Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd, based on an original photograph by Leonard Darwin
Taken 1874. United Kingdom (Woodall / Wellcome Collection)
On April 19th 1882, Charles Darwin, aged 73, would die of heart failure at his home in Kent, England. The celebrated scientist and author of On the Origins of Species suffered from long bouts of illness in adult life; something, he wrote, “has annihilated several years of my life, has saved me from the distractions of society and amusement.” Darwin’s mystery illness remained undiagnosed, though modern speculation suggests that Darwin was infected with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, transmitted by a Kissing Bug (Triatominae) during an expedition in Argentina in the 1830s. Also known as the Vampire Bug for the manner in which they feed around people’s mouths, transmission of T.cruzi may have led to Chagas Disease. Left untreated, the disease would lead to heart failure.
A recent conference in 2018 suggested that Darwin suffered from multiple ailments including Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome as well as infection by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. Whatever the truth, Darwin documented his own symptoms in detail:
“For 25 years extreme spasmodic daily & nightly flatulence: occasional vomiting, on two occasions prolonged during months. Vomiting preceded by shivering, hysterical crying, dying sensations or half-faint. & copious very pallid urine. Now vomiting & every paroxys[m] of flatulence preceded by singing of ears, rocking, treading on air & vision. focus & black dots – All fatigues, specially reading, brings on these Head symptoms.
Original caption reads,
"Darwin photo by Leonard from Woodall 1884."