Charles Darwin

Charles Robert Darwin, naturalist, is buried in the north aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey, not far from Sir Isaac Newton. He was born in Shrewsbury on 12th February 1809, son of Robert Waring Darwin (1766-1848) and Susannah, daughter of Josiah Wedgwood. He studied with his brother Erasmus at Edinburgh University but disliked the idea of following in his father's footsteps as a doctor. At Cambridge University he became very much interested in natural history and sailed on the ship HMS Beagle in 1831 to South America and the Galapagos islands. In 1839 he married his cousin Emma Wedgwood and they went to live at Downe, a small village in Kent. His famous work "The Origin of Species by natural selection" was published in 1859 and he continued working although his health was often poor. He died at Down House on 19th April 1882.


The Dean of Westminster, George Granville Bradley, was away in France when he received a telegram forwarded from the President of the Royal Society in London saying "…it would be acceptable to a very large number of our fellow-countrymen of all classes and opinions that our illustrious countryman, Mr Darwin, should be buried in Westminster Abbey". The Dean recalled "I did not hesitate as to my answer and telegraphed direct…that my assent would be cheerfully given". The body lay overnight in the Abbey, in the small chapel of St Faith, and on the morning of 26 April the coffin was escorted by the family and eminent mourners into the Abbey. The pall-bearers included Sir Joseph Hooker, Alfred Russel Wallace, James Russell Lowell (U.S. Ambassador), and William Spottiswoode (President of the Royal Society). The burial service was held in the Lantern, conducted by Canon Prothero, with anthems sung by the choir. The chief mourners then followed the coffin into the north aisle of the Nave where Darwin was buried next to the eminent scientist Sir John Herschel, and a few feet away from Newton. The simple inscription on his gravestone, which is of pale Carrara marble, reads:


Although an agnostic, Darwin was greatly respected by his contemporaries and the Bishop of Carlisle, Harvey Goodwin, in a memorial sermon preached in the Abbey on the Sunday following the funeral, said:

I think that the interment of the remains of Mr Darwin in Westminster Abbey is in accordance with the judgment of the wisest of his countrymen…It would have been unfortunate if anything had occurred to give weight and currency to the foolish notion which some have diligently propagated, but for which Mr Darwin was not responsible, that there is a necessary conflict between a knowledge of Nature and a belief in God…

A later, widely believed, rumour of a "deathbed conversion" to Christianity was denied by his daughter, who was actually present at his death.


A bronze memorial roundel, with a life-sized relief bust, was erected in the north choir aisle, near to the grave, in 1888. The money was raised by a number of his friends who formed the Darwin Memorial Fund and many others from the scientific world contributed. The sculptor was Sir J.E. Boehm (who also made a statue of him for the British Museum). The inscription just says simply DARWIN.

Further reading

"The Survival of Charles Darwin" by Ronald Clark, 1985

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004

"In praise of Darwin" by J.D. Pleins, 2014

The Darwin Museum at Down House

On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

The Darwin Memorial Fund papers are at Cambridge University Library


12th February 1809


19th April 1882


26th April 1882


Scientist; writer


Nave; North Choir Aisle

Memorial Type

Grave; bust

Material Type


Photograph of Charles Darwin as an old man
Charles Darwin

Elliott & Fry [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bronze life-sized relief bust of Charles Darwin with inscription 'DARWIN'
Charles Darwin medallion

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

A bunch of flowers placed on Charles Darwin's gravestone in Westminster Abbey
Charles Darwin grave

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster