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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Russell   [10 July 1848]1

To the Right Honorable Lord John Russell, M.P., First Lord of the Treasury, &c. &c.

The Memorial of the undersigned Graduates and former Members of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge with some of the Fellows of the Royal Society.


That the present system of the ancient English Universities has not advanced, and is not calculated to advance the interests of religious and useful learning to an extent commensurate with the great resources and high position of these bodies.2

That the constitution of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and of the Colleges (now inseparably connected with their academical system) is such as in a great measure to preclude them from introducing those changes which are necessary for increasing their usefulness and efficacy.

That under these circumstances, believing that the aid of the Crown is the only available remedy for the above-mentioned defects, your Memorialists pray that your Lordship will advise Her Majesty to issue Her Royal Commission of Inquiry into the best methods of securing the improvement of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.3

N. W. Senior, M.A., late Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford (Master in Chancery).

J. S. Henslow, (Rev.,) M.A., St John’s College, Cambridge (Professor of Botany).

B. Powell, (Rev.,) F.R.S., M.A., Oriel College, Oxford (Savilian Professor of Geometry).

B. Price, M.A., Worcester College, Oxford.

T. J. Phillips, M.A., late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

James Heywood, M.P., F.R.S., Trinity College, Cambridge.

Edmund Head, (Bart.,) M.A., late Fellow of Merton College, Oxford (Governor of New Brunswick).

T. J. Agar Robartes, M.P., B.A., Christ Church, Oxford.

Ph. Le Breton, (Rev.,) M.A., Exeter College, Oxford.

Nugent, (Lord,)4 M.P., Brasenose College, Oxford.

Chas. Lyell, F.R.S., M.A., Exeter College, Oxford.

Harry Verney, (Bart.,) M.P., Downing College, Cambridge.

P. J. Locke King, (Hon.,) M.P., M.A., Trinity College, Cambridge.

H. R. Yorke,5 M.P., Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Joseph Kay, B.A., Trinity College, Cambridge.

E. F. Percival, M.A., Brasenose College, Oxford.

E. Horsman, M.P., Trinity College, Cambridge.

Erasmus Darwin,6 M.B., Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Charles Darwin, M.A., Christ’s College, Cambridge.

H. Wedgwood, M.A., late Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Thos. H. Farrer, B.A., Balliol College, Oxford.

[and 203 others]


The date is written in pencil on the document.
Concern over the state of education in the natural sciences at Oxford and Cambridge led to reforms in both universities; in 1848 Cambridge instituted a tripos examination in the natural sciences, and in 1850 Oxford created a School of Natural Science (Sanderson ed. 1975, p. 75).
Russell set up Royal Commissions to investigate science teaching at Oxford and Cambridge in 1850 (Sanderson ed. 1975, p. 76).
George Nugent Grenville, second Baron Nugent of Carlanstown.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin, CD’s brother.


Ask JR to advise the Queen to issue Her Royal Commission of Inquiry into the best methods of securing the improvement of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1188F,” accessed on 18 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18 (Supplement)