Author Archives: pmcintyr

Recreating Connections: Exploring Charles Lyell’s Offprint Collection

An offprint is a separate printing of a work that originally appeared as part of a larger publication, such as an academic journal, magazine, or edited book. Offprints are used by authors to promote their work and ensure a wider dissemination and longer life than might have been achieved through the original publication alone. They are valued by collectors as akin to the first separate edition of a work and, as they are often given away, and may bear an inscription from the author. Historically, the exchange of offprints has been a method of correspondence between scholars; by studying Lyell’s offprints, we will be able to extend our understanding of his network, for example, contrasting the correspondence files, or by following up references in his notebooks, but, to do that, first we need a list! Please welcome Harriet Mack and Claire Bottoms, who are now charged with that task…. 

Hi, we are Harriet and Claire, and we have been working for about a month on Charles Lyell’s collection of offprints held by Heritage Collections. These offprints are a series of publications collected and kept by Charles Lyell (1797-1875) assisting with his understanding of scientific principles. Their numerous locations and authors help expose the extensive network of researchers publishing – from Paris, Geneva, Berlin, Sicily to North America – as well as being a record of Lyell’s wide-reaching interests – from geology, history, science, anatomy and civil engineering – to name a few Using Lyell’s own work and his archive collection, and by listing these offprints, we are recreating Lyell’s network and reference library, providing researchers with a route to Lyell’s own reading and research.

Catalogue of Land Shells in the Royal Collection of the late King of Denmark. Fam. Cochleadea. Trib.1. Vitrinida, by Henrik Hendriksen Beck.

Map of Hindostan and the Countries Adjoining, showing the tracks of the most remarkable earthquakes since 1819, the principal volcanoes and hot wells, the localities of hailstorms, direction of the wind in the rainy season, etc. by George Buist

From the get-go we were focusing on the specific primary metadata that could be taken from each offprint. These include the title, author, paginations, language, date, publisher, and any handwritten notes. Titles are often long and specific to geological terminology with many in German, Italian, French, and English with some outliers of Latin and Swedishwe’ve been spending a lot of time on Google translate! What is interesting is that the dates follow a huge range across Lyell’s lifetime, with some early works from 1811 and later works dated in the months before his death in 1875. We are pulling out publishers and journal titles as they provide crucial information concerning the works of learned societies, publications of similar dates, similar interests at the time, and an understanding of the priorities in each year. So far, we have recorded over 200 offprints covering a wide range of topics. 

Of great interest are the handwritten notes that accompany the printed works – which reveal hidden details. These appear often on the cover of the offprints and contain dedications by the authors, as well as notes made by Lyell and his team – wife Mary Lyell (18081873) and secretary Arabella Buckley (1840 – 1929). Working through the collection, we have uncovered these additional layers to Lyell’s administrative organisation; these added names and dates ensure that the offprint can be identified by the cover as well as the title page.

One of our favourite dedications so far is on the cover of Notes on the Vegetation of Buenos Ayres and the neighbouring districts by Sir Charles James Fox Bunbury (1809-1886) dated 1854. The dedication stands out as it is to Mary Lyell rather than Charles: ‘to Mary E. Lyell with the Author’s love’. Charles Bunbury married Mary’s sister, Frances (1814–1894). Lyell’s wider archival collection holds correspondence that details their family and working relationship – it’s gratifying to see this extend to the sharing of offprints. 

Surprisingly colourful, Lyell’s offprints come in a range of pastel shades

Lyell’s offprints have been fascinating to look through. We have gained a colourful wealth of knowledge on specific regions and geological phenomena, as well as an understanding of broader nineteenth century scientific knowledge. At the same time, it is easy to get lost; a common rabbit hole has been the pink journal Revue des Sciences. For this title, Lyell kept specific monthly editions in full. By doing this, he has enabled us to see what else was printed in each edition, widening our understanding of what he and his contemporaries (his network of ‘able investigators’) were reading in connection with one another.  


We are really looking forward to continuing looking, and finding more!

Le Plesiosaurus Dolichodeirus conyb. Du Musee Teyler, By T.C. Winkler

Charles Lyell’s archaeological specimens at the University of Edinburgh

Will Adams completed his MA Archaeology dissertation at the University of Edinburgh Summer 2023 looking at Lyell’s archaeological specimens – achieving an impressive 78% and winning an award to boot! Read on to find out more about his spectacular findings…

Scientific Notebook 266 page 14

Many specimens from Charles Lyell’s private collection were donated to the University of Edinburgh in 1927 and came directly from his family home and birthplace of Kinnordy House. In the very last Scientific Notebook, number 266, dated 17 July-23 November 1874, Lyell, in advancing age, is driven to Kinnordy to search “in vain in the Charter Room for Colonel Imrie rock specimens of N. Esk”.


This indicates that any finding aids to access what must have been a voluminous personal collection, even during Lyell’s lifetime, were problematic. No detailed documentation about the specimens at the time of the gift in 1927 appears to have survived, and the absolute authentication as having been part of Lyell’s specimen collection, is reliant on the existence of original labels. Subsequent use by staff of the University also had an impact on the specimens – a split occurred in the collection, with specimens now held by both the Cockburn Geological Museum and the Vere Gordon Childe Collection.

This paper is a study of the archaeological flint tool, VGC1363, held in the Vere Gordon Childe Collection and shows how it can be irrefutably reunited with Lyell through studying the object alongside his printed publications and recently acquired notebooks. This work highlights how an interdisciplinary approach utilising archive, library and museum evidence is essential for provenance research in scientific collections.

Figure 1. Illustration by Adams (2023) showing a match of specimen EUCM.0001.2022 with a figure in Lyell’s The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863) realised by Dr Gillian McCay, Curator of the Cockburn Geological Museum

Using Lyell’s books as source material, Gillian McCay, Curator of the Cockburn Museum had confirmed that specimen reference EUCM.0001.2022, in Figure 1, had been ‘figured’ and included as an illustration in Lyell’s last major work, The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863), which had huge public success with almost all of the 4000 copies sold in its first week of publication (Cohen, 1999, 90).


