CFHS code : AS89

Parish : All Saints

Inscription : EDWARD HAMILTON ACTON Fellow and Lecturer of St Johns College b November 26th 1862 d February 15th 1895

Monument : Coped stone

Above information from Cambridge Family History Society Survey

Hamilton grave
Hamilton monument


This marble coped stone, in the parish area of All Saints, is located to the west side of the western path just as the path curves east and before it turns sharply north. The monument is situated close to the north boundary wall behind Norfolk Terrace. It is only a few feet away from the monument to another St John’s College fellow, Benjamin Hall Kennedy.


‛Edward Hamilton Acton Fellow and Lecturer of St Johns College
born November 26th 1862 died February 15th 1895’

Edward Hamilton Acton (1862‒95)

Edward was born in Wrexham, Denbighshire, Wales on 26 November 1862, the son of Thomas Bennion Acton (c.1831‒92), solicitor, and his wife Isabella (c.1835‒).  Edward had two brothers, Thomas Arthur (1861‒1925) and Herbert William (1866‒97). In 1871 the family was living at 11 Grove Close (or Road), Wrexham, with two servants.

Edward was educated at Wrexham Grammar School, then entered Rugby School (Warwickshire) in 1877, aged 14, boarding at Green’s House. He left Rugby in 1881 for Cambridge University, where he was awarded a scholarship by St John’s College.  He gained a First in Natural Sciences in 1885, and was made a Fellow and Lecturer of his College.  By 1891 Acton owned a yacht, “Wild Duck”, moored on the River Ouse at Ely in Cambridgeshire, and on the day of the 1891 census he was on board with a passenger, Albert C Steward (c.1864‒), each recorded as “teacher in Cambs University”.

With Francis Darwin (1848‒1925: son of Charles Darwin, Fellow of Christ’s College and Reader in Botany) he co-wrote the Practical Physiology of Plants (Cambridge University Press, 1894), a 360-page manual for students in performing botanical laboratory experiments.  In his Preface to the 1895 edition Darwin wrote the following of Acton: “Edward Hamilton Acton died in the early part of the present year. This is not the place to speak of what we, his friends, have lost by his death, nor of his promising career as a man of science”. He goes on to say that the second half of the book, Part II, “Chemistry of Metabolism”, is entirely Acton’s work.

Edward died suddenly while sitting in the rooms of a colleague in College, aged 33, on 15 February 1895; the circumstances were unusual enough for an inquest to be held on 18 February, but the death certificate attributed death to “heart failure due to heart disease”. (See Acton obituary.) His burial service was held in the College chapel on 19 February 1895, after which he was brought to Mill Road Cemetery, where he was buried. He died without having made a will; his effects amounted to £6,344 10s 8d, all of which went to his older brother, Thomas Arthur Acton, who by then was a solicitor in Wrexham (his younger brother, Herbert William, was by then in a mental asylum, and was to die two years later).

England & Wales census 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891
England & Wales National Probate Calendar
Communication from the Archivist of Rugby School (26 May 2016)
Francis Darwin and Edward Hamilton Acton, Practical Physiology of Plants (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd edn 1895), pp. v‒vi
The Wrexham Advertiser, 23 February 1895, p. 5

By Christine Lyttleton and Ian Bent

Edward Hamilton Acton