The University of Cambridge’s library on Tuesday launched a public appeal to help locate two notebooks of the iconic naturalist and alumnus, Charles Darwin, one of which contains his landmark 1837 ‘Tree of Life’ sketch, missing since 2001.
Following an exhaustive search, the library curators concluded that the priceless notebooks, first listed as missing in January 2001, have likely been stolen, the university said in the appeal on its website
The local police have been informed and the missing notebooks added to Interpol’s database of stolen artworks.
The appeal launch on November 24 coincides with what is commonly known each year as Evolution Day – recognising the anniversary of Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species on November 24, 1859. Darwin (1809-1882) was a student at Christ’s College.
Jessica Gardner, university librarian, said: “I am heartbroken that the location of these Darwin notebooks…is currently unknown, but we’re determined to do everything possible to discover what happened and will leave no stone unturned during this process”.“This public appeal could be critical in seeing the notebooks safely return, for the benefit of all, and I would ask anyone who thinks they may be able to help to get in touch. Someone, somewhere, may have knowledge or insight that can help us return these notebooks to their proper place at the heart of the UK’s cultural and scientific heritage.”
The library said the notebooks were removed from the Special Collections Strong Rooms– where the rarest and most valuable items are kept – for photography to take place in September 2000, but a subsequent routine check found that the small box containing the two notebooks had not been returned to its proper place.
For many years, previous librarians believed that the notebooks had been misplaced in the vast storerooms and collections of the library, which is home to around 10 million books, maps, manuscripts and other objects. Despite a number of searches over the years, they remained undiscovered.