Looking at the rest of the collection, I was intrigued to find out if I could reveal any more, and was particularly interested in a set of flint hand axes in a draw labelled “Misc. French Flints” in the Vere Gordon Childe Collection, that have ‘Sir C Lyell’ written directly on them or on the object label.

VGC1363: An indication of Lyell

Collecting evidence was critical for Lyell – surely more specimens could be found and identified, using his books? From developments in the human antiquity debate by Joseph Prestwich and John Evans in 1859, Lyell conducted his own research in the Somme Valley to provide an authoritative judgement.

Figure 2. Page 118 Antiquity of Man

Figure 2 shows page 118 of Lyell’s Antiquity. Studying this page carefully and using my knowledge of archaeological illustration I could see that this flint tool displayed in Lyell’s “Fig 14” has been broken in half from the “b” and “c” line in the original illustration and the section shown at “d”. Out of all the miscellaneous French flints in this draw, I could now narrow down my search to broken flint tools to provide a positive match.

Figure 3. Photograph by Adams (2023) of a drawer in the Vere Gordon Childe Collection labelled as “…Misc. French Flints” with specimen VGC1363 highlighted by a red circle





The flint tool circled in Figure 3 is broken in half, making it a candidate. It is fortunate to retain its label which reads “Sir C. Lyell, Menchecourt bed – ‘e’, March 1861” this connects it to Lyell. The connection is further supported by Lyell’s description of “Fig.14”  as being a flint knife from Menchecourt (Lyell, 1863, 118).

Figure 4(a): Illustration by Adams (2023) comparing VGC1363 with “Fig.14.” through correspondence points; and on the righthand side Figure 4(b): Illustration by Adams (2023) showing a match of the specimen of Cyrena (Corbicula) fluminalis, EUCM.0222.2023, from Erith, Kent to illustration “d” in “Fig.17” of …Antiquity of Man (1863)

Furthermore, the illustration in Figure 4(a) shows how the object matches morphologically to Lyell’s “Fig. 14.”, through the transverse section and from the front view of the object.

This is an important object because of its context of being found “below the sand containing Cyrena fluminalis, Menchecourt, Abbeville” (Lyell, 1863, 124). Later in the book, Lyell goes on to explain that Cyrena (Corbicula) fluminalis is now an extinct species of freshwater shell in modern Europe, suggesting that the presence of a human modified flint tool in a stratigraphic layer below this shell supports human antiquity (Lyell, 1863, 124).

In Figure 4(b) a specimen of Cyrena (Corbicula) fluminalis held in the Cockburn Geological Museum collection appears to match the illustration and place name description of “Erith, Kent” typed in the extant label, in illustration “d” in “Fig.17.” of Antiquity of Man (Lyell, 1863, 124).

Turning away from the source material of books, and object labels – I was also able to consult Lyell’s rich archive, including the 294 notebooks. Knowing the time frame, and location I was able to establish that Lyell’s Notebook 245 records him being on site in Menchecourt in March 1861.

Figure 5. Figure 5: Edited photograph taken by Adams (2023) of Lyell’s notebook showing the flint knives place in the stratigraphy with a photograph of VGC1363 superimposed into the stratigraphy.



















Figure 5 shows an edited version of Lyell’s stratigraphic drawing during his time there, showing flint knives found below a layer containing Cyrena (Corbicula) fluminalis. Lyell’s note at the top of the page 138 reads “Menchecourt. Two specimen of knives found below a marine bed with cyrena” which is the conclusive proof placing Lyell at the right place and time to uncover VGC1363.

Figure 6. Figure 6 The six archaeological specimens from University of Edinburgh conclusively connected to Charles Lyell. From top left to bottom right: EUCM.0001.2022; VGC1363; VGC1368; EUCM.0311.2009; VGC0860; VGC1366 (Adams, 2023)

Lyell’s specimens confirmed

Through my 4th year MA Archaeology dissertation, I conclusively identified another five archaeological specimens in the University of Edinburgh’s collections, shown in Figure 6, as belonging to Charles Lyell, and, through archival research, was able to create detailed object biographies for each. Although there are more flint hand axes with Lyell’s name attached which have not yet received the same detailed analysis, the trends seen in the object labelling system of the six specimens are consistent with the others in the collection. This makes it highly likely that the ‘Sir C Lyell’ labelled hand-axes in the Cockburn and Vere Gordon Childe collections belonged to the private collection of Lyell. An interdisciplinary approach was essential for determining the provenance of all six of these specimens – I had to apply both my archaeological knowledge and skills as well as newly acquired archival skills such as palaeography to fully understand what I was seeing. Piecing together this information was further complicated, due to a lack of relationships created between the different collections. As I embark on my working career, I’ll definitely advocate for establishing relationships between archive, museum and library catalogue entries to avoid a loss of provenance and the dispersal of materials.

Thank you, Will, for all your efforts – you should take great satisfaction for your part in identifying and repatriating a set of ‘miscellaneous French flints’ as being crucial to Lyell and his role in the Antiquity of Man debate, from which all future users will benefit!

Further reading

Cohen, C. 1998. Charles Lyell and the evidences of the antiquity of man. Geological Society Publications 143, pp. 83-93.

Lyell, C. 1863. The Geological Evidence for the Antiquity of Man (3rd Ed). London: John Murray.

Charles Lyell’s Books

‘No. 1 Mem for Tours’ features ‘Author’s (CL’s) Copies of Papers’.

In his Scientific Notebook 1, dated March – April 1825, Charles Lyell lists things to take on his first geological tour, designed to gather the evidence for his first book. In the list, he notes ‘Author’s (C.Ls) copies of papers‘, and it’s delightful to see him describe himself in that role.



Felicity with Jeremy Upton, Director of Library & University Collections at Lyell exhibition opening.

Felicity MacKenzie came across Charles Lyell whilst completing her History degree at Bristol – and for a considerable part of that, consulted online versions of his books during lockdown conditions. Felicity has now completed her Masters degree at Cambridge, where again, she was able to focus on Lyell. She is currently applying for a PhD in order to be able to explore his life further. Here, she gives a thorough introduction to Lyell’s books, as well as current links to online versions. 


