RECORD: Wyhe, John van. 2007. A Darwin manuscript at Christ's College, Christ's College Magazine no. 232, pp. 66-8.

NOTE: The photograph and cheque can be seen on Darwin Online.

[page] 66

A Darwin Manuscript at Christ's College

For over seventy years a smartly framed photograph of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) hung on the end of a book case in the Old Library. Also inside the frame, just below the photograph, a small rectangular opening in the mount displayed the signature 'Ch. Darwin'. During recent visits to the Old Library I was curious to know if this signature was just a scrap of paper cut from a letter, or if it was written on a document still preserved, though sealed inside the 35.5 x 40 cm frame. The frame itself is stamped as manufactured by a Cambridge cabinet maker.

The photograph, and the frame, have their own story. A pencilled 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. 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, in a different and very faint hand is written in pencil:

NB F.D. Dyster was the microscopist after whom the genus Dysteria was named.

A third pencil note in yet a different hand records:

Exhibited at the Darwin Commemoration in Christ's College – June 1909.

Finally a typewritten slip pasted on the board states:

CHARLES DARWIN (probably 1854, aged 45). Given by him to Dr. F.D. Dyster, and bequeathed to the College by Dr. Dyster's nephew, Dr. F.H.H. Guillemard, 1934.

There is an entry for the photograph in the 1909 exhibition catalogue.

[page] 67


Lent by Dr. F. H. H. Guillemard.

Photograph probably taken about 1854 and given by Charles Darwin to F. D. Dyster, Esq., the microscopist.

(A. E. Shipley, Darwin Centenary. The Portraits, Prints and Writings of Charles Robert Darwin. Exhibited at Christ's College, Cambridge, 1909. [Privately printed].)

A contemporary photograph in the 1909 collection in the Old Library, shows the framed Darwin photograph on display on the ground floor of the Library in 1909.

The photograph was taken in London c. 1855, about one year after Darwin started full-time work on his species theory, by Maull and Polyblank for the Literary and Scientific Portrait Club. A letter from Darwin to Joseph Dalton 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.' (Correspondence of Charles Darwin vol. 5, p. 339.)

There is no known surviving Darwin correspondence with the man Darwin gave the photograph to, Frederick Daniel Dyster (1810-1893). He was a surgeon naturalist with strong interests in microscopy and marine zoology. Dyster was a friend of Thomas Henry Huxley and attended Emma Darwin's aunt, Jessie Sismondi, when she died on 3 March 1853. (H. E. Litchfield ed. 1915. Emma Darwin, A Century of Family Letters, 1702-1896. London: John Murray, vol. 2, p. 152)

The College Librarian, Candace Guite, and the Keeper of Pictures, David Norman, gave permission for the frame to be removed and opened. This was done by Conservation Officer, Melvin Jefferson.

On opening the frame, which had presumably been sealed since 1909, Jefferson found the Darwin signature to be the endorsement on the back of a cheque. The entire cheque had been carefully folded and preserved so that just the signature on the back could be seen through the mount.

The cheque is from the Union Bank of London, made out by Darwin 'to self' for 100 pounds on 21 March 1872.

The entire cheque transcribed is as follows (Darwin's writing is in bold):

No. V18356 London March 21 1872

The Union Bank of London,


Pay to self or Order One Hundred Pounds


This Cheque must be endorsed by the party to whom it is payable Ch. Darwin

On the reverse it is signed: 'Ch. Darwin' – this being the signature visible under the photograph. The cheque is stamped: 'Paid Mar. 22' A hole in the centre probably indicates Darwin put the cheque on his spits.

What was Darwin doing on 21 March 1872? We know from his 'Journal' or diary that he and his family left their rented London holiday house on that very day to return to their home in the village of Downe, Kent. (Cambridge University Library DAR158.1-76)

So how did the cheque end up inside the frame with the photograph Darwin gave to Dyster? Dyster's nephew, Dr Francis Henry Hill Guillemard (1852-1933), a geographer and travel writer, signed the exhibition guest book at

[page] 68

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. Darwin's papers had now become so precious that the cheque was preserved, and the signature not just cut out. The fact that the frame was made in Cambridge is consistent with this.

And so the photograph, and the cheque bearing Darwin's signature, were sealed behind glass in 1909. After the death of Guillemard in 1934 the frame was given to Christ's where it has hung ever since.

Both the photograph and the cheque have now been conserved. Excellent reproductions are displayed in the original frame in its original position.

John van Wyhe (Bye-Fellow 2005)

This document has been accessed 2927 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 2 July, 2012