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The evolution of antiques! Darwin’s 140-year-old desk could fetch up to £50,000 at auction

Posted on 17/02/2019 in Press Coverage

An antique desk given by Charles Darwin to his son more than 130 years ago is expected to fetch thousands of pounds at auction.

Charles, a naturalist, geologist and biologist famous for the theory of evolution and writer of On The Origin of Species in 1859, is understood to have given the desk to his son Sir Francis Darwin.

The desk, which is around 139 years old, circa 1880, is now due to be sold in Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers March Spring Fine Art Auction with an estimate of £30,000-£50,000.

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons, said: “Who wouldn’t want to sit at Darwin’s desk and hope that a bit of the family brilliance rubs off on them?

“According to information carefully gathered by our vendor, the desk was passed down through generations of the Darwin family.”

The Nottinghamshire seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the desk was given to Francis by Charles Darwin to enable him to store his biology samples in its many drawers.

A note attached to the desk states that it was later given by Francis Darwin to his eldest daughter Charlotte Elizabeth, who died aged 18 in 1869 and is buried at Elston, Nottinghamshire. The note adds that, in 1900, Frances gave the desk to his son, William Darwin, rector of Thrumpton, Suffolk.

Mr Hanson said: “Our vendor tells us that Elizabeth Joan Darwin (nee Coke) then acquired the desk. For a time, she lived at Pinxton Manor, Nottinghamshire, and was married to Gilbert Darwin. They moved to Marset House in Oxton, Nottinghamshire, in 1936.

“She was a keen gardener and amateur naturalist, loved birds and animals and regularly attended church.

“The present owner acquired the desk and chair from Elizabeth Darwin, who died in 1990. She was responsible for the compilation of the Darwin family tree. Her extensive family history knowledge helped the present owner compile the desk’s provenance.”

As well as the desk, the auction will include a metamorphic chair which belonged to the Darwin family and a barometer similar to one used by Captain Robert Fitzroy, who played a part in the Darwin story. Captain Fitzroy achieved lasting fame as the Captain of HMS Beagle during a Charles Darwin voyage which famously took five years to complete, from 1831 to 1836.

On his return, Charles Darwin, who lived from 1809-1882, wrote The Voyage of The Beagle and notes made by him during the trip started to form his theories of evolution.

Charles Darwin’s grandfather was also famed for his intellect. Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), a physician born in Elston, Nottinghamshire, was part of the Midlands Enlightenment, a group of intellects who met to share ground-breaking ideas. He was a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave-trade abolitionist, inventor and poet.

Francis Darwin (1848-1925) was born at Down House, Downe, Kent. He was the third son and seventh child of Charles Darwin and his wife Emma Wedgwood. He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, first studying mathematics, then changing to natural sciences, graduating in 1870. He went on to study medicine at St George’s Medical School, London, but did not practice medicine.

Darwin was nominated by his father to the Linnean Society of London, a group dedicated to the study and dissemination of information concerning, natural history, evolution and taxonomy.

Francis edited The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (1887), and produced some books of letters from the correspondence of Charles Darwin; The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887) and More Letters of Charles Darwin (1905). He also edited Thomas Huxley’s On the Reception of the Origin of Species (1887).

Mr Hanson said: “As the desk dates back to circa 1880, it’s not too farfetched to imagine that some of this important work took place while Francis was sitting at the very item of furniture we are selling.”

Cambridge University awarded Francis with an honorary doctorate in 1909. He also received honorary doctorates from Dublin, Liverpool, Sheffield, Brussels, St Andrews, Upsala and Prague. He was knighted in 1913.

The Darwin desk, metamorphic chair and barometer is due to be sold in a future Hansons auction. The desk has an estimate of £30,000-£50,000. To find out more, email [email protected]