Stolen Darwin journals returned to Cambridge University library

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The plot was worthy of a Dan Brown thriller – two Charles Darwin manuscripts price hundreds of thousands of kilos reported as stolen from Cambridge University library after being lacking for 20 years.

The disappearance prompted a worldwide attraction with the assistance of the native police drive and Interpol. Now, in a peculiar twist, the notebooks – one among which accommodates Darwin’s seminal 1837 Tree of Life Sketch – have been anonymously returned in a pink reward bag, with a typed notice on an envelope wishing a contented Easter to the librarian.

The bag was left on the ground of a public space of the library exterior the librarian’s workplace on the fourth flooring of the 17-storey constructing on 9 March, in an space not lined by CCTV. Who left them and the place that they had been stays a thriller.

Dr Jessica Gardner, who grew to become director of library companies in 2017 and who reported the notebooks as stolen to police, described her pleasure at their return as “immense”. “My sense of relief at the notebooks’ safe return is profound and almost impossible to adequately express,” she stated. “I, along with so many others, all across the world, was heartbroken to learn of their loss.

The notebooks were found to be missing in 2001
The notebooks were found to be missing in 2001. Photograph: Cambridge University Library/PA

“The notebooks can now retake their rightful place alongside the rest of the Darwin archive at Cambridge, at the heart of the nation’s cultural and scientific heritage, alongside the archives of Sir Isaac Newton and Prof Stephen Hawking.”

It was again in 2001 that the notebooks, which characterize a few of Darwin’s first inklings of his radical idea of evolution by pure choice, had been initially discovered to be lacking. They had been faraway from storage to be photographed, and work was recorded as accomplished in November 2000. But throughout a subsequent routine verify made in January 2001, it was discovered that they had not been returned to their correct place. At the time workers believed they could have been mis-shelved.

A fingertip search of key areas within the library, which homes about 10m books, maps, manuscripts and different objects, proved to be unfruitful, and the books had been ultimately reported as stolen to the Cambridge constabulary in 2020.

The police drive then launched an investigation and notified Interpol, with the college making a worldwide attraction for data. Their return, virtually a 12 months and a half later, has each stupefied and delighted authorities.

Pink gift bag and typed envelope.
The notebooks had been left in a pink reward bag exterior the librarian’s workplace. Photograph: Cambridge University Library/PA

Prof Stephen J Toope, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, stated he was “incredibly glad to hear of the notebooks’ safe return to their rightful home”. “Objects such as these are crucial for our understanding of not only the history of science but the history of humankind,” he stated.

The manuscripts had been stated to be in good situation and with no apparent indicators of serious dealing with or harm sustained within the years since their disappearance. They had been wrapped along with clingfilm inside their archive field. A plain brown envelope bore the printed message “Librarian/ Happy Easter/ X”.

The library’s deputy director of Research Collections, Dr Mark Purcell, had beforehand stated he was assured the manuscripts couldn’t be offered on the open market and hoped for the same consequence to that at London’s Lambeth Palace, the place objects had been stolen after bombing throughout the second world warfare.

“Forty-plus years later, quite literally as the consequence of a deathbed crisis of conscience, those items came to light and were returned to Lambeth,” he stated.

While there isn’t a CCTV of the world the place the manuscripts had been returned, Gardner stated entrances and exits to the constructing had been lined, as had been focused areas comparable to strongrooms and specialist studying rooms. She stated accessible footage had been handed to police, including: “It really is a mystery. We don’t know how and we don’t know who.”

Gardner stated the library constructing had “transformed significantly” since then, with card-and-pin entry to safe areas, an onsite safety group, high-security strongrooms and extra CCTV. Further critiques had been to come back, she added.

The notebooks are to go on public show from July as a part of the library’s Darwin in Conversation exhibition.

A Cambridgeshire constabulary spokesperson stated: “Our investigation remains open and we are following up some lines of inquiry. We also renew our appeal for anyone with information about the case to contact us.”

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Nadia Khomami

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