DEAD: ON THIS DATE
Charles Darwin (aged 73)
British naturalist, author of “On the origin of species, by means of natural selection”
Charles Robert Darwin, (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. His proposition that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors is now widely accepted, and considered a foundational concept in science. In a joint publication with Alfred Russel Wallace, he introduced his scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection, in which the struggle for existence has a similar effect to the artificial selection involved in selective breeding.
DEATH: In 1882 he was diagnosed with what was called “angina pectoris” which then meant coronary thrombosis and disease of the heart. At the time of his death, the physicians diagnosed “anginal attacks”, and “heart-failure”. Today it is speculated that Darwin was suffering from chronic Chagas disease. This speculation is based on a journal entry written by Darwin, describing he was bitten by the “Kissing Bug” in Mendoza, Argentina, in 1835; and based on the constellation of clinical symptoms he exhibited, including cardiac disease which is a hallmark of chronic Chagas disease.Exhuming Darwin’s body is likely necessary to definitively determine his state of infection by detecting DNA of infecting parasite, T. cruzi, that causes Chagas disease.
He died at Down House on 19 April 1882. His last words were to his family, telling Emma “I am not the least afraid of death—Remember what a good wife you have been to me—Tell all my children to remember how good they have been to me”, then while she rested, he repeatedly told Henrietta and Francis “It’s almost worth while to be sick to be nursed by you”. He had expected to be buried in St Mary’s churchyard at Downe, but at the request of Darwin’s colleagues, after public and parliamentary petitioning, William Spottiswoode (President of the Royal Society) arranged for Darwin to be honoured by burial in Westminster Abbey, close to John Herscheland Isaac Newton. The funeral was held on Wednesday 26 April and was attended by thousands of people, including family, friends, scientists, philosophers and dignitaries.