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Darwin Correspondence Project

The death of Anne Elizabeth Darwin


Anne Elizabeth (Annie) Darwin
Anne Elizabeth (Annie) Darwin
CUL DAR 225: 165
Cambridge University Library

We have lost the joy of the Household

Charles and Emma Darwin’s eldest daughter, Annie, died at the age of ten in 1851.   Emma was heavily pregnant with their fifth son, Horace, at the time and could not go with Charles when he took Annie to Malvern to consult the hydrotherapist, Dr Gully.

Darwin wrote a memorial of his daughter just one week after her death. Annie's younger sister, Henrietta, recorded her own reactions in a poignant set of notes, which Emma Darwin kept.

Links to a longer selection of letters relating to Annie's death and illness follow the transcriptions.

Charles Darwin’s memorial of Anne Elizabeth Darwin

Our poor child, Annie, was born in Gower St on March 2d. 1841. & expired at Malvern atMidday on the 23d. of April 1851.— I write these few pages, as I think in after years, if we live, the impressions now put down will recall more vividly her chief characteristics. From whatever point I look back2 at her, the main feature in her disposition which at once rises before me is her buoyant3 joyousness tempered by two other characteristics, namely her sensitiveness, which might easily have been overlooked by a stranger & her strong affection. Her joyousness and animal spirits radiated from her whole countenance & rendered every movement elastic & full of life & vigour. It was delightful & cheerful to behold her. Her dear face now rises before me, as she used sometimes to come running down stairs with a stolen pinch of snuff for me, her whole form radiant with the pleasure of giving pleasure. Even when playing with her cousins when her joyousness almost passed into boisterousness, a single glance of my eye, not of displeasure (for I thank God I hardly ever cast one on her,) but of want of sympathy would for some minutes alter her whole countenance. This sensitiveness to the least blame, made her most easy to manage & very good: she hardly ever required to be found fault with, & was never punished in any way whatever. Her sensitiveness appeared extremely early in life, & showed itself in crying bitterly over any story at all melancholy; or on parting with Emma even for the shortest interval. Once when she was very young she exclaimed “Oh Mamma, what should we do, if you were to die”.—4

The other point in her character, which made her joyousness & spirits so delightful, was her strong affection, which was of a most clinging, fondling nature. When quite a Baby, this showed itself in never being easy without touching Emma, when in bed with her, & quite lately she would when poorly fondle for any length of time one of Emma’s arms. When very unwell, Emma lying down beside her, seemed to soothe her in a manner quite different from what it would have done to any of our other children. So again, she would at almost anytime spend half-an-hour in arranging my hair, “making it” as she called it “beautiful”, or in smoothing, the poor dear darling, my collar or cuffs, in short in fondling me. She liked being kissed; indeed every expression in her countenance beamed with affection & kindness, & all her habits were influenced by her loving disposition.

Besides her joyousness thus tempered, she was in her manners remarkably cordial, frank, open, straightforward natural5 and without any shade of reserve. Her whole mind was pure & transparent. One felt one knew her thoroughily & could trust her: I always thought, that come what might, we should have had in our old age, at least one loving soul, which nothing could have changed. She was generous, handsome & unsuspicious in all her conduct; free from envy & jealousy; goodtempered & never passionate. Hence she was very popular in the whole household, and strangers liked her & soon appreciated her. The very manner in which she shook hands with acquaintances showed her cordiality.

Her figure & appearance were clearly influenced by her character: her eyes sparkled brightly; she often smiled; her step was elastic & firm; she held herself upright, & often threw her head a little backwards, as if she defied the world in her joyousness. For her age she was very tall, not thin & strong. Her hair was a nice brown & long; her complexion slightly brown; eyes, dark grey; her teeth large & white. The Daguerrotype is very like her, but fails entirely in expression: having been made two years since, her face had become lengthened & better looking. All her movements were vigorous, active & usually graceful: when going round the sand-walk with me, although I walked fast, yet she often used to go before pirouetting in the most elegant way, her dear face bright all the time, with the sweetest smiles.

Occasionally she had a pretty coquettish manner towards me; the memory of which is charming: she often used exaggerated language, & when I quizzed her by exaggerating what she had said, how clearly can I now see the little toss of the head & exclamation of “Oh Papa what a shame of you”.— She had a truly feminine interest in dress, & was always neat: such undisguised satisfaction, escaping somehow all tinge of conceit & vanity, beamed from her face, when she had got hold of some ribbon or gay handkerchief of her Mamma’s.— One day she dressed herself up in a silk gown, cap, shawl & gloves of Emma, appearing in figure like a little old woman, but with her heightened colour, sparkling eyes & bridled smiles, she looked, as I thought, quite charming.

She cordially admired the younger children; how often have I heard her emphatically declare. “what a little duck, Betty6 is, is not she?”.—

She was very handy, doing everything neatly with her hands: she learnt music readily, & I am sure from watching her countenance, when listening to others playing, that she had a strong taste for it. She had some turn for drawing, & could copy faces very nicely. She danced well, & was extremely fond of it. She liked reading, but evinced no particular line of taste. She had one singular habit, which, I presume would ultimately have turned into some pursuit; namely a strong pleasure in looking out words or names in dictionaries, directories, gazeteers, & in this latter case finding out the places in the Map: so also she would take a strange interest in comparing word by word two editions of the same book; and again she would spend hours in comparing the colours of any objects with a book of mine, in which all colours are arranged & named.—7

Her health failed in a slight degree for about nine months before her last illness; but it only occasionally gave her a day of discomfort: at such times, she was never in the least degree8cross, peevish or impatient; & it was wonderful to see, as the discomfort passed, how quickly her elastic spirits brought back her joyousness & happiness. In the last short illness, her conduct in simple truth was angelic; she never once complained; never became fretful; was ever considerate of others; & was thankful in the most gentle, pathetic manner for everything done for her. When so exhausted that she could hardly speak, she praised everything that was given her, & said some tea “was beautifully good.” When I gave her some water, she said “I quite thank you”; & these, I believe were the last precious words ever addressed by her dear lips to me.

