Darwin’s heir discovers Darwin’s hair and other keepsakes

Press release - 13 November 2008

Darwin is the biggest ever exhibition about Charles Darwin. Open to the public: 14 November 2008 – 19 April 2009

Hairs believed to come from Charles Darwin’s beard and other long-lost family keepsakes will be put on show for the first time at the Natural History Museum’s new blockbuster exhibition, Darwin, which opens to the public on Friday 14 November.

Randal Keynes, Darwin’s great-great-grandson, recently made the amazing discovery when he was looking through the contents of a box, kept by Darwin’s daughter Etty. One of the collection of hair samples in the box was not a lock of hair, but a small collection of loose hairs almost certainly from Charles Darwin’s beard and collected from his writing desk after his death. This is the first time the 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 from the house for burial at Westminster Abbey. 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’.

Emma Darwin gave the small leather box to her daughter, Annie. It passed down to younger sister Etty on Annie’s death. The box contains many family mementoes, including locks of hair from both infants and also family members on their death. 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 are just some of the other illuminating items in this collection.

Alex Gaffikin, exhibition developer at the Natural History Museum 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.’

Discover the man and the revolutionary theory that changed our understanding of the world and our place within it at Darwin – an exhibition celebrating Charles Darwin’s ideas and their impact, giving new insight into the achievements of this brilliant observer of nature.

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. www.darwin200.org

Visitor information

adult £9, child £4.50, family £24, concession £6
free for Members, Patrons and children aged three and under
Dates and times:
14 November – 19 April 2009, 10.00–17.50 (last admission 17.30)
Visitor enquiries:
020 7942 5000 Monday–Friday, 020 7942 5011 Saturday–Sunday
Website: www.nhm.ac.uk/darwin


Notes for editors

Notes for editors
• Selected by Time Out in 2007 as one of the Seven Wonders of London, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries. www.nhm.ac.uk
• The Darwin exhibition is organised in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History, the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, the Museum of Science, Boston, The Field Museum, Chicago and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.

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