Francis Darwin

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Sir Francis Darwin
Born 16 August 1848
Down House, Downe, Kent
Died 19 September 1925 (aged 77)
Nationality British
Fields Botany
Known for Phototropism
Influences Charles Darwin

Sir Francis "Frank" Darwin, FLS FRS,[1] FRSE LLD (16 August 1848 – 19 September 1925), was a son of the British naturalist and scientist Charles Darwin. He, like his father, was a botanist. He was the brother of George Howard Darwin.


Francis Darwin in 1910

Francis Darwin was born in Down House, Downe, Kent in 1848. He was the third son and seventh child of Charles Darwin and his wife Emma Wedgwood. He was educated at Clapham Grammar School.[2]

He then went to Trinity College, Cambridge, first studying mathematics, then changing to natural sciences, graduating in 1870. He then went to study medicine at St George's Medical School, London, earning an MB in 1875, but did not practice medicine.[3]

Darwin was married three times and widowed twice. First he married Amy Richenda Ruck in 1874, but she died in 1876 four days after the birth of their son Bernard Darwin, who was later to become a golf writer. In September 1883 he married Ellen Wordsworth Crofts (1856 - 1903) and they had a daughter Frances Crofts Darwin (1886–1960), a poet who married the poet Francis Cornford and became known under her married name. His third wife was Florence Henrietta Fisher, daughter of Herbert William Fisher and widow of Frederic William Maitland, whom he married in 1913, the year in which he was knighted. Her sister Adeline Fisher was the first wife of Darwin's second cousin once removed Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Francis Darwin worked with his father on experiments dealing with plant movements, specifically phototropism and they co-authored The Power of Movement in Plants (1880). Their experiments showed that the coleoptile of a young grass seedling directs its growth toward the light by comparing the responses of seedlings with covered and uncovered coleoptiles. These observations would later lead to the discovery of auxin.

Darwin was nominated by his father to the Linnean Society of London in 1875,[4] and was elected as a Fellow of the Society on 2 December 1875.[5] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 8 June 1882,[1] the same year in which his father died. Darwin edited The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (1887), and produced some books of letters from the correspondence of Charles Darwin; The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887) and More Letters of Charles Darwin (1905). He also edited Thomas Huxley's On the Reception of the Origin of Species (1887).

Cambridge University awarded him an honorary doctorate (DSc) in 1909. He also received honorary doctorates from Dublin, Liverpool, Sheffield, Brussels, St Andrews, Upsala, and Prague. He was knighted in 1913.[2]

He is buried at in Cambridge,.[6] His daughter, Frances Cornford, was later buried with him.


His first wife, Amy Ruck, died in 1876 and was buried in Holy Trinity Church, Corris, North Wales.[7] According to a letter written by Charles Darwin to his close friend, Joseph Dalton Hooker: " I never saw anyone suffer so much as poor Frank. He has gone to N. Wales to bury the body in a little church-yard amongst the mountains".

He married his second wife, Ellen Wordsworth Crofts, in 1883. She was a Fellow and lecturer at Newnham College is buried in St. Andrew's Church's churchyard, Girton. She was a member of the Ladies Dining Society in Cambridge, together with 11 other members. She died in 1903.

In 1913 he married his third wife, Lady Florence Henrietta Darwin, the widow of Frederic William Maitland, née Fisher. She died in 1920 and is interred in the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground, Cambridge, opposite the grave of Sir Francis Darwin and his daughter Frances Cornford.


  • Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1880)
  • The Power of Movement in Plants (1880)
  • The Practical Physiology of Plants (1894)
  • Elements of Botany (1895)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Obituary Notices". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 110 (768): i–c. 1932. doi:10.1098/rspb.1932.0031. 
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "Darwin, Francis (DRWN866F)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  4. ^ Browne 2002, p. 434.
  5. ^ "1875. Dec. 2. Darwin, Francis, M.B. Down, Beckenham, Kent." in: The Linnean Society of London: List of the Linnean Society of London, 1876. [London:] Printed by Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. p.10.
  6. ^ A Guide to Churchill College, Cambridge: text by Dr. Mark Goldie, pages 62 and 63 (2009)
  7. ^ "Amy Richenda Ruck Darwin". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2 March 2015. 
  • Browne, E. Janet (2002). Charles Darwin: vol. 2 The Power of Place. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-7126-6837-3. 

Further reading[edit]

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