RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1896. [Words attributed to Darwin.] T. B. Darwin's Coffin. The Sketch (15 April), p. 528.

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


[page] 528

DARWIN'S COFFIN.

Darwin-land and Down are synonymous terms. An old-fashioned ivy covered house, surrounded by some acres of ground, approached by an avenue of trees from the main road of this little Kentish village, and you have the home of the late Professor Darwin. The rear of the building is covered with a clinging creeper, at the present moment just bursting into leaf, and a stroll over a pleasant lawn and through a garden leads to a walk skirting the edge of a range of hills, the favourite haunt of the author of "The Origin of Species." This long, grassy path terminates in a summer-house, in which may be seen, carved on the wooden supports, the names of various members of the Darwin family, and here the learned naturalist, who was accustomed to speak of the distinct sea-breeze, which could be felt at this particular spot, was wont to sit early every morning.

Although this is Darwin-land, many might add that it is also Lubbock-land and Pitt-land. High Elms, the residence of our Bank Holiday Saint, is close by, while Holwood Park, the seat of the Countess of Derby, is but a stone's throw from the village. Here, it may be remembered, is the famous oak-tree underneath which William Pitt and Wilberforce discussed the slave trade.

In the village is to be found a remarkable relic of Dr. Darwin, the existence of which few visitors to Down ever dream of. This is no less a curiosity than the actual coffin in which the naturalist once reposed. Close by the church, the parish register of which, by the way, dates from 1538, is what was originally the old Manor House. This quaint building lies a little way back from the road, and is now practically two houses. One has been occupied for many years past by Mr. John Lewis referred to by Darwin in one of his works as "the village carpenter," while the other is now vacant, and can, if anyone is seeking a country residence close to town, be hired at the inclusive rental of three shilling and sixpence per week. When the present writer called at the house the other day, he was conducted to an outbuilding, where Mr. Lewis was busily engaged pursuing his professional avocation. Though by no means a young man, time has dealt very kindly with the old Professor's servant, who speaks with great affection of his late master.

Passing by an old well, my guide conducted me into a carpenter's shop, where, incongruously enough, lying among a conglomeration of tools appertaining to the carpenter's craft, lay an immense coffin. I examined the relic; it is a solid oaken structure, over six feet long, with a brass plate in the centre, bearing this inscription-

CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN,

Died 19th of April,

1882,

Aged 73 years.

"Was this coffin simply made for Darwin and never used?" I inquired, when I had carefully looked at it for a few moments.

"No, sir; I will tell you how it was. I had worked for Professor Darwin - and a kinder-hearted man never breathed-ever since I was a boy. I was always making something or other for him, cases, shelves, and the like. When at the last my old master knew he was dying, he sent for me, and I was commissioned to make his coffin. He was very particular about it; he wished it very plain, and he didn't want it polished, but said, 'John, leave the coffin just as it comes from the bench.' His wishes were carried out; it was well and strongly made out of inch-and-half  oak - I did it all myself - and when he died, he was put into it.

''There, sir, he laid for just thirty and a-half hours, and him and my coffin would have gone down to the grave together, but, after he had been dead a little while, his widow heard from the Westminster Abbey people, who wanted him buried there.''

"And the coffin was then of no use ?"

"No, he was placed in a shell and laid with other of England's great men. Of course, I was paid for my work, but, some time after, the family said I could have the coffin back. I fetched it here, and here it has remained ever since, a matter now of fourteen years.'' T. B.

 


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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

File last updated 23 December, 2019