Hairs probably from Charles Darwin’s beard, and other long-lost family keepsakes, are on show for the first time at the Natural History Museum’s new blockbuster exhibition, Darwin, opening today
The hairs, along with many other animal specimens, displays and personal objects are part of the biggest exhibition about Charles Darwin ever. Open until 19 April 2009, Darwin celebrates the great scientist's revolutionary ideas and the impact they have had on our understanding of the natural world.
Randal Keynes, Darwin’s great-great-grandson, discovered the hair when he was looking through the contents of a box, kept by Darwin’s daughter Etty.
Close-up of Etty's box
Some loose hairs inside the box were almost certainly from Charles Darwin’s beard, collected from his writing desk after his death. This is the first time Etty's box and its contents have been on show to the public.
Randal believes the women of the household may have wanted to keep a lock of Darwin’s hair, but hadn’t cut one before the body was taken away for burial at Westminster Abbey.
Species evolution to modern horses is shown in this display at Darwin
Instead, they looked in his study for loose hairs that had fallen from his long, wispy beard.
The hairs were carefully wrapped in tissue paper marked ‘remaining hair’ and placed in an envelope on which Etty had written ‘Found after his death in my father’s papers’.
The box also contains many family mementoes, including locks of hair from children and other family members on their death.
Randal Keynes, Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandson, installs mockingbirds collected by Darwin, into the exhibition
There were also shells that Darwin brought back from his Beagle voyage, together with others collected by his children and labelled by them on scraps cut from his hand-written notes.
Alex Gaffikin, Museum exhibition developer said ‘This is a truly remarkable collection of family heirlooms and specimens that brings us all just a bit closer to the great man himself, as well as his family. We can almost feel like we explored the Galapagos ourselves.’
A preview of the exhibition was held this week and attended by Bill Oddie, Yasmin Le Bon, Jon Snow, Chase Crawford and others.
Yasmin Le Bon at Darwin
They enjoyed a first glimpse of the exhibition during a Victorian-themed event.
Benedict Cumberbatch, who is playing Joseph Hooker in the Charles Darwin file Creation in 2009, says 'The exhibition is enlightening and moving and an inspiration for further investigation into this fascinating and very dear family man and quiet, humble genius.'
The exhibition is the highlight of Darwin200, a national programme of events celebrating Charles Darwin’s ideas, impact and influence around the two hundredth anniversary of his birth.
Darwin is open to the public from 14 November 2008 – 19 April 2009