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The Lyell Geoscience Society

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Home Events Lyell Day Links Sir Charles Lyell


Charles Lyell was born 14th November 1797 at Kinnordy House (nr Kirriemuir Scotland) a Scottish estate at the foot of the Grampian Hills south of the Highland Boundary Fault. After a few years the family moved to England and Lyell spent much of his childhood at Bartley Lodge, New Forest. Lyell grew up in comfortable surroundings and encouraged by his parents, developed a keen observation of the natural world around him. His father, a naturalist, achieved fame in his own right as a botanist and translator of Dante. Lyell was educated at Exeter College Oxford where he graduated in classics and was called to the bar in 1822 and he practiced as a barrister until 1827. During this time he was asked to survey part of Forfarshire in 1824 to help compile the geological map of Scotland. This resulted in Lyell’s first two scientific papers :

  • Lyell (1825) “On a Dike of Serpentine, Cutting Through Sandstone, in the county of Forfar,” Edinburgh Journal of Science, 3, 112, 126
  • Lyell (1826) “On a recent formation of freshwater limestone in Forfarshire, and on some recent deposits of freshwater marl; with a comparison of recent with ancient freshwater formations; an Appendix on the Gyrogonite or seed-vessel of the Chara.” Trans. Geol. Soc. London,73-96

A growing interest in geology led to his hobby becoming his life. After reviewing Scrope’s ‘Memoir on the Geology of Central France’, Lyell headed for France in 1828 and explored the volcanic region of the Auvergne with Murchison and his wife. He visited Naples and Mount Etna to gather supporting evidence for a theory of geology he was developing. Lyell became a great traveller, field geologist and academic. In 1831 he married the daughter of a Scottish geologist, Mary Horner, and became professor at King’s College.

University of London Publications Contribution Recognition Westminster Abbey

University of London – King’s College
Lyell was appointed to the Chair of Geology at King's College London in February 1831, and presented a series of 12 lectures based on The Principles of Geology. The lectures were open to the public and attracted large audiences of between 100 and 300, including several peers in the Geological Society. They created a great deal of interest and were generally very well received. However, King's College authorities decided not to allow women to attend the lectures apart from the Introduction because they were considered a distraction for students. Lyell's audiences dwindled to around 15 and consequently, Lyell resigned from his position in October 1833. Despite the brevity of his tenure, Lyell firmly established geology as a scientific discipline at King's College.

University of London – Royal Holloway
The established Lyell Chair at King’s College moved to Royal Holloway in 1985 due to the amalgamation of King's, Bedford and Chelsea College geology. At Royal Holloway the chair has been held by the following academics:
Prof. Bob Howie (1985-1992) – mineralogy (Prof Howie held the chair at King’s before moving to Royal Holloway)
Prof. John Mather (1992-2002) - hydrogeology
Prof. Martin Menzies (2002-2015) – geochemistry (Chairman 1997-2002)


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