Darwin's Notebooks Went Missing 20 Years Ago. Now, You Can Help Find Them
Image credits: Reuters/Cambridge University.
Nothing may have survived in fire that engulfed the Library of Alexandria, but there may be hope yet to find other historical works from a long time ago.
Evolution, as we know it, as introduced to us by Charles Darwin. In the course of evolution, two of his notebooks went missing.
In a first, the Cambridge University Library on Tuesday admitted that two of Charles Darwin's notebooks containing his pioneering ideas on evolution and his famous “Tree of Life” sketch are missing, believed stolen.
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, reports AFP.
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.
It said it had informed local police and the books had been listed on Interpol's database of stolen artworks, called Psyche.
Now, Cambridge University has asked for public help to locate the two notebooks.
"Cambridge University Library has taken advice from external experts in security and cultural asset recovery to help in the search, and will work alongside other partners in the book trade, including the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association," says the public statement.
The appeal launch on November 24 coincides with what is commonly known each year as ‘Evolution Day’ – recognizing the anniversary of Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species on November 24, 1859, and highlighting the great naturalist's immense contribution to the history of science.
Dr Jessica Gardner, University Librarian and Director of Library Services since 2017, said: “I am heartbroken that the location of these Darwin notebooks, including Darwin’s iconic ‘Tree of Life’ drawing, is currently unknown, but we’re determined to do everything possible to discover what happened and will leave no stone unturned during this process.
“This public appeal could be critical in seeing the notebooks safely return, for the benefit of all, and I would ask anyone who thinks they may be able to help to get in touch. Someone, somewhere, may have knowledge or insight that can help us return these notebooks to their proper place at the heart of the UK’s cultural and scientific heritage," she added.
The notebooks were last seen in November 2000 after "an internal request" to remove them from a special manuscripts storeroom to be photographed, reports BBC.
Given their unique nature, the value of the notebooks is difficult to estimate, but would probably run into millions of pounds.