Missing Darwin notebooks returned
Two notebooks that belonged to Charles Darwin have been returned to Cambridge University Library more than 20 years after they first went missing.
The books’ contents include Darwin’s 1837 ‘Tree of Life’ sketch, a simple doodle (captioned ‘I think’) that represents a big idea: his theory of how different species evolve from common ancestors. The drawing dates to just after Darwin’s travels on HMS Beagle, and is a forerunner of the more developed ideas that he would publish in On the Origin of Species in 1859.
The notebooks went missing after having been removed from the library’s Special Collections Strong Rooms for a photography request in 2000 – during a routine check the following year, it was discovered that their archive box had not been returned to its usual place. As the library’s storerooms have more than 210km (130 miles) of shelving, with 45km in the Special Collections Strong Rooms alone, it was initially thought that the box might have simply been misplaced, but repeated searches did not bring the notebooks to light.
At the start of 2020, a new in-depth search began, including specialist staff and checking all 189 boxes of the university’s Darwin Archive (one of the world’s most-significant collections of material relating to the naturalist, comprising his archive and much of his personal library). When the notebooks were still not recovered, though, it was suspected that they had been stolen.
A worldwide appeal was then launched in partnership with Cambridgeshire Police and Interpol – and, in March of this year, the notebooks were anonymously returned, showing no signs of significant handling or damage from their long absence. Wrapped together in clingfilm, the books and their archive box had been placed in a bright pink gift bag, which was left on the floor in a public area near the librarian’s office. They were accompanied by a plain brown envelope printed with the words: ‘Librarian. Happy Easter. x’.
Investigations into the notebooks’ disappearance and return are ongoing, and anyone with information should call 101 and quote reference 35/71468/20, or contact Cambridgeshire Police online at www.cambs.police.uk/contact/af/contact-us.
The notebooks are now set to go on public display as part of a free exhibition at the University Library, Darwin in Conversation, which opens on 9 July. The library is also home to the Darwin Correspondence Project, which since the 1970s has been working to transcribe and publish all the letters he wrote and received; the project’s 30th and final volume will be released this year.
JORVIK Viking Festival
York’s annual celebration of the Vikings is returning to the city’s streets. The JORVIK Viking Festival is normally held in February half-term, but the 2022 event will run from 28 May to 1 June.
As well as familiar features including the popular Viking encampment of traders and re-enactors, craft workshops, and competitions for the best beard and strongest Viking, there will also be new a new event in the form of the JORVIK Games. For more information on all of these activities, and to book tickets, see https://jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk.
The Richard Hall Symposium – a day of lectures that this year takes the theme ‘Hoards in the North: northern identities in Viking hoards’ – will be held at York St John University the preceding Sunday, 22 May. The talks will also be livestreamed.