Charles Darwin notebooks ‘stolen’ from Cambridge University – Art & Culture

Two of Charles Darwin’s notebooks containing his pioneering ideas on evolution and his famous “Tree of Life” sketch are missing, believed stolen, the Cambridge University Library said on Tuesday.

The British scientist filled the leather notebooks in 1837 after returning from his voyage on the HMS Beagle. The library said they were worth millions of pounds.

In one book, he drew a diagram showing several possibilities for the evolution of a species and later published a more developed illustration in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species.

The University of Cambridge’s vast library first listed the notebooks as missing in 2001 after they were moved out of the Special Collections Strong Rooms for photography to be carried out there. 

They were long believed to have been incorrectly filed within the building, which contains around 10 million books, maps and manuscripts and has one of the world’s most significant Darwin archives.

However a major search this year — the largest in the library’s history — failed to turn up the notebooks.

“Curators have concluded the notebooks… have likely been stolen,” the library said in a statement.

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It said it had informed local police and the books had been listed on Interpol’s database of stolen artworks, called Psyche.

The University Librarian, Jessica Gardner, released a video statement appealing to the public to help.

“It is deeply regretful to me that these notebooks remain missing despite numerous wide-scale searches over the last 20 years,” she said, adding that the library has since massively improved its security systems.

The librarian suggested that former or current library staff, those working in the book trade or researchers could have information.

“I would ask anyone who thinks they know of the notebooks’ whereabouts to get in touch. Please help,” she said.

The appeal was launched on November 24, known as Evolution Day since it marks the date of the publication of On the Origin of Species.

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Darwin notebooks reported stolen from Cambridge library

Charles Darwin.
Charles Darwin.Library Research

LONDON (AP) — Cambridge University in London launched an appeal Tuesday to find two valuable notebooks written by Charles Darwin after they were reported as stolen from the university’s library.

The notebooks, estimated to be worth millions of pounds, include the 19th-century scientist’s famous “Tree of Life” sketch. They haven’t been seen since 2000, and for years staff at the library believed that the manuscripts had probably been misplaced in the vast archives.

But after doing a thorough search, library staff now conclude it’s likely that the notebooks were stolen. Police are now investigating and Interpol has also been notified.

“My predecessors genuinely believed that what had happened was that these had been mis-shelved or misfiled,” said Jessica Gardner, university librarian and director of library services. “Now we have completely reviewed as a new team what happened and come to a conclusion that that’s not a sufficient position or set of actions to take.”

Staff recently searched through 189 boxes making up the Darwin Archive, but failed to locate the notebooks.

Cambridge University Library has more than 130 miles of shelving and has around 10 million books, maps, manuscripts and other objects.

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Charles Darwin Notebooks ‘Stolen’ From Cambridge University

Two of Charles Darwin’s notebooks containing his pioneering ideas on evolution and his famous “Tree of Life” sketch are missing, believed stolen, the Cambridge University Library said on Tuesday.

The British scientist filled the leather notebooks in 1837 after returning from his voyage on the HMS Beagle. The library said they were worth millions of pounds.

In one book, he drew a diagram showing several possibilities for the evolution of a species and later published a more developed illustration in his 1859 book “On the Origin of Species”.

The University of Cambridge’s vast library first listed the notebooks as missing in 2001 after they were moved out of the Special Collections Strong Rooms for photography to be carried out there.

They were long believed to have been incorrectly filed within the building, which contains around 10 million books, maps and manuscripts and has one of the world’s most significant Darwin archives.

However a major search this year — the largest in the library’s history — failed to turn up the notebooks.

The appeal was launched on November 24, known as Evolution Day since it marks the date of the publication of 'On the Origin of Species' The appeal was launched on November 24, known as Evolution Day since it marks the date of the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’ Photo: AFP / SHAUN CURRY

“Curators have concluded the notebooks… have likely been stolen,” the library said in a statement.

It said it had informed local police and the books had been listed on Interpol’s database of stolen artworks, called Psyche.

The University Librarian, Jessica Gardner, released a video statement appealing to the public to help.

“It is deeply regretful to me that these notebooks remain missing despite numerous wide-scale searches over the last 20 years,” she said, adding that the library has since massively improved its security systems.

