skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

Elizabeth (Bessy) Harding (1825–1857)
Elizabeth (Bessy) Pearce (1857–1912)


Servant to the Darwin family. Born Elizabeth Harding, the daughter of Charles Harding of Maer, Staffordshire. Nurserymaid with the Darwins visiting Maer, 1841; housemaid at Down, 1851. Known at Down as Bessy. Married James Pearce in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, in 1857. Thereafter known as Mrs Pearce. Servant at Erasmus Alvey Darwin’s house in London, 1861; housekeeper, 1871. Employed at Down House, 1872–80. Housekeeper at Erasmus Alvey Darwin’s house, 1881. Listed as a personal friend attending CD’s funeral, 1882. Needlewoman, lodging with William Pettit (E. A. Darwin’s butler in 1871 census) from at least 1884 to at least 1901; living with her daughter, Mary Ann Jane Treglown, in Stoke-on-Trent, 1911.


BMD (Death index)

Census returns of England and Wales 1841 (The National Archives: Public Record Office HO107/109/3/2/1), 1851 (HO107/1606/247/5), 1861 (RG9/72/111/16), 1871 (RG10/157/81/16), 1881 (RG11/140/47/1), 1891 (RG12/121/9/16), 1901 (RG13/138/109/25), 1911 (RG14/16555/384)

Certificate of marriage, 16 March 1857, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire (General Register Office, England)

Emma Darwin’s Classed account books (Down House MS)

England, select births and christenings, 1538–1975 (, accessed 18 April 2016)

Freeman 1978

letter from Emma Darwin to G. H. Darwin, [21 April 1884] (DAR 210.3: 105)

‘Personal friends invited’ (DAR 215: 3c)


BMD: General Register Office, England and Wales civil registration indexes. England & Wales birth index, 1837–1983. England and Wales marriage index, 1837–1983. England and Wales death index, 1837–1983. Online database. Provo, Utah: The Generations Network. 2006.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.