Ref NoLDGSL/840
TitleCharlotte MURCHISON's field notebooks
Extent5 notebooks
DescriptionCharlotte MURCHISON's field notebooks covering mainly England and Wales, Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland, 1816-1852.

The five notebooks mostly contain descriptions of the places Charlotte visited, what her accommodation was like, and any sightseeing trips or excursions she went on.
Administrative HistoryCharlotte Hugonin was born on 18 April 1788, the daughter of General Francis Hugonin (d.1836) and his wife Charlotte, nee Edgar (d.1838). Nothing is known of her childhood and youth other than her mother was a skillful florist and botanist.

When she met her future husband Roderick Murchison in the early summer of 1815 (marrying him a few months later), it was she who was studying science. Roderick, on the other hand, was a cavalry officer in the Dragoons who was more interested in horses and dogs. As Napoleon’s defeat killed any chance of military advancement, Charlotte encouraged her new husband to resign his commission in the hopes he would turn his attention to more literary endeavours. However, although in the first few years of their marriage they travelled extensively in the Continent and Britain, with Charlotte tutoring him in natural history, Murchison showed little inclination to pursue a scientific career, later reflecting,

“I…gave myself up recklessly but jovially to a fox-hunting life. It was during the years 1818-22 (three in the north country, and two seasons in Melton Mowbray) that my wife was always striving to interest me in something more intellectual than the case, and began to teach herself mineralogy and conchology…”

With the further urging of Sir Humphry Davy that he should consider pursuing science, Charlotte finally had her way and in 1824 the couple moved to London where Murchison began to attend lectures on geology and chemistry. Murchison’s first paper to the Society, “Geological Sketch of the North Western Extremity of Sussex, and the Adjoining Parts of Hants and Surrey” [published in the ‘Transactions of the Geological Society of London’, series 2, vol 2 pp97-107], is considered by his biographer, the geologist Archibald Geikie, as the result of the first joint fieldwork with Charlotte.

When her health allowed, having recurrent bouts of malarial fever which she had caught whilst travelling in Italy in 1817, Charlotte accompanied her husband on his geological field trips. Whilst Murchison surveyed the surroundings, Charlotte would sketch and do the actual fossil hunting, notably at Lyme Regis with Mary Anning:

“At some places we examined the cliffs and boats, she never failing to make good sketches. When we reached Lyme-Regis, she being rather fatigued, I left her to recruit there and amuse herself, and become a good practical fossilist, by working with the celebrated Mary Anning of that place, and trudging with her (pattens on their feet) along the shore; and thus my first collection was much enriched”.

By the 1860s Charlotte’s health had deteriorated, but she still supported her husband’s scientific endeavours, “In the evening…he might snatch a few hours to prepare an account of his labours in the field for the Society, his wife at his side preparing his drawings and otherwise aiding in his work”. She died on 9 February 1869.
ProvenancePresented in 1944.
ArrangementOne of the notebooks previously ascribed to Charlotte Murchison is in fact by her husband Roderick. It can now be found at: LDGSL/839/4a.
Access ConditionsAccess is by appointment only. Please contact the Archivist for further information.
LanguageEnglish, French, Italian
ArchNoteSources: Kölbl-Ebert, M. "Charlotte Murchison (nee Hugonin) 1788-1869", 'Earth Sciences History', vol 16 (1997), pp39-43; Burek, C V & B Higgs "The role of women in the history and development of geology: an introduction", 'The Role of Women in the History of Geology', Geological Society Special Publication 281 (2007), pp1-8. Description by John Thackray; revised by Victoria Woodcock & Caroline Lam.
CreatorNameMURCHISON | Charlotte | 1788-1869 | née Hugonin | geologist
TermTravel (tourism)
DS/UK/749MURCHISON; Charlotte (1788-1869); née Hugonin; geologist1788-1869
NA87Northern Ireland
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