Charles Darwin notebooks reported stolen from Cambridge University library

A signed manuscript page from Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”
A signed manuscript page from Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” went on auction in 2017.
(Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Two of Charles Darwin’s notebooks, believed to be worth millions of dollars, have been reported stolen from the library of Cambridge University, which launched an appeal Tuesday for their return.

The notebooks contain the 19th century scientist’s famous “Tree of Life” sketch, a graphic representation of the theory of evolution.

The notebooks haven’t been seen since 2000, but staff at the library believed for years that they had probably been misplaced in Cambridge’s vast archives. After a thorough search, however, the library has concluded that the notebooks were probably stolen.

British police are now investigating and Interpol has been notified.


On the origin of today’s Darwin Day

“My predecessors genuinely believed that what had happened was that these had been misshelved or misfiled,” said Jessica Gardner, university librarian and director of library services. “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.”

Staff recently searched through 189 boxes making up the Darwin Archive, but failed to locate the notebooks.

Cambridge University Library has more than 130 miles of shelving and has about 10 million books, maps, manuscripts and other items.