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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 https://www.erudit.org/en/journals/scientia/2021-v43-n1-scientia05889/1078926ar/ 

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:

https://youtu.be/A1OxD0Hpqog

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!).

 

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

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Hello from Pamela, new Strategic Projects Archivist

Strategic Projects Archivist, Pamela McIntyre started in mid January, and will be leading on the Charles Lyell Project. Pamela introduces herself, and shares her insight on the internationally significant Sir Charles Lyell archive.   

Hello! After training in a number of repositories across the UK I qualified as an Archivist from Liverpool University in 1995. My first professional post was a SHEFC-funded project to catalogue, preserve and promote the archives of Heriot-Watt University, and its then associated colleges – Edinburgh College of Art, Moray House and the Scottish College of Textiles. Since then, I’ve worked with local authority, private and business archives, and with fine art and museum collections. I have always really enjoyed the practical elements of archive work, and getting people involved, and consequently, I’ve diversified, working in the third sector with volunteers. My last post was Project Development Officer, Libraries. Museums & Galleries for South Ayrshire Council – some highlights of my time there include breaking the ‘Festival of Museums’ with a ‘Day o’ the Dames’ event (sorry, Museum Galleries Scotland!), hosting an amazing exhibition about the history of tattoos, and spending two days at Troon, Prestwick, Maidens and Girvan beaches in support of COP26. I’m thrilled to join Edinburgh University, getting back to my archival roots – and it’s safe to say, Charles Lyell and I are getting on great!

I’m so impressed with the work that’s been done so far. I want to thank the previous staff for all of their efforts.

I am new to Geology, and one of the ways I get to know collections is by searching for subjects I do know about – using family names or places I know. Lyell travelled extensively, and whilst this may well influence my forthcoming holiday plans – it was particularly reassuring to find and read about his trip to the Isle of Arran – a place I love.

From Hutton’s visit in 1787, many geologists have visited Arran. Robert Jameson published his account in 1798, followed by John Macculloch in 1819. Geologists from overseas also visited, and Lyell had studied von Dechen and Oeynhansen’s accounts of 1829. As Leonard Wilson notes in his book Charles Lyell: the Years to 1841:

With its granite mountains and numerous dikes of traprock intersecting and altering stratified sedimentary rocks, Arran was a veritable laboratory for Lyell’s study of hypogene rocks and for the confirmation of his metamorphic theory.

Charles and Mary Lyell stayed at Arran for the first two weeks of August 1836, a trip chronicled by Lyell in Notebooks 62 and 63. Notebook 62 is digitised, and available on the University of Edinburgh’s LUNA image website. From page 60, Lyell noted their plans – arriving in Glasgow, a meeting with Hooker, and stop offs at both the Hunterian and the Andersonian – then plans his trip around the island.

Notebook No.62 p.60 plans for travel round the island of Arran

He then began an analysis of the geology of the island, posing questions, and offering amazing drawings.The pages of the notebooks are packed with details, almost at a breath-taking pace.

Notebook No.62 p.62

 

Notebook No.62 p.63

Lyell immediately made connections with what he saw in Arran with Forfarshire, Fife and Antrim, whilst taking the details of experts and mineral sellers resident in Glasgow, and making another simple line drawing showing the skyline of Goatfell.

By page 66 he is making significant notes entitled ‘Elements’, culminating in what appears to be the proposed structure of chapters for his book.

Wilson adds to the context of that trip; Mary met Lyon Playfair on the boat across – Andrew Ramsey later joined the party. Playfair accompanied Mary on the beach collecting shells, whilst Ramsey and Lyell geologised. At the end of their trip to Arran, the Lyells returned to Kinnordy until the 28th September. Wilson notes:

It was a long rest and summer vacation – a complete break from London, foreign travel and scientific meetings. During the preceding four years Lyell had worked through three editions of the Principles, three tours on the continent, one long trip through Sweden, and all the duties and demands of the foreign secretaryship and presidency of the Geological Society. Mary had acted in part as his secretary and assistant. She wrote many of his letters, helped to catalogue shells, and protected him from visitors. She had accompanied him on his excursions on the continent often under extremely primitive conditions; she had been abandoned in hotel rooms while Charles was off geologizing; she was often lonely. The vacation was for her too a chance to revitalise. When they arrived back at 16 Hart Street Lyell wrote to his father “Everyone is quite struck with the improvement in Mary’s health & appearance’.

