged 19’. He appears in the 1851 census, an Oxford undergraduate, with his widowed mother and his sister as the son of Capt. John Walter Roberts, R.N. In 1859, Father Roberts was mentioned in a bizarre court case apparently involving a pupil whom he refused to allow to leave his school. He appears in the censuses for 1861 and 1871 as a Catholic priest in London; in 1871 he is also described as a landowner. There is no evidence of his death as a Catholic priest.


However, there is a report in the Scotsman of 28 February 1879 on the efforts of the Revd William Walter Roberts to live with his wife, Ann Shannon Caird, the daughter of James Caird, of the Seafield Arms Hotel, Cullen. The couple had contracted an irregular marriage on 10 September 1878, but the bride’s father was unwilling to give her up to her husband. William and Ann Roberts and their subsequent family appear in the censuses for 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. He is always described as a clergyman. William Walter Roberts died aged 81 on 28 August 1911.


So is there just one William Walter Roberts? Since the name is not uncommon, we had to make sure we weren’t conflating two separate individuals, even though the catholic priest’s death was unrecorded and the married priest’s previous life was undocumented.


In the end, all was made clear in an article by Mivart about Thomas Huxley that explained the transition. Roberts’ mother was an aunt of Cardinal Henry Manning by marriage. After his wife’s early death, Henry Manning converted to Catholicism in 1851. ‘Mr Roberts was at that time [1868] leading a very austere life, dwelling at a school in a slum known as Charles Street, Drury Lane. At that time Mr Roberts was Father Roberts, a priest of the Congregation of the Oblates of St Charles Borromeo [founded by Cardinal Manning]… about eight years after the Vatican Council [1869-70] he seceded from the Catholic Church.’
In the end we found lots of facts about William Walter Roberts, but not the ones you really want to know. Was he a religious enthusiast with a taste for litigation, an idealistic objector, or a handsome charmer who fell for younger women? The editors are undecided . . .

Coming soon to a library near you


We were very excited this morning to receive a package with our first Darwin with volume 20copies of volume 20 of The correspondence of Charles Darwin, which contains letters from the year 1872. This was a very significant year for Darwin, who was not only re-visiting material from the Origin of species in order to produce a cheap edition, but at the same time was finishing his work on  Expression of the emotions, continuing his experiments on insectivorous plants, and also starting in earnest to gather information on worms. Additionally, Darwin’s friend Joseph Dalton Hooker was involved in a dispute  with Acton Smee Ayrton, first commissioner of works, about the running of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew; Darwin did some  some discreet lobbying behind the scenes to drum up support for Hooker. The breadth of subjects covered in this volume is astonishing, even for Darwin, so it was a fascinating one to produce. We hope  it will also be an engaging read.

A year in Darwin’s life – in (dirty) pictures

Work in progress: 1873 visuals during preparation

Work in progress: 1873 visuals during preparation

Behind every great website…. lies a lot of research, and quite often, a printed book. Or several.


Some of you may not be aware that in addition to appearing on this website, all of Charles Darwin’s letters are being published by Cambridge University Press in a series of large, green hardcover volumes as The correspondence of Charles Darwin . The first seven volumes each cover several years, but from volume 8 (which covers 1860) each volume contains the correspondence of just one year of Darwin’s life. We sent the most recent, volume 21, to press this week (and yes, we did celebrate), and when it is published, you will be able to read all the letters Darwin wrote and received in 1873.


For a great snapshot of Darwin’s life and work that year you just have to look at the many visuals contained in the letters. Darwin’s correspondents that year sent him delicate watercolours of sprouting seeds from France, tracings of ancient Egyptian pictures of dogs and oxen, ink drawings of a hairy ear and a frightened lemming, a photograph of two Dutch students – clutching their very own Darwin letter – not to mention lots of botanical illustrations and sketches of pieces of experimental apparatus. There is even a pencil drawing of a pair of lacy knickers sent by an Australian museum curator along with an English translation of a dirty poem by a German physiologist! It’s an unusually large and varied set, and has provided hours of entertainment for our technical experts who prepared all these for publication, often from high quality digital images taken by the Library’s Imaging Services Department, before being inserted into the letter texts.


