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Darwin Archive

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS DAR

Scope and Contents

The Darwin archive comprises the personal and scientific working papers of Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882), together with correspondence and papers of many members of the wider Darwin family.

Darwin’s scientific papers include his significant corpus of work on species, evolution and natural selection, and papers relating to the voyage of HMS Beagle, 1831-6. This material consists of: experimental and theoretical notebooks; draft essays; loose notes and scraps of notes, generally organised thematically and referred to as portfolios, which represent the material gathered by Darwin for his publications; correspondence and enclosures; drafts and corrected proofs; collections of abstracts and scientific literature. The scientific papers cover all of Darwin’s major published works and articles, along with the ‘Natural selection manuscript’, a significant draft work which was never published but from which sections of text were adapted for the publication of ‘On the origin of the species’.

The largest part of the archive consists of Darwin’s correspondence with contemporary scientists and thinkers, friends, neighbours and extended family. Correspondence is to be found throughout the archive in almost every class, but there are significant sequences at MS DAR 92-106 and 114-115 (including the Darwin-Hooker correspondence), MS DAR 143-148 (alphabetical sequence, largely of outgoing letters), and MS DAR 159-184 (alphabetical sequence, largely of incoming letters). The Darwin Correspondence Project, which seeks to research and publish all of Charles Darwin’s surviving letters, provides an accessible route to identifying and accessing some 15,000 letters of Charles Darwin.

Darwin’s personal papers include his diary (MS DAR 158), various other journals and notebooks, material relating to his time at the University of Edinburgh, collections of abstracts and scientific literature, photographs, copies of his publications including the 1876 draft autobiography, reviews of his publications and press cuttings. There is also material relating to Darwin’s death and funeral in 1882, the centenary celebrations of 1909 and Francis Darwin’s efforts to collate his father’s papers and letters.

The classes from MS DAR 214 onwards comprise, with some exceptions, the personal papers of Charles Darwin and his extended family, chiefly correspondence, photographs and diaries. These include papers of: his wife, Emma Darwin, specifically a series of diaries, 1824-96 (MS DAR 242); his son, Francis Darwin; his grandfather and father, Erasmus Darwin and Robert Waring Darwin; his grandson, Charles Galton Darwin; his son, Leonard Darwin; his daughter, Henrietta Emma Litchfield, and son-in-law, Richard Buckley Litchfield; his second cousin, William Darwin Fox, a contemporary at Christ’s College, Cambridge; his son, George Howard Darwin and his descendants; his son, Horace Darwin and his descendants; his great-grandfather, Robert Darwin of Elston and the Darwin family of Elston (MS DAR 267); smaller sections relating to members of the Galton, Wedgwood and Cornford families.


  • Creation: [1662- 1980s], bulk 19th century


Conditions Governing Access

Some material in the Darwin archive is not available because it is unfit for production and access to some very fragile material may only be possible with support from specialist conservation staff. Please see descriptions for further details.


60 linear metre(s)

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

'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).

Custodial History

The collection of Charles Darwin's papers at Cambridge University Library originates in the work of his son, Francis Darwin, who collected as many of Charles's letters and papers as possible. These papers remained in the family after Francis died in 1925. In 1942 the Pilgrim Trust and the Darwin family gave most of these papers to the University Library, although the actual transfer of material took place in 1948 (this represents the material up to MS DAR 157). At the same time, a tranche of papers were given to the museum recently established at Down House, Darwin’s former home. In 1975 the University 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.

Related Materials

Cambridge University Library, Department of Archives and Modern Manuscripts, holds the following related collections: the sketch books (Sketchbook I and Sketchbook III of Conrad Martens, who sailed with Darwin during part of the Beagle voyage (MS Add.7983-7984); papers of Robert Fitzroy (MS Add.8853); family and scientific papers of Francis Darwin (MS Add.8187-8188); George Howard Darwin (MS Add.5749-5750, 8166, 7909); (Emma) Nora Barlow (née Darwin) (MS Add.8904); Gwen and Jacques Raverat (Gwen, née Gwendoline Mary Darwin) (MS Add.9209, 9268); Ida and Horace Darwin (Ida, née Emma Cecilia Farrer) (MS Add. 9368); papers of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company founded by Horace Darwin.

The department also holds 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).

The Darwin Manuscripts Project provides catalogues of the Darwin material, including Charles Darwin’s library collection, held at Cambridge University Library, together with digital versions and transcriptions of selected manuscripts.

The Darwin Correspondence Project provides a fully searchable calendar of some 15,000 known letters of Charles Darwin, with transcriptions of the full text of all known letters Darwin wrote and received up to the year 1877 (correct as of Jan. 2021). The project is scheduled to publish all of the known letters by 2022.

Cambridge University Digital Library (CUDL) provides high-quality digital images of over 30,000 manuscript pages from Charles Darwin’s scientific papers (see Darwin Manuscripts) and images of 1,200 letters between Charles Darwin and Joseph Dalton Hooker (see Darwin-Hooker Letters).

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Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom