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Charles Lyell

Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) was Professor of Geology at King's from 1831-3.

Principles of Geology

Following study at Exeter College, Oxford, Lyell toured the continent and was elected secretary of the influential Geological Society. During this stage of his career he advanced an important new theory determining the ages of successive geological epochs by the presence within the rocks of different species of extinct flora and fauna. He incorporated this into a model of gradual change of the earth's surface geology over millions of years as opposed to the six thousand years implied by traditional calculations derived from study of the Bible.

Lyell effectively threw into doubt the whole Creationist basis of the biblical story. These findings were presented in his Principles of Geology (1830-3). The book was a popular success, running to twelve editions by 1875.

Lyell at King's

Appointed Professor of Geology at King's College in 1831, Lyell proved a colourful and capable speaker. However, his challenge to traditional biblical chronology set him on a collision course with the orthodox views of the College authorities. They prohibited the attendance of women at a planned series of Lyell's lectures in the summer term of 1832. This effectively forestalled public participation at the lectures and made Lyell's position untenable. He resigned in October 1833.

Later work

Lyell subsequently cemented his reputation with further geological expeditions, the publication of classic texts including Elements of Geology, and presidency of the Geological Society.

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