Sir Charles Lyell, the distinguished geologist, was buried in the north aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey. He was the eldest son of Charles (d.1849) and Frances (Smith). The family moved from Scotland to the south of England soon after his birth. He was educated at Exeter College, Oxford and took lectures from William Buckland, the eminent geologist who later became Dean of Westminster. Although Charles entered the legal profession he was more interested in geology. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, published the first part of his Principles of Geology in 1830, and was President of the Geological Society. In 1832 he married Mary Horner in Bonn and was later knighted.
Burial at the Abbey
His family were rather reluctant for his burial to take place in the Abbey. The gravestone is of Carboniferous limestone from Wirksworth in Derbyshire and contains small fossil crinoids (sea lilies) and its inscription, by Professor Huxley, reads:
“CHARLES LYELL BARONET F.R.S. AUTHOR OF “THE PRINCIPLES OF GEOLOGY” BORN AT KINNORDY IN FORFARSHIRE NOVEMBER 14 1797 DIED IN LONDON FEBRUARY 22 1875. THROUGHOUT A LONG AND LABORIOUS LIFE HE SOUGHT THE MEANS OF DECIPHERING THE FRAGMENTARY RECORDS OF THE EARTH’S HISTORY IN THE PATIENT INVESTIGATION OF THE PRESENT ORDER OF NATURE ENLARGING THE BOUNDARIES OF KNOWLEDGE AND LEAVING ON SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT AN ENDURING INFLUENCE. “O LORD HOW GREAT ARE THY WORKS AND THY THOUGHTS ARE VERY DEEP” PSALM XCII.5”
A white marble bust by sculptor William Theed jnr. stands on the window ledge near the grave, inscribed:
Sir Charles Lyell. Geologist. Born 1797. Died 1875.
A photograph of the grave and bust can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
“Life, letters and journals of Sir Charles Lyell”, edited by Mrs Lyell.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.