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Historians discover Darwin's finances

WITH someone to polish his shoes, make his bed and stoke the fire in his spacious rooms, Charles Darwin enjoyed the sort of pampered university life that today's debt-laden students can only dream about.

Two hundred years after his birth, academics have uncovered new details of his comfortable existence at the University of Cambridge before he embarked on the gruelling five-year voyage that would transform science's view of the world.

Six leather-bound ledgers unearthed in the university archives reveal how he lived in the most expensive rooms available to a student of his rank from 1828 to 1831.

He hired a battery of staff to help him with the daily chores, including a dishwasher, a laundress and a shoe polisher. A tailor, hatter and barber made sure he was well presented, while a chimney sweep and a coalman kept his fire going.

Darwin scholar Dr John van Wyhe, of the University of Cambridge, said little was known about the scientist's student life before his expenses were found in the mainly hand-written ledgers detailing students' finances.

"It is just wonderful to have a previously unknown insight into what Darwin was up to in this part of his life," he told Reuters.

Darwin's bill topped 636 pounds during his three years of study for a general bachelor of arts degree at Cambridge, a time he would later describe as "the most joyful of my happy life."

That substantial sum would have been fairly typical for a student at Cambridge in the 19th century. The bills were paid by his wealthy father, Robert Darwin, a doctor.

"Cambridge was full of well-to-do gentlemen living a pretty good life," van Wyhe said. "When you look at the books, you see he is just one of a hundred students or whatever. He is well off, but they are all well off."

With so much help and just two hours of mathematics and classics lectures each morning, there was plenty of time for socializing or private study, van Wyhe said.

After leaving Cambridge, Darwin set sail for South America and Australasia where he developed his theories on evolution that would later be published in his seminal book "On the Origin of Species."


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