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Papers of Sir Charles Lyell

Identifier: Coll-203

Scope and Contents

Lyell’s 'Papers' serves as a description of several series of archival records, including correspondence to and from Lyell, and other records kept by himself and his team. Lyell’s archive was purposefully created by himself and his team, to evidence his work, achievements and for prosperity. Where evident, Lyell’s own organisation has been retained, and used to structure the series. The archival papers should be seen in the context of the run of Notebooks, his specimen collection, and Offprints – all four of which represent the tools he used in his work.

Scope and Contents
  1. 10 boxes of correspondence
  2. 2 boxes of miscellaneous papers and lecture notes
  3. 24 boxes of offprints of papers
  4. 294 notebooks


  • Creation: 1806-1874



11 metres


The first tranche is arranged as ten series in the collection (aka Lyell 1-10), and have the reference Coll-203/1-10.
The Offprints follow, as Coll-203/11, and are currently being listed (Summer 2024).
The entire run of Notebooks follows, and comprises five series:
Coll-203/A1 Scientific
Coll-203/A2 Daily and Travel Journals
Coll-203/A3 Manuscript Notebooks [aka Species]
Coll-203/A4 Madeira & Canary Notebooks
Coll-203/A5 Index Notebooks
The second tranche of Lyell's papers follows, and has the reference Coll-203/B1- 21.

Custodial History

The Charles Lyell Collection is the sum of multiple accruals which have coalesced at the University of Edinburgh over a span of almost 100 years. The first of these accruals was a collection of geological specimens, minerals and shells, alongwith what was described at the time as 'The Papers of Sir Charles Lyell', presented in 1927 to the Grant Institute of Geology by Lady Lyell of Kinnordy (see University Court minutes, 14 Nov 1927).The paper records were transferred from the Grant Institute of Geology, to the University Library in 1960 and 1975. The Specimens remained with the Grant Institute, in the Cockburn Geological Museum. Other papers and Lyell's notebooks remained in the custody of the Lyell family at Kinnordy. Thanks to the dedicated support of leading institutions, groups and individuals, the University of Edinburgh led a successful campaign in 2019 to acquire Lyell's 294 notebooks. In 2020, the remaining papers of Sir Charles Lyell were allocated to the University of Edinburgh under the UK Government's 'Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance Tax' scheme. Smaller groups of records from the original 1927 deposit, that had found their way into academic offices and stores, have also been identified, and have been passed from the School of GeoSciences to the Library. In addition, the University has purchased Lyell related records - these are catalogued separately.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

First tranche
Transfered from the Grant Institute of Geology, 1960 (catalogued, Coll-203/1-10). Accession E60/3
Second tranche
Transfered from the Grant Institute of Geology, 1975 (uncatalogued, Gen.1999). Accession E75/45.
Third tranche
Purchased from Sotheby's, November 2019 (Scientific notebooks of Sir Charles Lyell). Accession SC-Acc-2019-0120.
Fourth tranche
Accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by H M Government and allocated to Edinburgh University Library, 2020, received July 2020. Accession SC-Acc-2020-0115.

Processing Information

Fonds level description compiled for NAHSTE project by Andrew Thomson, May 2000. Revised by Pamela McIntyre, September 2023.

Papers of Sir Charles Lyell
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379