Elizabeth Cotton, Lady Hope

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Elizabeth Reid Hope (Cotton)

Death: 1922 (79-80)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of General Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton KCSI and Mary Ann Cotton
Wife of Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Hope, KCB and Thomas Anthony Denny
Sister of John Henry Cotton; Mary Ann Cotton; Sarah Ann Cotton; Thomas James Cotton and William Cotton

Managed by: Private User
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About Elizabeth Cotton, Lady Hope


Elizabeth Reid, Lady Hope, née Cotton (9 December 1842–8 March 1922) was a British evangelist who claimed in 1915 to have visited the British naturalist Charles Darwin shortly before his death in 1882, during which interview Hope claimed Darwin had had second thoughts about publicizing the theory of evolution.


Elizabeth Cotton was born in 1842 in Tasmania, Australia, the daughter of a British general, General Sir Arthur Cotton. In 1877, at the age of 35, she married a widower, retired Admiral Sir James Hope, who was 34 years her senior, thereby becoming Lady Hope of Carriden. Sir James died four years later.

During the early 1880s, Lady Hope and her father were part of the evangelistic temperance movement and lived in Beckenham, Kent about 6 miles from Downe, home of Charles Darwin.

In 1893, Lady Hope married T. A. Denny, an Irish businessman 24 years her senior, although she continued to use the name "Lady Hope." Denny died in 1909. In 1915, 33 years after Darwin's death, Hope told her story about him at a Bible conference in Northfield, Massachusetts. In 1922, Hope died of breast cancer in Sydney, Australia, where she is buried.

The Lady Hope story


The Lady Hope Story first appeared in an American Baptist newspaper, the Watchman-Examiner, on 15 August 1915, preceded by a four-page report on a summer Bible conference held in Northfield, which that year ran from 30 July to 15 August 1915.

Original text of the article

The text reads:

It was one of those glorious autumn afternoons, that we sometimes enjoy in England, when I was asked to go in and sit with the well known professor, Charles Darwin. He was almost bedridden for some months before he died. I used to feel when I saw him that his fine presence would make a grand picture for our Royal Academy; but never did I think so more strongly than on this particular occasion. He was sitting up in bed, wearing a soft embroidered dressing gown, of rather a rich purple shade. Propped up by pillows, he was gazing out on a far-stretching scene of woods and cornfields, which glowed in the light of one of those marvelous sunsets which are the beauty of Kent and Surrey. His noble forehead and fine features seem to be lit up with pleasure as I entered the room. He waved his hand toward the window as he pointed out the scene beyond, while in the other hand he held an open Bible, which he was always studying. "What are you reading now?" I asked as I seated myself beside his bedside. "Hebrews!" he answered - "still Hebrews. 'The Royal Book' I call it. Isn't it grand?" Then, placing his finger on certain passages, he commented on them. I made some allusions to the strong opinions expressed by many persons on the history of the creation, its grandeur, and then their treatment of the earlier chapters of the Book of Genesis. He seemed greatly distressed, his fingers twitched nervously, and a look of agony came over his face as he said: "I was a young man with unformed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions, wondering all the time over everything, and to my astonishment, the ideas took like wildfire. People made a religion of them." Then he paused, and after a few more sentences on "the holiness of God" and the "grandeur of this book," looking at the Bible which he was holding tenderly all the time, he suddenly said: "I have a summer house in the garden which holds about thirty people. It is over there," pointing through the open window. "I want you very much to speak there. I know you read the Bible in the villages. To-morrow afternoon I should like the servants on the place, some tenants and a few of the neighbours; to gather there. Will you speak to them?" "What shall I speak about?" I asked. "Christ Jesus!" he replied in a clear, emphatic voice, adding in a lower tone, "and his salvation. Is not that the best theme? And then I want you to sing some hymns with them. You lead on your small instrument, do you not?" The wonderful look of brightness and animation on his face as he said this I shall never forget, for he added: "If you take the meeting at three o'clock this window will be open, and you will know that I am joining in with the singing." How I wished I could have made a picture of the fine old man and his beautiful surroundings on that memorable day! 

Denial by Darwin's children

Everyone in Darwin's family denied the validity of the story. In 1918, Darwin's son Francis wrote that "Lady Hope's account of my father's views on religion is quite untrue. I have publicly accused her of falsehood, but have not seen any reply. My father's agnostic point of view is given in my Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. I., pp. 304–317. You are at liberty to publish the above statement. Indeed, I shall be glad if you will do so." In 1922, Darwin's daughter, Henrietta Litchfield, said she did not believe Lady Hope had ever seen her father and that "he never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier. We think the story of his conversion was fabricated in the U.S.A."

Subsequent retellings and academic investigation

Lady Hope gave her own slightly different account in a letter (circa 1919-20) to S. J. Bole, author of Battlefield of Faith (1940).

The story became a popular legend, and the claims were republished as late as October 1955 in the Reformation Review and in the Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland in February 1957.

There has been subsequent academic investigation into the story. Ronald W. Clark's The Survival of Charles Darwin explained the story but did not go into much detail. In 1994 Open University lecturer and biographer James Moore published The Darwin Legend, which claimed that Hope had visited Darwin sometime between 28 September and 2 October 1881, when Francis and Henrietta were absent and Charles' wife Emma was present, but that Hope subsequently embellished the story. Moore outlined his assessment in Darwin — A 'Devil’s Chaplain'? of 2005. Paul Marston's article gives a different analysis, but generally supports this conclusion. He draws attention to discrepancies between the 1915 article and Lady Hope's later letter, which more plausibly has Darwin lying on a sofa rather than being in bed, and does not include the suggestion that Darwin was "always studying" the Bible.

Although the Lady Hope story has been used by a few modern creationists, including Boniface Adoyo, one of the most influential creationist organizations, Answers in Genesis, has strongly debunked the legend.

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