Darwin Manuscript

A Darwin manuscript discovered at Christ's College after a century in darkness

by John van Wyhe, Bye-Fellow

A Darwin manuscript has been discovered at Christ's College that had been hidden since 1909.

A framed photograph of Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

For many years a framed photograph of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) hung on the end of a book case in the Old Library. Also inside the frame, just below the photograph, a small rectangular opening in the mount diplayed the signature 'Ch. Darwin'. During recent visits to the Old Library I was curious to know if this
signature was just a scrap of paper cut from a letter, or if it was written on a document still preserved, though sealed inside the frame.

The photograph, and the frame, have their own story. A penciled note on the wooden back of the frame explains:

This photograph of Darwin was presented by him to my Uncle, F.D. Dyster, of Tenby. I am informed by Francis Darwin, his son, that the photograph was probably taken in the year 1854, but he had never seen it. F. H. H. Guillemard.

Below this it is explained that it was displayed at Christ's during the Darwin centenary exhibition in 1909.

Finally a typewritten note records that Guillemard gave the framed photograph to the College in 1934.

There is an entry for the photograph in the 1909 exhibition catalogue.


Lent by Dr. F. H. H. Guillemard.

Photograph probably taken about 1854 and given by Charles Darwin to F. D. Dyster, Esq., the microscopist.

(Shipley, Darwin Centenary. The portraits, prints and writings of Charles Robert Darwin. Exhibited at Christ's College, Cambridge, 1909.)

This photograph was taken about one year after Darwin started full-time work on his species theory, c. 1855 by Maull and Polyblank for the Literary and Scientific Portrait Club. A Darwin letter to J. D. Hooker on 27 May 1855 refers to this photograph: 'if I really have as bad an expression, as my photograph gives me, how I
can have one single friend is surprising.' (Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5, p. 339.)

There is no known surviving Darwin correspondence with Frederick Daniel Dyster (1810-1893). He was a surgeon naturalist with strong interests in marine zoology. Dyster was a friend of T. H. Huxley and attended Emma Darwin's aunt, Jessie Sismondi, when she died on 3 March 1853. (Litchfield, H. E. ed. 1915. Emma Darwin, A century of family letters, 1702-1896. London: John Murray. Volume 2, p. 152)

The College Librarian, Candace Guite, and the Keeper of Pictures, David Norman, gave permission for the frame to be removed and opened. This was done by Conservation Officer, Melvin Jefferson.

On opening the frame, which had presumably been sealed since 1909, Jefferson found the Darwin signature to be the endorsement on the back of a cheque! The entire cheque had been carefully folded and preserved so that just the signature on the back could be seen through the mount.

The cheque is from the Union Bank of London, made out by Darwin 'to self' for 100 pounds on 21 March 1872!

Image of Cheque

Photo by Melvin Jefferson.

The entire cheque transcribed is as follows (Darwin's writing is in bold):

No. V18356 London March 21 1872

The Union Bank of London,
Pay to self or Order One Hundred Pounds


This Cheque must be endorsed by the party to whom it is payable Ch. Darwin

On the reverse it is signed: 'Ch. Darwin' – this being the signature visible under the framed photograph.

The cheque is stamped: 'Paid Mar. 22' A hole in the centre probably indicates Darwin put the cheque on his spits.

What was Darwin doing on 21 March 1872? We know from his 'Journal' or diary that he and his family left their rented London holiday house on that very day to return to their home in the village of Downe, Kent.

'Feb. 13 to March 21. London, 9 Devonshire St. Portland Place (5 weeks)'.

According to the Calendar of his correspondence, Darwin acknowledged payment from his American publisher on the 16th. American editions of Darwin's new book, The descent of man, had been in print since 1871.

So how did the cheque end up inside the frame with the photograph Darwin gave to Dyster? Dyster's nephew, Dr Francis Henry Hill Guillemard (1852-1933), a geographer and travel writer, signed the exhibition guest book at Christ's College with Francis Darwin on 11 June 1909. Perhaps Francis Darwin offered the cheque from his father's papers as an example of his signature. Darwin's papers had now become so precious that the cheque was preserved, and the signature not just cut out.

And so the photograph, and the cheque bearing Darwin's signature, were sealed behind glass in 1909. In 1934 the frame was given to Christ's (probably after the death of Guillemard) where it has hung ever since.

Both the photograph and the cheque will now be conserved according to modern standards.


To find out more about Darwin see: The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online.