The books that Charles Lyell wrote played an important role in the way in which he honed and communicated his geological work. When considered alongside each other, they offer the opportunity to trace the threads that run across Lyell’s thought and practice, as well as to compare and contrast his interests and concerns at different times in his career.

A selection of different editions of Lyell’s Principles, held at the University Library.

Lyell’s first and most famous book was the Principles of Geology: Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth’s Surface, by Reference to Causes Now in Operation. Initially published in three volumes – volume I 1830, volume II 1832 and Volume III 1833, the Principles was reprinted in twelve editions over Lyell’s lifetime and sold over twenty-five thousand copies. As the name suggests, Lyell used the book to consolidate and promote the ‘principles’ by which he believed modern geological science should be conducted. The most central of these principles was Lyell’s insistence on the exclusive explanatory authority of the reliable, rationally trained human observer.

For Lyell, human witness and reason formed the only basis for truth. This led him to state his
famous case – that ‘the present is the key to the past’ based on the idea that the action of
geological causes in the present, fell within the remit of human observation, and so formed the only trustworthy basis for knowledge about the way in which such forces might have acted in the past.

Principles, 10th Edition, volume 2, 1868.

This kind of human reason-centred geology had particular political ramifications in the 1830s, when ideas about reason versus revelation – and the bearing of the Bible upon truth – had significant implications for the politics of church, state and education. Lyell was aware that his work could produce heated debate and touch realms beyond geology. As a result, he structured his rhetoric in the Principles carefully. In so doing, he produced a masterpiece in the tactful presentation of controversial ideas. The Principles burst onto the British intellectual scene and remained an important cultural work throughout the nineteenth century and beyond.



Lyell’s second book was the Elements of Geology (1838). This was published in seven editions
between 1838 and 1871; its name changing to the Manual of Elementary Geology with the third
edition. This book was a practical, ‘how-to’ supplement to much of the material already covered
in the Principles, and taught the practitioner what they needed to know for application in the

Next, came Lyell’s American travelogues. Lyell was invited to give a series of lectures at the Lowell Institute in Boston in 1841. During this visit, Lyell not only lectured in Boston, Philadelphia and New York, but travelled extensively around the northern and southern states with his wife Mary, observing and collecting geological phenomena. On returning home, Lyell decided to write up his geological work alongside social and political commentary. This resulted in the Travels in America: With Geological Observations on the United States, Canada, and Nova Scotia volume I and volume II in 1845.

Both volumes include terrific foldouts, necessary to accommodate the scale of the country and its geological features.

Illustrations were important to Lyell, and in his Travels he included a fantastic fold-out, necessary to accommodate the scale of Niagara

That same year, Lyell was invited to lecture again at the Lowell Institute, and factored in another nine-month stint of travelling. The results were published in his A Second Visit to the United States of North America volume I and volume II, in 1849. Once again, a significant portion of this work was dedicated to social and political commentary, which makes it an important insight into Lyell’s broader ideology. In particular, it sheds light on Lyell’s very problematic attitude to race and enslavement

Lyell’s final book was the Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man, with remarks on theories of The Origin of Species by Variation (1863). This work focussed on the question of human antiquity and is famous for how many people Lyell upset with it. Charles Darwin was frustrated that Lyell did not take the opportunity – as a significant figure in the highest echelons of British science – to offer full support for an evolutionary account of human origins. Additionally, Lyell infuriated colleagues, such as Robert Owen, Hugh Falconer and John Lubbock, who accused him of plagiarising their own and others’ works.


Each of Lyell’s books had a different and important impact on the intellectual and cultural life of nineteenth-century Britain. Hugely successful, they chart a course over what was an amazing timeframe in both scientific findings and their popularisation.

Thank you Felicity for sharing your knowledge on Lyell’s books with us! Copies of Lyell’s books from the University’s collections, as well as Lyell’s own annotated copies, are featured in our current exhibition. We will be featuring Felicity’s comprehensive online book list, and more, in our forthcoming website.

Recommended further reading:

  • James A. Secord, ‘Introduction’, in Principles of Geology (London; New York: Penguin Books, 1997)
  • Martin J.S. Rudwick, Worlds before Adam: the reconstruction of geohistory in the age of reform, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)
  • Martin J.S. Rudwick, ‘The Strategy of Lyell’s Principles of Geology’, ISIS, 61:1 (1970), 4-33
  • Roy Porter, ‘‘Charles Lyell and the Principles of the History of Geology’, The British Journal for the History of Science, 9:2 (1975), 91-103
  • Stuart A. Baldwin, ’Charles Lyell: A Brief Bibliography’, (Essex: Baldwin’s Scientific Books, 2013)
  • Robert H. Dott, Jr., ’Lyell in America: his lectures, field work and mutual influences 1841-1853’ Earth Sciences History, 15 (1996), 101-140
  • W. F. Bynum, Charles Lyell’s ‘Antiquity of Man’ and Its Critics, Journal of the History of Biology, Summer, 1984, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Summer, 1984), pp. 153-187


Three fossils representing the Tertiary, Secondary and Primary eras: a Nummulite, an Ammonite and an enrolled Trilobite.

Working with Charles Lyell – a call for papers

Two-day workshop, 8-9 February 2024, University of Edinburgh


Contributions are invited to a two-day workshop on the life and work of the leading geologist and natural scientist Charles Lyell, to be held in the University of Edinburgh.

Building on the acquisition for the nation of the notebooks and archival papers of distinguished geologist and earth scientist Charles Lyell (1797-1875), our work towards the ‘Time Traveller’ exhibition and a soon to be launched Lyell dedicated website, we now invite papers for a 2 day workshop in Edinburgh.

The Workshop: Aims to provide a platform for persons interested in the life, work, and collections of Charles Lyell, and science in the nineteenth century, to come together to learn more of the Lyell materials held in Edinburgh, to explore how best to connect the disparate holdings of Lyell’s specimens and texts, and to consider future research possibilities on Lyell’s work and world.

