Roderick Murchison collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Murchison and an address to the Geographical Section of the British Association.

Administrative / Biographical History

Roderick Impey Murchison was born on 19 February 1792 at Tarradale in Eastern Ross, Scotland. He was educated at military college in Great Marlow, later serving with the army during the Napoleonic Wars. After resigning his commission in the army, he settled in England and became acquainted with Sir Humphry Davy, who persuaded him to attend lectures at the Royal Institution in London. After developing a keen interest in geology, Murchison became a fellow of the Royal Geological Society in 1825 where he presented his first paper on the geology of Sussex. Between 1826 and 1831, he examined the Jurassic rocks of England and Scotland and conducted a study of the geology of the eastern Alps. He became a founding member of the Royal Geographical Society in 1830, later serving as its president on four separate occasions, and was elected president of the Royal Geological Society in 1831.

During the 1830s, Murchison undertook the investigation of previously undifferentiated rock strata in Wales and England, establishing the Silurian as a new geological system, which he described in a work of two volumes in 1839. The following year he collaborated on the establishment of the Devonian System with the Cambridge geologist, Adam Sedgwick, and later proposed the establishment of the Permian System after conducting an extended survey in Russia between 1840 and 1844. Knighted in 1846, he became a co-founder of the Hakluyt Society, serving as its president from 1847 until his death. In 1855, Murchison was appointed director-general of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, directing his final investigations towards the geology of the Scottish highlands. He was made a K.C.B. in 1863 and a baronet in 1866 and was the recipient of numerous awards and medals throughout his career. In 1871, he helped to establish the chair of geology at the University of Edinburgh and died later in the same year.


The collection is split into two sub-fonds comprising of correspondence and papers respectively

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and Dictionary of National Biography Vol.39, Smith, Elder & Co. London (1894) and and 'Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1792-1871' by Edmund W Gilbert and Andrew Shaw Goudie in The Geographical Journal volume 137 number 4 December 1971 p505-511

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

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Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

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Further accessions possible

Geographical Names