RECORD: Litchfield, Henrietta. n.d. [Recollections of Charles Darwin's death]. CUL-DAR262.23.2 (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed from the manuscript by Kees Rookmaaker 12.2005; checked against the manuscript by Janet Browne 3.2006. RN1


Reproduced with the permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.


Account of Death


I will try to put down my remembrances of my Father's last six weeks of life.

I had not been much at Down during Jan & Feb partly on account of Laura's illness, & I will begin with all I can remember after our arrival on the 3rd March. I remember his feeling anxious look as he came out of the study door to learn how she had borne the journey, & his warm sympathy & delight at our having got through it so well.

He had not been so well this winter & for some time Bessy & Frank had been very keen for him to take a holiday but he did not look more ill than I had often seen him. A day or two after our arrival my Mother told me that he had had some pain in the heart nearly every afternoon after or whilst walking for the last days & not many days after our arrival he had a sharp fit of pain in the sandwalk & got home with difficulty - this was the last time he ever walked in the Sandwalk. We got so uneasy after this that we persuaded him to send for a doctor. He was unwilling to do so because of the difficulty of paying Dr Clark & Dr Moore he said he shd not have confidence in. However my Mother wrote a careful letter to Dr Clark asking him to come if he wd accept his fee. He telegraphed that he wd come on the 10th March but that he


would only have from half an hour to 3/4s in the house & that he must have dinner in the time. He was so late that we quite thought he had missed his train. The waiting helped agitate my Father. Dr Clark arrived in a very excited & hurried state & after saying he wd never come again if they offered him his fee & that he only had half an hour went in to my Father. He there let him quite see that he thought he had angina pectoris & the depression of this added to the agitation caused by Dr Clarks exciting & hurried visit produced an effect in lowering him from which he never entirely recovered.

He was utterly ill after this, hardly sleeping all night & for the next few days excessively depressed. My Mother said he felt that he did not expect to work again.

After this for a few days he was so unwell that he had his dinner in his own room after having gone to bed & had not spirits even to go out in the Verandah.

This was a very miserable time. It depressed my Mother extremely to see him in this state & he was very uncomfortable the whole day long, sometimes with exhaustion & half fainting feelings & a fit of the pain at least every day.


It was some days before Dr Clark sent him the prescriptions for his medicine & more than a week before he sent him his diet. This amazed my Father much & kept my Mother too on the stretch. We were longing to persuade him to have another doctor.

I shd have said that he saw Dr Moore in a semi friendly spirit on the Sunday after Dr Clarks visit & was much cheered as were we all by learning that Dr Moore did not consider it angina but only weakness. He however altered nothing in Dr Clark's treatment.

After this my Father gradually recovered a little more strength, dined with us downstairs & went several little turns each day in the orchard but always very slow indeed. He also took to his backgammon again, but I think he hardly came into the drawingroom in the evening. I think it was a pleasure to him having Laura in the house. He liked the cheerful feeling of her recovering & he liked to go in to her for a few minutes talk off & on in the day. I think, too, seeing Laura & having her to talk over the details of his illness was a support to my Mother & so made her more cheerful & bright for him. I like to remember some walks & sits in the orchard with him & once especially when it was a most lovely day & Laura had first got as far as the lawn tennis ground


& Father joined us, Laura sitting on a wicker chair & we three on the ground. The scene has fixed itself in my mind, the hopefulness about him & Laura's progress, the spring in the air & in my mind, the warm still sunshine & the blaze of crocuses.

Another time I want to remember was when my Mother sent me up one evening to see how he was. He was too uncomfortable for me to stay & I just went up & kissed him though the thought flashed through my mind wd it tell him too much of what I was feeling, but I want not to forget his look & pressure of my hand & some word of affection, I think "dear Wesas."

I cannot feeling very sadly how much more I might have seen of him, but it is too late.

For a bit, about ten days I think, we felt a good deal of hope, there seemed decided of rallying power, & he talked at meals in his own bright way.

Leo brought Leonora to Down on the 23rd & he was well enough to make little jokes with her. Something about her leaving things & we were to be sure & twit her about a 6d found in her room after she was gone. I remember how strongly he felt that she & Leo were very happy together.

I think it was about this time that


he seemed to show most signs of recovery. Once he said he forgot himself & walked quick upstairs & felt no ill effects from it at all

Laura & I went to W. Hackhurst on the 4th. He was well that day & came to see us off in the yard with his long stick & joined in all the discussions as to whether the N. Easter was too bad for Laura's move. But the very next day after this he had a worse fit of pain.

My Mother felt that she did not wish for a large party at Easter so we went to Bournemouth. William & Horace were there for a few days & I think George had come home. I believe that a carrying chair was got for him abt. the 11th or 12th.

My Mother had all along felt a great wish to have a doctor to call in when she wanted & that Clark was no good, and at last it was settled that it shd be Drs Moore & Allfrey in nominal conjunction with Dr Clark. I think it wd have worried my Father very much to do it before, but it is impossible to help some regrets. He felt the strongest gratitude to Dr Clark & wd not hear of anything that might mortify him. The greatest comfort is that Drs Moore & Allfrey again made no change in the treatment, excepting I think that


he tried a little Nux Vomica which he found do him no good at all.

We came down late on Saturday 15th as R had a headache. So I only saw him at dinner but I think he talked & listened to talking.

