skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

German and Dutch photograph albums

Composite banner of German and Dutch photograph albums © English Heritage Trust.


In 1877, Charles Darwin was sent some unusual birthday presents: two lavishly produced albums of portrait photographs from continental admirers. The gifts were so striking that they were reported in the English press. Both were covered in velvet, with specially commissioned silver fittings. One was from Germany and the other from the Netherlands.

Darwin was delighted with these gifts, and wrote of the German album: 

Until the day of my death I shall look at this magnificent Album with the portraits of so many honoured German naturalists as by far the greatest honour, which ever has been or could possibly be conferred on me (Letter to Otto Zacharias, [24 February 1877])

The two albums were very different in composition. The German album was organised by one of Darwin’s most vocal supporters in Germany, the zoologist, Ernst Haeckel, and includes German and Austrian men, who were mainly professional scientists and invited to contribute. The album from the Netherlands was more democratic with a range of people, including several women, from many walks of life. The contributors were schoolteachers, apothecaries, clerks, merchants, manufacturers, and artists, as well as scientific and medical professionals. In his thank you letter for the Dutch album, Darwin said:

I hope that you will endeavour to find some means to express to the two hundred & seventeen distinguished observers & lovers of natural science, who have sent me their photographs, my gratitude for their extreme kindness ... for the few remaining years of my life, whenever I want cheering, I will look at the portraits of my distinguished co-workers in the field of science, & remember their generous sympathy. (Letter to A. A. van Bemmelen, 12 February 1877

View the Dutch album

View the German and Austrian album

The albums are now in the English Heritage Trust collection at Darwin’s home, Down House, in Kent. They are made available through a collaboration with English Heritage staff and Cambridge Digital Library.

Very little is known about many of the people featured in these albums. If you can help to identify any of them, please get in touch.