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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Galton   9 June 1879

Mem: about Dr. Erasmus Darwin’s bequests

When Dr. Eras: Darwin died, he appears to have left no money to Dr. Robert Darwin who was the sole surviving issue of his first marriage with Miss Howard, but to have bequeathed the whole to the issue of his second marriage, with Mrs. Poole, by whom he left six children all under age, and to two illegitimate daughters Mrs. H. & Miss P.—1 This seemed unfair, and to have created some soreness on the part of Dr. Robert D.— What may be pleaded in extenuation is this.

Dr. Robert D. wd. have the whole of the fortune that was settled on his mother at her marriage who it is believed was wealthy

He had marrried early in life (æt 24 about) a lady of considerable fortune for those days, viz it is said £ 30.000.2 On the other hand, Dr. Erasmus Darwin left comparatively very little money & a very large young family. He was able only to leave £3000 for certain, to each of his six children by his second marriage, plus a share in what he then thought a hopeless debt to him, by a Mrs. Archdale3 (? who was she); which however was ultimately paid and yielded £3000 more to each. His widow, formerly Mrs. Poole, had of her own a jointure for her life only, of £800 a year,— together with a house, for a time, and it is supposed that Dr. E. Darwin was enabled to save what he did by living chiefly on this jointure, so that the money bequeathed to the second family may fairly be considered as capitalised from the jointure of their mother, & therefore justly their own.

If it cd. be shewn that Dr. Robert D’s fortune through his mother was not less than £3000 there would appear to remain no fair cause of complaint so far as the bequests are concerned.

As regards the giving no money to him Dr. R. D when he first settled at Shrewsbury;—that is another matter about which I can learn nothing new4

F. Galton

June 9/79.


Mrs. Eras: Darwin (neé Collier) had a jointure fm. Coll. Pole of £800 a year I think it was— Also Radbourne House, till her Son, Sacheverell Pole came of age.

She had 3. Children—Sacheverell—Elizth. who married Coll. Bramley & Millicent—who married the Revd John Gisborne—5


Dr. E Darwin lived at Radbourne after his marriage to Mrs. Pole Edwd. was born there—& Violetta. He then found Radbourne too far off fr. his medical practice—that he went to live at Derby, & Radbourne was let—till Mr. Pole was of age—6

Mrs. Erasmus Darwin having £800-a year, besides the rent of Radbourne House—whilst her son Mr. Pole was under age—£800-a year, (then going much further in those days,) would be able to pay all Household Expences—& the Dr. could save all his earnings for the 21. years of married life—It would amount to £16,800—besides the Radbourne Let


Dr. Eras: Darwin has to educate & place out at Ashbourne, Mrs. Hadley & Mary Parker—& probably pay a sum to their Mother, Mrs. Day—7


Dr. E Darwin lent several thousands, or I think there was an Insurance on Mrs. Archdall’s life—but it was feared, he would never get the money—but if ever paid—that money was left in his will to Mrs. Eras. Darwin, (his 2nd. Wife) & her Children—& it was repd. after Mrs. Archdall’s death.

5th. When Dr. E Darwin died—he left by his second marriage 6. Children Edwd. was nearly of age—Sach.l Francis abt. 15—John much younger Violetta 19. Emma 17. Harriet—abt. 12.

Each of these children, on attaining the age of 21. was to have £3,000— All the three Son’s education was sadly neglected— They were sent to cheap Schools in Derby—& their Father never attended to their education—so they were hardly fitted for any Profession—

If the Archdall money was ever pd. Mrs. Darwin was to have it, & the second family at Mrs. Darwin’s death—& so they did receive fr. 5 to £6,000—each fm. first to last—

Had Mrs. Erass. Darwin died soon after her Husband—the Pole Jointure wd. have ceased at once—& the second family have the interest of £3,000 each, to educate & maintain themselves—unless Mrs. Archdall’s money cd. be paid which was very uncertain—

Old Mr. Darwin of Elston—left his Property—some to his Heir William Darwin—& some to the issue of his (Mr. Darwin’s) youngest Brother Dr. Eras. Darwin8

Did Issue mean, Dr. Eras Darwin’s children—or children & grandchildren— This much excited Emma Darwin—as Dr. Robet. had 6. children—& Violetta Galton also 6— So there was an amicable lawsuit—as 12. extra claimants must much lessen the sum received—The Chancellor decided against the grandchildren9

Mrs. Darwin had only 2 children living at her death Violetta & Francis-Sacheverell

CD annotations

End of memorandum: ‘(I must alter about income & say perhaps he made more in interest) | Strike not justly’10 pencil, square brackets in ms


Robert Waring Darwin (1766–1848) was the sole surviving child of Erasmus Darwin and his first wife, Mary Howard. Elizabeth Darwin’s first husband was Edward Sacheverel Pole; her six children by Erasmus Darwin, still living at the time of his death, were Edward, Violetta (later Violetta Galton, 1783–1874), Emma Georgiana Elizabeth, Francis Sacheverel, John (1787–1818), and Harriot (later Harriot Maling). Susanna Hadley and Mary Parker Jr were the illegitimate daughters.
Robert Waring Darwin married Susannah Wedgwood (1765–1817) in 1796. Her father, Josiah Wedgwood I, had a substantial fortune (ODNB).
Mrs Archdale or Archdall has not been identified.
According to CD’s introductory sketch, Robert Waring Darwin received £20 from Erasmus when he set up practice in Shrewsbury (Erasmus Darwin, p. 85).
The Poles had four children: Sacheverell, Elizabeth Ann, Millicent, and German (German died in infancy). Elizabeth Ann married Henry Bromley; Millicent married John Gisborne, who, although noted for his piety, was not a clergyman (ODNB).
Radbourne Hall, the estate of the Pole family, a few miles west of Derby, was rented out by the Darwins for most of the time until Elizabeth Darwin’s son Sacheverell Pole reached his majority at 21 (King-Hele 1999, pp. 177–91).
Erasmus bought a house in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, for his daughters Susanna and Mary Parker to set up as a school (see King-Hele 1999, pp. 281–4). Their mother, Mary Parker Sr, who later married Joseph Day, had been employed by Erasmus as a nursemaid for Robert Waring Darwin (see King-Hele 1999, pp. 106–7).
Robert Waring Darwin (1724–1816), who died unmarried, was the elder brother of William Brown Darwin, who then inherited Elston Hall, and of Erasmus Darwin.
In the published version of the life of his grandfather, CD did not discuss Erasmus Darwin’s legacies to any of his children; CD mentioned that Erasmus had given his son Robert Waring Darwin £20 when he first set up his medical practice in Shrewsbury and that aside from a similar sum given him by his uncle, John Darwin (1730–1805), it was the sole pecuniary aid that Robert ever received (Erasmus Darwin, p. 85).


Erasmus Darwin. By Ernst Krause. Translated from the German by W. S. Dallas, with a preliminary notice by Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1879.

King-Hele, Desmond. 1999. Erasmus Darwin. A life of unequalled achievement. London: Giles de la Mare Publishers.


Memorandum about Dr Erasmus Darwin’s bequests.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Galton
Charles Robert Darwin
Source of text
DAR 210.14: 30

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12097F,” accessed on 28 May 2024,