Charles Darwin’s iconic tree of life sketch and help is asked to locate it

Charles Darwin's iconic tree of life sketch and help is asked to locate it

Two lost Charles Darwin notebooks, one of which contains the iconic 1837 sketch of the Tree of Life, have been stolen and the Cambridge University Library is asking for help locating them.

In January 2001, the notebooks disappeared. But it is now, after an exhaustive search, that it can be verified that they have probably not been lost, but were stolen.

Evolution Day

The call to find the notebooks was launched this November 24 , coinciding with what is commonly known each year as ‘Evolution Day’, which recognizes the anniversary of Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species , on November 24. November 1859 .

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As Jessica Gardner , University Librarian and Director of Library Services, explains:

This public appeal could be instrumental in bringing notebooks back safely, for the benefit of all, and I would ask anyone who thinks they can help to get in touch. We would be very grateful to hear from any personnel, past or present, members of the book trade, researchers, or the general public, information that could assist in the retrieval of the notebooks.

The image of the ‘Tree of Life’ is part of one of Darwin’s handwritten notebooks. The notebook in question is stored in a custom blue box, along with a second similar notebook, where Darwin develops his theory in terms of geographic distribution, the origin of humans, and classification by descent.

Darwin sketched his ideas around an evolutionary tree in the summer of 1837, having recently returned from his voyage around the world aboard HMS Beagle , more than two decades before publishing a more developed tree of life in The Origin of the species .

The manuscript content of the two notebooks, fortunately, was previously digitized , including the sketch of the Tree of Life, and is available from the Cambridge Digital Library .