Published: 06:00, 24 February 2021
| Updated: 07:58, 26 February 2021
A keepsake box that once belonged to Charles Darwin’s daughters has been donated to English Heritage and will go on show in the county later this year.
The donation of the red leather box and its treasures – which include shells gathered by Darwin on his famous Beagle Voyage - has been announced on the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex.
KMTV report on the keepsake box going on display at Down House
They will go on display at the Kent home of Charles Darwin, Down House, following conservation by English Heritage.
Charles and Emma Darwin initially gave the box to their eldest daughter Annie (the original label on the box’s key is marked ‘Annie’s red box’) but when she died at just 10 in 1851 and so it was passed to her sister Henrietta.
Etty (as she was nicknamed) continued to fill it with souvenirs, including locks of hair belonging to different members of the Darwin family (including Emma and Henrietta), Charles’ silk handkerchief embroidered with the initials CD, and shells collected during Darwin’s voyage on HMS Beagle between 1831-36 which his daughters later carefully labelled using scrap paper from his draft manuscripts.
The charity is appealing to the public to donate towards the care and display of the box, which will be available to see at Down House, at Downe near Orpington, where the naturalist lived for 40 years until his death in 1882.
It was where he wrote his groundbreaking scientific masterpiece, On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection in 1859.
The box shows how Darwin’s work and family life were deeply intertwined. Henrietta helped him to edit The Descent of Man (1871) in which he applied his theories of evolution to mankind.
In 1897, Henrietta gave the box to her niece Margaret Keynes and it remained in the Keynes family until earlier this year when it was donated to English Heritage from the estate of Richard Darwin Keynes, great-grandson of Charles and Emma Darwin.
English Heritage curator, Olivia Fryman, said: “This charming keepsake box gives us an intimate insight into Victorian habits of collecting, the life of Charles Darwin and how his scientific work and family life were intertwined. A treasured object, carefully preserved over the generations, the box will give visitors to Down House a valuable sense of Darwin’s work and the family who surrounded and supported him. We are incredibly grateful to the Keynes family for donating such a personal item.”
Speaking on behalf of the Keynes family, Simon and Randal Keynes, the great-great-grandsons of Charles Darwin, said: “We are delighted to return this box, long treasured by Darwin’s daughter, Etty, and granddaughter, Margaret, to Down House for display among the other objects there which remind visitors of its many years as a family home.”
The Darwin keepsake box is in need of conservation to stabilise the leather surface of the box and some of its contents and the charity is appealing for donations to fund the expert work so that once Down House opens its doors again, visitors will be able to see it.
To support the charity visit english-heritage.org.uk