Index

Darwinism and the Beddome / Charlesworth families


In 1858, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace published a joint paper on evolution, and in 1859, Darwin published his famous book, "On the Origin of Species". In 1860, there was a famous debate in Oxford on evolution, where Bishop Samuel Wilberforce opposed Thomas Henry Huxley, the supporter of Darwin.

In 1881, Maria Charlesworth (née Beddome) died. In 1882, her husband, Rev. Samuel Charlesworth published Memorials of a Blessed Life about Maria. This ends with a serman he preached at Limehouse after she died. He was leaving the parish, and while he talks of his wife, he ends the sermon with a strong warning against "men who are proclaiming to the world another Gospel than that of the Bible". He goes on to say:

The most to be dreaded of such unwise builders is the scientific rationalist, who lays his foundation on human knowledge from observation and experience. Demonstration is to them the only test of truth. From such teaching spring Atheism, Deism, and Rationalism, the various forms of infidelity which utterly ignore the miracles of the Bible, the work and person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the influence of the Holy Spirit. On the lips of such teachers a universal benevolence is substituted for a divine, discriminating love, and a material or physical evolution and natural adaptation of things for creative power, wisdom, and design.

This is an obvious attack against Darwinism. He seems almost aggressive on the issue, since he places it above the evils of "Romish doctrine and ritual", "ritual eccentricities or musical extravagances", and "unsettling, unwise extravagances of evangelistic teachers (so called) who substitute excitement for sober truth and sound doctrine, and sentimental enthusiasm for practical godliness and faith". The last lead to a complete break with his youngest daughter Maud, and yet here he is thinking that Darwinism is an even more important enemy.

The Charlesworth family knew Bishop Wilberforce. Samuel's father, John Charlesworth, worked with the bishop's father, William Wilberforce, against the slace trade. In Maud Charlesworth's book, "A Rector's daughter in Victorian England", she says:

Great churchmen like Bishop Wilberforce took an interest in [my mother's] work. On one of Bishop Wilberforce's visits to our home, he gave a temperance talk to the parish, and Florrie amd I both signed the pledge. I think I was eight and she was eleven.


Col. Richard Henry Beddome was a notable botanist whose work is respected even today. He collected and described many species, specialising in ferns, molluscs and snakes but not restricted to them. In 1883, he attended a meeting of the Linnean Society, where a postumous paper by Darwin was being discussed. He is not reported as speaking at the meeting, but those who did speak included Huxley and Wallace, and the comments and criticisms are based round scientific points, as everyone is agreed on their admiration of Darwin, and their acceptance of the principles of evolution. This is likely to be true of Colonel Beddome as well, as he was not just a collector but published books and papers on his area of expertise, not only during his work as Conservator of Southern India's forests, but after his retirement in 1882, and right up to his death.


Samuel Charlesworth and Richard Henry Beddome certainly knew each other. They were not only brothers-in-law, they were cousins as well, with a common grandfather in Samuel Beddome. Samuel Charlesworth had originally intended to be a lawyer, and went into the law office of his uncle Richard Beddome. He changed his mind and decided to enter the ministry instead. Richard Henry Beddome also studied for the legal professsion, but "could not get interested in it, and preferring a life abroad, entered the Army in the Hon. East India Company's service." as one of his obituaries says. I don't know whether Richard Henry Beddome worked in his father's office, and he was ten years younger than Samel Charlesworth, so it would not have happened at the same time. Still, it is obvious that the Charlesworths and Beddomes were familiar with each other.

They must have worked together as well. In 1882, Richard Beddome died, the father of one of them, and the father-in-law and uncle of the other. The Probate of Richard Beddome names the "the surviving executors" as "Richard Henry Beddome... the Reverend Samuel Beddome Charlesworth... and Martha Ann Beddome. Martha Ann Beddome was a daughter of Richard Beddome, and Samuel Charlesworth was representing his wife, another daughter, who had already died. Col. Beddome and Rev. Charlesworth must have been involved in getting the Probate through, and Col. Beddome retired when his father died (presumably because he inherited money from him), and returned from India to live in Clapham, London. There may have been money trouble between them - see Will of Richard Boswell Beddome and Probates connected with Richard Beddome.

It is obvious that Col. Beddome and Rev. Charlesworth held opposing views on the subject of evolution. It is tempting to think that they knew of each other's views, and possibly discussed them. It is even possible that while working on this probate, there had been a flaming row between them on the subject, and this sparked the agressive anti-Darwin comments in Rev. Charlesworth's sermon. The Linnean Society meeting happened the year after, so it could not have been a cause of the row, although perhaps there is a hint of defiance on Col. Beddome's part! Or maybe he just didn't care. This is story-telling, but at least we can say that two men, close in age, closely related, with a similar education, have completely opposed views on this important subject. For all their closeness, they are divided, as one chose science and one chose religion.