Contributions in the form of a paper to be delivered at the Workshop are invited from persons working on any aspect of Lyell’s work and life, on the history of geology, or on related topics bearing upon Lyell’s writings and achievements. Contributions are also welcomed from curatorial or archival staff in institutions holding Lyell material or significant related material for an intended panel session on linking archival holdings and object collections across institutions. The Workshop will include an opportunity to see some of the Lyell materials held by Heritage Collections, and the Cockburn Geological Museum at the University of Edinburgh, and to visit the Exhibition.

Paper contributions: Papers should be 15 minutes in length (paper sessions are planned for 15-minute papers, 5 minutes discussion per paper). Please provide a title, an abstract (100 words), your title and institutional affiliation (if any), and an email address. In selecting papers for the Workshop, preference will be given to PhD or other research students and to Early Career Researchers.

Panel session contributions: Please be prepared to speak for 5-6 minutes on the Lyell material in your institution’s holdings and the opportunities it presents for further research.

To Contribute: Please send in your proposed contribution to Professor Emeritus Charlie Withers via email to: by Friday 10 November 2023. It is hoped that the Workshop Programme Committee will reply within two weeks of this date to confirm your involvement or not.

A confirmed Workshop Programme will be available soon after this in which further details will be given on location, timings, and costs of delegate attendance at the Workshop.    

We look forward to hearing from you!


Time Traveller: Charles Lyell at Work

Free exhibition in the Main Library Exhibition Gallery (ground floor),

Open from 27th October 2023 – 30th March 2024, Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm 

Over the last few months, our efforts have been focussed on pulling together all the work to date associated with the Charles Lyell Project, into an exhibition. It has taken a small army of experts, staff, interns, and volunteers to get us to this stage – and we are nearly there. Here is a look behind the scenes…

Getting down to writing – what will be in effect – the first major exhibition on Sir Charles Lyell was a fairly daunting task. The science Lyell is writing about was new; today it can be recognised as ecology, climate and Earth studies, but in Lyell’s time it encompassed several different disciplines – geology, archaeology, geography, conchology, botany, zoology and palaeontology. The terminology is crucial, and, still under significant debate. Working in an era of imperial exploration and expansion Lyell’s travel through the slave plantations of the American South was controversial and remains disturbing. Despite his life’s work to gather, share and advocate for precise and authentic evidence in science, Lyell struggled to accept his friend Charles Darwin’s work on evolutionary theory. This exhibition explores these themes providing an unprecedented insight into how Lyell worked to establish a science that abridged deep divides of religion, race, culture, and politics.

Given these complexities, getting the right people on the exhibition team was vital, and it has been an absolute pleasure to work with Jim Secord, Director of the recently completed Darwin Correspondence Project. As Jim says, the reality is,

“getting into the 1830s is relatively easy, it’s the getting out that’s the problem”.

Jim has contributed a wealth of knowledge and experience , selecting rare books held by the University that add context to Lyell’s life and career, including motivators, Isaac Newton and James Hutton, and contemporaries such as Frederick Douglass. It has been fascinating to see how books held within the Library collections connect to Lyell’s work.

Rare books stand on plastic stands, which have been re-used and adapted for this exhibition

University Library books, that have been used by students over the years, contribute context to Lyell’s work.

Robyn studies her successful trial to create a bespoke stand for the notebooks; re-useable and recyclable.










Jim and Will during ‘object selection’ day, working on choosing what items to feature.

Having completed his dissertation on Lyell’s contribution to prehistoric archaeological study, Will Adams has also been our Lyell Research Intern, tasked with curating a series of case studies, demonstrating how Lyell researched and gathered evidence to support his theories. Five display cases later, look out for Lyell as a ‘Principle Investigator’ (play on words intentional!) as he searches for evidence to support his theories on Volcanoes, Niagara, and Sea Serpents.





Will’s work has been supported by that of Lyell Summer Intern, Harriet Mack, and a crew of remote volunteers – Drew, Beverly, Bob and Ella – are are currently working to away using the digital images to transcribe notebook indexes. In the course of trying to understand them, we’ve googled, mapped, fact checked, and reached out to local people, familiar with where Lyell was working.

Notebooks are used in the exhibition to show how Lyell worked to gather evidence to support his theories.

The volunteer’s work has really opened up that section of the archive, producing rich descriptions that have highlighted previously unseen sections in the notebooks that will feature in the exhibition. We have worked to include their reflection on this experience, enabling us to shine a contemporary light onto the notebooks, and all the different hands that appear within their pages.



Team ‘Lyell Finds’ -Will, Dr. Gillian McCay, & Hattie at the Cockburn Geological Museum.

Lyell’s specimens were a key tool for him, and Dr. Gillian McCay of the Cockburn Geological Museum has been an integral part of our progress to understand how they connect to the archive. From the outset, everyone has been on the lookout for references to collection items (fed into and logged in a very lively teams chat ‘Lyell Finds’) and Will, through his dissertation, has been able to re-establish the events that link notebooks and specimens to Lyell’s work on the antiquity of man. There is much more work to be done in this area – and we hope the exhibition will encourage this.



Today Lyell’s questions are still relevant, and the ways in which he worked (not always successfully) to answer them can add to our own understanding. Travelling relentlessly, and often accompanied by his wife, Mary, Lyell spent his life putting time to work, chasing volcanoes, visiting coastal, industrial and heritage sites, exploring strata, caves, waterfalls, quarries, and mines. The resultant rich data contained in his archive transports us through time.

In working together on the project to open up Charles Lyell’s comprehensive archive, and in preparing this exhibition, we find we have walked in his footsteps – creating a network of experts and local people, and using different tools to consolidate our understanding.

Pamela McIntyre, Strategic Projects Archivist, Heritage Collections, University of Edinburgh

Lyell Summer Intern Harriet Mack on a visit to the Cockburn Museum to see their Lyell Madeira shells

We’ve been lucky to have had Harriet Mack, who is heading into her 3rd Year of a joint honours degree in Archaeology and Classics working with us as our Lyell Summer Intern! In this blog, Harriet shares her experience – which has included a lot of island hopping!

