Erasmus Darwin

Erasmus Darwin bigraphy, stories - English physician, botanist; member of the Lunar Society

Erasmus Darwin : biography

12 December 1731 – 18 April 1802

Erasmus Darwin (12 December 173118 April 1802) was an English physician. One of the key thinkers of the Midlands Enlightenment, he was also a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave trade abolitionist, inventor and poet. His poems included much natural history, including a statement of evolution and the relatedness of all forms of life. He was a member of the Darwin–Wedgwood family, which includes his grandsons Charles Darwin and Francis Galton. Darwin was also a founding member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a discussion group of pioneering industrialists and natural philosophers. He turned down George III’s invitation to be a physician to the King.

Erasmus Darwin House, his home in Lichfield, is now a museum dedicated to Erasmus Darwin and his life’s work. A school in nearby Chasetown recently converted to Academy status and is now known as Erasmus Darwin Academy.


Early life

Darwin was born at Elston Hall, Nottinghamshire near Newark-on-Trent, England, the youngest of seven children of Robert Darwin of Elston (12 August 1682–20 November 1754), a lawyer, and his wife Elizabeth Hill (1702–97). The name Erasmus had been used by a number of his family and derives from his ancestor Erasmus Earle, Common Sergent of England under Oliver Cromwell.Burke’s Landed Gentry, Darwin formerly of Downe, 1966 His siblings were:

  • Robert Darwin (17 October 1724 – 4 November 1816)
  • Elizabeth Darwin (15 September 1725 – 8 April 1800)
  • William Alvey Darwin (3 October 1726 – 7 October 1783)
  • Anne Darwin (12 November 1727 – 3 August 1813)
  • Susannah Darwin (10 April 1729 – 29 September 1789)
  • John Darwin, rector of Elston (28 September 1730 – 24 May 1805)

He was educated at Chesterfield Grammar School, then later at St John’s College, Cambridge. He obtained his medical education at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. Whether Darwin ever obtained the formal degree of MD is not known. Darwin settled in 1756 as a physician at Nottingham, but met with little success and so moved the following year to Lichfield to try to establish a practice there. A few weeks after his arrival, using a novel course of treatment, he restored the health of a young man whose death seemed inevitable. This ensured his success in the new locale. Darwin was a highly successful physician for more than fifty years in the Midlands. George III invited him to be Royal Physician, but Darwin declined. In Lichfield, Darwin wrote "didactic poetry, developed his system of evolution, and invented amongst other things, an organ able to recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments"..

Darwin was a large man who gave up weighing himself when he reached 336 pounds (24.3 stones, 153 kg). When visiting patients, he would have his driver, also a very large man, walk ahead of him to make sure the floor of a house would hold him..

Marriages and children

  • Erasmus Darwin II (1759–1799)
  • Elizabeth Darwin (1763, survived 4 months)
  • Robert Waring Darwin (1766–1848), father of the naturalist Charles Darwin
  • William Alvey Darwin (1767, survived 19 days)