Charles Darwin Manuscripts Stolen from Cambridge University Library

Charles Darwin’s Manuscripts Have Been Stolen from a Cambridge University Library.

Two Charles Darwin manuscripts have been reported as stolen from Cambridge University Library twenty years after they were last seen. Staff believed that the precious items had been ‘mis-shelved’ within the vast archives late in the year 2000 and the matter was not reported to Cambridgeshire Police until October 20 this year.

The force said it has launched an investigation and have notified international crime agency, Interpol. It is extremely difficult to estimate the value of the notebooks given their unique nature but it would probably run into many millions of pounds, the library said.

The two notebooks, including Darwin’s seminal 1837 Tree of Life sketch, were removed from storage to be photographed at the library’s photographic unit, where the work was recorded as completed in November 2000.

During a subsequent routine check-in January 2001 it was found that the small blue box containing the notebooks had not been returned to its proper place. Dr Jessica Gardner, university librarian and director of library services since 2017, said: “My predecessors genuinely believed that what had happened was that they had been mis-shelved or misfiled and they took forward extensive searches over the years in that genuine belief.

“Now we have completely reviewed as a new team what happened and come to a conclusion that that’s not a sufficient position or set of actions to take.”

She added that “extensive building work” was taking place at the library at the time that the items were found to be missing. There have been continuous searches since the notebooks went missing, she said, and it is now thought “likely that theft occurred”. Gardner reported the matter to the police.


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Tony Winterburn

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