Lady Murchison

Lady Charlotte Murchison (nee Hugonin) was born in 1788 in Hampsire to General Francis and Charlotte Hugonin. It is believed that she was one of three children brought up in the family home.

A page of The Silurian System showing trilobites Lady Murchison would have drawn

Charlotte first met Roderick Impey Murchison in 1815 and they were married not long after in the August of the same year. The first two years of their married life was spent touring Europe including visits to Italy, Naples and Rome. Charlotte almost lost her life during their trip to Rome where she caught malaria, something which would affect her throughout the rest of her life.

The couple lived in various places once they returned to England. For a period, they settled in Melton Mowbray where Charlotte encouraged her husband to focus on different interests, which eventually led to them moving to London where he began to attend lectures on chemistry and geology.

Charlotte and Roderick went on a field trip together during 1825 along the southern coast of England. They ended up at the coastal town of Lyme Regis, Dorset. It was here that Charlotte began to take an active part in geology. She spent time sketching the cliffs along the coast and collecting Jurassic fossil specimens from the beaches. This trip was to forge a lifelong friendship between Charlotte and the world famous fossil hunter, Mary Anning. After this the friends sent regular correspondence to one another. This fossil collection developed throughout her various trips. This collection was studied by some important names in geology during the 19th century, including William Buckland who became president of the Geological Society of London.

A page of The Silurian System showing corals Lady Murchison would have drawn

Charlotte visited the Auvergne region of France and northern Italy with Roderick and Charles Lyell in 1828. Lyell appreciated her work. Charlotte and Roderick continued to travel around Europe to Germany and Italy. For a period of time the couple visited sites in the UK including Wales, Ludlow and the Wrens Nest, Dudley. During these trips she continued to make sketches and take notes on what she saw and any fossils she picked up. Charlotte’s sketches were neat and precise, because of this they were published in her husband’s publication ‘The Silurian System’ in 1839.

In 1838 Charlotte inherited her mother’s fortune after she passed away. This allowed the couple to move into Belgrave Square, London which was one of the most fashionable areas of the day. Charlotte had fantastic social skills which allowed the couple to become established within the community. In 1831 Charlotte wished to attend Lyell’s geological lectures with her husband but women were not allowed to attend. However, Charlottes interest and knowledge of geology influenced a change in the rules, allowing women to attend the same lectures as the men.

Charlotte’s health then began to fail but she continued to advise her husband on his science. She passed away in 1869 at their home. Roderick continued to work within the scientific world and was knighted in 1846 and then became baronet in 1866. Sir Roderick Murchison gained a prominent position in the scientific community thanks to the continued support and financial backing from his wife, Lady Charlotte Murchison.

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