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Charlotte Murchison née Hugonin (1788-1869)

 Murchison, Charlotte and Charles Lyell   Modern, idealized illustration showing Roderick Murchison, his wife Charlotte, Charles Lyell and two others, travelling together on a geological trip to Southern France in 1828.  

Charlotte 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. 

 Ammonites Murchisonae SOWERBY   Ammonites Murchisonae SOWERBY, 1827
 Charlotte's fieldbook, July 1835   Charlotte Murchison's field notebook, 1835
 Damory Quarry   Drawing of Damory Quarry, 1835