RECORD: [Newman, George]. 1893. Darwin's house at Down. Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser (22 June): 5.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 12.2019. RN1

[page] 5

Thursday, June 15th, 1893.



About two years ago, I had the pleasure of looking over the house and grounds owned by the late Charles Darwin, at Down, a village a few miles from Bromley, Kent. After a delightful walk from Hayes across the Common to Keston and through Holwood Park, we (for I had a genial companion), ascended a rather step to hill to Down (it was always up to Down). Down House is situated a short distance from the village, and, on our arrival, we were received by an old retainer of the family, who had been the Sage's personal attendant for many years, and who was for many years acquainted with all his peculiarities.

The apartment that excited out greatest curiosity, was "the study," which had been preserved just as last used by its illustrious owner. We were permitted to sit in the study-chair, which was so arranged that that a board could be fixed in front over the knees, and in this chair Darwin did most of his writing, surrounded by his books. The chair stood near the fireplace, and in the wall by its side was a number of brass-beaded nails which the great man had placed there himself, for convenience of suspending specimens, papers, &c.

There are extensive shrubbery walks in the grounds, which he used for exercise and mediation. Just over the fence which divides the paddock from the lawn, we were shewn the contrivance for observing the habits of earth worms —a subject on which Darwin wrote a well-known treatise. Our guide said that beneath the ground a circular space was walled in like a well, and filled with mould into which the worms were put, and where their owner watched their habits and movements with the greatest diligence. I cannot say whether the creatures were still there, as the well was covered with a metal lid, and we did not go over the fence to remove it.

We afterwards went through the plant houses which were well stocked, and contained many choice kinds. In one of these houses I noticed small compartments enclosed by sashes which fitted almost air-tight, and we were told that plants used to lie isolated in them, so that Darwin could ascertain the effect of inoculation by bees and other insects.

At the conclusion of our intensely interesting visit, we repaired to an old-fashioned Inn in the village for refreshment, and finding the landlord an intelligent and well informed man, we told him the object of our visit to Down. To our surprise, he said:- "You ought to wind up by seeing Darwin's coffin, which is in the possession of our neighbour, Lewis the carpenter, over the way!" Finding he was in earnest, we got an introduction to the said neighbour, who conducted us to a workshop at the rear of his house, and there, sure enough, stood a handsome polished coffin on trestles. It was ornamented with heavy brass handles and other fittings, and while we were examining it, Mr Lewis fetched from his house the plate intended for the coffin lid, but which was kept wrapped up to prevent its being scratched.

The plate was a massive one, of brass, and nearly square in form, and on it was the following inscription, which I copied verbatim:-

Charles Robert Darwin,

Died 19 April, 1882,

Aged 73 years.

The fact of its being really the great man's coffin, and of Mr Lewis' possession of it, was accounted for follows:—

When Darwin died, his family ordered the coffin of Mr Lewis, and was delivered in due course. The body was placed in it, where it remained for 30 or 36 hours. In the meantime, arrangements had been made for the body to be buried in Westminster Abbey, and for that purpose his admirers sent down from London a very handsome coffin, in which to convey the body to Westminster. The original coffin was then returned to Mr Lewis, in whose possession it still remains.

Gravesend. LLOEGRYN. [George Newman]

[1. The old retainer is Joseph Parslow (1812-1898).]

[2. The carpenter John Lewis (1834-1915) shared the same name as his father (1799-1866). The elder man built Darwin's hydropathic douche in 1849 and together they built the hothouse in 1862.]

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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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