Tuesday 24 November 2020

Cambridge University Library reports two of Charles Darwin's notebooks stolen.

Cambridge University Library has reported two notebooks which were used by Charles Darwin stolen. One of the notebooks contains the first ever tree-of-life diagram drawn by Darwin in 1837, two decades ahead of the eventual publication of his theory of evolution in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, in 1859. The notebooks were last seen in November 2000, when they were taken out of the collection to be digitised, and their contents made available online, and were noted to be missing in January 2001, although at that time the library was undergoing extensive renovation work, and it was thought that the notebooks had been misplaced internally. However, they have not been rediscovered in several subsequent searches of the library's ten million or so manuscripts, and it has now been concluded that the notebooks are likely to have been stolen. The matter has been reproted to Cambridgeshire Police and Interpol, who are launching enquiries into the whereabouts of the items.

A notebook containing Darwin's original 1837 diagram of the tree of life, one of two such notebooks believed to have been stolen in late 2000 or early 2001. Cambridge University Library.

The precise value of the notebooks is unclear. It is thought that they would be worth tens of millios of pounds if it was possible to sell them on the open market, but any attempt to do legally would obviously be impossible, given the unique nature of the items. It is, however, possible that they may have been aquired by a private collector who has not realised the true value of the items, and an appeal has been launched by Cambridge University Library, who asking anyone with any information to contact them at


An appeal from Jessica Gardner of Cambridge University Library for any information that might help to determine the whereabouts of two of Charles Darwin's notebooks, which have been found to be missing from the library's collection. Cambridge University Library.

The notebooks are described as being roughly postcard-sized, with reddish brown covers, and were, at the time of their disappearance, kept in a blue box about the size of a standard paperback novel. The notebooks bear the letters 'B' and 'C' prominantly on their covers. Security procedures at Cambridge University Library have been updated significantly since the notebooks were last seen, with dedicated, climate-controlled strong rooms, specialist reading rooms, CCTV, enhanced access control to secure areas, and our participation in international networks on collections security.

One of Darwin's missing notebooks. Cambridge University Library.

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