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Darwin Correspondence Project

To F. P. Cobbe?   18 March [1873?]1

[16 Montague Street, London.]

March 18—


Sir J. Lubbock whom I met accidentally, informed me yesterday that he had received from a you a petition to be presented to the House, signed by myself alone; & has asked me whether I intended this, adding that the words your petitioners were prefixed, so that it was informal.—2 As I have never closely attended to the subject it would be simply absurd in me to allow a the petition bearing my sole signature to be presented, & therefore I must request you to erase my name unless you obtain additional signatures.— My motive in signing was solely my general belief that women are not treated treated with full justice in this [country]; & I fear that without more definite knowledge I was not justified in attaching my signature.3

Apologies for this but, I have the h. to remain


Cobbe is conjectured to be the recipient from the subject matter of the letter; she was one of the organisers of petitions in support of women’s suffrage (see n. 3, below). The year is conjectured from the dates of John Lubbock’s career as a member of parliament, the dates of the Darwins’ visits to London (see n. 2, below), and from the circumstance of Cobbe’s residence in Beckenham in 1873 (see n. 3, below).
John Lubbock was MP for Maidstone, Kent, from 1870 until 1880. Although Lubbock had a country residence near the Darwins in Down, the reference to his presenting a petition to the House of Commons suggests that the meeting took place in London. The only years in which the Darwins were in London on 18 March were 1872 and 1873.
The petition was probably intended to be one of more than nine hundred petitions presented to Parliament by local communities between 1870 and 1873 in support of the Women’s Disabilities (Removal) Bill (House of Commons Reports on Public Petitions 89 (1873)). The bill was designed to extend the vote to women property owners and occupiers. The bill was introduced by Jacob Bright in 1870, when it passed a first reading but was thrown out in committee; Bright reintroduced it at every parliamentary session until 1877 (Blackburn 1878, pp. 14–15). In 1872, it was scheduled for debate on 1 May, and in 1873, Bright proposed a second reading on 30 April. Two of CD’s correspondents, Cobbe and Lydia Ernestine Becker, gave lectures in support of the bill and helped organise local petitions. In spring 1873, Cobbe moved temporarily to Thayer’s Park Farm in Beckenham, close to Down (Mitchell 2004, p. 216). Other women’s rights issues to which the letter may refer are the Shop Hours Regulation Bill, limiting the working hours of female shop assistants, which Lubbock proposed in April 1873, and the campaign to amend the Married Women’s Property Act, of which Lubbock was also a supporter (Hansard parliamentary debates 3d ser. (1830–91), vol. 215 (1873), cols. 466–7, and vol. 218 (1874), col. 191).


Blackburn, Helen. 1878. Some of the facts of the women’s suffrage question. London: Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage.

Hansard parliamentary debates:

House of Commons Reports on Public Petitions: Appendices to the votes and proceedings of the House of Commons, 1817–1890: with reports of the Select Committee on Public Petitions 1833–1900. [Cambridge]: Chadwyck-Healey. [1982.]

Mitchell, Sally. 2004. Frances Power Cobbe: Victorian feminist, journalist, reformer. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Press.


CD has discovered correspondent intends to present a petition to the House of Commons on which CD’s is the sole signature. Asks that his name be erased unless other signatures are added.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Frances Power Cobbe
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 96: 168
Physical description
Adraft 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8814,” accessed on 11 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21