Just after the meat he suddenly said "I am so giddy I must lie down", & went staggeringly to the sofa stretching out his hand to support himself by the chimney piece. As soon as he had reached it, he fell on his face in a fainting fit. The unconsciousness only lasted a minute. He drank a little brandy & then was helped into the study by George. I felt how calm & self possessed Mother was, just saying to the servants "you had all better go out of the room" & having him left still. They had been rather crowding round with the idea of lifting him up. He was very miserable & distressed all evening. He told us that the only warning he had was a violent shock through his head, feeling as well as usual beforehand. And not all as well as usual on Sunday, tho' he came down as usual & dined & lunched with us. My Mother said "You will stay & see Father out of this very bad bout" when I happened to meet her in the kitchen on Sunday morning. (We were getting him some beef tea wh. he found a great comfort, Sunday, Monday & Tuesday mornings.) R. was very anxious to have Dr Allfrey sent for but he had been made so ill by the last exam.n my Mother was very unwilling to do this.

On Monday he was very much better so that it felt quite a cheerful thing. He was better than he had been for some


little time. I had been doubting whether to go up on Wednesday or Tuesday, but his being so much better & 31 K.Sq. coming into our hands just then decided me to go home on Tuesday.

He was fully up to his average on Tuesday & enjoyed his beef tea (which my Mother had persuaded him to take on Sunday morning when he was very exhausted & which he continued to take) Bessy told me that he was particularly cheerful & full of talk on Tuesday evening. Frank was in London & my Father made an observation on a plant for him between [blank space] o'clk. He staid up in drawing room later than usual that evening.

At quarter to 12 he woke my Mother & told her he shd like her to be awake as he felt the pain. This soon got very sharp & he said he shd like her to fetch the Nitrate of Amyl from the study. She said she got rather confused & could not find it immediately & was gone about three minutes. When she came back she found him just fainting from a sitting posture across the bed. She got behind him to support him & rang for Dickson who came directly. He was completely unconscious & my Mother thought he never would revive again. They had difficulty in making him swallow any brandy but at last they did & he recovered consciousness. She then sent off for Dr Allfrey who arrived before 2 o'clk. After his consciousness returned she is


not sure in how much suffering he was as she thinks he felt it was his death pain & that he was resolved to bear it. After some special words to her he said "And be sure to tell all my children to remember how good they have always been to me." She said she hardly c.d say anything to him. She felt it so awful only press his hand. He then said "I am not the least afraid to die." After Dr Allfrey came my Mother felt as if she might break down utterly, but she externally kept her self control completely. Dr Allfrey was the greatest possible comfort devising little reliefs, they tried mustard plaisters with no kind of good effect. Dr Allfrey told me he felt astonished that my Father ever had recovered consciousness from that death faint.

Dr Allfrey left the house at 8 o'clk, leaving him as he thought a good deal better with a much better pulse. He was asleep when he left the house? He had had breakfast soon after 7 o'clk. But almost directly after Dr A. went he vomited & continued to be most violently & distressingly sick all through the morning. There was a little blood thrown up. My Mother said she never saw any one suffer so much as he did - and she said "He was longing to die." The pain left him between 9 & 10 ? Frank must have got home at 1/4 to 10 o'clk & that was an immense relief to my Mother.


Bessy sent Jackson up to me telling me to catch the 11:25 train to arrange for Dr Moxon to come down & meet Dr Allfrey. They were to be at Down I found by a telegram I picked up at Farnborough by 3.30.

I got to Down at 1 o'clk. Frank was with my Mother. He told me he thought she was very much done up & must be got away for a bit. I eat some luncheon & got up to the room about 1.30. He was asleep then & Mother on the sofa. As soon as Frank came up we asked her if she would not go to my room to lie down & take an opium pill & she agreed without any demur. We promised to fetch her if there was any change or if he asked for her.

He was very drowsy but never for long without requiring to sit up, when Frank supported him by holding a chair with a cushion across the bed. I gave him his salts or rubbed him and once gave him a little pure whiskey by his own desire. As soon as he perceived I was attending on him he said, "Oh here is Wesas come." Later on he asked "Where is Mammy". I said "She is gone to lie down". "I am glad of it." Then I said "Shall I send for her & he answered "No I don't want her at all." He also said "You two dears are the best of nurses." His hands were deathly cold & clammy & Frank could not feel his pulse at all. His greatest sufferings


were from the nausea & exhaustion. I said, "This terrible nausea still goes on." He answered "It is not terrible, but it is nausea." He once said "It is wonderful how I keep dropping off to sleep every minute."

He kept lifting his hands to hold his rope & then they dropped off with a feeble quivering motion, & many times he called out "Oh God" "Oh Lord God". But only as exclamations of distress I think.

I cannot say how often he lay down but I do not suppose ever more than 5 minutes at a time. I kept looking at the clock & feeling the hands never moved. Frank & I both felt very much puzzled as to how much beef tea & brandy to give. I think we gave it three times each time with brandy in it & once he took whisky alone at his own request. He said "Dr Allfrey advised me to try a little pure whiskey & I think I will."

He seemed to like occasionally being rubbed a little on the stomach with a hair glove & he smelt eagerly at the salts, but there never seemed the slightest rally from the beef tea.

About 25 minutes past three he said whilst he was sitting up "I feel as if I shd faint" I asked Frank to ring for my Mother who came almost instantly. His face looked very grey & dropped over. Frank told me to give him some of the whisky & he was able to swallow & after three teaspoonfuls recovered consciousness.

After my Mother came into the room she persuaded him to lie down but he cd not bear it & very soon said he must sit up. After he sat up, Mother was doing something about him & he took hold of her in way wh. showed he recognised her to support him. I went to see abt one or two things, amongst others the carriage footwarmer


for his feet which felt cold. Then we heard the ring at the bell which meant the doctors. I went to see them but almost before they got upstairs Frank said they were to come instantly & Bessy was to be fetched.

As soon as they came in they saw it was hopeless but the instincts of doctoring prevailed & they ordered a mustard poultice which I rushed off to get. But it was never put on. He was unconscious & there was the heavy stertorious breathing which precedes death. It was all over before four o'clk.

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

File last updated 2 July, 2012