Two notebooks that once belonged to British naturalist Charles Darwin have been returned to the University of Cambridge library, more than 20 years after their disappearance was reported.
- Two notebooks of Charles Darwin were left anonymously in a gift bag at the Cambridge University Library
- These notebooks went missing in late 2000, but were considered stolen only in November 2020
- The contents of the notebook were used by Darwin to piece together what would become the theory of evolution
The notebooks, which contain the origins of Darwin’s theory of evolution, were found on March 9 inside a gift bag that had been left on the floor in the library’s public area.
The bag also contained a printed message on a brown envelope that read: “Librarian Happy Easter X”.
Dr Jessica Gardner, librarian at the Cambridge University Library, said little is known about how the notebooks were returned.
“We don’t know much, but the fact remains that the notebooks were left anonymously in a public place inside the university library and they were left inside a large pink gift bag,” Dr Gardner said.
“Inside the gift bag was the original collection box, which was slightly larger than the notebooks themselves and also a plain brown office envelope that contained the notebooks themselves.
The contents of the notebook were used by Darwin to piece together his theory of evolution, and included his first sketches of the “evolutionary tree” after a trip around the world in 1837.
The tree was later published in his book On the Origin of Species as a fully grown tree of life.
“They may be small, only the size of a postcard, but the impact of notebooks on the history of science and their importance to our world-class collections cannot be underestimated,” said Dr Gardner.
The notebooks are known as transmutation notebooks because in them Darwin first theorized how species could “transmutate” from ancestral to later forms.
End of Chapter on 20 Years of Exploration
The notebooks were first reported missing in January 2001, after being removed from a strong room to be photographed in late 2000.
After an “exhaustive” search, the Cambridge University Library concluded that the notebooks were likely stolen, launching a widespread online appeal in November 2020.
The appeal was launched on November 24 to coincide with Evolution Day – the anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which was published on November 24, 1859.
The university estimated that the notebook’s value would “probably run into the millions of pounds”.
Dr. Gardner said, “I want to say a huge thank you to the public and the police.”
The notebook has been returned to the Strong Room, but will soon be on display to the general public.
“They will be on show from July at a free exhibition called Darwin in Conversation,” Dr. Gardner said.
“We never dreamed we would be able to put these on public exhibition when we were planning it, but now they are back, and everyone will have a chance to see them.
Police investigation is going on in the case of missing notebook.