Mystery of Darwin's Stolen Journals

Seminal works left in pink gift bag with ‘Happy Easter’ note for librarian after going missing twenty years ago.


Darwin's Tree of Life sketch in ink on paper
Darwin’s seminal Tree of Life sketch, headed with the words ‘I think’. Photograph: Cambridge University Library/PA

The plot is worthy of a classic detective thriller: two Charles Darwin manuscripts worth millions of pounds reported as stolen from Cambridge University library after being missing for two decades prompts a worldwide appeal and the local police force and Interpol leap into action.


However, despite the efforts of law enforcement agencies, the documents evaded their long arms.


Now, in a peculiar twist, the notebooks – one of which contains Darwin’s seminal 1837 Tree of Life Sketch – have been anonymously returned in a pink gift bag, with a typed note on an envelope wishing a Happy Easter to the librarian.


The bag was left on the floor of a public area of the library outside the librarian’s office on the fourth floor of the 17-storey building on 9 March, in an area not covered by CCTV. Well, of course. Who left them and where they had been remains a mystery.


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

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