Erasmus Darwin was Charles Darwin’s grandfather. He was a highly respected physician who lived and worked in Lichfield, Staffordshire. He was also an inventor, critically acclaimed poet and dedicated scientist, with interests in geology, physics, chemistry, meteorology, botany and all other aspects of biology. He began developing ideas about biological evolution that his grandson would then build on in his theory of biological evolution by means of natural selection.
Erasmus Darwin House is an independent, privately run museum supported by the Erasmus Darwin Foundation. The museum is in the former home and medical practice of Erasmus Darwin on Beacon Street in Lichfield and explores his life and work in science, geology and biology.
The museum has several natural history objects and geological specimens on display in a room set out as Erasmus Darwin’s Study. Fossils, corals, shells and pinned insects are displayed on tables, in cabinets and mounted on the walls, as if providing inspiration and a talking point for discussions between Erasmus Darwin and his contemporaries, such as Matthew Boulton and Josiah Wedgwood. These include six fossils on loan from the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent (PMAG), and several other fossils, shells and exotic insects from the UK and abroad. Although most of these were collected very recently, they are similar to those that might have been brought to England in the eighteenth century as explorers and naturalists travelled the world making new discoveries.
The museum also has several fossils and some minerals stored in the library on site. These were mostly brought in by a volunteer and are used as a handling collection. A box of fossils and corals was also donated to the museum by Councillor Gwyneth Boyle.
Exciting objects on display include a mammoth tooth, large corals and displays of exotic butterflies. Erasmus Darwin’s interest in shells is also reflected in the variety of material in cabinets in the exhibition room. Shells inspired Erasmus Darwin’s coat of arms and motto “E conchis omnia”, or “everything from shells”.
The museum opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11 to 5.00pm. Last admission to the House is at 4.15pm. Admission is £3 for adults, £2 concessions, £1 for children and £6 for a family.
There’s a handling collection of fossils and rocks which are used for educational events and are viewable by appointment.
In March 2012, Holly Sievwright, assistant collections officer at PMAG, helped staff at Erasmus Darwin House to repack and curate the collections of fossils, rocks and minerals in store that are used as a handling collection.
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