HORACE DARWIN: 1851 - 1928

Back

Horace was the youngest of Charles and Emma Darwin’s ten children. He was considered a delicate child, and seems to have inherited his father’s problems with spelling.His brother Leonard said:

“Of all my brothers, Horace was the one whom I should have thought the least likely to make a success in life”

(Raverat, G., Period Piece: London, Faber and Faber, 1952)

Contrary to family expectations, Horace became a very successful scientist and engineer, a much-respected citizen of Cambridge, and lived to the age of 77 years. He was tutored at home, and after gaining his BA degree at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1874 he served a three-year apprenticeship with Easton and Anderson, engineers of Erith, Kent.

The Shop

On his return to Cambridge, Horace started to design scientific instruments for the University, and in 1881, he founded the ‘Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company’ in partnership with his friend Albert Dew-Smith. Their premises were first in Panton Street, then in St Tibbs Row in 1882. In 1891 Horace took sole control of the company. As a result of the increasing demand for scientific instruments by researchers in the University laboratories, in 1895 they moved to larger premises in Carlyle Road and became a Limited Liability Company.

This was the first of the companies linked to the University, and the start of what has been termed ‘The Cambridge Phenomenon’. The Company was responsible for the manufacture of many commercial scientific instruments including, ‘Prof J. A. Ewing’s Seismograph’ in 1891, and in 1910 ‘Darwin’s crack extensometers for St Paul’s Cathedral’.

Horace Darwin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1903.

During the first world war, the Company assisted the war effort by undertaking work for the Ministry of Munitions. This included making instruments previously manufactured in Germany and therefore unavailable. Horace was knighted in June 1918 for his work on the Munitions Inventions Panel.

The workforce increased from approximately 40 employees in 1896 to 488 employees at the end of the war in 1918. The Company was, therefore, a source of steady employment in Cambridge. Some employees moved on and achieved fame in their own right; these included William T Pye and Robert Whipple. The Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company was affectionately in the city known as ‘Horace Darwin’s Shop’.

The Family

Horace married Emma Cecilia (Ida) Farrer, daughter of Lord Farrer, in 1880. She was a distant relative on his mother’s side and her family were not impressed with this match, as they considered Horace to have both poor health and poor prospects. Despite this foreboding, they had a very happy, successful marriage. Horace and Ida had three children: Erasmus who was killed at Ypres in 1915; Ruth Frances; and Emma Nora. They built and made their home at ‘The Orchard’ on Huntingdon Road. According to the 1901 census, the household consisted of the family plus one cook and eight maids (including two nursemaids).

The Town

Apart from his membership of various local and University boards and committees, Horace was also an alderman and a J.P. in Cambridge. He served as Mayor of the city from 1896 – 1897. This was a time when most social activity revolved around the small and exclusive set formed by members of the University and their families - the town was not considered to be important - so Horace dedicated his year as mayor to bringing the town and gown together. He achieved this through his own charitable works, and by supporting his wife Ida in her mental-welfare work in the town. Horace was williang to use his influence both nationally and within academic circles for either raising funds or ‘bending the ear’ of influential people.

Horace was a trustee for the Cambridge Municipal Charities, and on the committee of the Cambridge Association for the Care of the Feeble Minded. He raised money to educate and support three young brothers and their mother when, in 1915, they were left penniless following the death of their father in a flying accident. One of these brothers was Bryan Keith-Lucas, who, in 1970, became Master of Darwin College at the University of Kent.

Horace was influential in the transfer of Littleton House School from Surrey to Cambridge. Littleton House provided schooling for ‘mentally backward boys’. It was relocated to the Old Rectory in Girton in about 1920. Ruth Rees Thomas Horace's daughter, wrote that:

“Later, in conjunction with Dame Ellen Pinsent, my parents endowed a Studentship in Cambridge for research into problems bearing on mental defects, diseases or disorders.”

(Rees Thomas, R., Ida Darwin 1854-1946 : Focus (magazine of Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge) summer edition 1970)

Despite failing health as he grew older, Horace always maintained an interest in the welfare of his employees in the ‘Shop’, and he continued to support his wife in all her charitable endeavours.

Sir Horace Darwin died on 22 September 1928.