Sunny Shanklin seems to be getting quite the reputation as a place to retreat to, if the rumours of Johnny Depp ordering a pint in the Fisherman’s bedecked in a low hat and adopting a dodgy English accent are to be believed. Mr Depp is far from the first famous name to visit our idyllic seaside locale. Indeed centuries ago none other than Charles Darwin, a man who changed our understanding of where we came from, stayed for a while in Norfolk House Hotel, better known nowadays as The Waterfront Inn.
The author of ‘On the Origin of Species’ visited Shanklin and stayed a “short time for health sake” as he wrote in one of several letters sent while on holiday between 17 July and 13 August in 1858. Well within season then! Despite the timing, it would appear that the Darwin family were far from your typical holidaymakers. Indeed, they were actually visiting the Island as an escape from Scarlett Fever “which caused the death of our poor dear little youngest child & was very bad in the village.”
So Charles and the family came seeking the curative powers of the sea, a common idea in Victorian society. However, in a letter to his friend J.S. Henslow, dated Aug 4th Darwin laments “As yet the sea has not done much for us.” A little more than a week later he returned home, with his wife and children following
So, what does a Victorian scientist, perhaps the greatest of his generation, get up to while he and his family are convalescing in sunny Shanklin? He works of course. During this time Darwin was considering whether to publish his magnum opus, and it would seem he wrote at least some of the ‘abstract’ for that work while staying in the comfort of Norfolk House. Certainly he kept very busy, remarking in another of at least five letters sent from Shanklin “I have just finished “variation under domestication” in 44 M.S. pages & that would do for one evening.” A clear demonstration of Darwin’s dedication to his life’s work, 44 pages in seemingly one evening, and of course this was all before the advent of a