RECORD: Anon. 1925. Obituary of Francis Darwin. The Times (21 September): 12 and 14. Transcribed by Christine Chua, edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 10.2019. RN1

[page] 12


We regret to announce that SIR FRANCIS DARWIN, the distinguished botanist, and biographer of his father, Charles Darwin, died at his residence, 10, Madingley-road, Cambridge, on Saturday, after many weeks' illness, at the age of 77.

A memoir will be found on page 14.

 [page] 14



We regret to announce that Sir Francis Darwin, the distinguished botanist and the biographer of his great father, died at his residence, 10, Madingley-road, Cambridge, on Saturday after an illness of many weeks.

Francis Darwin, the third son of Charles and Emma Darwin, was born at Down in Kent, on August 16, 1848. Ho was first sent to the Clapham Grammar School under Charles Pritchard, who was elected Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford in 1870. Later he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, and, after obtaining a first class in the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1870, continued his medical work at St. George's Hospital, and proceeded to the M.B. degree, but never practised medicine. Like several other botanists of his generation, Darwin served an apprenticeship in the laboratory of Professor Sachs in the University of Würzburg, where he made many lasting friendships.

On leaving St. George's Hospital Darwin returned to the home at Down, where for eight years he was his father's assistant and secretary. On the death of Charles Darwin Francis went to live at Cambridge; he was elected a Fellow of Christ's College, and afterwards became an Honorary Fellow of the same Foundation. In 18S2 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and he held the post of Foreign Secretary from 1903 to 1907 and was a Vice-President in 1907-8. He was awarded the Darwin medal in 1912. From 1884 to 1888 Darwin was University Lecturer at Cambridge and held the University Readership from 1888 to 1904, a post in which he succeeded his friend and former colleague, Professor Vines. From 1892 to 1895 Darwin was deputy to Professor Babington, and generously devoted the stipend to the improvement of botanical teaching in the University. He gave most of his time to teaching and research in plant physiology, and it was largely through his efforts that the practical training of students in this subject was more thoroughly developed at Cambridge than in other British universities. For some years he was responsible for the botanical part of the course in elementary biology intended primarily for medical students; his "Elements of Botany," designed for this course, is an admirable introduction to the subject on physiological lines written in an attractive style and with a freshness of treatment characteristic of all Darwin's less technical publications. As a direct outcome of his teaching in the Cambridge laboratory Darwin, in collaboration with the late E. H. Acton, published a "Practical Physiology of Plants" in 1904, a book which exercised a far-reaching influence on the teaching of more advanced students.

Francis Darwin's researches in plant physiology may be said to have followed two main lines:-

(1) Researches on movements, with special reference to the localization of irritability which his father discovered in the root-tip, and generally to the views propounded in "The Movements of Plants." The outcome of the researches of this group (a series of papers published between 1891 and 1904) has been to provide a considerable amount of experimental evidence in support of Charles Darwin's views, and to contribute to the complete justification of the idea of the localization of sense-organs, which is now generally accepted.

(2) Researches on the opening and closing of stomata, with reference to the physiology of transpiration. The work on stomata is more considerable in amount, extending over the period 1897-1914, including a long paper on the "Movements of Stomata" published in the Phil. Trans. 1898. These papers record a number of valuable facts obtained by observation with new and ingenious methods. But it cannot be claimed that anything like finality has been reached as regards either stomatal action or transpiration. They are valuable as contributions to knowledge, but they are not epoch-making. At the same time they are among the best of those dealing with these subjects that have appeared anywhere during the period.

The students who attended his classes felt a deep affection for the teacher who, though not an eloquent or showy lecturer, attracted them by his personality and a modesty which in its sincerity came almost as a shock to the beginner unaccustomed to hear his seniors admit their own ignorance. It was always a pleasure to remain behind after a lecture to ask for help in difficulties; one knew that he would be sympathetic and encouraging; all were made to feel that they were rather fellow students than beginners asking stupid questions. When Darwin resigned the Readership in 1904 many old students attended an informal gathering at Cambridge to present him with an address and to the Botany School a portrait by Mr. W. Rothenstein. After 1904 Darwin continued to carry on his own investigations in the University laboratory, and in 1908 he transferred the whole of his father's scientific library to the Department and expressed his intention of bequeathing it to the University.

In 1908 Darwin was President of the British Association at the Dublin meeting, the first botanist to occupy the Presidential chair since 1868, when it was filled by Sir Joseph Hooker. In his address he dealt with subjects directly connected with his own researches, the movement of plants and problems of stimulus and reaction, discussing more especially the difficult question of habit or unconscious memory as illustrated by the movements of plants and animals, and, possibly, in the developmental phases passed through by the embryo. The majority of Darwin's scientific papers are concerned with phenomena connected with the plant's relation to its environment; he was an ingenious and able experimenter, and resembled his father in a preference for simple apparatus and contrivances of his own. His earlier papers were written at Down, and his name appears on the title-page of Charles Darwin's "Power of Movement in Plants." published in 1880. His edition of Leonard Blomfield's Naturalists' Calendar published in 1903 shows his love of natural history, and the publication of the "Foundations of the Origin of Species" at the time of the Darwin celebration is one of many proofs of his veneration for his father's work and his desire to do honour to his memory.

Not the least of Darwin's services to science is the "Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," one of the best biographies ever written. In the selection and arrangement of the material he was chiefly guided by a wish to portray his father's personal character, and he succeeded in a remarkable degree in giving a true picture of the man and the student, the methods of Charles Darwin's work and the gradual development of his opinions. Throughout the book the human side of Darwin's character is vividly revealed. The father's love of animals, his courtesy to those who served him, his consideration for others, his modesty, the high standard of honour he maintained with regard to his treatment of other authors, are a few of many traits that were in a marked degree inherited by the son. The two volumes of "More Letters of Charles Darwin," published in 1903, form a fitting supplement to the "Life and Letters." Among his lighter works were " Diversions of a Scientist" (1917) and 'Stray Papers of a Scientist " (1920).

Francis Darwin was a keen musician, and often played the bassoon at the Cambridge Musical Club: he was particularly interested in old instruments and in anything connected with old village customs. He had a strong sense of humour, and expressed his opinions of people with a refreshing directness; he was essentially human in his prejudices. Intolerant of all forms of insincerity, he was a stanch friend to those in trouble, and would always use his influence on the side of leniency; he would go out of his way to praise the work or actions of others, especially younger men; never ashamed to show affection, he endeared himself in an unusual degree to those, whether his social equals or not, who had the privilege of knowing him well. The recipient of many scientific honours, he was an honorary Doctor of Science of Dublin Liverpool, Sheffield, and Brussels, an honorary LL.D. of St. Andrews, and an honorary Ph.D. of Upsala and Prague. In 1907 at the Darwin

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celebration at Cambridge he was the only Englishman on whom the University conferred an honorary degree.

Francis Darwin married in 1874 Amy Ruck, the daughter of Mr. Laurence Ruck, of Pentlludw, by whom he had one son, Major Bernard Darwin. Seven years after her death he married Ellen Wordsworth Crofts, a lecturer at Newnham, and by her he had one daughter (Mrs. F. M. Cornford). Soon after his wife's death in 1903 he left Cambridge for a short time and lived in London. In 1913, the year in which he was knighted, he married the widow of Professor F. W. Maitland. Lady Darwin died five years ago.

The funeral will be to-morrow at 2.30 p.m. The first part of the service will be held in Christ's College Chapel and the interment will be at Huntingdon-road Cemetery.

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