Watch this space to find out the publication date of volume 21, and in the meantime we hope very soon to announce the publication of volume 20!

5000 letter images go online

We are collaborating with the Cambridge Digital Library to publish images of 1200 letters exchanged by Darwin with his closest friend, Joseph Dalton Hooker – more than 5000 images in total.  This is the single largest publication of images of Darwin’s letters and 300 of the letters are previously unpublished.


No single set of letters was more important to Darwin than those exchanged with the botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911). Their letters account for around 10% of Darwin’s surviving correspondence and provide a structure within which all the other letters can be explored.  They are a connecting thread that spans forty years of Darwin’s mature working life from 1843 until his death in 1882, and bring into sharp focus every aspect of Darwin’s scientific work throughout that period. They illuminate the mutual friendships he and Hooker shared with other scientists, but they also provide a window of unparalleled intimacy into the personal lives of the two men.


The 300 previously unpublished, cover the last decade of Darwin’s life and give almost day to day detail on the experiments that led to his books on insectivorous plants and plants that move – both crucial evidence of the relatedness of plants and animals (and humans of course). And also to his final and most popular book – on earthworms, published shortly before he died. They cover the death of Hooker’s first wife, Frances, and his remarriage to Hyacinth Symonds. And Darwin’s behind-the-scenes involvement in lobbying parliament to control, but not altogether to ban, vivisection.


Read more about the letters here.

Telegram for Charles Darwin…

Charles Darwin was born on 12 February 1809, so would have been 204 this year!

The Naples Zoological Station were among many to have sent Darwin birthday wishes during his lifetime. He received this telegram from them in 1874.


Darwin's birthday telegram from Naples in 1874, DAR 172:1, Reproduced by permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library

Darwin’s birthday telegram from Naples in 1874, DAR 172:1, Reproduced by permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library


The ‘Darwin behind the scenes’ exhibit goes virtual!

Men of the Day, No. 33. “Natural Selection.”, Vanity Fair (30th September, 1871)


In the summer of 2011, the Darwin Correspondence Project put together an exhibit based around Charles Darwin’s personal letters. The aim was to use his correspondence to understand better the ways he worked and thought. Was Darwin a solitary thinker? Who and what influenced his work?


We decided to focus on the letters exchanged around the writing and publication of two of Darwin’s major works, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Because Darwin often thought about subjects for years before he published on a topic, this means that the correspondence we used spanned several decades, sometimes dating back to his youth or to the early years of his marriage.


William Swale to Charles Darwin (13th July, 1858)

The correspondence and the documents that we have selected give a glimpse of the man as well of the scientist – the writer who was worrying with his publishers, the father or husband who enrolled his family in scientific collecting and experimentation, the friend who became interested in the latest technologies of the day.


For practical reasons, the exhibition had to be limited to Cambridge University Library readers, and to those who participated in the Open Cambridge Festival. Going online is now allowing us to offer some of the visual and intellectual riches of Cambridge University’s collections to all.


Visit the online exhibit here to discover Charles Darwin and his life in a new light.


The exhibit was supported by the Parasol Foundation, John Templeton Foundation, National Science Foundation, and Arts and Humanities Research Council.

“Get to know Darwin” – a student’s-eye view

Reading Darwin’s correspondence is the best way to meet him, both as a scientist and as an individual. We have just launched the first modules in a new set of resources to help students – in and out of formal education – “get to know Darwin”.  The materials are arranged into eleven thematic modules, with six available now and the remaining five to come online shortly. Topics released include Darwin’s observation of slave-making ants and its contribution to our understanding of instinct and the evolution of the mind, his experiments with seeds to test ideas in biogeography, his work on barnacles, and his use of pigeons to explore variation; others, such as his interest in floral dimorphism, and his experiments on earthworms, are to come. Each module has a carefully selected set of letters, discussion questions, excerpts from Darwin’s publications, and suggested activities, along with introductions to both the material and the concepts. The modules can be used in any university discipline engaging with history of science – history, gender studies, or the biology lab. All the material is freely available for use in education. Course providers are free to use or adapt a single module, or include all eleven.  The modules are also available for anyone to use anywhere in the world for private study.

