Work at Darwin's desk - classic Darwin family desk set to be auctioned at Hansons

Posted on 01/03/2019 in Press Coverage

A unique opportunity to buy a desk and metamorphic chair which have passed through generations of the famous Darwin family - renowned for their enlightened thinking - is approaching.

Darwin memorabilia collectors can place their bids to acquire the desk and metamorphic chair at Hansons Auctioneers' Spring Fine Art Auction.

According to the vendor, the desk, which has an estimate of £30,000-£50,000, was given to Francis Darwin by his father Charles Darwin to enable him to store his biology samples in its 14 separate drawers.

The family were renowned for their revolutionary ideas. Charles Darwin, who lived from 1809-1882 and was born in Shrewsbury, wrote On the Origin of Species, a book published in 1859 which launched the science of evolution.

His grandfather was Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), an English physician born in Elston, Nottinghamshire. A key thinker of the Midlands Enlightenment, he was a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave-trade abolitionist, inventor and poet.

Meanwhile Francis Darwin (1848-1925), who the desk belonged to, was a chip off the old block, an academic keen to advance and distribute new ideas.

Born at Down House, Downe, Kent, in 1848, 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 in 1875, a group dedicated to the study of, and dissemination, of information concerning, natural history, evolution and taxonomy. He was elected as a Fellow of the Society on December 2, 1875 and was also elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society on June 8 ,1882 - the year his father died.

Francis Darwin 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).

Cambridge University awarded him 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.

In the top left-hand draw of the desk coming up for auction is a reference stating that the desk was given by Francis Darwin to his eldest daughter Charlotte Elizabeth, who died aged 18 in 1869 and is buried at Elston, Nottinghamshire. In 1900 the desk was passed on to Arthur William Darwin, rector of Thrumpton, Suffolk.

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 knowledge of Darwin family history, helped the present owner compile the desk's provenance.

Newspaper articles

A selection of newspaper articles reporting on the obituary of Elizabeth Joan Darwin, who died at the age of 81 at Hillside Residential Home in Newark, are also being sold alongside the important historical items.

In addition, details of Down House in Kent, which was the home of the Darwin family, and gives a good insight into their life, are provided. The Guidebook was prepared by English Heritage and details can been found at

Barometer for sale

A barometer similar to Captain Robert Fitzroy’s barometer is also included in the sale. Captain Fitzroy achieved lasting fame as the Captain of HMS Beagle during a famous Charles Darwin voyage, which took five years to complete. The Beagle sailed from Plymouth in 1831 and did not return until 1836.

Darwin's notes made during the voyage and exploration include comments hinting at his changing views on the fixity of species. On his return, he wrote The Voyage of the Beagle, which was later modified into a second edition called Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world.

To find out more about this journey and book Click here.

The Darwin desk, metamorphic chair and barometer is due to be sold in a future Hansons' auction. To find out more, email [email protected]

Image of Francis Darwin: Wikipedia