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Darwin Correspondence Project

To the Darwin children   21 February 1879

Feb 21 1879


Mr Norman a year or two ago told me that he divided the overplus of his income annually amongst his children.1 As you are all very sensible & steady, this seems to your mother and me a good plan, & will we hope be pleasant to you. I find by taking an average for the last ten years, that £2728 has been invested annually; but this was before I gave up your Aunt Catherine’s trust.2 The amount in the future will be about £2000; but this depends largely upon how well my railway shares may pay.3 Moreover I shd think it right, since Mr Rich’s bequest, to give rather more in aid of science.4 It is also very difficult to prevent our expenses increasing. Again, if any very good shares were allotted to me, I shd accept them & pay the calls. This year there will be less than usual to be divided, as I have already invested about £800 & shall have to pay some calls.5

After deliberation I have resolved to allot of the overplus of our income to each daughter two thirds of what will be allotted to each son.6 I have just found out that Mr Norman makes the same proportional division. Therefore supposing that next year £1900 has to be divided, £300 wd be paid to each son & £200 to each daughter. At present I think each annual division shall be made early in Feb. after our Christmas bills have been paid.

Finally let me strongly advise you not to consider the whole of my overplus as income; for expenses always increase as life advances. Remember that though the same sum as before will be divided amongst you at our joint deaths; yet that your incomes will not be proportionately increased. I hope that you will keep this in your minds.

Secondly, let me advise you strongly to invest in safe securities paying low interest. By this plan my father died a rich man. I have lost only one investment of £500, & this was chiefly due to my believing that it would pay grandly—7

Consequently my fortune has gone on steadily increasing, whilst that of several of your relations has decreased, as they chose to take securities paying high interest. Trust to common sense & not to professional advisers.

Here ends my sermon—

Charles Darwin

To William

Please forward this soon to G. & F.8

“G. H. Darwin Esq

Villa Beau Séjour

Colonne Voirol



CD refers to his neighbour George Warde Norman, who was an expert on finance.
CD’s sister Catherine Langton died in 1866. According to her will, dated 9 January 1866, date of probate, 4 June 1866, a trust was created by her marriage settlement through two indentures, dated 8 October 1863, between three parties: herself, her husband Charles Langton, and CD and Erasmus Alvey Darwin. The trust paid out twice yearly on 30 June and 31 December and was probably managed by CD’s son William Erasmus Darwin. The last payment to CD, for £352 10s. 2d., is dated 30 June 1876 and marked ‘W. E. Darwin in Trust money’ (CD’s Account books–banking account (Down House MS)).
CD had held shares in about ten railway companies (CD’s Investment book (Down House MS)).
Anthony Rich had bequeathed property in London to CD in recognition of CD’s services to science; see Correspondence vol. 26, letter from Anthony Rich, 10 December 1878.
Call: a stock-market term for an option to buy assets at an agreed price on or before a particular date (OED). An entry in CD’s Investment Book (Down House MS) for 1879, p. 130, reads ‘Feb. Lancaster & Carlisle shares converted partly into ordinary stock....651 6 Feb. 22 purchased 484 stock at 144 14 with expenses 706.2.7 ordinary stock....48 4 [Total] 800 0’.
CD had purchased shares in the Patent Siliceous Stone Company in 1852, and had subsequently made several loans to it, with an initial investment of £501 10s. (CD’s Investment Book (Down House MS), pp. 59–60). He cancelled the bond in 1864 and then was engaged in a correspondence about paying back the bonded loans, which were never repaid (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Frederick Ransome, 7 March 1864, and Correspondence vol. 14, letter from Frederick Ransome, 7 February 1866).


Circular about the distribution of the overplus of his income and advice on investment.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11896,” accessed on 19 June 2024,