These resources have been compiled as part of a pilot collaboration with the “Getting to Know Darwin” seminar course at Harvard College.  The concept was developed by research assistants from the Harvard office of the Darwin Correspondence Project and a teaching team led by Ned Friedman, director of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard. The partnership began last autumn and continues through this year. Although we have designed these modules to stand on their own, we have included sample activities from the course at Harvard to provide suggestions and inspiration for all course settings.   We’ll be writing more about our experiences teaching the course this year as we release further modules.

Hairy experience in the Darwin archive!

The Darwin archive not only contains letters, manuscript material, photographs, books and articles but also all sorts of small, dry specimens, mostly enclosed with letters. Many of these enclosures have become separated from the letters or lost altogether, but we always try to track them down.


Some of the strangest were discovered when we recently edited two letters from the physiologist and Hebrew scholar Frank Chance (1826–97). The first is undated but we know it was written before 25 April 1871 because Darwin alluded to a case from ‘One other gentleman’ in his reply to a similar report by the pigeon-fancier W. B. Tegetmeier, 25 April [1871]. In his letter Chance is responding to the following passage in Descent of Man (vol. 2, p. 319):


Even in the colour of the beard there is a curious parallelism between man & the Quadrumana, for when in man the beard differs in colour from the hair of the head, as is often the case, it is, I believe, invariably of a lighter tint, being often reddish.


Chance held himself up as an exception to this statement:


My hair is brown, neither dark nor yet very light, whilst my beard & whiskers are (or were for they are changing colour) very much darker & would usually be called black, although the blackness is not that which one sees in Italy, Spain or in tropical countries. My moustache is or was more of the colour of my hair & has a slightly reddish tinge without being red. In my beard & whiskers there is no reddish tinge.

My eyebrows & eyelashes are between my hair & my beard & whiskers, being darker than the one & rather lighter than the other. The hair on my body is of the colour of my beard with the exception of that under the armpits which is rather lighter than my hair & has a somewhat reddish tinge & that on the pubes which is darker than my hair but has a distinctly brown tinge.

My eyes are bluish grey.

I enclose a specimen from my hair & another from my beard & whiskers.

(Letter from Frank Chance, [before 25 April 1871])


Responding to this meticulous self-observation (and the similar one by Tegetmier ([before 25 April 1871]), who was ‘chaffed’ as a student for dyeing his beard but ‘never was given to personal adornments’), CD annotated the letter with what was probably a draft of the following addition to the second edition of Descent (p. 558):


I have repeatedly observed this fact in England; but two gentlemen have lately written to me, saying that they form an exception to the rule. One of these gentlemen accounts for the fact by the wide difference in colour of the hair on the paternal and maternal sides of his family. Both had been long aware of this peculiarity (one of them having often been accused of dyeing his beard), and had been thus led to observe other men, and were convinced that the exceptions were very rare.



When we were editing volume 19 (1871), Chance’s enclosure of beard and scalp hair could not be found. However, while footnoting a second letter from Chance in 1873, a discovery was made.  This letter 31 July–7 August 1873 also tackled the issue of hair colour, but this time in ponies in England. Chance enclosed samples of hair from the pony’s body, mane and tail to show how the pony’s coat became lighter in winter. He was responding to another passage in Descent:


In your work on the “”Descent of Man”" (ed. 1871) ii. 298, 299, in speaking of the change of colour of mammals in the winter, you quote a statement from Pallas that in Siberia the coat of the domestic horse becomes paler in the winter, though even there it does not appear to become quite white. I infer from this that you are not aware that in England any change of colour has ever been observed to take place in the horse in winter; and therefore, as an undoubted case has come under my notice in which the coat of a pony in England has not only become paler in the winter but has actually turned \quite white\

(Letter from Frank Chance, 31 July–7 August 1873)


The pony hair turned up in the archive in a box containing miscellaneous items (DAR 142), with each sample carefully wrapped in dusty white paper. In the same package were the beautifully preserved samples of Chance’s beard and scalp hair.



