John Edmonstone

Hit the play button if you would prefer to listen.

At Adeptales, we like to shed light on hidden Black heroes.

Here we learn about a formerly enslaved man who went on to mentor Charles Darwin.


John Edmonstone was born on a plantation in Guyana.

This was owned by Scottish politician named Charles Edmonstone. 

Enslaved people took the last name of the plantation owners.

Charles Edmonstone often had visitors over, and his future son in law Charles Waterton came to stay.

Charles Waterton was an expert in natural history, he would collect and preserve animals to be studied. Through his work, he developed a new way to preserve bird skins.

John Edmonstone was assigned to work with Waterton to assist him in Guyana.

Waterton taught John how to preserve animals and took to learning with ease.


In 1817, Charles Edmonstone returned to Scotland and brought John with him, as a result, John became a free man.

Coincidentally John moved to 37 Lothian Street which just happened to be a few doors down from 16-year-old Charles Darwin.

John earned a living by working in the zoological department at the University of Edinburgh.

Charles Darwin recently moved to Edinburgh to study medicine in 1825, however, he didn’t enjoy it.

A lot of operations happened WITHOUT anesthesia during that time so I don’t blame him.

Darwin realised he was more passionate about natural history and attended classes.

As they were neighbours; Darwin approached Edmonstone to teach him about taxidermy for one hour per day.

This amounted to 40 lessons in total.

“He gave me lessons for payment, and I used often to sit with him, for he was a very pleasant and intelligent man.” Darwin wrote in his autobiography.

Not much is written about John after that, unfortunately. 

A blue plaque that was unveiled in John’s name sadly disappeared.

Are there more John Edmonstone’s out there that we don’t know of?

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