LIFE AND LETTERS OF CHARLES DARWIN.
THE DARWIN FAMILY.
The earliest records of the family show the Darwins to have been substantial yeomen residing on the northern borders of Lincolnshire, close to Yorkshire. The name is now very unusual in England, but I believe that it is not unknown in the neighbourhood of Sheffield and in Lancashire. Down to the year 1600 we find the name spelt in a variety of ways--Derwent, Darwen, Darwynne, etc. It is possible, therefore, that the family migrated at some unknown date from Yorkshire, Cumberland, or Derbyshire, where Derwent occurs as the name of a river.
The first ancestor of whom we know was one William Darwin, who lived, about the year 1500, at Marton, near Gainsborough. His great grandson, Richard Darwyn, inherited land at Marton and elsewhere, and in his will, dated 1584, "bequeathed the sum of 3s. 4d. towards the settynge up of the Queene's Majestie's armes over the quearie (choir) doore in the parishe churche of Marton." (We owe a knowledge of these earlier members of the family to researches amongst the wills at Lincoln, made by the well-known genealogist, Colonel Chester.)
The son of this Richard, named William Darwin, and described as "gentleman," appears to have been a successful man. Whilst retaining his ancestral land at Marton, he acquired through his wife and by purchase an estate at Cleatham, in the parish of Manton, near Kirton Lindsey, and fixed his residence there. This estate remained in the family down to the year 1760. A cottage with thick walls, some fish-ponds and old trees, now alone show where the "Old Hall" once stood, and a field is still locally known as the "Darwin Charity," from being subject to a charge in favour of the poor of Marton. William Darwin must, at least in part, have owed his rise in station to his appointment in 1613 by James I. to the post of Yeoman of the Royal Armoury of Greenwich. The office appears to have been worth only 33 pounds a year, and the duties were probably almost nominal; he held the post down to his death during the Civil Wars.
The fact that this William was a royal servant may explain why his son, also named William, served when almost a boy for the King, as "Captain- Lieutenant" in Sir William Pelham's troop of horse. On the partial dispersion of the royal armies, and the retreat of the remainder to Scotland, the boy's estates were sequestrated by the Parliament, but they were redeemed on his signing the Solemn League and Covenant, and on his paying a fine which must have struck his finances severely; for in a petition to Charles II. he speaks of his almost utter ruin from having adhered to the royal cause.
During the Commonwealth, William Darwin became a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, and this circumstance probably led to his marriage with the daughter of Erasmus Earle, serjeant-at-law; hence his great-grandson, Erasmus Darwin, the Poet, derived his Christian name. He ultimately became Recorder of the city of Lincoln.
The eldest son of the Recorder, again called William, was born in 1655, and married the heiress of Robert Waring, a member of a good Staffordshire family. This lady inherited from the family of Lassells, or Lascelles, the manor and hall of Elston, near Newark, which has remained ever since in the family. (Captain Lassells, or Lascelles, of Elston was military secretary to Monk, Duke of Albemarle, during the Civil Wars. A large volume of account books, countersigned in many places by Monk, are now in the possession of my cousin Francis Darwin. The accounts might possibly prove of interest to the antiquarian or historian. A portrait of Captain Lassells in armour, although used at one time as an archery-target by some small boys of our name, was not irretrievably ruined.) A portrait of this William Darwin at Elston shows him as a good-looking young man in a full- bottomed wig.
This third William had two sons, William, and Robert who was educated as a barrister. The Cleatham property was left to William, but on the termination of his line in daughters reverted to the younger brother, who had received Elston.