CD replied from his eldest son William’s house near Southampton on 10 August [1873]. William had followed up on a similar case that CD had observed on 13 May 1871. William’s letter of 5 June 1871 reported the forest pony that had not quite moulted was a dirty pale dun, with its tail and mane remaining white. Responding to these cases, Darwin made a slight change to the second edition of Descent (1874, pp. 229–30, italics indicate the phrase added):


Pallas states, that in Siberia domestic cattle and horses become lighter-coloured during the winter; and I have myself observed, and heard of similar strongly marked changes of colour, that is, from brownish cream-colour or reddish-brown to a perfect white, in several ponies in England. Although I do not know that this tendency to change the colour of the coat during different seasons is transmitted, yet it probably is so, as all shades of colour are strongly inherited by the horse. Nor is this form of inheritance, as limited by the seasons, more remarkable than its limitation by age or sex.


Apart from his penchant for hair, we do not know much else about Frank Chance. A very short obituary appeared in Notes and Queries, describing him as one of their ‘most constant and respected contributors’. After receiving a B.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge, he trained for the medical profession at Kings College, London, but ceased practising in 1865 to pursue his passion: the study of languages. In 1858 he translated Rudolf Virchow’s Berlin lectures on cellular pathology into English, and in 1864 edited his Cambridge tutor Hermann Hedwig Bernard’s translation and notes on The Book of Job. However, his letters to Darwin not only contained some bizarre enclosures, but also provide a fascinating insight into how Darwin used the observations of his readers and correspondents as evidence to make changes to subsequent editions of his works.

Darwin, environmental tinkering and a tale of two bees

Tree bee (Bombus hypnorum) showing unique colour pattern

We have a new page in our ‘Darwin and Life Science’ section for World Environment Day on 5 June.  Inspired by the sight of a bee that only arrived in the UK in the last ten years, and by the recent attempts to reintroduce another that had gone extinct here, it looks at Darwin’s fascinating work on bees and at our changing attitudes to environmental impact.


The tree bee (Bombus hypnorum) was first reported in Wiltshire in 2001 and is now spreading North and West, apparently without causing any damage.  The short-haired bee (Bombus subterraneus) was taken to New Zealand in Victorian times, was declared extinct in the UK in 2000, but was reintroduced here last month using specimens from Sweden – ones from New Zealand didn’t survive the journey and the population there suffers from serious inbreeding.


Darwin was fascinated by bees; he devised experiments to study the comb-building technique of honey bees, and on one occasion stationed his children round his property as markers to help him track the flight paths of bumblebees.


Today, the sight of any new species leads to worry about its environmental impact, a very different attitude from that of most Victorians, for whom the large-scale introduction of any useful – or even just attractive – animal or plant was seen as positive or at least unproblematic. It was Darwinian evolution theory that fundamentally changed the way we understand the environment and even led to the coining of the word ‘ecology’.


In On the Origin of Species, Darwin put forward his ‘entangled bank’ idea of nature: an unsettling picture of an ever-changing, dynamic world in which species were ephemeral, and habitats, once destroyed, could not easily be recreated. One correspondent who understood the full implications of Darwin’s ‘entangled bank’ was John Lubbock.  Lubbock seems very much ahead of his time when, in a letter to Darwin in 1867, he comments on Edward Wilson’s plan to introduce humble-bees (as bumblebees were then more commonly known) to Australia: ‘As to the Humble Bees they would if once landed in Australia probably destroy some native insect & I wish Mr. Wilson would leave the Australian fauna alone.’ A sentiment many Australians today would probably agree with.


It’s not so easy to turn back the clock in the natural world, but we hope that the short-haired bumble bee does as well in the next ten years as the tree bee has done in the last ten.