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Charles Darwin (1809-1882) graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1831 and was recommended by the Professor of Botany John Stevens Henslow to Robert Fitzroy, commander of HM Sloop Beagle, as a naturalist to sail on a hydrographical voyage Fitzroy was to make in South American waters.  Returning from the Beagle circumnavigation in 1836, Darwin published Journal of Researches... during the Voyage of HMS Beagle, soon married his cousin Emma Wedgwood and in 1842 moved to the Kent village of Down, where he spent the rest of his life.  Darwin was living at Down House when he published On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection..., 1859, as well as a series of monographs in botany, entomology and anthropology.

The collection of Charles Darwin's papers at the University Library originates in the work of his son Francis who collected as many of Charles's letters and papers as possible, which remained in the family after Francis died.  In 1942 the Pilgrim Trust and the Darwin family gave most of these papers to the University Library, which were actually transferred in 1948. (Another portion were given to the museum recently established at Down House.) In 1975 the Library acquired an important supplementary collection of Darwin papers hitherto retained by Sir Robin Darwin and in 1991 George Pember Darwin made a gift of considerably more material.  Over the years, further papers have been acquired by gift from the Darwin family, by other deposits, and by purchase; the collection is accruing continually. 

Catalogues of the Darwin papers and libary and some related family collections are available in the Manuscripts Reading Room and online via the Darwin Manuscripts Project, along with digital versions and transcriptions of selected manuscripts and annotated publications from Charles Darwin's library collection, also held by the Department of Manuscripts. Darwin's letters to 1876 including those held at Cambridge University Library and elsewhere have been published as the Correspondence of Charles Darwin volumes 1 to 24 (1985-2017) by the Darwin Correspondence Project at Cambridge University Library.  A fully searchable calendar of the 15,000 known letters is available via the Darwin Correspondence Project website, along with transcriptions of complete texts of the letters to 1872. Both projects are ongoing and continue to publish new digital material online with the Darwin Correspondence Project scheduled to publish all of the known letters by 2022. 

Readers interested in the letters sent and received by Darwin and his key manuscripts but unfamiliar with the Darwin collections are advised to consult this work before applying to the Library for permission to see the original papers. 

In broad terms, classmarks MSS.DAR.1-DAR.28 are assigned to papers relating to his publications, MSS.DAR.29-DAR.42 to papers concerned with the zoology and geology of the Beagle voyage.  Letters and notes are in MSS.DAR.43-DAR.52.  MSS.DAR.53-DAR.90 include further manuscripts concerning publications, together with much associated correspondence.  MSS.DAR.91-DAR.118 contain correspondence, MSS.DAR.119-DAR.130 represent various notebooks, while MSS.DAR.131-DAR.141 have records relating to Darwin’s published papers and his work.  MS.DAR.142 is a collection of specimen seeds.  MSS.DAR.143-DAR.156 has further letters and MS.DAR.157 a few folios of the On the Origin of Species manuscript, this completing the collection as listed in 1960.  Of the supplementary papers, MS.DAR.158 is Darwin's Journal, MSS.DAR.159-DAR.184 contain further correspondence, MS.DAR.185 and MS.DAR.186 miscellaneous accessions, MSS.DAR.187-DAR.197 notes and papers relating to publications, MSS.DAR.198-DAR.205 further letters, MSS.DAR.206-DAR.209 experiments and notes, MS.DAR.210 and MS.DAR.211 more letters, while MS.DAR.212 and MS.DAR.213 have manuscripts and proofs of publications.  The remaining classes, MSS.DAR.214-DAR.272, are assigned to the papers of family members and other miscellaneous deposits, including photographs; MS.DAR.251 has a large collection of the correspondence of George Howard Darwin, it should be noted.

There are collections of important associated manuscripts in the University Library, notably, at MS Add. 7983-7984, the sketch books (Sketchbook I and Sketchbook III of Conrad Martens, who sailed with Darwin during part of the Beagle voyage, and, at MS Add.8853, the papers of Robert Fitzroy.  Prospective readers may wish to be aware that there are Darwin family and scientific papers for Francis Darwin MS Add. 8187-8188, George Howard Darwin MS Add. 5749-5750, 8166, 7909,  Emma Nora Barlow (née Emma Nora Darwin) MS.Add.8904, Gwen and Jacques Raverat (Gwen, née Gwendoline Mary Darwin), MS Add. 9209, 9268 and Ida and Horace Darwin (Ida, née Emma Cecilia Farrer), MS Add. 9368 as well as the papers of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company founded by Horace Darwin. There are also papers of founding editor of the Darwin Correspondence Project, Sydney Smith MS Add. 8895 and papers relating to psychologist John Bowlby's biography of Darwin MS Add. 8884.


Additional references 

Handlist of Darwin Papers at the University Library, Cambridge (1960), lists the papers in the 1942 gift.

Supplementary Handlist of the Papers of Charles Darwin lists acquisitions since 1960

Frederick Burkhardt and Sydney Smith (editors), A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821-1882, with supplement, Cambridge, 1994. 


Contact: Katrina Dean, Curator of Scientific Collections (01223 333056;