The Life and Letters of Darwin, Vol. 1 HTML version
The Darwin Family
The earliest records of the family show the Darwins to have been substantial yeomen
residing on the northern borders of Lincolnshire, close to Yorkshire. The name is now
very unusual in England, but I believe that it is not unknown in the neighbourhood of
Sheffield and in Lancashire. Down to the year 1600 we find the name spelt in a variety of
ways--Derwent, Darwen, Darwynne, etc. It is possible, therefore, that the family migrated
at some unknown date from Yorkshire, Cumberland, or Derbyshire, where Derwent
occurs as the name of a river.
The first ancestor of whom we know was one William Darwin, who lived, about the year
1500, at Marton, near Gainsborough. His great grandson, Richard Darwyn, inherited land
at Marton and elsewhere, and in his will, dated 1584, "bequeathed the sum of 3s. 4d.
towards the settynge up of the Queene's Majestie's armes over the quearie (choir) doore
in the parishe churche of Marton." (We owe a knowledge of these earlier members of the
family to researches amongst the wills at Lincoln, made by the well-known genealogist,
The son of this Richard, named William Darwin, and described as "gentleman," appears
to have been a successful man. Whilst retaining his ancestral land at Marton, he acquired
through his wife and by purchase an estate at Cleatham, in the parish of Manton, near
Kirton Lindsey, and fixed his residence there. This estate remained in the family down to
the year 1760. A cottage with thick walls, some fish-ponds and old trees, now alone show
where the "Old Hall" once stood, and a field is still locally known as the "Darwin
Charity," from being subject to a charge in favour of the poor of Marton. William Darwin
must, at least in part, have owed his rise in station to his appointment in 1613 by James I.
to the post of Yeoman of the Royal Armoury of Greenwich. The office appears to have
been worth only 33 pounds a year, and the duties were probably almost nominal; he held
the post down to his death during the Civil Wars.
The fact that this William was a royal servant may explain why his son, also named
William, served when almost a boy for the King, as "Captain- Lieutenant" in Sir William
Pelham's troop of horse. On the partial dispersion of the royal armies, and the retreat of
the remainder to Scotland, the boy's estates were sequestrated by the Parliament, but they
were redeemed on his signing the Solemn League and Covenant, and on his paying a fine
which must have struck his finances severely; for in a petition to Charles II. he speaks of
his almost utter ruin from having adhered to the royal cause.
During the Commonwealth, William Darwin became a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, and this
circumstance probably led to his marriage with the daughter of Erasmus Earle, serjeant-
at-law; hence his great-grandson, Erasmus Darwin, the Poet, derived his Christian name.
He ultimately became Recorder of the city of Lincoln.
The eldest son of the Recorder, again called William, was born in 1655, and married the
heiress of Robert Waring, a member of a good Staffordshire family. This lady inherited