Notebooks belonging to Charles Darwin’s mentor could be lost from UK

Notebooks belonging to Charles Darwin’s mentor could be lost from the UK unless a buyer steps forward to meet the £1.4 million price tag.

Arts Minister Michael Ellis has put a temporary export bar on the renowned Scottish geologist Sir Charles Lyell’s archive to give buyers a chance to keep it in Britain.

Almost 300 notebooks and manuscripts containing transcribed correspondence with Darwin are part of the collection, along with notes for his printed works.

After Darwin returned from the Beagle voyage in 1836, Lyell – who is credited with laying the foundations for evolutionary biology as well as understanding the Earth’s development – acted as his principal mentor.

Charles Lyell’s notebooks
One of the notebooks of geologist Sir Charles Lyell (DCMS)

Lyell’s copies of letters sent to Darwin following the publication of On The Origin of Species in 1859 form part of the archive.

Mr Ellis said: “This archive reveals the workings of one of the most influential scientists of the last 200 years and provides us with an extraordinary insight into a time when science was changing long-held beliefs about the world.

“I hope a buyer can be found to keep the unique records of a British great in the country.”

The decision on the export licence has been deferred to July 15 after a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA).

Charles Lyell’s notebooks
Sir Charles Lyell was the mentor of Charles Darwin (DCMS)

It may be extended to October 15 if a serious intention to raise the funds required to purchase the notebooks is made at the recommended price of £1,444,000.

Committee member Peter Barber said: “Charles Darwin once wrote that ‘I always feel as if my books came half from Lyell’s brains’.

“Lyell’s notebooks and papers are perhaps the most important source of information not only on Lyell’s own multifarious researches – including climate change as well as geology – but also on intellectual networking and networks in Victorian Britain and on numerous other, non-scientific as well as scientific, aspects of Victorian society.

“It is of the utmost importance that Lyell’s notebooks and papers are retained in this country so that they can, at long last, be made available to researchers.”

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