Charles Darwin’s Children

Charles Darwin with his oldest son, William Erasmus, in 1842

The famous British naturalist Charles Darwin pioneered the research on the theory of natural selection. While he was constantly immersed in his scientific investigations, his greatest joy was his children. Charles’ wife and first cousin, Emma Wedgwood Darwin, gave birth to 10 children, seven surviving past childhood. The Darwin children were born in this order: 

  • William Erasmus on December 27, 1839
  • Anne Elizabeth on March 2, 1841
  • Mary Eleanor on September 23, 1842
  • Henrietta Emma on September 25, 1843
  • George Howard on July 9, 1845 
  • Elizabeth on July 8, 1847
  • Francis on August 16, 1848
  •  Leonard on January 15, 1850
  • Horace on May 13, 1851 
  • Charles on December 6, 1856 

Two of them, Mary and Charles, died of poor health during infancy and their daughter Annie succumbed to an illness when she was ten years old. As a father, Charles Darwin was distraught over losing Annie, scared that his relationship with his wife was the cause of their children’s illnesses. 

Charles Darwin explored the concept of inbreeding in his research work, considering the effects of outcrossing among different species. His fears were not wholly confirmed as many of his offspring and their children became moderately successful in their chosen fields. 

William Erasmus

The first son, William Erasmus, was named after his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin. His interests lay in the study of Psychology. He later enrolled in the same school his father had gone to after two years at the University of Edinburgh— Christ’s College, Cambridge. William was then employed as a banker at Grant and Maddison’s Union Banking Company in Southampton. His wife, Sara Price Ashburner Sedgwick, was an American. The couple had no children. 

As a baby, William was one of the subjects in his father’s research on infant psychology. First, Charles observed the newly born orangutan offspring at London Zoo. Then, he chronicled the first three years of his son’s life— the infant’s facial expressions and gestures, all written in his field notebook. The records were used to compare human and animal development. Reasoning and consciousness were two areas that Charles closely investigated during the study. 

Anne Elizabeth, Mary Eleanor, and Charles

Anne Elizabeth, or “Annie,” was the first daughter of the Darwins. Charles referred to her upon her passing as the “joy of the household” in his memorial piece dedicated to her. When she fell ill at the age of 10, her father brought her to the hydrotherapist, Dr. Gully. Emma was pregnant with Horace at the time and could accompany them. Annie died of tuberculosis or scarlet fever that same year, on April 23, 1851. 

Mary Eleanor lived for only 23 days before her weak constitution led to her death. It remains unclear what her exact cause of death was. Meanwhile, the youngest Darwin, Charles, had Down syndrome. He also suffered from scarlet fever and perished at 18 months.  

Henrietta Emma

Henrietta, or “Etty,” was the first daughter Charles and Emma had who lived to adulthood. As the second daughter of the family, she had a close bond with her older sister, Annie, who died when she was eight years old. Etty was a productive editor in her time, having assisted her father in proofreading his papers. Notably, she aided him while he wrote The Descent of Man, which was printed in 1871. She also contributed to the memorialization of her parents by editing The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, released in 1887. In 1904, she also joined in the publication process of Emma Darwin, Wife of Charles Darwin: A Century of Letters, a compilation of her mother’s writings. 

Etty wed Richard Buckley Litchfield on August 31, 1871. He was a well-known philanthropist in his time. They, too, had no children, and Richard eventually died on January 11, 1903, 20 years before Etty’s death. 

George Howard

George Howard was the fifth child of the family. He was an esteemed astronomer, mathematician, and barrister in his time. Much like his father, George was an accomplished researcher, completing an in-depth analysis of tides entitled The Tides and Kindred Phenomena in the Solar System in 1884. The extensive work examined how the Earth-Moon system was affected by tidal friction. Another similarity he had with Charles Darwin was his contributions to the discussion on the origin of the moon, a parallel to his father’s major role in the discovery of the origin of life on earth.


Samantha Evans, the editor of Darwin and Women: A Selection of Letters, wrote about the different descriptions of the Darwin family regarding Elizabeth. She was the second daughter to reach adulthood and was different from Henrietta, who was outgoing and social. Her developmental delays in childhood gave her a milder personality and made her a more sensitive woman. One of her good friends was the wife of her brother Francis: Amy Ruck. Amy died soon after her union with Francis, and this concerned Emma Darwin as Amy was one of the few people Elizabeth often talked to. Her mother alluded this to her quiet nature, which was unusual in their noisy family. 


Francis was an accomplished botanist and naturalist, much like Charles Darwin. The similarities between father and son allowed them to work alongside each other as the two investigated plant movements by conducting a series of experiments. They wrote the book The Power of Movement in Plants together, published in 1880. After Charles passed away, Francis released an expanded edition including Insectivorous Plants in 1888. 

The two discovered auxin together during their investigation into phototropism. In 1875, Francis was nominated by Charles to join the Linnean Society of London, a group dedicated to the natural sciences. He then became a Fellow of the Society of London and the Royal Society. His close relationship with his father allowed him to, later on, edit the Autobiography of Charles Darwin, published in 1887. 

Concerning his personal life, Francis first married Amy Ruck, who he buried four days after she gave birth to their son Bernard. Then, Francis fell in love with a colleague at Newnham College, Ellen Wordsworth Crofts. They wed in 1883. She, too, died soon after, in 1903. After this, Francis married a widow called Lady Florence Henrietta Fisher.


Leonard was the fourth son born to Emma and Charles. He believed he was the least intelligent as his brothers, Frank, George, and Horace, had all become fellows at the Royal Society. He opted instead to belong to the Royal Engineers, Royal Geographical Society, and the British Eugenics Society, finding his fulfillment as an economist and politician. Leonard Darwin is also a historic figure in evolutionary science as he mentored Sir Ronald Fisher, who contributed to the foundations of modern statistical science. The famous statistician dedicated his book entitled The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection which was published in 1930, to Leonard. 


As the youngest child to grow up until adulthood, Horace was cherished by his family members. Leonard thought of him as the sibling who would become successful out of the brood. This would prove to be true as Horace became an accomplished engineer and scientist. Like his brothers Frank and George, he joined the Fellow of the Royal Society in 1903. He also served his country during World War I as part of the Ministry of Munitions. He was knighted in 1918 for contributions to the war effort. 

Horace married Emma Cecilia “Ida” Farrer in January 1880. She founded the Central Association for the Care of the Mentally Defective. The organization was renamed the Central Association for Mental Welfare in 1921. They had three children together: Erasmus Darwin IV, Ruth Frances Darwin, and Emma Nora Darwin.