I first learnt about the Charles Lyell collection through a deep dive into Heritage Collections website, and I really liked the bright colours of the notebooks and the interesting handwriting. I then found the opportunity to volunteer with the Lyell project, cataloguing some of Lyell’s letters. I was captivated with the life and work of Lyell and his 19th century contemporaries, and started to gain an understanding of what transcription and palaeography were about.

Starting as Lyell Transcription Intern, I had to upgrade my palaeography skills, and Transkribus helped. Switching to their Lite version enabled me to view the information differently and really helped emphasize the difficult words.

Screenshot from Transkribus, Scientific Notebook 144 page 95

I was also able to join the other remote volunteers, Drew and Beverly, online, where we could work together, bringing multiple perspectives to Lyell’s work. Later, when I encountered more difficult issues like the Portuguese place names from the Madeira notebooks, we reached out to expert Carlos A. Góis-Marques who helped to bring context to some of the notebooks. Planning was crucial and I developed a plan that could grow with me, as my skills developed and improved. I could also follow the  communal spreadsheet which enabled me to track my progress. I realised my notes also developed over time, even looking a bit like Lyell’s…

Extracts from Harriet’s own project notebook


Once I had developed my skills – it was time to set off island hopping! First stop east coast of Georgia, then the Isle of Wight, Madeira and the Canary Islands.

Notebooks 129 and 130 both cover Georgia, USA, focusing on some of the islands off the east coast like St Simons Island, and Pelican Bank. On these islands, I was introduced to Lyell’s geological observations particular to islands, the environmental impacts, fauna and flora, and historical contexts. In America especially, Lyell’s observations of the workings of the islands mix into his observations on slavery, race, and indigenous people.  

I then moved on to Notebooks 212, 213, and 214, with some of the contents being based on the Isle of Wight – which is where I’m from, adding a layer of expertise. I know the places he stayed along the West coast, at the Needles, Freshwater Bay, and Hamstead. Lyell noted the difference in geological specimens and rocks either side of the chalk ridge of the island, allowing him to suggest that south of the ridge – with marine specimens – was part of the Paris basin and had been exposed to the sea. North of the chalk ridge he found land specimens suggesting that it was originally connected to the mainland of the United Kingdom.  

I wanted to know more about Lyell’s interest in the Isle of Wight, and took time to search more. I found that as early as Notebook 3 page 108-109, he notes reading about the Isle of Wight in Camden’s Brittania, leading me to find an online copy of the book and an early map. This really excited me as it gave an insight into what map Lyell could have used. I also established that Lyell visited the British Museum and consulted a Charter dated 949 AD. This charter told of King Eadred giving 1 hide (mansa) on the Isle of Wight to his gold and silversmith Ælfsige. This charter is one of the earliest primary sources I had seen, referring to the Isle of Wight as Vecta Insula, a Latin name given by the Romans. 

Camden’s Britannia, : Newly Translated into English: With Large Additions and Improvements· Publish’d by Edmund Gibson, of Queens-College in Oxford. ProQuest, UMI, 1695. Print. Page 1048-1049

Isle of Wight Charter, MS Harley 436 f. 76v








Lyell’s drawing of a Phoenix dactylifera, Madeira January 1854, Scientific Notebook 189 page 60



After looking into Lyell’s travels to the Isle of Wight, I hopped on to Madeira and the Canary Islands. Lyell’s study of these islands runs to 12 Notebooks dating January – August 1854, and contain his work alongside Georg Hartung (German geologist). I found they were more complicated, however, once I gained more context, I found they were the most enjoyable to work on. Lyell arrives in Funchal and the Notebooks relate his developing thoughts on formation and volcanic theory in response to his contemporaries such as Élie de Beaumont. The Notebooks include both geological and nature notes, with a large focus on shells and volcanic formations. One of my favourite drawings from this book is the Phoenix dactylifera (Date Palm). Lyell lists the shells he is collecting at Porto Santo and Madeira, such as Buccinidae. It was then really special for me to visit the University’s Cockburn Museum, and see some of their Madeira shells.  

There are a team of people working together to write an upcoming exhibition on Lyell, and via my deep dive in Madeira, I was able to draw their attention to Notebook 191 page 3 and detailed sketches of Cape Girão on the south coast.  This page stands out as having colour in-depth notes, and impressive detail. Its good to know this Notebook page  will now be included in the exhibition. 

Lyell’s drawing of Cape Girão, Scientific Notebook 191 page 3

I found that my place recognition was drastically improving. Google Earth was extremely helpful, revealing the terrain and magnitude of Madeira and the Canary Islands in 3D. This not only improved my modelling skills, but also unlocked an environment that was virtually unchanged from that which Lyell was observing. Using Cape Girão as a starting point, I could match drawings to Google Earth and established that Lyell’s sketch in Notebook 191 page 3 was most likely drawn at sea to give Lyell the fullest image of the cliff face. 

Google Earth (Version, Cabo Girão, Madeira: Latitude: 32.6322222 Longitude: -17.00583333333333

Whilst looking at the Madeira notebooks, there was a name that was repeated throughout that was initially unknown and difficult to decipher. That was until Notebook 191 p.110 where Lyell finally wrote the full name down as Johan F. Eckersberg, a Norwegian painter, who was in Madeira at the same time as Lyell, and as the Notebooks evidence, interacted and may have even advised Lyell’s sketches.

View of Funchal, Madeira. Johan Fredrik Eckersberg, 1854, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections, NG.M.03396

Eckersberg completed many paintings of Madeira, recording what the Island looked like whilst Lyell and Hartung were there. By connecting Eckersberg’s artistic realism to these geological travels, the landscape and environment can be better understood.  

Notebooks 194195 cover La Palma and have some of the most recognisable landscape drawings. One that stood out to me was Lyell’s drawing of La Palma’s Caldera from Tazacorte. This one was much easier to locate on Google Earth as it had specific peaks, so I was able to be more accurate in terms of angles and direction.  

Google Earth (Version, Tazacorte, La Palma: Latitude: 28.6475 Longitude: -17.92277777777777

Notebook 195 page 40, Lyell’s view of La Palma Caldera








Over 10 weeks, I have visited 7 islands with Lyell, and completed the transcription and summaries of 25 notebooks. This internship has really opened up my understanding of 19th century geology and Lyell’s contribution to this emerging science, as well as just how connected society was.