I know Mary Horner Lyell as the daughter of Leonard Horner, who by setting up the Edinburgh School of Art in 1821 laid the foundations for Heriot-Watt College. It’s a small world. I am looking forward to being reacquainted with Mary, whose intelligent support to her husband is evidenced in the Lyell Collection by copious correspondence from when they first met.

Mary Elizabeth (née Horner), Lady Lyell
by Horatio Nelson King
albumen carte-de-visite, 1860s
NPG x46569
© National Portrait Gallery, London

I have not come across any mention of Ailsa Craig! However, I have found a reference to Kilmarnock, a topic for a future blog! Familiarisation – to some extent – achieved, it’s now time to decide priorities, to create projects, to engage with people, and to continue the aims of opening up the Lyell collection to all.

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Introducing the Lyell Advisory Board

We are very happy to introduce our Sir Charles Lyell Collection Advisory Board.  

A digital colour image of two pages of Sir Charles Lyell's notebook number 141, which covered the dates 15-25 April 1846. The notebook is a small leather bound notebook and is completed in ink and pencil.

Sir Charles Lyell’s Notebook, No. 141, 15-25 April 1846 (Ref: Coll-203/A1/141)

The Sir Charles Lyell Collection team is made up of cohort of professional curatorial, conservation, photography, public access and engagement staff. Our work is enhanced by the support of volunteers and student interns. Together, we work collaboratively to preserve, conserve, interpret, catalogue, digitise, transcribe and provide access to and engagement with the Sir Charles Lyell Collection. In doing this work we aim to make this internationally significant and unique collection accessible to all, further enabling its position as a vital resource for teaching, research and public engagement.

We are very grateful to be supported and guided by a very knowledgeable and experienced advisory board. Our advisory board meets every quarter and is made up of a range of internal and external academics, as well as a number of directors of Earth Science and related collections from across the United Kingdom.

 “The Advisory Board is pleased to volunteer its assistance in helping the University of Edinburgh make available for research and public engagement this globally important historical archive and geological collection.”

Board Statement by Professor Charles W.J. Withers FBA FRSE – Chair

Details of our current advisory board membership will always be published on the Sir Charles Lyell Collection webpages and we provide them here for your information. Thank you to all of our advisory board members for contributing their time and expertise in support of all of our work with the Sir Charles Lyell Collection.

Chair

Professor Charles W. J. Withers FBA FRSE
Emeritus Professor of Historical Geography, University of Edinburgh
Geographer Royal for Scotland

Board members

Dr Sam Alberti PhD FRSSA
Keeper of Science & Technology, National Museums Scotland

Dr Hermione Cockburn FRSE FRSGS
Scientific Director, Dynamic Earth

Professor Richard Fortey FRS FRSL
Natural History Museum London – Emeritus

Professor Aileen Fyfe FRHistS FHEA
Professor of Modern History, University of St Andrews

Professor Richard Herrington
Head of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum London

Ms Eliza Howlett
Head of Earth Collections, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Professor Sandra Kemp
Director, The Ruskin-Library, Museum and Research Centre

Professor James A. Secord FBA FRHistS
Director, Darwin Correspondence Project
Emeritus Professor, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

Ms Maggie Simmons FGS
Director of Publishing, The Geological Society of London

Professor John Underhill FGS FRSE
Professor of Exploration Geoscience, Heriot-Watt University

Advisor

Mr Daryl Green FSA
Head of Special Collections, Centre for Research Collections

Secretary

Mr David McClay
Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections

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Fundraising for Lyell Digitisation

Library and University Collections Philanthropy Manager, David McClay, brings us news on the fundraising campaign to digitise the Sir Charles Lyell notebooks.

Digital colour image of the cover of Sir Charles Lyell's notebook, created during his travels in Italy in 1828. The top of the index details 'Verona to Montecchio Maggiore' (Ref: Coll-203/A1/7)

Cover and index of Sir Charles Lyell’s notebook, Italy, 1828 (Ref: Coll-203/A1/7)

The fundraising campaign to digitise Sir Charles Lyell’s notebooks is now well underway. To reach our ambitious target of £125,000 we are hoping that new and existing Lyell supporters and friends will consider donating. Might you be able to help?

