RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1877. To the members of the Down Friendly Club. [N.p.: n.p.]

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, text prepared and edited by John van Wyhe 11.2006. RN4

NOTE: See record in the Freeman Bibliographical Database, enter its Identifier here. See bibliographical introduction by R. B. Freeman. There is a copy of this printed circular in CUL-DAR138.5.1. The editors of Correspondence vol. 25, p. 95-6 provide the following notes to this item:

1 CD had helped to found the Down Friendly Club in 1850 (see Correspondencevol. 4, letters to J. S. Henslow, [7 October 1849] and 17 January [1850], and J. R. Moore 1985, pp. 468–9).
2 The Friendly Societies' Act of 1875 established an administrative department to oversee local friendly societies; however, authority over the distribution of funds was retained by each society. For more on the regulation of friendly societies by the state, and the changes introduced by the 1875 Act, see Gosden 1961, pp. 173–97.
3 After 1834, parishes were grouped into Poor Law Unions that administered poor-relief to local residents. Down village was in the Poor Law Union for Bromley.

[page 1]


As one of your Honorary Members who has acted to the best of his power as your Treasurer for the last Twenty-seven years, I hope that you will permit me to address a few words to you, on this important occasion, when you have to decide whether the Club shall be dissolved. You founded and joined this Club in order to receive assistance when ill or when permanently invalided, and to be decently buried when dead; and is it not an extraordinary fact that you should now wish to dissolve the Club, for no other reason that I can hear of, except that it is now rich and in a perfectly sound condition? I have been informed that absurd rumours are afloat that the Government intends to unite all the Clubs throughout England into a single one, and then divide their Funds. I can assure you that all such rumours are lies, spread for some evil purpose. I am also informed that an actuary has calculated that you may divide £150, but that about £1,000 must be retained in order to ensure the safety of the Club. I suppose some of you think that this is a larger sum than is necessary, but let me beg you to remember that an actuary can have no motive to deceive you, and that he has great means for obtaining accurate information as to what are the chances of sickness and death, about which no ordinary man can form any judgment. No reasonable man will doubt that the above sum is necessary to pay the Burial Fees and to ensure Provision during ill-health, to which every Member of the Club is liable. Remember how many unregistered Clubs, not only in this neighbourhood but throughout England, have become bankrupt, and have left their Members destitute in their old age. Therefore I hope that you will allow me to warn you all in the most earnest manner, to deliberate for a long time before you dissolve the Club, not only for the sake of your wives and children, but for your own sakes, so as to avoid the degradation of being supported by the Union. The younger Members should reflect that they will receive only a small sum, and for this they forego all the advantages of belonging to a really safe Club; and the elder Members will find it impossible to join any Club which can pretend to safety. Should you resolve to dissolve our Club, all your officers, including myself, are bound under the penalty of imprisonment to see that every provision of the law is strictly followed, and this will cause much delay and expense; but as far as lies in my power the law shall be obeyed. Finally, I hope that you will admit that I can have no bad motive in expressing my deliberate judgment: it is no pleasure to me to keep your accounts and to subscribe to your funds, except in the hope of doing some small good to my fellow Members, who have hitherto always treated me in a considerate and friendly manner.

I remain

Your faithful Treasurer,


Down, February 19, 1877.

1 Darwin was invited to act at treasurer for the village Friendly Club around 1850 and continued to keep its accounts for thirty years. The Club was a form of insurance for illness, loss of work, retirement and death.

Francis Darwin recalled in Life and letters 1: 142-3:

He took much trouble about the club, keeping its accounts with minute and scrupulous exactness, and taking pleasure in its prosperous condition. Every Whit-Monday the club used to march round with band and banner, and paraded on the lawn in front of the house. There he met them, and explained to them their financial position in a little speech seasoned with a few well-worn jokes.

Freeman commented in his bibliography:

After the Friendly Societies Act of 1875 (38 & 39 Vict. Ch. 60), and an amending Act of 1876 (39 & 40 Vict. Ch. 22), under which the Downe Club would have been placed in Class 5 'Local Village and Country Societies', there seems to have been dissatisfaction; some members wanted to disband and share out the proceeds. The leaflet was distributed to members, in February 1877, to dissuade them, successfully, from this course. Emma Darwin (Vol. II, p. 237) wrote to Francis on Whit Tuesday, February 3rd, 1879, that the band was expected that day.

Darwin's accounts show: "18 March 1852 Smith & Elder. Printing 250 Rules for Down Club £3.5."

Registered at Friendly Societies, 17 North Audley Street, W1. File number for Downe Club F51/232, but the file passed to Public Record Office.

This document has been accessed 11723 times

Return to homepage

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

File last updated 23 February, 2024