Charles Darwin died on 19 April 1882, at the age of 73. To some it was deplorable that he should have departed an unbeliever, and in the years that followed several stories surfaced that Darwin had undergone a death-bed conversion and renounced evolution. These stories began to be included in sermons as early as May 1882.1 However, the best known is that attributed to a Lady Hope, who claimed she had visited a bedridden Charles at Down House2 in the autumn of 1881. She alleged that when she arrived he was reading the Book of Hebrews, that he became distressed when she mentioned the Genesis account of creation, and that he asked her to come again the next day to speak on the subject of Jesus Christ to a gathering of servants, tenants and neighbours in the garden summer house which, he said, held about 30 people. This story first appeared in print as a 521-word article in the American Baptist journal, the Watchman Examiner,3 and since then has been reprinted in many books, magazines and tracts.

The main problem with all these stories is that they were all denied by members of Darwin’s family. Francis Darwin wrote to Thomas Huxley on 8 February 1887, that a report that Charles had renounced evolution on his deathbed was ‘false and without any kind of foundation’,4 and in 1917 Francis affirmed that he had ‘no reason whatever to believe that he [his father] ever altered his agnostic point of view’.5 Charles’s daughter Henrietta (Litchfield) wrote on page 12 of the London evangelical weekly, The Christian, for 23 February 1922, ‘I was present at his deathbed. Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never even saw her, but in any case she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief. He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier … . The whole story has no foundation whatever’.6 Some have even concluded that there was no Lady Hope.

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