Missing set of rare Charles Darwin notebooks returned anonymously to Cambridge University Library

Written Sana Nur Haq, CNN

A set of rare notebooks containing Charles Darwin’s notes have been anonymously returned to the University of Cambridge more than 20 years after they were reported missing.

Two notebooks, one of which contains Darwin’s famous 1837 sketch of The Tree of Life, were returned to the Cambridge University Library in March 2022, the university said in a statement.

They were left outside the librarian’s office, wrapped in plastic, inside a pink gift bag with a brown envelope containing a file box of notebooks and an unsigned typed note.

“Librarian, Happy Easter X,” the note read.

The notebooks were returned with this note. Credit: Stuart Roberts / Cambridge University Library

Precious items that the university believes may be worth “millions” were discovered missing during a routine check in January 2001, when it turned out that a small box of notebooks had not been returned to their place in the special vaults of the university collections.
After years of “exhaustive” searches, in November 2020, the university officially declared the notebooks missing and likely stolen.

At that time, the university issued a global appeal to help find the books.

One of two notebooks owned by Charles Darwin.  Both books were returned anonymously in March 2022.

One of two notebooks owned by Charles Darwin. Both books were returned anonymously in March 2022. Credit: Stuart Roberts / Cambridge University Library

“My sense of relief at the safe return of the notebooks is profound and almost impossible to adequately express. Like many people around the world, I was heartbroken to hear of their loss, and my joy at their return is immeasurable,” says the doctor. Jessica Gardner, a librarian at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement about the return of the notebooks.

“They may be tiny, 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 overestimated.”

“I am incredibly happy to hear of the safe return of the notebooks to their rightful home,” said Professor Stephen J. Toop, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, in a statement regarding the return of the notebooks.

“Objects like this are crucial to our understanding of not only the history of science but also the history of mankind.”

The statement said that the Cambridgeshire police are continuing to investigate the disappearance and return of the notebook.

Dr. Jessica Gardner looks at Darwin's 1837 painting. "The tree of Life" sketch.

Dr. Jessica Gardner looks at Darwin’s 1837 sketch of The Tree of Life. Credit: Stuart Roberts / Cambridge University Library

According to London’s Natural History Museum, Darwin used the idea of ​​the tree of life to contextualize the theory of evolution and show how all species on Earth are related and descended from a common ancestor.
His first sketch of The Tree of Life was drawn in the summer of 1837, a year after he had returned to England from his round-the-world voyage on the Beagle. More than two decades later, Darwin published the most prolific book of his career, On the Origin of Species, in which he expanded on his ideas about evolution.

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