Charles Darwin’s returned Tree of Life notebooks go on public display at Cambridge University Library

Charles Darwin's famous 1837 Tree of Life sketch, which sets out the theory of evolution

Charles Darwin's famous 1837 Tree of Life sketch, which sets out the theory of evolution will be on display at Cambridge University Library from tomorrow (July 9) until December 3. - Credit: Cambridge University Library

Charles Darwin’s iconic Tree of Life notebooks – stolen and then returned to Cambridge University Library earlier this year – go on display this weekend.

The famous 1837 Tree of Life sketch is part of a new exhibition opening at the university library in West Road on Saturday, July 9, 2022.

Charles Darwin's 1837 Tree of Life sketch

Charles Darwin's 1837 Tree of Life sketch - Credit: Cambridge University Library

The precious notebook was one of two that went missing from the library in 2001. 

Staff initially believed they may have been misshelved. However, after extensive searches of the library, the manuscripts were reported as stolen to Cambridgeshire Police in October 2020.

The force launched an investigation and notified Interpol, with the university making a worldwide appeal for information.

Librarian, Happy Easter, X - The typed note and gift bag used to return the notebooks

Librarian, Happy Easter, X - The typed note and gift bag used to return the notebooks - Credit: Cambridge University Library

Almost a year-and-a-half later, they were returned anonymously on March 9 of this year in a pink gift bag – with a typed note on an envelope wishing a 'Happy Easter' to the librarian.

Now they are back home, they are going on display in a ground-breaking new exhibition called ‘Darwin in Conservation’. 

Housed behind glass in a new, bespoke and high-security exhibition case, it will be the first time this century that they have gone on public display at Cambridge University Library.

The two notebooks, which went missing in 2001 before an Interpol search in 2020

The two notebooks, which went missing in 2001 before an Interpol search in 2020 - Credit: Cambridge University Library

Most Read

A spokesperson said: "Darwin in Conversation examines how the great naturalist sought help from a cast of thousands of men, women and even children globally as he wrote his foundational works on evolutionary biology."

As well as the returned Darwin notebooks, other objects going on display include Darwin’s personal first edition of Origin of the Species, the squeaky kidney beans which became a viral ASMR hit, and the beautifully illustrated sketchbooks from the voyage of HMS Beagle.

One notebook contained Charles Darwin's famous 1837 Tree of Life sketch, which examines the theory of evolution

One notebook contained Charles Darwin's famous 1837 Tree of Life sketch, which sets out the theory of evolution - Credit: Cambridge University Library

The exhibition also includes personal letters from early girlfriends of Darwin, and the famously vexed correspondence where he declares that: "I hate myself, I hate clover and I hate bees." 

The exhibition is free and will run until December 3. Book tickets via www.lib.cam.ac.uk/darwin

Darwin in Conversation transfers to New York Public Library in 2023.

The Darwin Archive at Cambridge is by far the largest and most significant collection of his material anywhere in the world.

Dr Jessica Gardner, who alerted police to the missing manuscripts, following their return

Dr Jessica Gardner with the returned notebooks. - Credit: Cambridge University Library