Thank you Harriet for all of your hard work during the Summer! By utilising both old fashioned tools – lists, note taking, reaching out to experts and finding contemporary sources and art – alongside 21st century ones such as AI and Google Earth, you’ve really been able to explore Lyell’s islands and make them much more accessible for the future! 

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The Case of the ‘L’Homme de la Denise’

We are grateful to present another guest blog! This time from Timothé Lhoste who is currently completing his master’s degree studying History of Science at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. Timothé was in touch with the Centre for Research Collections requiring access to Charles Lyell’s Notebooks, and a very interesting story emerged, which sheds light on how Lyell worked. Read on to find out more about Timothé (and Lyell’s!) research …

I am working on a scientific controversy concerning a “human fossil” known as ‘L’Homme de la Denise’, and named to acknowledge its discovery in 1844 on the slopes of the Denise Mountain, near the city of Le Puy-en-Velay in the French Massif Central. The find was crucial, as from the outset, doubts hovered over the authenticity and the exact age of the discoveries. In fact, these bones and the gangue (the material that surrounds them) continued to fuel a lively discussion for more than a century.

Drawing on the method of the biography of scientific objects, such as Marianne Sommer’s Bones and Ochre: The Curious Afterlife of the Red Lady of Paviland, my study seeks to trace the impact of this object on the social world and vice versa. I am also interested in the evolution of different scientific interpretations of these objects.

Lyell’s sketch showing the south face of Denise Mountain, Notebook 240, page 11

Charles Lyell’s Notebooks 239 and 240 document his trip to France during the summer of 1859, when he stayed in the vicinity of Le Puy-en-Velay from August 6th to 16th. He already knew this region, since he had visited it in 1828, as evidenced earlier in the run of his Scientific Notebooks in Notebook 12, dated 30 June – 21 July 1828. This area of the French Massif Central called Velay was of particular interest to Lyell. Volcanic formations had allowed the genesis and preservation of many fossil sites – and so of course would be of interest to Lyell the ‘volcano  hunter’! – but in 1859, Lyell was now looking in particular for solid geological evidence of the antiquity of man.

For this reason, in the wake of Edmond Hébert and Edouard Lartet, he carried out investigations on the Denise site. He described the geology of the surroundings of Le Puy and carefully examined the human bones, which had been found in the region fifteen years before. During his stay, he met with local scholars such as Auguste Aymard, Bertrand de Doue, Pichot-Dumazel and Félix Robert. He even met Georges Poulett Scrope who came to complete his observations of the volcanoes of this region.

Lyell’s Notebooks testify to the richness of his observations. He visited other geological and paleontological sites (including Polignac, Cussac, Espaly, Saint Privat d’Allier, Doue, and La Roche Rouge), drew multiple sketches and talked with many local people. The most compelling piece of ‘evidence’ is a photograph of the “museum block” (bought in 1844 by Auguste Aymard and Bertrand de Doue for the local museum) which is glued into Lyell’s Notebook 240; this illustrates the particular interest that Lyell had in these bones.

Photograph acquired by Lyell showing the Denise block containing human bones which is glued into Notebook 240 page 69

Moreover, he also took Notebook 240 with him to Aberdeen for the 29th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, along with the famous photograph commissioned by Prestwich and Evans, and featuring the local workmen, showing the position of a stone axe into the sedimentary series of Abbeville (and for more information on that, please see Clive Gamble’s article featured in the Geological Society of London’s Blog Photographs of the Drift )

In his speech at Aberdeen (and later in his book Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man published 1863), Lyell referred to the Denise findings, acknowledging their authenticity and he praised and acknowledged the scientific validity of the discoveries Jacques Boucher de Perthes had made in Abbeville.

However, Lyell could not commit to the idea of ‘L’Homme de la Denise’ as a proof of the contemporaneity of the man, and the latest eruptions of the Massif Central, refusing to give them any value of antiquity.


Thank you Timothé for sharing your research – we wish you all the best for the completion of your Masters degree. Thanks also to Caroline Lam, Archivist & Records Manager at The Geological Society​. This enquiry initially drew our attention to the fact that there was an original photograph in the collection – in fact – one of only two glued into the Notebooks. We can now appreciate how important photography must have been to Lyell – and indeed to others working at that time. It has enabled us to ‘unearth’ many more related archives – we will revisit this topic!

Further Reading: 

Lyell Charles, 1859, “On the occurrences of works of human art in post-pliocene deposits”, Twenty-Ninth meeting of the British association for the advancement of science, London, Murray.

Lyell Charles, 1863, Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man, London, Murray.

Following in the brilliant footsteps of Claire, Sarah and Joanne – we have been lucky to have Sarah Partington working on conserving the Lyell Collection. For 14 weeks, Sarah was able to finally tackle one series of records that had been assessed, but not worked on, and, to provide a wee bit more general TLC to the collection. An extra layer of care, as it were. Here, she tells us what that has involved: 

As the Charles Lyell Project continues, more is being understood about the collection. The entire collection is comprised of different accessions, made at different times. Careful interrogation of the different series is allowing us to understand how they fit together, and, how Lyell used them.

Lyell’s collection of Offprints is similar in scale to the two series of correspondence, demonstrating how collecting and reading different papers would help him stay abreast of the latest finds, research and thinking.  

An Offprint is a separate printing of a work that originally appeared as part of a larger publication, usually one of composite authorship, such as an academic journal,  magazine or edited boos. Offprints are used by authors to promote their work,and ensure a wider dissemination and longer life that might  be achieved by the publication alone. They are valued as being akin to the first separate edition of the work, and as they often are given away, may bear an inscription from the author. Historically, the exchange of Offprints has been a method of correspondence between scholars.

I began my Lyell journey by cleaning and rehousing the 18 boxes of Offprints collected by Lyell. Currently uncatalogued, voluminous, and densely packed in non-archival boxes, these records had been assessed, and found to be exhibiting signs of historic mould. This needed to be dealt with, as although historic and not active, it could ultimately pose a cross-contamination risk to other collections. These records could not be accessed in their current state – both by archivists, and by any potential users.

