Erasmus Darwin House holds a number of objects which belonged to Erasmus and his family, which are on loan from organisations such as Lichfield City Council, Stoke on Trent Potteries Museum, Holburne Museum and English Heritage. His work covered a variety of subjects, from science and inventions to medicine and the education of women, and the collections reflect this, covering topics such as these and more!
Our most prized object is Darwin’s Common Place Book which gives us great insight into the mind of this amazing man. It is a large notebook on loan from English Heritage which contains Darwin’s own notes on his medical cases, his thoughts on such things as meteorology and botany, and some fantastic drawings of his inventions. A group of volunteers have recently completed a demanding project to transcribe the book for our visitors.
‘It was a privilege to transcribe Darwin’s original hand written notes… it felt like he was in the room and speaking the words!
A copy can now be found on the lectern in the Inventions Room which compares Darwin’s original page to a translated page, so now we can better understand his passion for medicine and engineering!
You will also find the Common Place Book as part of the British Museums Teaching History in 100 Objects project which provides resources for teachers who want to use museum objects as a way to interpret history.
Object of the month
Joseph Wright of Derby, portrait of Erasmus Darwin c. 1770
Joseph Wright (1734-1797) was a prolific painter from Derby and is famous for his scientific works such as The Bird in the Air Pump (a copy of which can be found in the Study). The majority of his work was portraiture and this painting was produced when the artist was in his 60’s. Erasmus sat for Wright many times throughout his life. The original was owned by his older brother William and stayed in the family until it was sold in 2009. Wright produced two other copies of this painting, one is held at Darwin College Cambridge on loan from a private collection.
The original was bought by Derby Museum and Art Gallery for £275,000 and is on display in their Wright Gallery. The portrait we have is a printed copy which as produced for the museum display when it opened back in 1999. You can find it in the Parlour above the fireplace.