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Emma Darwin's diaries go online

In March this year, 60 pocket diaries documenting the daily life of the Darwin household became accessible to all through Cambridge University's Charles Darwin online website.

Record of Victorian family life

The diaries, written by Darwin's wife Emma over a period of 72 years, cover a wealth of factual details about the family's ailments, staff, entertaining and outings. They reveal a unique snapshot of Victorian life for a well-off, middle class family.

Emma began writing the diaries aged 16 just before she embarked on a European tour with her family. She married Charles Darwin in 1839, lived in London at first then moved to Down House in Kent in 1842. This became the family home where, for the next 40 years, they raised seven children and Darwin pieced together his ground-breaking theory.

Family tragedy

Although many entries note mundane housekeeping details, Emma records the illness of their daughter, Annie, with touching brevity. On April 17 1882, Emma writes, 'dreadful day. A. dosed all day asked to have hands and face washed knew Ch.'. On April 23, the entry just reads '12 o'clock', which was the time of her daughter's death.

The diaries have been made publicly accessible with kind permission of their owner, Darwin's great grandson, Richard Darwin Keynes. They had been kept in a chest in his home until the 1980s when they were donated to Cambridge University Library and up to now have only been read by academic researchers.

You can view the diaries on Cambridge University's Charles Darwin online website.


‘There is grandeur in this view of life... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’ Charles Darwin