Charlotte Murchison
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Charlotte Murchison
Charlotte Murchison
Charlotte Hugonin

(1788-04-18)18 April 1788
Nursted House, near Petersfield, Hampshire
Died9 February 1869(1869-02-09) (aged 80)
Belgravia, London
Roderick Murchison
Scientific career

Charlotte Murchison (née Hugonin; 18 April 1788 - 9 February 1869) was a British geologist born in Hampshire, England.[1] She was married to the nineteenth century geologist Roderick Impey Murchison.

Several times during her life the couple travelled throughout continental Europe visiting places such as France, the Alps, and Italy.[1] She also created numerous sketches of geological features, such as cliffs and fossils, in England during their numerous excursions throughout the country, including the Yorkshire coast in 1826.[1] Throughout her life and their travels, she did significant work in collecting fossils, and, having been taught by Paul Sandby,[2] she created geological sketches of important features.[3] With many of her sketches she often did not focus on the geological features in detail, but instead created a more emotive illustration of the landscape.[4] Through her work she also helped her husband to develop many of his publications.[3] Many of her illustrations, such as "Valley of Gosau" were incorporated into works her husband published.[4] Charlotte is also often credited for being a significant influence on her husband's career.[1] Unfortunately, on one of the trips she took with her husband she contracted malaria and faced complications throughout the rest of her life until it finally claimed her life.[1]

Charlotte Murchison died on 9 February 1869 at Belgrave Square, London.[5] She was buried at Brompton Cemetery in London.[1]

Personal life

Charlotte was born to parents General Francis Hugonin (d. 1836), who was later described as highly intelligent by his daughter Charlotte, and Charlotte Hugonin née Edgar (d. 1838), who was a talented florist and botanist according to her daughter.[1] At age 27, she met Roderick Impey Murchison, a soldier, and they married later that year, on 29 August 1815.[1]

In 1816, the young couple went on a tour of France, the Alps, and Italy where Charlotte took care observing the various plant life distinct to rock formations in the areas.[1] After spending the winter in Genoa, they traveled to Rome and stayed into the summer, where Charlotte caught ill and nearly died of a malarian fever.[1] Though she recovered, the effects of the illness persisted throughout her life.[1] While in Rome the Murchison's became lifelong friends with Mary Somerville (1780-1872), who would later write of them in her autobiography, stating specifically that Charlotte was "an amiable accomplished woman, drew prettily & what was rare at the time she had studied science, especially geology and it was chiefly owing to her example that her husband turned his mind to those pursuits in which he afterwards obtained such distinction."[1]

Following their trip to Europe the Murchisons moved to Barnard Castle, County Durham.[1] During their time here Charlotte continued her collecting and studying of minerals although her husband had settled into a life away from Geology.[1] After spending years in this lifestyle Charlotte, along with Sir Humphry Davy, convinced Roderick to continue his study of Geology and in 1824 the couple moved to London in order for Roderick to attend lectures on the subject.[1]

With her husband now focused on the study of Geology Charlotte was a consistent companion to her husband's travels, studies, and fieldwork, participating in the work alongside him. On one such trip, specifically their voyage to the southern coast of England, Charlotte went fossil hunting with Mary Anning (1799-1847) and the two became close friends from then on.[1] Throughout travels with her husband, Charlotte would purchase or hunt for fossils to add to her personal collection, oftentimes studying them independently as well.[1] Charlotte's collection was so well kept and educational that specimens of her collection were studied and published into the works of James de Carle Sowerby (1788-1871) and, later, William Buckland (1784-1856).[1] In recognition of Charlotte's contribution Sowerby named an ammonite fossil, Ammonites Murchisonae, sketched by her on one of her trips to Yorkshire, after her.[1]

Despite all her self-study and time working in the field alongside her husband, Charlotte desired higher education. By 1831, Charles Lyell (1797-1875), a friend of her and her husband's whom they had worked and traveled with, was giving geological lectures at King's College.[1] Despite his refusal to admit women to his lectures, Charlotte persisted in her attendance, leading to Lyell's opening of his lectures to both men and women.[1] Charlotte would also attend the meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science when able, despite her continued health issues.[1]

In 1838, when her mother died, Charlotte was left a significant fortune. The couple was able to move to a prestigious house in Belgravia, London.[1] Their soirees became a meeting place for scientists and politicians and it was noted that much of the success of these parties was due to Charlotte's attendance.[1]

