Papers relating to Sir Roderick Impey Murchison and his Family

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The material in the collection includes single letters to and from Roderick Impey Murchison, 1816-1865; the history, chronology, and genealogy of the family; documents relating to Murchison's father, Kenneth Murchison, 1751-1796; and, materials relating to Murchison himself, such as notebooks, account books, passport, diary, medals, and illuminated scroll.

Administrative / Biographical History

Roderick Impey Murchison was born 19 February 1792 at Tarradale, in Ross-shire, Scotland. He was the eldest son of Kenneth Murchison by his wife, the daughter of Roderick Mackenzie of Fairburn. Murchison went to grammar school in Durham and in 1805 was sent to the military college, Great Marlow, after which he joined the 36th regiment and saw action in Portugal and at Corunna. Murchison's army career also took him to Sicily, Ireland, and Paris. Marriage in 1814 marked a turning point in his life and a tour of Europe was followed by a settled country life. In the early 1820s, acquaintanceship with Sir Humphrey Davy encouraged the pursuit of a scientific career and in 1824 he attended lectures at the Royal Institution. In 1825 he became a fellow of the Geological Society of London and that same year his first paper was read to the Society, on the geology of parts of Sussex, Hants and Surrey. In the following five years Murchison explored Scotland, France, and the Alps, working with Adam Sedgwick and Charles Lyell. In 1831 he was elected president of the Geological Society and the same year he and Sedgwick began a study of Wales. Murchison's studies of the Early Paleozic rocks in South Wales were the basis of his work The Silurian System (1839). With the establishment of the Silurian system, research into the geology of south western England and the Rhineland founded the Devonian System, and Russian explorations became the basis for his proposal of the Permian System. Out of the Russian expeditions, Murchison, with others, wrote The geology of Russia in Europe and the Ural Mountains (1845). Murchison was knighted in 1846, and he was appointed director general of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and director of the Royal School of Mines and the Museum of Practical Geology, London, in 1855. Between 1863 and 1871 he was Patron of the Edinburgh Geological Society and in 1871 he founded a chair of geology and mineralogy at the University of Edinburgh. Struck by paralysis in 1870, Murchison died after an attack of bronchitis on 22 October 1871.

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Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H51