Surface dirt had to be carefully removed, following Health & Safety guidance.

Cleaning the offprints proved somewhat of a challenge (even for a mould aficionado like myself!).

In some cases, the biological damage was so severe that the paper had partially deteriorated. This complicated the cleaning process, because I had to mitigate further structural damage, whilst still ensuring the satisfactory removal of damaging mould. Throughout the cleaning process, I had to carefully to observe Health and Safety guidance and take precautions to protect my colleagues and myself.

I cleaned each page in the fume cupboard, eliminating mould using a museum vacuum on a low-suction setting, with an interleaving layer of mesh to prevent the loss of material.

An affected Offprint before cleaning. Working in the fume cupboard, all of the surface mould was removed.

After everything had been cleaned, I rehoused the offprints in acid-free boxes, separating out those that had been especially cramped in their original housing. Rehousing generally equates to more boxes! To support the greater extent of boxes, we rationalised shelving in the storeroom and created additional space 

Cleaning this series of the collection was time consumingbut the benefit of the newly cleaned items to the health and safety of the collection is immense. Now properly re packaged, and stored in a climate-controlled environment, work can begin to start to make them discoverable.




A conservator’s worst nightmare: the pocket folder! The contents can be damaged simply taking them out!

At the end of the Offprints series, 5 boxes were identified as being different; they were not Offprints but were actually manuscript material. This material was not housed in a suitable manner, with the usual, historical pocket folders having been chosen as the filing weapon of choice! Not only were these not up to archival standard, but they were also overfilled, and mostly contained items of a non-uninform size and type.

Our closer inspection confirmed that these boxes contain examples of Lyell’s editorial notes, his review of chapters, and included letters, drawings, engravings, notes, maps, as well as his original packaging, which was large sheets of contemporary newspaper.

The different format and sizes meant that there was a risk that items could fall out of sequence or get caught on the edges of the folder when removing or replacing material. To depose the evil pocket folders, I opted for acid-free triptych folders, which open out in such a way that the material is instantly accessible, therefore reducing the risk of damage occurring. I separated out the material into more than one folder where required, making sure that none of the folders were too overcrowded. Thinking about access, and as the items are still loose, we will create guidance for our Reading Room Team and users, to ensure folders are carefully handed over when being accessed.

As well as rehousing these manuscript papers, I was able to look out for documents that needed a bit more TLC. After a little bit of training from Paper Conservator, Emily Hick, I was ready to start carrying out some basic interventive treatment, such as flattening folds and removing pins. I flattened folds manually with a bone folder and an interleaving sheet of bondina and, where appropriate, I used a ‘mister’ – a small hand held tool, used within the beauty industry which sprays a fine mist – to apply localised humidity to the paper, which could then be placed under magnets and left to flatten.

Manually flattening folds.

Sarah using a beauty mister to lightly flatten folds.

Folds shown before and after treatment. Much more relaxed!













Some original pins were still in place, which had started to corrode and were difficult to remove. Emily gave me a pair of pliers and gentle techniques to carefully wiggle them out without causing further damage to the paper. I replaced them with an acid-free paper slip to group pages together. In order to retain the integrity of the sequence, I ensured that nothing came out of order and the items were clearly stored with their original packaging. Any outsized items, or items that required further treatment, were flagged up in an Excel document.

Geared up for another rehousing spree, I then moved onto to the most recent accession in the collection, the Acceptance in Lieu material, consisting of 18 boxes. The strategy this time was to start at the end of this series, giving back a bit more time and care to this series of records.

Loose-leaf material, now held in an acid-free paper fold

Being given the opportunity to support access and research into the Lyell Collection through conservation work has been a real privilege. As an aspiring paper conservator, it has been great to add a few more paper treatment strings to my bow, and to apply my skills to a collection this significant. By working closely with the Lyell Collection, I have also learnt a lot about him and the way in which he planned, researched and worked. I’ll leave all of you lovely Lyell fans with what is possibly my favourite thing that I have learnt whilst focusing on Lyell and his correspondence… apparently Charles Darwin enjoyed a good moan to his pals now and then like the rest of us!


A big thank you to all the conservation people who have contributed their time and skills, and to our funders for ensuring Lyell’s records are in the best condition they can be. There is always more work to be done – but for now, we can look to start the work to make these records available to people.


A lot has happened in 2022! Supported by both core and external funding, and with a return to more normal ways of working, we have been able to re-start and complete many of our plans.


Sarah carefully treating minor folds

The care of the Lyell archives was our priority. Supported by external funding from the John R. Murray Charitable Trust, the National Manuscript Conservation Trust and others, professional Conservator Claire Hutchison worked on the collection from January – July 2022, along with two project interns, Joanne and Sarah M. We were able to slightly extend the conservation project, so a big thanks is due to Sarah P, who was able to clean Lyell’s Offprints and treat minor folds and tears found in his MS edits.


The University’s Cultural Heritage Digitisation Service have been making good headway, and we are 50% of the way there. At present, the digital images are hosted on the University’s image website Luna. You can use the left hand menu to select the Notebooks, select particular pages and zoom in on the detail – really helpful when deciphering Lyell’s handwriting. Mindful of any conservation needs, the team are able to also prioritise notebooks specially requested by researchers -so do get in touch –  the team are very much bolstered by enthusiastic responses!

Charles Lyell’s World Online

Hosting the digital images online is one thing, but we also want to enhance digital access online. Funding provided by the International Association of Sedimentologists has enabled us to bring a Lyell Website Developer onboard. We know that Lyell’s Notebooks are packed with information; this information can jump around from topic to topic, but also builds, from observation to noting queries he needs answers to. The Web Team are currently working to apply the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) that will allow the user to view the Notebooks, and flip seamlessly through the pages. Once this step is completed, we will explore what other functionality can be added to enhance the reader’s experience.

Cataloguing & transcription

We are using the Notebook indexes to create a catalogue entry – they are often written by Mary, they can run to 6 or 7 pages – or missing entirely!