Eventually, after years of struggling with illness, she became too ill to travel with her husband and later died of her continued health issues.[1]

Travels through Continental Europe

Travels with Roderick from 1816 to 1818

During her lifetime Charlotte accompanied her husband on several trips of Continental Europe.[1] Their first trip of Continental Europe was in the spring of 1816 and involved visits to locations in France and Italy, as well as a trip to the Alps.[1] Among the cities they visited was Genoa, during the winter of 1816, and Rome, in the following spring.[1] The purpose of this trip was not specifically for geological purposes, although that is not to say no geological activities occurred, but instead the couple engaged in other activities including learning Italian and visiting prominent cultural cities.[1] This trip is notable as it was during this trip, when in Rome, that Charlotte caught malaria, an event which would lead to difficulties for her throughout her life.[1] Prior to this trip, the Murchisons had little experience in geological work and this lack of knowledge is written in Mary Somerville's recounting of the couple.[1] After spending the summer of 1818 in Italy, the couple returned to England.[1]

Travels with Roderick and Charles Lyell in 1828

The next notable trip the couple took to Continental Europe would begin in April 1828.[6] On 7 May they would be joined by Charles Lyell in Paris and from there they would begin their tour of Europe together.[6] For this trip, they began in France and traveled through the Massif Central, stopping in Nizza before continuing on to Southern Germany. Eventually, the group would make their way to the Austrian and Tyrolese Alps.[1] Still being relatively new to the study of Geology the group primarily saw this trip as an opportunity to further their knowledge in the field.[2] One of the first stops of geological significance occurred after they had climbed the Puy de Dome, on 18 May, and returned to Clermont-Ferrand where they had been staying.[6] In Clermont-Ferrand, Charles Lyell and Roderick Murchison would frequently go on excursions out of the city and leave Charlotte behind.[2] While they were away Charlotte worked on creating panoramas of the region, interacting with local experts, and collecting various plants and shells from the region.[2] Much of the work Charlotte did during this time was incorporated into the work of her companions.[2] After leaving Clermont-Ferrand the group traveled to Mont Dore on 5 June and then later on to Aurillac on 18 June.[6] Here, Charlotte developed even more illustrations with a focus on lacustrine limestones.[2] The group continued on until they eventually reached Fréjus.[2] While there, Roderick developed a high fever but Charlotte was able to nurse him back to health. She too was also feeling unwell and the group stopped at Nice for a significant period of time.[2] Once Roderick had recovered they continued on toward Turin and Padua. At this point, though, the group split as Charles Lyell continued further south. Charlotte and Roderick Murchison, meanwhile, headed back across the Alps in order to return to England as they had received word that Charlotte's parents were ill.[2] They continued quickly back to England until in Tyrol they were notified of her parents recovery and slowed their return to England spending more time in Germany.[2]

Later travels

In later years Roderick would undergo more trips to Europe, including a trip to Russia, but Charlotte would be unable to accompany her husband due to recurrences of the illness she contracted during their first trip to Continental Europe.[1] The couple did, however, manage to make another trip in 1847 to the Alps and Italy in hopes it would help Charlotte's condition as well as perform some scientific work.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai Kölbl-Ebert, Martina (1997). "Charlotte Murchison (Née Hugonin) 1788-1869". Earth Sciences History. 16 (1): 39-43. doi:10.17704/eshi.16.1.97014235w8u4k414.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kölbl-Ebert, Martina (2007). "The geological travels of Charles Lyell, Charlotte Murchison and Roderick Impey Murchison in France and northern Italy (1828)". Geological Society, London, Special Publications. 287 (1): 109-117. Bibcode:2007GSLSP.287..109K. doi:10.1144/SP287.9. ISBN 9781862392342. ISSN 0305-8719.
  3. ^ a b Kölbl-Ebert, Martina (2002). "British Geology in the Early Nineteenth Century: A Conglomerate with a Female Matrix". Earth Sciences History. 21: 3-25 – via JSTOR.
  4. ^ a b Adams, Maeve (2017). "Geological Illustration and the Geo-Humane Science, 1811-1840". Nineteenth-Century Contexts. 39 (3): 145-165. ISSN 0890-5495.
  5. ^ "MURCHISON Dame Charlotte". England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966. Retrieved 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Dean, Dennis (1999). "Lyell and Murchison in France". Modern Geology. 21: 313-334.

External links

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