Photograph of Charles Darwin by Maull and Polyblank for the Literary and Scientific Portrait Club (1855)

For many years this framed photograph of Charles Darwin hung on the end of a book case in the Old Library of Christ's College, Cambridge. Also inside the frame, just below the photograph, a small rectangular opening in the mount displayed the signature 'Ch. Darwin'.

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 [Wales]. 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 the photograph was displayed at Christ's College 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.

91. PORTRAIT OF CHARLES DARWIN.

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.' (The correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5, p. 339.) There are copies of the photograph in the National Portrait Gallery and the Cambridge University Library.

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) On 1 July 1858 he was present at the meeting of the Linnean Society where Darwin's and Wallace's papers on evolution by natural selection were first read.

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 to be framed with the photograph. 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 in 1933) where it has hung ever since.

John van Wyhe

December 2006

Photograph of Charles Darwin by Maull and Polyblank for the Literary and Scientific Portrait Club (1855). Image CC-OldLibrary184a

Reproduced with permission of Christ's College, Cambridge.

RN2

 

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