But looking back, always the spirit of joyousness rises before me as her emblem and characteristic: she seemed formed to live a life of happiness: her spirits were always held in check by her sensitiveness lest she should displease those she loved, & her tender love was never weary of displaying itself by fondling & all the other little acts of affection.—

We have lost the joy of the Household, and the solace of our old age:— she must have known how we loved her; oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we do still & shall ever love her dear joyous face. Blessings on her.—

April 30. 1851.


1 ‘at‘ over ‘in’.

2 ‘back’ interl.

3 ‘buoyant’: ‘o’ over ‘y.

4 An interlineation in pencil in Emma Darwin’s hand reads: ‘Mamma: what shall we do when you are dead?’

5 ‘natural’ interl.

6 Elizabeth Darwin was six years younger than Anne.

7 Syme 1821, now in the Darwin Library—CUL.

8 ‘degree’ interl.

Henrietta Darwin’s reaction to her sister’s death

Aug. 1851. Etty nearly 8 years old. She appeared for some time to have lost the distressing feelings she used to have on hearing music, but one evening I saw her countenance change, when Miss Thorley was singing & on taking her out of the room she said rather distressed “But Mamma where do the women go to, for all the angels are men.”

She burst into tears when I asked her if she had been thinking about Annie, but said she had not.

Aug. 20. She came to me looking very much distressed in the afternoon

E. Mamma what can I do to be a good girl?

I told her several things openness &c  said she had better pray to God to help her to be good:

E. Shall I pray to God now?

She then said a little prayer after me.

Aug. 24. At bed time.

E. Will you help me to be good?

I told her that Annie was a good child & that I did not think she would find it difficult to be as good as she was. I asked her what made her so unhappy when she thought of being good

E. I am afraid of going to hell.

I told her I thought Annie was safe in Heaven.

M. Come to me & I will try to help you as much as I can.

E. But you are always with somebody.

Aug. 25 Bed time.

E. (whispering) do you think I have done any thing wrong today.

M. No I don’t think you have

We consulted a little over her prayers. I repeated “Suffer little children” &c It did not seem to be Pilgrims Progress as I had suspected which had alarmed her.

E. Do you think you shall come to Heaven with me?

M. Yes I hope so & we shall have Annie

E. And Georgy too I hope.

The next day she seemed trying to be good all day, & ended at night looking very sweet & happy. & I hope her fears are passed.

Feb. 1852. E’s mind seems to have developed itself wonderfully in the last few months. She asked me to put some of Annie’s hair in her locket.

2 nights ago she said “Mamma I think of Annie when I am in bed.”

Last night. Mamma when I see any thing belonging to Annie it makes me think of her. Sometimes I make believe (but I know it is not true) that she is not quite dead, but will come back again sometime. Some time ago she cried in great distress & said Mamma I used to be a very naughty girl when Annie was alive do you think God will forgive me. I used to be very unkind to Annie.

Last night “Mamma I want you to put something in my prayers about not being proud, as well as not being selfish.


Letters related to Annie's illness and death

To W. D. Fox, [27 March 1851]

To Emma Darwin, [17 April 1851]

First letter to Emma Darwin, [18 April 1851]

Second letter to Emma Darwin, [18 April 1851]

From Emma Darwin, [19 April 1851]

To E. A. Darwin, 19 April 1851

To Emma Darwin, [19 April 1851]

Second letter from Emma Darwin, [19 April 1851]

To Emma Darwin, [20 April 1851]

To Fanny Wedgwood, [21 April 1851]

First letter to Emma Darwin, [21 April 1851]

Second letter to Emma Darwin, [21 April 1851]

From Emma Darwin, [21 April 1851]

From Emma Darwin, [22–23 April 1851]

From Emma Darwin, [23 April 1851]

To Emma Darwin, 23 April 1851

From Emma Darwin, [24 April 1851]

To Fanny Wedgwood, [24 April 1851]

From S. E. Wedgwood, [24 April 1851]

From E. C. Darwin, [25? April 1851]

To E. A. Darwin, [25 April 1851]

To Fanny Wedgwood, [25 April 1851]

From Fanny Wedgwood, 25 April [1851]

To W. D. Fox, 29 April [1851]

About this article

The edited transcriptions were first published in The correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4, Appendix II.

The original manuscript of Darwin's memorial is in the Darwin Archive of Cambridge University Library (DAR 210.13); the was also published in Ralph Colp, Jr., 'Charles Darwin’s ‘insufferable grief', Free Associations 9: 7–44.

The transcription of Henrietta Darwin's reaction was prepared, with the kind permission of Richard Darwin Keynes, from notes made by Emma Darwin in the months following Anne Darwin’s death. In the dialogue, 'E' is Henrietta (Etty) and 'M' her mother Emma.

See also the interview with Darwin’s great-great grandson, Randal Keynes