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Charles Darwin’s Son Draws Cute Pictures on the Manuscript of On the Origin of Species

This article first appeared in the Telegraph

An original sheet from Charles Darwin’s manuscript ‘On the Origin of Species’, which has been covered in a drawing by one of his children, is to go on display for the first time.


Darwin created “a mound” of papers whilst he drafted his seminal work but less than 35 have survived.

Archivists believe the majority of the remaining sheets have only survived because he gave them to his children as drawing paper and kept the pictures.

Next week one of these sheets is to go on display for the first time with specimens from his Beagle voyage as part of a new exhibition at Cambridge University Library.


The charming children’s drawing, named the “Battle of the Vegetables” by Cambridge University Library staff, shows two mounted figures facing each other in battle.

One figure wearing a turban is riding what archivists think could be a stale potato and the other is on what appears to be a giant carrot, crossed with a dog.

It is not known which of Darwin’s 10 children drew the picture but it is thought the child would have been between eight and 10 years old.

The picture sheds light on the life of the Darwin and shows him as a man who put a high value on family life and did not work in isolation.

John Wells, exhibitions officer at the Library, said the story of they survived is remarkable.

He said: “There are just thirty or so of these original sheets in existence and the vast majority have a child’s drawing on the back.

“It’s quite amazing to think these priceless historical exhibits have only survived because of a child’s drawings on the back.

“It demonstrates the importance of his family and brings it home that he surrounded himself with family, and friends, as he worked.

“The picture is absolutely brilliant. It’s glorious and shows great imagination.”

A spokesman at Cambridge University said it was believed that this is the very first time the drawing had been put on display to the public.

Another 23 sheets from the original manuscript are held at the Library and it is thought there are approximately 10 more in existence.

The new exhibition is to be opened on Monday July 6 by William Huxley Darwin the naturalist’s great-great grandson.

It brings together items from the Darwin archive, preserved at the Library, and a wealth of Darwin collections held around the University.

Included in the exhibition will be Darwin’s books and correspondence and a letter offering the 22-year-old Cambridge graduate a place on board the Beagle.

Curator Alison Pearn (cor) of the Darwin Correspondence Project, said: “This is a wonderful and unique opportunity to share the University’s remarkable collections.

“Individually, the manuscripts and specimens are invaluable to scholars; together they bring Darwin and his ideas powerfully to life in a way that everyone can enjoy for the rest of this Bicentenary year.”

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