William Erasmus Darwin, born in 1839, was the eldest son of the great naturalist Charles Darwin. Unlike Darwin’s other sons, all of whom followed in their father’s scientific footsteps, William Erasmus chose a career in banking. He came to Southampton in c.1863 setting up in partnership with established local banker George Atherley.

For the next thirty years he was involved in various banking firms within the town. He also played an active role in local politics and the cultural affairs of the town. He represented Millbrook and North Stoneham on Hampshire County Council. He was a governor of Taunton’s and King Edwards Schools and took a keen interest in the Hartley Institution, becoming a member of its ruling council in 1872, a post he held for 41 years. He made a major contribution to the development of the Institution into a university college in the early years of the 20th century, and contributed funds to its buildings.

In the 1871 census he is living at Ashton Lodge in North Stoneham. By 1881 he has moved with his wife to Ridgemount, a large villa off the west side of Bassett Avenue, now demolished but recalled by Ridgemount Avenue. Darwin moved to London after the death of his wife in 1902 but maintained close links with the university college. He died in 1914. Darwin Road in Shirley was named after him.

William Erasmus Darwin

Image Unavailable

Portrait of a man by Leonard Daniels, identified as Darwin by H Spooner in A History of Taunton’s School, Southampton, 1760-1967, facing page 37.

Newspaper clippings (available online or accessible through the Local Studies Library):

Death of Mr. W.E. Darwin, J.P. - (Hampshire Advertiser 12/09/1914)
Article about proposed demolition of Ridgemount stable block (Southern Daily Echo 13/12/2010). Describes Charles Darwin's connexion with the building and the local opposition to knocking it down to build a care home on the site.

Further reading:

Stories of Southampton Streets, by A. G. K. Leonard, p35-38. (HS/h)


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