Canterbury tale of rare book is solved on Skye

DARWIN - G FERGUSON 5

KEITH MACKENZIE keith.mackenzie@whfp.com

Skye book dealer Gilleasbuig Ferguson thought he had got his hands on a real bargain when he recently sourced a rare 19th century copy of Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’.

But as it turned out, the volume of the great scientist’s magnum opus should never have been on sale at all.

DARWIN - G FERGUSON 6After spotting a small stamp on one of the inside pages, Gilleasbuig turned from seller to sleuth and this week the book was on its way back to its rightful owners – 11,000 miles away in a New Zealand museum.

Gilleasbuig explained that he became suspicious after spotting the ‘Canterbury Museum’ stamp, although his initial searches drew a blank and he wondered whether the book may have been sold off by a now-defunct English museum. Further investigations, however, would reveal that this Canterbury tale referred not to Kent but to Christchurch, New Zealand. And the book, reckoned to be worth over £5,000, has a curious past.

It was discovered that the book had been removed accidentally by a researcher in the 1960s and had lain in a box until a recent clear-out saw it passed on to a second-hand book seller.

Originally it belonged to a collection of books donated in 1890 by Walter Mantell – a noted New Zealand scientist, and son of the eminent English palaeontologist Gideon Mantell who discovered the dinosaur ‘Iguanodon’.

Experts at the museum believe that the book could well have been given to Mantell by Darwin, as the two men corresponded on various topics ranging from geology to the Maori conception of beauty.

Gilleasbuig, who is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and sells a range of collectable books from his home in Skeabost, said he was happy to have helped return a piece of New Zealand history to its rightful place. He added that the seller he had purchased from had also agreed to provide a refund for the original purchase.

Julian Columbus, the senior curator of Natural History at the Canterbury Museum, wrote to Gilleasbuig to thank him for his research. He said: “Gilleasbuig, on behalf of the management and research team here at Canterbury Museum – we appreciate and understand your honesty and kind gesture in returning the book home.”