Biography of Charles Lyell

Portrait of Charles Lyell

Charles Lyell was a famous nineteenth century geologist.

When and Where was Charles Lyell born?

14th November 1797, Kinnordy, Kirriemuir, Forfarshire, Scotland.

Family Background:

Charles Lyell was the eldest of son of ten children of a Scottish botanist Father, Charles Lyell of Kinnordy and an English Mother.


Schools at Ringwood, Salisbury and Midhurst. Exeter College, Oxford.

Timeline of Sir Charles Lyell:

1798: The Lyell family move to Bartley Lodge in the New Forest in Hampshire.

1816: He attends Oxford University and studies Mathematics and law.

1819: He starts his Career at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London as a lawyer. He is elected as a Fellow of The Geological and Linnean Societies as his interest in Geology had been evoked by attending lectures at Oxford by Dr William Buckland.

1822: He writes his first scientific paper “On a Recent Formation of Freshwater Limestone in Forfarshire.”

1823: Charles Lyell visits France where he meets the famous scientist Humboldt.

1824: He makes a geological tour of Scotland with Dr Buckland.

1825: He is eventually called to the Bar, the delay being caused by a weakness of his eyes.

1826: He is elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

1827: Lyell finally abandons the law to become a full time geologist.

1828: He makes a geological tour of France and Italy with Roderick Murchison.

1830: Publication of the First volume of “The Principles of Geology”.

1831: He is appointed Professor of of Geology at Kings College, London.

1832: He marries Mary, the eldest daughter of Leonard Horner.vPublication of the Second volume of “The Principles of Geology”.

1833: Publication of the Third volume of “The Principles of Geology”. Eleven editions of this work were now to be published between 1833 and 1872. The complete works stated that geological observations at the time were enough to explain geological history but that the action of water, earthquakes and volcanoes were more likely to explain the geological history of ancient times. He described what he called uniformitarianism based on a vast time scale for the earth’s history.

1834: He visits Denmark and Sweden.

1835: Lyell becomes President of the Geological Society”.

1837: He visits Norway and Denmark.

1841: He spends a year traveling through the United States and Canada.

1845: His second Tour of the United States.

1848: Lyell is given a Knighthood.

1858: He visits Sicily to study Mount Etna.

1863: He writes the “Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man” which owed a a great deal to his friendship with the scientist Charles Darwin.

1864: Charles Lyell is given a Baronetcy. He also becomes President of the British Association at Bath.

1874: Dr. Clarke attends him for an affection of the brain for some time before he has an accident on 9th December. Afterwards he is attended by Sir James Paget, a surgeon, and seems to recover physically. Afterwards the original brain problem gets worse and he is again attended by Dr. Clarke.

When and Where did he Die?

22nd February 1875, London, England of an “affection of the brain”.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1830: First volume of “The Principles of Geology”.
1832: Second volume of “The Principles of Geology”.
1833: Third volume of “The Principles of Geology”.
1838: “Elements of Geology”.
1845: Travels in North America”.
1849: “A Second Visit to the United States”.
1863: “Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man”.
1871: “Student’s Elements of Geology”.


1832 to Mary, eldest daughter of Leonard Horner.

Site of Grave:

North aisle of the Nave, Westminster Abbey, London.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


Natural History Museum.

Scroll to Top