Robert Darwin (1766-1848), father of Charles

© John H. Wahlert, 24 August 1998

[the Old Plough]Robert Darwin obtained the degree of Doctor of Medicine at the University of Leyden before he was 20 and completed his medical studies at Edinburgh in 1786. That autumn he set up as a doctor in Shrewsbury, though he was only 20. His father, Erasmus Darwin, wrote to friends in Birmingham asking them to recommend Robert to their friends in the Shrewsbury area. Robert himself deserves the credit for his success: He was sympathetic and observant and had more than fifty patients within six months. Robert Darwin was extremely successful throughout his sixty years of practice in Shrewsbury. [King-Hele, p. 176]

In 1796, when he was not quite 30, Robert married Susannah Wedgwood. Her handsome dowry enabled him to purchase land at The Mount on high ground overlooking the Severn and build a substantial house, The Mount House. Susannah's father, the master potter Josiah Wedgwood, established the famous Staffordshire pottery works. Robert continued to live in the house until his death, 50 years later. [Bowlby, p. 38]

"As the years passed, Robert Darwin became a commanding figure in the town: he was extremely successful in his medical practice and was said to have the highest income of any provincial doctor. He was six feet two inches tall, and he gave up weighing himself when he reached twenty-four stone. His burly coachman had to test the floor-boards for him before he entered a new patient's house. Robert and his wife Susannah had two sons and four daughters, all long-lived. After Susannah died in 1817, aged fifth-two, Robert maintained close links with the family of her brother Josiah Wedgwood II, who lived at Maer, only twenty miles from Shrewsbury." [King-Hele, pp. 299-300]

[steps to carriage]We were told that Robert Darwin was so portly that he had these stone steps made to assist him in getting into his carriage.

"Only a third of his annual income...came from medical fees: about £3,000 in a good year. The greater part, as his account books show, was brounded in dividends on securtities, in stocks and bonds, in rents and interest on mortgages raised on local property. He had a remarkable head for business." [Browne, p. 8-9] Dr. Robert Darwin was a specialist in private money-broking, since banks were not yet organized to support business ventures. He moved "money from fixed reserves, such as land, into the fluid stock of manufacturing companies", and "he also acted as a financial middle man, arranging loans and raising cash for other local gentlemen who themselves wished to join the investors' market." [Ibid., p. 7] "Mrs. Darwin's share of the family assets included a fifth of the Etruria Works and an inheritance of £25,000 on the death of Josiah Wedgwood in 1795." [Ibid., p. 8]

Return to Shrewsbury introductory page.

References cited:

  • Bowlby, John. 1990. Charles Darwin, a new life. New York, W. W. Norton & Co. 513 pp.
  • Browne, Janet. 1995. Charles Darwin: Voyaging. New York, Alfred A. Knopf. 606 pp.
  • King-Hele, Desmond. 1977. Doctor of Revolution: The Life and Genius of Erasmus Darwin. London, Faber & Faber. 361 pp.

Last updated 24 August 1998 (JHW)