Appeal to save historic Charles Lyell notebooks from international sale

Sir Charles Lyell was a close mentor to Darwin after he returned from his voyage on the Beagle.
Sir Charles Lyell was a close mentor to Darwin after he returned from his voyage on the Beagle.
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CAMPAIGNERS have launched an appeal to save the historic works of a leading Scottish geologist who mentored Charles Darwin after a private collector announced plans to sell them abroad.

Sir Charles Lyell worked closely with Darwin after he returned from his five year voyage on the Beagle in 1836 and is credited with providing the framework to develop his evolutionary theories.

As well as sketches and annotations on scientific theories, the notebooks also contain correspondence between Lyell and Darwin.

As well as sketches and annotations on scientific theories, the notebooks also contain correspondence between Lyell and Darwin.

The 294 notebooks - which contain correspondence between the two scientists - have been described as “the most important collection of scientific papers in private hands” and feature Victorian-era theories on climate change and so-called 'deep time'.

A government export ban was placed on the works until July 15 in an attempt to keep them in the UK, but the deadline was extended after supporters at the University of Edinburgh pledged more than £600,000 to help fund the purchase of the books - with the promise they will be made available to the public for the first time if successful.

They have now been given an extension until October to find the remaining £314,000 needed to complete the transaction after the collection was put forward for sale internationally.

Joseph Marshall, head of special collections at the University, said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring the works of Lyell into public recognition.”

Sir Charles Lyell was a close mentor to Darwin after he returned from his voyage on the Beagle.

Sir Charles Lyell was a close mentor to Darwin after he returned from his voyage on the Beagle.

“He is one of the most important people in the history of science in terms of bridging the historical period and modern scientific theory. Lyell was talking about the human impact on Earth and climate change as far back as the 19th century.

“The only reason he is not as well known as someone like Darwin, who tested many of Lyell’s theories while on his Beagle voyage, is that most of his work is in private hands.”

He added: “This is our chance to bring his pioneering efforts into the public domain.”

Lyell, born in Angus, is credited with popularising the theory that Earth continues to be shaped by the same natural processes used in the formation of the planet.

Darwin once wrote of the geologist “I always feel as if my books came half from Lyell’s brains,” later stating in his autobiography: “The science of geology is enormously indebted to Lyell — more so, as I believe, than to any other man who ever lived.”

Locations of geological significance as far afield as Greenland, Tasmania and New Zealand have been named in his honour.

In April, the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport announced an export ban on the historic notes being sold abroad, citing them as “an extraordinary insight into a time when science was changing long-held beliefs about the world.”

Joseph said he was “very confident” the final target would be reached by the October deadline, with the campaign attracting the backing of broadcasters and writers including Nicholas Crane, Hermione Cockburn and Richard Fortey.

James Secord, director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, said: “The notebooks are key to appreciating Sir Charles Lyell’s standing as arguably the most significant figure in the earth sciences in Britain in the past two centuries”.