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Darwin’s lost library now on display for all

By Leanne Coleman

CDU Professorial Fellow John van Wyhe helps launch the Charles Darwin’s Beagle Library from Singapore CDU Professorial Fellow John van Wyhe helps launch the Charles Darwin’s Beagle Library from Singapore

A treasure-trove of lost library books used by naturalist Charles Darwin on one of the most important scientific expeditions in history has been launched at Charles Darwin University in collaboration with the National University of Singapore.

Charles Darwin’s Beagle Library has been re-constructed and is now available to the public, 178 years after the voyage of the Beagle (1831-1836) where the young Charles Darwin conducted his investigations that would change science and the world forever.

The library has been re-constructed as part of Darwin Online, a project directed by National University of Singapore historian of science and CDU Professorial Fellow John van Wyhe, with funding support from CDU and the CDU Foundation.

Dr van Wyhe said that at the end of the Beagle’s voyage the library was dispersed and its contents had long remained a mystery.

“In the 1980s, the editors of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin reconstructed a list of 132 works that were probably in the library based on evidence from Darwin's notes and other sources. Combining previous lists with new research, we have created our catalogue of 181 works.”

He said the online library provided an unprecedented insight into the journey that changed science, and our understanding of the world.

“For the first time, it is possible for anyone to browse or search through Darwin’s Beagle library in an instant for quotations, places, people, species,” he said.

“The Beagle may not have had the internet, but she did have a stunning state-of-the-art library. It was housed in the same cabin where Darwin worked and slept. Darwin lived in the Beagle library for five years.”

Dr van Wyhe said the library revealed the sources and inspirations that Darwin read day after day.

“The library consists of 404 volumes amounting to over 195,000 pages,” Dr van Wyhe said. “Perhaps the most impressive revelation in the online Beagle library is the rich visual gallery of hundreds of thousands of images. Many of the works were beautifully illustrated.”

The Beagle library project has been funded by an Academic Research Fund granted by the Ministry of Education of the Singapore Government and supported by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Science University of Singapore, and Charles Darwin University and the Charles Darwin University Foundation, Northern Territory, Australia.