Robert Waring Darwin, F.R.S. (1766 - 1848)

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Birthplace: Lichfield, Staffordshire, UK
Death: Died in Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Managed by: Toby Service
Last Updated:

About Robert Waring Darwin, F.R.S.

This is about the physician and father of Charles Darwin; for others with the same name see Robert Darwin (disambiguation). Robert Darwin, from an oil painting by James Pardon (1811-1829)

Dr Robert Waring Darwin, F.R.S. (30 May 1766 – 13 November 1848) was an English medical doctor, who today is best known as the father of the naturalist Charles Darwin. He was a member of the influential Darwin-Wedgwood family.

Contents

   * 1 Biography
         o 1.1 Career
   * 2 Scientific contributions
   * 3 Family
   * 4 Notes
   * 5 References
   * 6 External links
Biography

Darwin was born in Lichfield, the son of Erasmus Darwin and his first wife Mary Howard. He was named after his uncle, Robert Waring Darwin of Elston (1724–1816), a bachelor. His mother died in 1770 and Mary Parker, the governess hired to look after him, became his father's mistress and bore Erasmus two illegitimate daughters.

In 1783 Darwin began his studies of medicine at the University of Edinburgh. His father then sent him to the Leiden University in the Netherlands for a few months, and he took his MD there on 26 February 1785. His Leyden dissertation was impressive and was published in the Philosophical Transactions, but his father may have assisted him in this.[1][2] In Edinburgh Robert Darwin had studied under several leading scholars, including John Walker. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 21 February 1788. [edit] Career

In 1787, when he was still under 20 years old, Darwin set up practice in Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire. The family story was that he was brought there by his father who gave him £20, saying, "Let me know when you want more, and I will send it you", then sent another £20 by his uncle, and that was all he needed. A tall slim young man, he gained attention when the wife of a bookseller in Wellington, who was being treated for illness by a doctor from the county hospital, fell dangerously ill while that doctor was away for several days on business. Darwin was called in, and as the apothecary would give no information, had to decide on treatment himself. She died, and there was a controversy about which doctor was to blame. Darwin hastily published a pamphlet showing that the other doctor had been treating her for a disease which she did not have, and while his reputation was gained, the other doctor moved elsewhere. After only six months, Darwin "already had between forty and fifty patients", and within two years had a large practice. For two or three years he lived on St. John's Hill, then moved to The Crescent. For years afterwards Darwin, regretting the hasty way the pamphlet had been written, bought up all copies and burnt them.[2][3]

With small inheritances from his mother and an aunt, Darwin invested in housing, buying the freehold of several buildings in Shrewsbury and getting income from rents. He became a major stockholder in the Trent and Mersey Canal, and an investor in the London to Holyhead road built by Thomas Telford as another part of the infrastructure of the Industrial Revolution.[4]

Erasmus Darwin reached an understanding with his close friend Josiah Wedgwood that his son Robert would marry Wedgwood's favourite daughter, Susannah, when able to support her. Josiah died in January 1795, leaving £25,000 to Susannah. By then Robert Darwin was well established, and they married on 18 April 1796. Their first child, Marianne, was born at The Crescent. Robert Darwin purchased land overlooking the River Severn and had a large red-brick house built there around 1800 which was named The Mount, Shrewsbury, where all their other children were born. He took great pleasure in the large garden, and had it planted out with ornamental trees and shrubs as well as having particular success in growing fruit-trees.[2][5]

A large man of 6'2" (1.88 m), he reportedly stopped weighing himself when he weighed 24 stone (336 lb, 153 kg). He required his coachman to test the floorboards of houses he was visiting, and had to have special stone steps made for him to enter his carriage.

He held his experience in Edinburgh in such high regard that he sent his son Charles to study there. He at first refused to let his son join the survey voyage of HMS Beagle, but was persuaded otherwise.

Scientific contributions

Robert Darwin provided the first empirical evidence that small eye movements are made even when people attempt to keep them fixed. This he found during his studies of the afterimages of colored stimuli in which he noticed that while a person tried to fixate a colored circle, a lucid edge appeared on the adjacent white-paper background. He concluded "as by the unsteadiness of the eye a part of the fatigued retina falls on the white paper".[6][7]

Family

On 18 April 1796 he married Susannah Wedgwood, daughter of the pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood, at St Marylebone, Middlesex (now part of London), and they had six children:

   * Marianne Darwin (1798–1858), married Henry Parker (1788–1858) in 1824.
   * Caroline Sarah Darwin (1800–1888) married her cousin Josiah Wedgwood III
   * Susan Elizabeth Darwin (1803–1866)
   * Erasmus Alvey Darwin (1804–1881)
   * Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882)
   * Emily Catherine Darwin (1810–1866)
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Doctor Robert Darwin's Timeline

1766
May 30, 1766
Lichfield, Staffordshire, UK
1796
April 18, 1796
Age 29
St Marylebone, London
1798
1798
Age 31
1800
1800
Age 33
Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK
1803
1803
Age 36
1804
1804
Age 37
1809
February 12, 1809
Age 42
Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK
1810
1810
Age 43
1848
November 13, 1848
Age 82
Shrewsbury, Shropshire