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Charles Darwin

In 1843 some agricultural workers were digging in a field at Eastlow hill when their spades went through the roof of an underground open space which turned out to be a Roman Burial Chamber.

The Reverend John Stevens Henslow was the rector at Hitcham as well as chair of Botany at Cambridge University. He was a man fascinated by all things natural, mineral or historical. He instigated an archaeological dig at the site and found four tumuli, one containing a lead coffin and the other three cremation urns. His initial description of these as 3rd/4th century AD graves is now considered a bit late — they were probably early 2nd century AD and probably linked to the Roman villa found nearby.

Reverend Henslow also encouraged a local phosphate industry in Suffolk when he discovered coprolites in various areas around Suffolk. Coprolites are fossilised poo!

But where, you ask, does Charles Darwin come into all this? He was a pupil of Reverend Henslow at Cambridge and closely monitored by him. Charles Darwin had begun studying medicine at Edinburgh University, but neglected his studies because Natural Sciences were of more interest to him. Eventually he persuaded his Father to let him change his area of study and he was sent to Cambridge to study and become an Anglican priest. Here he soon met Reverend Henslow as the two had so many interests in common. Reverend Henslow nurtured his pupil’s interest and Charles did well in his exams as a result.

In 1831 the HMS Beagle was preparing for a two year voyage to survey South America and Henslow was offered he position of naturalist on board. He was not interested in leaving England, his work and his family though he was very interested in what might be discovered. So he wrote to Charles Darwin and offered him the position. Darwin senior was horrified but was persuaded to let his son go by his brother-in-law Josiah Wedgwood (yes the Josiah Wedgewood the potter) and the voyage went on for five years.

For the duration of the voyage Charles Darwin collected and labelled specimens of flora and fauna in the way Henslow had shown him, and for the rest of his life he corresponded very regularly with his old mentor, teacher and friend.

Maybe Reverend Henslow had a letter while he was here in Rougham? Maybe even a visit? We did say the link was tenuous.