Miss Frances Webb
2 February 1801
About this image
Erasmus Darwin was born 12 December 1731 at Elston Hall, near Nottingham. His father Robert was a lawyer. He went to Chesterfield School in 1741 before heading to St John's College, Cambridge.In 1853 he went to Edinburgh to study medicine. He then briefly set up a practice in Nottingham before moving to Lichfield.
By 1861 his standing was such that he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. At one stage he was offered, and refused, the post of Royal Physician to George III. He was a founder member of the Lunar Society in 1765, whose members included some of the greatest scientists and innovators of the age: Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton and James Watt, and Joseph Priestley. As well as a practical interest in new scientific theories and inventions, members were also for the abolition of the slave trade, in favour of a free press, and welcomed the aspects of the French Revolution that challenged the old order. However this also brought strong criticism from their opponents.
Darwin made many inventions of his own. These included a horizontal windmill, a carriage that would not tip over, a speaking machine, a copying machine, mechanical bird and a lift for barges on canals. Fellow members of the Society made some of these for him. Fearing that taking out patents would harm his standing as a doctor, he instead encouraged his friends to develop these ideas. As well as a doctor, botanist, geologist, agricultural theorist and inventor, Darwin was also a keen poet. He published a number of acclaimed volumes, often conveying scientific theories, especially on botany. Zoonomia was published 1794-96, and in it he used poetry to put forward his ideas on the origins of life. This was also developed in his posthumous work, The Temple of Nature. These radical theories would later be famously taken further by Charles Darwin, his grandson.
Another interest was education, writing A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education, in Boarding Schools in 1797, to help guide his illegitimate daughters Susan and Mary Parker, who were running a school in Ashbourne.
He died from a lung infection on 18 April 1802 at Breadsall Priory, and was buried in Breadsall Church. He had only just moved out to Breadsall from Derby in March, after inheriting it from his son who had drowned in the Derwent.
This image is one of a collection by the famous local antiquarian, Thomas Bateman, of Middleton by Youlgreave. (1821-1861). Bateman organized his collection by inserting them into a 4 volume copy of Lysons Magna Britannia, Derbyshire, creating a fascinating and unique illustrated record of the county. The purchase of the collection for Derbyshire Libraries was made possible by the generous bequest of Miss Frances Webb of Whaley Bridge, well known local historian, who died in December 2006.