We have two cataloguing priorities – the Notebook indexes, and one set of Lyell’s correspondence. As we now have a large amount of Lyell’s handwriting digitised, we can start to share out the work to remotely transcribe the indexes using the AI platform Transkribus. The transcriptions are not completely accurate and need to be manually checked, so it’s time consuming, but the results produce rich descriptions that will enable good searching. A small group of remote online volunteers are working away on this (and doing a great job – thank you!). Please get in touch if you would like to join us!

We’ve also recruited on site volunteers, who are able to visit the CRC reading room, and view records that are not digitised. They are working away on one tranche of Lyell’s correspondence, identifying the senders and enhancing description. So far we’ve encountered some eminent correspondents, including Lucas Barrett and Samuel Beckles – yes, we are at the ‘B‘s!

Beckles’ Pit at Durlston Bay, with Samuel Beckles wearing a top hat, directing operations. He is in touch with Lyell as soon as he starts finding specimens, Christmas 1856.

Looking ahead to 2023

As well as working on the website, plans are now in place for us to host what will be the first major exhibition on Lyell. This will be located in the Main Library Exhibition Gallery and will run from November 2023 to February 2024, so see you there! Lyell represents a huge topic – both in terms of scale and impact. The depth and breadth of the collection held at the University of Edinburgh offers a brilliant opportunity to show how he worked to develop and then promote his ideas. We’re also delighted to have secured funding to support a Lyell intern, who will focus on collating historical context and Lyell’s travels to populate both the exhibition and the website – more from them in 2023.

Thanks for all your support so far – enjoy the holidays when they come.


“An epoch in history” – Charles Lyell in Nova Scotia 1842

Guest Blog Author Tim Fedak

We are delighted to welcome Tim Fedak – a Curator and Palaeontologist based at Nova Scotia Museum – to our blog! Tim has been waiting ever so patiently for access to Charles Lyell’s Notebook number 104, documenting his visit to Nova Scotia in 1842 to view the geology and fossil trees at Joggins, and which ushered in a new era of geology….





Today, Nova Scotia is well known among geologists around the world for its important geology.  The Joggins Fossil Cliffs UNESCO World Heritage Site has a world class interpretive centre and regular tours of the famous fossil forests. The importance of that site, as well as the Cliffs of Fundy UNESCO Global Geopark on the northern shore of the Minas Basin, both find their beginning in 1842.

Joggins Fossil Cliffs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia.


In July and August of 1842, Charles Lyell was visiting Nova Scotia for a month of geology, to engage the local geologists and to examine the fossil forest that everyone, including Darwin would come to hear about.  The interactions he had and the insights he gained from walking along the shores of the Bay of Fundy shaped his observations and convictions about ancient trackways and life in the Coal Age.

Cliffs of South Joggins, Figure 18 from Charles Lyell’s Travels in North America, Vol 2. 1845.

Sir. William Dawson was born and raised in Pictou, Nova Scotia but he had studied at the University of Edinburgh in 1840-41. He was still just a young man passionate about geology and fossils when Lyell visited the province, and they shared insights and views of geology. When Dawson published his iconic Acadian Geology in 1855, he noted in the introduction:

The year 1842 forms an epoch in the history of geology in Nova Scotia. In that year Sir Charles Lyell visited the province, and carefully examined some of the more difficult features of its geological structure, which had baffled or misled previous inquirers.“  p6.

Dr. Ebenezer Fitch Harding, a community physician in Windsor, Nova Scotia, was another local geologist that Lyell interacted with, accompanying him to the geology sites and mud flats of the Minas Basin, Bay of Fundy in the summer of 1842.

See more on this important period in Nova Scotia geology, including the links between Nova Scotia and Edinburgh, and Harding’s contributions to science in Tim’s article 

Lyell’s trip to Nova Scotia is well described in Volume 2 of his ‘Travels to North America’ published in1845. However, when I first heard that the University of Edinburgh was attempting to purchase Lyell’s 294 Notebooks for archival research, I was immediately thrilled with the thought of what more he might have written during his visit to Nova Scotia. I then celebrated when the project was successful and have been waiting (somewhat) patiently since then.

In early September this year, I learned that Notebook 104 had been scanned and was now available online. I dropped everything and began to carefully make my initial examination of the notes and drawings of the scanned pages.  You can see my short presentation of some of the immediately interesting observations made about Notebook 104 at:

Joggins Sketch

The Joggins cliff sketch on page 48 was immediately of great interest and value. This illustration became the key that unlocked the understanding that the gypsum and limestone layers (now known as the Windsor Group) – were below the coal.

Detail of two preliminary sketches of the Joggins Cliffs in Lyell Notebook 104, p. 48.

Shubenacadie River

The notebook includes many important sketches of the work carried out along the Shubenacadie River, which included contributions from J.W. Dawson, William Duncan, Richard Brown and others.

Field Work, Travel Notes

I am interested in the people of geology and what it was like for them to carry out the work and attain their insights. I was particularly struck by the notes of the bags that Charles and Mary Lyell travelled with, and the supplies that they required. A very personal view into the travelling aspect of field work.

Mary Lyell

Mary Lyell being on this month-long visit to Nova Scotia is also incredibly interesting. It remains difficult to locate any records that describe her activities when they were apart. However, there are notes in Charles’ notebook, as well as in letters he wrote to Dawson that Mary was actively engaged in discussions of geology and conchology.

Extract from Letter from Charles Lyell, to William Dawson, Pictou, Nova Scotia, quoting “…Mrs. Lyell says…”


I am truly grateful for the opportunity that the University of Edinburgh and the project partners are providing in making these notebooks available for research. Here in Nova Scotia, this is a special way to celebrate 180 years since Charles and Mary Lyell where here exploring the geology and natural history of Nova Scotia.

I’ve mapped the Lyell’s travels in Nova Scotia using the information in Notebook 104, descriptions from Lyell’s Travels in North America, and links through to archived letters on this interactive timeline. Follow the hashtag #NS1842 and find additional information in this Tweet Collection #NS1842

Thanks Tim – it’s great to hear more about Lyell’s impact in Nova Scotia. We love your enthusiasm (and patience!).