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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

Charles Lyell learned the importance of geological observations in the field and the value of precise and accurate recording of geological information. As a member of the Geological Society, he took part in the lively debates in the 1820s about how to reconcile the biblical account of the Flood with geological findings. He travelled extensively across Europe and North America to examine a wide range of geological phenomena. Lyell became one of the most eminent scientists of the Victorian Age. Lyell created major divisions of the Tertiary based on his knowledge of the geology of southern England and the Paris Basin. The Eocene was defined from his analysis of fossil molluscs from Barton-on-Sea.


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