Charles Darwin’s Notebooks Reported Stolen From Cambridge University

Two manuscripts belonging to Charles Darwin have reportedly been stolen from the Cambridge University library after going missing for two decades. The staff had earlier assumed that the items had been wrongly placed in a vast archive late in 2000 and the matter was officially reported to the concerned Cambridgeshire police only on 20 October this year. The police have now opened an investigation and have notified Interpol. While it is difficult to ascertain the value of the notebooks due to their uniqueness, it is estimated to run into millions of pounds. The notebooks contained one of Darwin’s seminal works, Tree of Life sketch, dating back to 1837. The manuscripts were taken out of storage to be photographed in the library’s photographic unit. Although the photographs were completed by November 2000, a subsequent routine check revealed in January 2001 that the small blue box containing the manuscripts had not been replaced.

Dr. Jessica Gardner, the University librarian and director of library services since 2017, said that her predecessors believed that the notebooks had been misfiled or mis-shelved, and had carried out extensive searches over the years in good faith. However, the current team had reviewed the situation and concluded that wasn’t sufficient. It is now believed that theft could have taken place at that time. A “fingertip” search of the entire Darwin archive consisting of 189 archive boxes and other key areas was carried out earlier this year, but the notebooks weren’t found. Gardner added that there were ‘no leads’ yet on finding the stolen manuscripts, and an appeal was launched based on the advice of external experts, including at the Metropolitan police’s arts and antique specialist unit. Dr. Mark Purcell, the deputy director of Research Collections, said that it was unlikely that the manuscripts could be sold in the open market, and he hoped for a similar outcome as in London’s Lambeth Palace when stolen items discovered after many years were returned. Cambridge University library’s security policy has since been upgraded and it would notify the authorities immediately if any significant missing object was found. The vice-chancellor of the university, Prof Stephen J Toope, said that the university hoped to locate the missing Darwin notebooks and restore them to their rightful place. Anyone with information about the missing manuscripts has been requested to contact the Cambridge University library via email at


  • paulwallace

    Paul Wallace is a 44-year-old anthropology professor and blogger. He has been writing about anthropology and other topics for over a decade. He has also taught anthropology at the college level for over a decade.

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