We have already been delighted to receive many individual donations from the UK and overseas. If you too would like to donate you can do so online via our Donation Portal or if you are from the United States of America, please see our guidance here

If you are involved in an historical, geological organisation which would be interested in learning more about Lyell, his notebooks and collections, and our plans to make them fully accessible please do get in touch: david.mcclay@ed.ac.uk

David McClay
Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections

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The Lyell Project Team is Growing!

22 February marks the anniversary of the death of renowned Scottish geologist, Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875). Newly appointed Senior Lyell Archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, says ‘hello’ and reflects on Lyell’s contribution to our understanding of the world.  

Headshot of Elaine MacGillivray, newly appointed Senior Lyell Archivist at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

Elaine MacGillivray
Senior Lyell Archivist

Hello Everyone! My name is Elaine MacGillivray and I am very happy to introduce myself as the newly appointed Senior Lyell Archivist at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections.

I am a registered archivist and bring to the project almost 20 years of experience working across archives in the local authority, business, community, and higher education sectors. I have worked at the University of Edinburgh since 2014, first as the archive lead on the School of Scottish Studies Archives refurbishment project and later, managing two Wellcome-funded, collaborative, archive cataloguing projects. In 2019, I was awarded ‘Record Keeper of the Year’ by the UK Archives and Records Association. I am a trustee of, and professional advisor to, a number of rural heritage organisations.

I enjoy the meticulous organisation of what often seems to others like utter chaos, and I love to connect people and their research interests to each other and to archive collections. When I am not knee-deep in project management and archive metadata, you will find me outdoors; up a hill, or exploring the back roads of Perthshire on my bicycle.

It is a real privilege to be entrusted with responsibility for the Sir Charles Lyell archive collections. Prior to the collections being transferred to the Centre for Research Collections, it is clear that the Lyell family invested a great deal of time and care in preserving and organising the collections whilst in their care. This places our archives and conservation team on a great foothold as we progress conserving and cataloguing the collections further, in order to ensure that they are preserved for posterity and, at the same time, made more widely accessible.

Lyell’s notebooks, correspondence, papers and objects are an immense and invaluable body of evidence. Collectively, they serve to illustrate how Lyell and others in his vast network came to formulate, interrogate and revise their ideas and their understanding of the world around them. Lyell is renowned for his contributions to geology, but the collections bring to light yet more about his own and others’ thinking, across a range of subjects and disciplines.

Earlier this week, Europe’s most active and iconic volcano, Mount Etna in Sicily, erupted once again. The 3,350m tall mountain has the longest recorded history of volcanic eruptions, dating back to 1500BC. The historic lava flows are considered to date as old as 300,000 years. It was Lyell’s systematic and methodical observations of Mount Etna from 1828 onwards that led him to develop his theories around geological time and to argue that the Earth was much older than had been previously believed. Lyell’s work throughout the nineteenth century was key to a monumental shift in our understanding of time and our place in the universe.

In 2021, Mount Etna is still one of the best-studied and monitored volcanoes in the world and its significance endorsed by its status as a Unesco World Heritage Site of Outstanding Universal Value.

Detail of a hand-drawn watercolour map of Mount Etna from the Sir Charles Lyell archive (Ref: Coll-203/Uncat).

Detail of a hand-drawn watercolour map of Mount Etna from the Sir Charles Lyell archive (Ref: Coll-203/Uncat).

One of my favourite items from the collection thus far is a hand-drawn watercolour illustration of Mount Etna. My colleague and Head of Special Collections, Daryl Green, discovered the drawing in August 2020 as he sifted through part of the collection shortly after it arrived at the Centre for Research Collections. The drawing forms part of the continuous record of observations of Mount Etna dating from 1500BC to the present day. I suspect that it is only the first of many remarkable finds to come.

I am looking forward to working with colleagues, building on the fantastic work already undertaken in cataloguing, digitising and making the collections more accessible. We will continue to share our discoveries and project progress here.

We want to hear from you!

What else would you like to see on the ‘Through Lyell’s Eyes’ blog? Would you like to hear from our volunteers and interns? Perhaps you would like to read guest posts from academic experts? Would you like to meet more of our team? What about a ‘behind the scenes’ look at some of our cataloguing, transcription or conservation work? Should we include more visual content illustrating some of the items from our the collections? Would you be interested in more audio-visual content?

Let me know your thoughts and ideas in the comments below – I look forward to hearing from you.

Elaine MacGillivray
Senior Lyell Archivist

 

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