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Bust of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison (1792-1871)

R I Murchison   

Marble portrait bust of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, by Richard Westmacott, 1848. (GSL/POR/26) Photograph by Alistair Fyfe, 2009.

Provenance: Presented to the Society by Lady Murchison, 1853.


Elected a Member of the Geological Society on 3 December 1824 (no.624) and twice served as President between 1831-1833 and 1841-1843. Awarded the Wollaston Medal in 1864.

Murchison was born in Tarradale, Easter Ross, Scotland and was educated at Durham Grammar School and the Royal Military College. When Murchison met his future wife Charlotte Hugonin (1788-1869) in 1815, it was she who was studying science, Murchison being far more interested in hunting and horses. After many years of encouragement from Charlotte and latterly Sir Humphrey Davy, the Murchisons moved to London in 1824 where he began to attend lectures on geology and chemistry.

Murchison’s main geological achievement lay in determining the order of the older Palaeozoic rocks, which he described in his first book on the subject, ‘Silurian System’ (1839).

The bust depicts Murchison wearing the Russian Star and Cross (St Anne and St Stanislaus) which were two of the many decorations he received. He was knighted in 1846.

Murchison medal obv
Murchison medal rev

The Society’s Murchison Medal, established in 1871 under the will of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison. The reverse shows two geological hammers in saltire, between them a series of fossils surrounded by a border of Graptolites, under the legend ‘Siluria’, the system which Murchison was the first to identify.  The fossils are:  trilobites Encrinurus punctatus & Ampyx nudus; brachiopod Pentamerus Knighti; and gastropod Euomphalus rugosus.

Another portrait image of Murchison can be seen in our painting The British Association at Newcastle.