George Darwin

Sir George Howard Darwin
George Howard Darwin

(1845-07-09)9 July 1845
Down House, Downe, Kent, England
Died7 December 1912(1912-12-07) (aged 67)
Cambridge, England
Alma materSt John's College, Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge
(m. 1884)
Children5, including Gwen and Charles
Parent(s)Charles Darwin
Emma Wedgwood
AwardsSmith's Prize (1868)
Royal Medal (1884)
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1892)
Copley Medal (1911)
Scientific career
FieldsAstronomy and mathematics
Academic advisorsEdward John Routh
Notable studentsErnest William Brown
E. T. Whittaker

Sir George Howard Darwin, KCB FRS FRSE (9 July 1845 – 7 December 1912)[1] was an English barrister and astronomer, the second son and fifth child of Charles Darwin and Emma Darwin.


George H. Darwin was born at Down House, Kent, the fifth child of biologist Charles Darwin and Emma Darwin.

From the age of 11 he studied under Charles Pritchard at Clapham Grammar School, and entered St John's College, Cambridge, in 1863, though he soon moved to Trinity College,[2] where his tutor was Edward John Routh. He graduated as second wrangler in 1868, when he was also placed second for the Smith's Prize and was appointed to a college fellowship. He earned his M.A. in 1871.[2] He was admitted to the bar in 1872, but returned to science.[2] George Darwin conducted studies into the prevalence and health outcomes of contemporary first-cousin marriages (such as his parents’) in Great Britain. His father Charles had become concerned after the death of three of his children, including his favourite daughter, Annie, from tuberculosis in 1851, that his and Emma's union may have been a mistake from a biological perspective. He was reassured by George's results.[3]

Darwinian mechanics

Although George Darwin was the son of the famous biologist, Charles Darwin, rather than moving predominantly into the field of biology like his father, George instead kept his focus on geology. Subsequently, his efforts within geology caused him to stumble onto many seemingly radical ideas, some of which were related to the notion that preserved within the physical structure of the planet was the mechanical energy (or the collective inertial motion), which may have allowed an ancient rapidly spinning Earth to somehow expel a piece of its mass, and it was this expelled mass which later congealed to create the natural satellite that was now in orbit around the Earth. So, before the Apollo mission and the rise to prominence of the relativistic notion that the origin of the Moon was due in part to collisions within a very active protoplanetary disk, there was a radically different depiction of lunar and planetary evolution, which was proposed by George Darwin, in 1879, called the Fission Theory.[4][5]

In 1879, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and won their Royal Medal in 1884 and their Copley Medal in 1911.[6] He delivered their Bakerian Lecture in 1891 on the subject of "tidal prediction".

In 1883 Darwin became Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He studied tidal forces involving the Sun, Moon, and Earth, and formulated the fission theory of Moon formation.[7]

Darwin was a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and won the Gold Medal of the RAS in 1892. He was elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society in 1898.[8][9] From 1899–1901 he served as President of the RAS. He was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1904.[10] The RAS founded a prize lectureship in 1984 and named it the George Darwin Lectureship in Darwin's honour.

He was an invited speaker in the International Congress of Mathematicians 1908, Rome on the topic of "Mechanics, Physical Mathematics, Astronomy."[11] As President of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, he also gave the Introductory Address to the Congress in 1912 on the character of pure and applied mathematics.[12]

He received the degree of Doctor mathematicae (honoris causa) from the Royal Frederick University on 6 September 1902, when they celebrated the centennial of the birth of mathematician Niels Henrik Abel.[13][14] Darwin crater on Mars is named after him.[15]


Darwin married Martha (Maud) du Puy, the daughter of Charles du Puy of Philadelphia, in 1884; his wife was a member of the Ladies Dining Society in Cambridge, with 11 other members.

She died on 6 February 1947. They had three sons and two daughters:

George and Maud Darwin bought Newnham Grange, Cambridge in 1885. The Darwins extensively remodelled the house. Since 1962 the Grange has been part of Darwin College, Cambridge.

He is buried in Trumpington Extension Cemetery in Cambridge with his son Leonard and his daughter Gwen (Raverat), his wife Lady Maud Darwin was cremated at Cambridge Crematorium; his brothers Sir Francis Darwin and Sir Horace Darwin and their respective wives are interred in the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground.




  1. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: DEC 1912 3b 552 CAMBRIDGE – George H. Darwin, aged 67
  2. ^ a b c "Darwin, George Howard (DRWN863GH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ George H Darwin. Marriages between first cousins in England and their effects. International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 38, Issue 6, 1 December 2009, Pages 1429–1439, 19 November 2009
  4. ^ Sir George Darwin
  5. ^ Wise, D. U. (1966). "Origin of the Moon by Fission". In Marsden, B. G.; Cameron, A. G. W. (eds.). The Earth-Moon System. Boston, MA: Springer. pp. 213–223. doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-8401-4_14. ISBN 978-1-4684-8403-8.
  6. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 29 December 2010.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Sir George Darwin
  8. ^ "George Howard Darwin". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. 9 February 2023. Retrieved 13 February 2024.
  9. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 13 February 2024.
  10. ^ "George Darwin". Retrieved 13 February 2024.
  11. ^ "ICM Plenary and Invited Speakers since 1897". International Congress of Mathematicians. Archived from the original on 8 November 2017. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  12. ^ Hobson, E. B.; Love, A. E. H., eds. (1913). Proceedings of the Fifth International Congress of Mathematicians (Cambridge, 22-28 August 1912). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 33–36.
  13. ^ "Foreign degrees for British men of Science". The Times. No. 36867. London. 8 September 1902. p. 4.
  14. ^ "Honorary doctorates from the University of Oslo 1902-1910". (in Norwegian)
  15. ^ de Vaucouleurs, G.; et al. (September 1975). "The new Martian nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union". Icarus. 26 (1): 85–98. Bibcode:1975Icar...26...85D. doi:10.1016/0019-1035(75)90146-3.
  16. ^ a b Brown, Ernest W. (1909). "Review: Scientific Papers, by George Howard Darwin". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 16 (2): 73–78. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1909-01862-2.
  17. ^ Buckingham, James Silk; Sterling, John; Maurice, Frederick Denison; Stebbing, Henry; Dilke, Charles Wentworth; Hervey, Thomas Kibble; Dixon, William Hepworth; MacColl, Norman; Rendall, Vernon Horace; Murry, John Middleton (28 March 1908). "Review: Scientific Papers. Vol. I by Sir George Howard Darwin". The Athenaeum (4196): 386.