A surprise Easter “gift” to the University of Cambridge, had an unexpected link to the Museum of Policing in Cheshire. A rare set of Charles Darwin’s notebooks was anonymously returned to the university after being missing for 20 years. They were carefully packaged and wrapped inside a pink gift bag with a printed note saying “Happy Easter x.”

When he heard the news on national TV, Cheshire police museum researcher Will Brown recalled a former Cheshire Police Officer, Thomas Burgess, who had sailed with Darwin on HMS Beagle.

On this ship Darwin did his famous research on the process of natural selection, for his book “The Origin of the Species.”

The museum has archives linking the two men, including copies of letters and research material. Burgess asked Darwin for a portrait to remember him by. He received that and also a signed book from Darwin.

The officer also received a scrimshaw, a carved whale tooth made by a crew member, which came to light after being stored in the bottom of a wardrobe by one of his descendants in Macclesfield. The rare scrimshaw, held onto by the family for 170 years, was sold for £6,000. It was later sold by Bonhams in London for £40,800 in 2010.

Royal Marine Private Thomas Burgess, of Heaton Lane, Stockport, joined the Marines in October 1830 and served on several ships before transferring to HMS Beagle in June 1832 in Rio de Janeiro, after the death of three crew members from fever.

Burgess was part of the crew carrying out surveying work in The Falklands, then Tierra del Fuego before reaching the Galapagos Archipelago. HMS Beagle then sailed onto Tahiti, and arrived in New Zealand in December 1835 where Darwin continued his work.

Burgess was “paid off” in October 1836 and the following February left the Marines “By Purchase” of £20.

In later years Burgess wrote to Darwin recalling their time together.

In one letter he wrote: “… do you remember me calling you upon Deck one night, when the Beagle Lay in Chiloé to Witness the Volcanic Eruption of a Mountain when I was on Duty on the Middle Watch, and you Exclaimed, O my God, what a sight, I shall never forget.”

After leaving the Marines Burgess joined the old Cheshire Constabulary established in 1829, where he was a first class constable. He joined the new force aged 46 on 20th April 1857 and was issued collar number 29.

He retired on a pension aged 59 on 20th April, 1870, after 13 years in the new force and 20 years in the old Cheshire Constabulary.

Burgess had served as a Constable in Macclesfield, Hazel Grove, Poynton and Wilmslow.

He was never promoted but in August 1867 for Reporting to Excise a case under the Dogs Act, was rewarded with £2.4s.0d.

Our officer had a few misconduct reports, including being found drunk in a cottage when on duty on Christmas Day in 1857. He was fined 10/- and cautioned by the Chief Constable.

Burgess was a popular character described as 5′ 9″ stout build with hazel eyes, dark brown hair and a fresh complexion. He married Hannah Fletcher in 1838 residing in Edgeley, Stockport.

His police pay in 1857 was 21/- pw, and on his retirement pension was £32 per annum. He died on 20 March 1882, aged 70 years 10 months.

Image: HMS Beagle (centre) from an 1841 watercolour by Owen Stanley, painted during the third voyage while surveying Australia. (public commons Wikipedia)