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Darwin's Home: a Down House Archive

Darwin's Home: a Down House Archive by BUCKSTON BROWNE, George [Charles Darwin] (1929)

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Author: BUCKSTON BROWNE, George [Charles Darwin]
Title: Darwin's Home: a Down House Archive
Year: 1929
Publisher: Unpublished
Place: Down House, Downe
Dust Jacket: No
Signed: Yes
Price: £2950
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Added under Manuscripts  

Manuscript Inventory or Guide to Down House written by its owner, George Buckston Browne, together with letters, photographs and ephemera from the late 1920's about the fanatical Darwinist's purchase, restoration, and finally presentation of his idol's home to the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Buckston Browne's correspondent in these letters is his friend, fellow surgeon and keen eugenicist, Percival Macleod Yearsley. Their correspondence was prompted by the publicity surrounding Buckston Browne's gift to the British Association and, in particular, the celebratory Garden Party held in June 1929 'on the occasion of the opening of Down House, the Home of Darwin recently presented to the Association by Mr. Buckston Browne, F.R.C.S. in custody for the Nation' (see Yearsley's printed invitation to the Garden Party).

Running through the collection is a strand of near-religious veneration for Darwin and his possessions with Buckston Browne promising his friend that he will 'collect all the Darwiniana possible', make plans for an annual 'pilgrimage' and rename Darwin's study 'The Sacred Room'. The archive is loosely housed in a 1930's spring back folder with 'Down House' inked by Yearsley on the spine label.


Manuscript Inventory/ Guide written by George Buckston Browne, ff6, stapled small octavo sheets, undated. An ex tempore, personalised guide to Down House sent to Macleod Yearsley by Buckston Browne, perhaps to enhance his friend's enjoyment in visiting Darwin's home, presumably some time after the 1929 Garden Party, possibly in relation to the 'annual pilgrimage' to Down House mooted between the two men in their letters.

Buckston Browne's Inventory/ Guide is written in black ink in his firm cursive hand; the text complements but does not replicate the printed guides of the period and slightly later (see below) which suggests that this list was tailored to his friend's particular interests. In the manuscript Buckston Browne moves from room to room in Down House picking out salient details and items of note.

In the most pointed of Buckston Browne's religious allusions in this document he describes The Old Study as 'The Sacred Room.. where the Origin of Species was written. The actual Chair. Writing board. Table... Basket - in which a dog - always lay at Darwin's feet. He loved all animals. He hated cruelty. All animals loved him. Anti-vivisectors, please note.'

Beginning his tour in the Entrance Hall and continuing into the Central Hall, BB determines to stress the authenticity of his visitor's experience: 'Darwin's actual Snuff jars. He kept them here - to make the obtaining of a pinch difficult.' and of course Buckston Browne's own personal generosity: 'Central case (my gift)...' and 'Portraits of Darwin & Huxley - painted by the Hon. John Collier (commissioned by G.B.B.)'


9 Autograph Letters, printed invitation, 1 Notecard with accompanying pictorial postcard contained in an envelope, 1929-1935

George Buckston Browne's letters to Macleod Yearsley date from the months immediately after his formal transfer of ownership of Down House in January of 1929 when he co-hosted with the British Association his great Garden Party there. In the first letter of 8 May, 1929, BB hopes that Yearsley has received his invitation 'to the afternoon party at Down'. In fact Yearsley received his bifolium printed invitation from the British Association on the same day as this letter and subsequently pinned the two together. The printed invitation is accomplished in ink with Yearsley's name at the tail of the first page; he has written in his hand 'accptd' at the head of the page. The invitation includes a prospectus for the Garden Party which promises William Bragg in 'The Chair' and provides visitors with a sketch map to help with directions.

In a second letter written the same day BB responds to his friend's request (not present) to bring his son to the Garden Party: 'Of course bring your dear boy. I have lost wife, son & grandson [Lt. Col. George Buckston Browne in 1919 from wounds received in the Great War and his grandson from typhus in South Africa in 1925]... In the hall at Down I am hanging portraits of my son who fell in his country's service...' Throughout letters - as in the inventory - Buckston Browne emphasises to his friend the authenticity of Down House restored, promising him sight of 'the very chair, & the boards on which, "The Origin of Species" was written...'

Writing after the Garden Party BB responds to a letter from Yearsley praising his efforts on behalf of Darwin (not present) by observing that 'Down House has meant very much hard work for me - in my old age - but I am thankful to have seen it thro! I have done the whole thing "off my own bat" - as I set out to do' though acknowledging the impact of his devotion: 'The whole last 6 months work over the house has rather played me out...' In subsequent letters BB reflects on the favourable press coverage of the event, in particular Yearsley's own 'article on Down House in the "Lit Guide" and plans for an 'annual pilgrimage to Down House'. The final notecard from 1935 accompanies a postcard of a new acquisition for his beloved Down House - Darwin's 'Hats in the Vict. & Albert. now at Down House'.


'A General view in the Garden of Down House, during the ceremony' (24x20cm) Photograph stamped to verso by the 'Keystone View Company' showing the assembled crowd at Down House on 9 June annotated recto and verso by Yearsley with red ink to the image and an annotated sketch to the verso picking out himself, his wife and three named friends. Accompanying the photo, autograph letter from Keystone View Company providing the image's details in order to allow an order to be placed.

George Buckston Browne in Darwin's Study at his desk with book-filled shelves behind, c1935, 8x5cm snapshot showing the Down House curator in very old age working at Darwin's desk

Down House front elevation, undated, but heavily ivied main bay, 8x5cm colour transparency with a single male figure standing in front - probably Buckston Browne


'Down House', Glasgow, 1928, British Association, Spottiswoode, Ballantine, pp8. Offprint announcing Buckston Browne's transfer of Down House to the British Association, with map of the grounds and plan of the house.

'Down House: Here Darwin Thought and Worked for Forty Years and Died, 1882', British Association, June 1929, George Pulman and Sons Ltd, pp 16. Illustrated pamphlet, sewn, with a vintage photograph laid down on the verso of the cover: 'Down Village, 7 Sept 1935.'

'Darwin Remembered by Professor Sir Arthur Keith, F.R.S.' , Watts & Co, pp 8 Offprint from The Rationalist Annual 1930

'Darwin (1809-1882)', broadside offprint 'from the Cambridge University Medical Society Magazine, Michaelmas Term issue, 1929', includes a eulogistic 'sonnet.. dedicated by courteous permission, to George Buckston Browne...' BB has corrected the date of the handover of Down House.

British Association for the Advancement of Science Down House (At Downe, Farnborough, Kent), stamped '7 Sep 1935' Price 6d. Small format popular guide to Down bound in orange wrappers

British Association for the Advancement of Science Down House Addenda to the Catalogue (April 1934) pp 6. Foldout list of recent acquisitions and arrivals at Down House, no doubt at the behest of Buckston Browne.

'Weeded Darwin's Garden' 1939 Evening Standard article about Down, laid down on card. , half-tone photographs to verso.
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