Notable alumni: Charles Lyell

Rosalind Franklin

Geologist

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) was a Scottish geologist and Professor of Geology at King’s.

Born on his family’s estate in Scotland, Charles spent much of his childhood in his families second home in Hampshire in the south of England.

He attended Exeter College, Oxford and became a lawyer after graduation. He published his first paper on geology in 1822 and was elected joint secretary of the Geological Society in 1823. In 1827, with his eyesight worsening, he decided to dedicate the rest of his career solely to geology.

Charles is best known for his (literally) ground-breaking Principles of Geology, which propounded the theory of uniformitarianism – the idea that the Earth’s current state is the result of the same forces that are still acting upon it today. The Principles demonstrated conclusively that the earth must be millions of years old and opened the way for Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution.

His other scientific contributions included explanations of the causes of earthquakes and the formation of volcanoes and coining the names of the geological eras: Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic.

Charles was knighted in 1848, before inheriting his baronetcy in 1864. He was awarded the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 1858 and the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society in 1866.

Charles died in 1875, whilst editing the twelfth edition of his Principles. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Did you know? There are a number of places around the world named after Charles, including three mountains, two glaciers and a canyon.