The key is the Lunar Society of Birmingham, which counted amongst its members Matthew Boulton, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood and Erasmus Darwin. The Lunar nickname was applied because these men met to discuss science, technology and industry when the moon was full – so they could see themselves home.
Now Erasmus Darwin, a medical doctor who wrote screeds of purple poetry and posed questions about evolution, was grandfather to Charles but died before he was born. So we have an obvious two degrees of separation through Erasmus Darwin and his son Robert.
There is also a link through Josiah Wedgwood, who owned a Boulton and Watt engine and collaborated with Boulton in manufacturing jewellery. He was Charles’s maternal grandfather, but he also died before Charles was born. Although he doesn’t help bring our two bicentenarians closer, this link is worth noting as inheriting money from him (on his own account and through his wife, who was a cousin) allowed Darwin the leisure to observe, experiment and theorise.
Portrait medallion, Josiah Wedgwood
Now Josiah’s wife Sarah lived to the age of 81 – and she knew Charles well. As she also knew Boulton, she is the link that gives us just one degree of separation.
It seems that two major anniversaries in one year are not enough for the Lunar Society. Visiting Melbourne recently, I discovered a delightful little exhibition at the National Galley of Victoria marking the 250th anniversary of Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery business. It’s worth visiting just to see the Portland vase, versions of which were owned by both Erasmus and Charles Darwin.
If you are a Wedgwood fan, you can also see some pieces on display in Powerhouse exhibitions: Boulton and Watt (behind the engine), Experimentations (‘chemical attractions’ section) and Inspired! Design across time.