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Welcome to Kew's archive...

Kiri Ross-Jones
18 December 2009
Meet the Archives Team and read about the Darwin-Henslow letters.

Meet the Archives Team

As this is my very first post, I thought I’d better introduce myself! I’m Kiri, Kew’s archivist and records manager (I'm on the far left in the photo below). Together with Michele our assistant archivist, Hannah our graduate trainee and Omelia our modern records assistant, I have the privilege of managing Kew’s historical documentary Archives and modern records.

Our Archives consist of 1km of documents, which equates to about 7 million pieces of paper! They include documents relating to the history of Kew, such as the historical correspondence of the directors at Kew (see the for more details), as well as other items relating to the history of botany, such as diaries and photographs from Victorian plant hunters.

Members of the Archives team will be blogging soon, letting you know about their work and interesting collections that they have come across. But to start I thought I’d tell you a bit about one of my favourite collections in the Archives… 

The Darwin - Henslow Letters 

We are now running up from the Falkland Islands to the Rio Negro (or Colorado). The Beagle will proceed to M: Video; but if it can be managed I intend staying at the former place. It is now some months since we have been at a civilized port… It is a detestable place, gales succeed gales with such short intervals, that it is difficult to do anything.

This is a quote from one of 44 letters that we hold, from Charles Darwin to his mentor Professor John Stevens Henslow. The letters are very open and human, which means as well as being extremely important documents from Darwin’s life that help to inform our understanding of his theories today, they also give a real insight into Darwin the man. Having read them, I felt like I had got to know the young, adventurous Darwin.

The letters chart Darwin’s travels on the HMS Beagle expedition, from his excitable response to being accepted on the expedition by Captain Robert Fitzroy in 1831, to letters detailing his experiences in South America and finally to analysing and distributing the specimens he had collected once home, 5 years later (Kew's Herbarium holds some of the Beagle specimens).

These letters are amongst the most popular items that we hold in the Archives, and with this year being Darwin's anniversary, we have launched an appeal to raise funds to conserve them. The letters are in urgent need of repair and re-housing and we are concerned that without this work they may deteriorate to such an extent that they will no longer be usable. You can help us restore and save these precious documents for future generations by getting in touch and making a donation to our Darwin's letters campaign.

Transcriptions of the letters are already available on the Darwin Correspondence website, and we’d like to digitise the letters and make them available on the web, giving everyone the opportunity to read these original letters written by Darwin.

The amount that we need to raise to do this is £25'000 as each letter costs around £570 to conserve, re-house, catalogue, transcribe, digitise and web-enable.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about our Darwin letters and do keep an eye on the blog for future posts from the Archives after Christmas.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas,

- Kiri -  

Make a donation to help save Darwin's letters

More information



29 January 2010
Thanks Renee! Conservation is such a careful, time-consuming process that it is very costly! And we want to make sure that we give our special Darwin letters the best treatment possible :0)
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25 January 2010
Wow, £570 per letter to conserve and digitise is a phenomenal cost. So nice to see another Archive & Library blog :) I'll add you to the LMLAG blogroll...
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