The librarian suggested that former or current library staff, those working in the book trade or researchers could have information.

“I would ask anyone who thinks they know of the notebooks’ whereabouts to get in touch. Please help,” she said.

The appeal was launched on November 24, known as Evolution Day since it marks the date of the publication of “On the Origin of Species”.

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Charles Darwin notebooks reported stolen from Cambridge

Two of Charles Darwin’s notebooks, believed to be worth millions of dollars, have been reported stolen from the library of Cambridge University, which launched an appeal Tuesday for their return.

The notebooks contain the 19th-century scientist’s famous “Tree of Life” sketch, a graphic representation of the theory of evolution.

The notebooks haven’t been seen since 2000, but staff at the library believed for years that they had probably been misplaced in Cambridge’s vast archives. After a thorough search, however, the library has concluded that the notebooks were likely stolen.

British police are now investigating and Interpol has been notified.

“My predecessors genuinely believed that what had happened was that these had been mis-shelved or misfiled,” said Jessica Gardner, university librarian and director of library services. “Now we have completely reviewed as a new team what happened and come to a conclusion that that’s not a sufficient position or set of actions to take.”

Staff recently searched through 189 boxes making up the Darwin Archive, but failed to locate the notebooks.

Cambridge University Library has more than 130 miles of shelving and has about 10 million books, maps, manuscripts and other objects.

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Precious Darwin notebooks reported stolen from university library

Charles Darwin (Cambridge University Library/PA)

Two Charles Darwin manuscripts have been reported as stolen from Cambridge University Library two decades after they were last seen.

Staff believed that the precious items had been “mis-shelved” within the vast archives late in the year 2000 and the matter was not reported to Cambridgeshire Police until October 20 this year.



The force said it has launched an investigation and notified Interpol.

It is difficult to estimate the value of the notebooks given their unique nature but it would probably run into many millions of pounds, the library said.

Charles Darwin’s seminal 1837 ‘Tree of Life’ sketch has been reported as stolen from Cambridge University Library (Cambridge University Library/ PA)
Charles Darwin’s seminal 1837 Tree of Life sketch has been reported as stolen from Cambridge University Library (Cambridge University Library/PA)

The two notebooks, including Darwin’s seminal 1837 Tree of Life sketch, were removed from storage to be photographed at the library’s photographic unit, where the work was recorded as completed in November 2000.

During a subsequent routine check in January 2001 it was found that the small blue box containing the notebooks had not been returned to its proper place.

Dr Jessica Gardner, university librarian and director of library services since 2017, said: “My predecessors genuinely believed that what had happened was that these had been mis-shelved or misfiled and they took forward extensive searches over the years in that genuine belief.

“Now we have completely reviewed as a new team what happened and come to a conclusion that that’s not a sufficient position or set of actions to take.”

She said that “extensive building work” was taking place at the library at the time that the items were found to be missing.

There have been continuous searches since the notebooks went missing, she said, and it is now thought “likely that theft occurred”.

The two missing notebooks were kept in a small blue box around the size of an average paperback book. (Cambridge University Library/ PA)
The two missing notebooks were kept in a small blue box around the size of an average paperback book (Cambridge University Library/PA)

Dr Gardner reported the matter to police.

An appeal for information has been launched on the advice of external experts, including at the Metropolitan Police’s arts and antique specialist crime unit, Dr Gardner said.

She said there are currently no leads.

Dr Mark Purcell, deputy director of Research Collections, said he is confident the manuscripts could not be sold on the open market and it is possible they have “gone to ground”.

He said he hoped for a similar outcome to that of London’s Lambeth Palace, where items were stolen after bombing during the Second World War.

“Forty-plus years later, quite literally as the consequence of a deathbed crisis of conscience, those items came to light and were returned to Lambeth and I think that’s the sort of outcome which we and all institutions of this kind would clearly wish to hope for,” he said.

It was thought for years that the Darwin notebooks had been mis-shelved in the vast archives at Cambridge University Library, before they were reported as stolen. (Cambridge University Library/ PA)
It was thought for years that the Darwin notebooks had been mis-shelved in the vast archives at Cambridge University Library, before they were reported as stolen (Cambridge University Library/PA)

Cambridge University Library has more than 210km (130 miles) of shelving and is home to

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