Darwin notebooks returned to library 20 years after disappearing

Two of naturalist Charles Darwin’s notebooks allegedly stolen from Cambridge University Library have been returned, two decades after they went missing.

The university said on Tuesday that the manuscripts were left at the library in a pink gift bag, along with a note wishing the librarian a happy Easter.

The notebooks, which include the 19th century scientist’s famous 1837 ‘Tree of Life’ sketch, disappeared in 2001 after being removed for photographing, although at the time staff believed they might have been misplaced . After searches of the library’s collection of 10 million books, maps and manuscripts failed to find the notebooks, they were reported stolen to police in October 2020.

Local detectives informed the global police organization Interpol and launched an international hunt for the notebooks, valued at millions of pounds.

Left in public space

On March 9, the books reappeared, left in a public area of ​​the building, outside the librarian’s office, which is not covered by security cameras. Both notebooks were wrapped in cling film inside their archival box and appeared undamaged. The accompanying note read: “Librarian Happy Easter X.”

Darwin filled the notebooks with ideas soon after returning from his voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle, developing ideas that would flourish in his historical work on evolution, About the origin of species.

The university’s director of library services, Jessica Gardner, said her sense of relief at the reappearance of the books was “profound and almost impossible to adequately express”.

“The notebooks can now take their rightful place alongside the rest of the Darwin Archive in Cambridge, at the heart of the nation’s cultural and scientific heritage, alongside the archives of Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Stephen Hawking,” he said. she declared.

The notebooks are set to go on public display from July as part of a Darwin exhibit at the library.

Cambridgeshire Police said their investigation was continuing, “and we are following certain investigative leads”.

“We also renew our call for anyone with information about the case to contact us,” the force said.