Sir Roderick Impey Murchison KCB FRS, 1st Baronet, lived from 19 February 1792 to 22 October 1871. He was an eminent geologist. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Roderick Murchison was born at Tarradale House on the north shore of the Beauly Firth not far from Muir of Ord. After attending Durham School, he went to the military college at Great Marlow, and was then commissioned as an army officer. In 1808 he landed in Spain with the army of the future Duke of Wellington. After leaving the army eight years later he married Charlotte Hugonin, a general's daughter. They spent two years touring Europe and settled in Durham in 1818. Here his interest in geology was fostered by Sir Humphry Davy and he rapidly became an active member of the Geological Society of London.
Murchison, often accompanied by his wife, began a systematic exploration of the geology of South East England. He then turned his attention to the Alps, subsequently producing a joint paper with Adam Sedgwick setting out their structure. In 1830 he helped found the Royal Geographical Society. From 1831 Murchison explored the border area between England and Wales, the result being the publication, in 1839, of his hugely influential book The Silurian System. He then turned his attention to rocks from the Devonian period, before undertaking field work in Germany and in Russia's Ural Mountains.
Sir Roderick Murchison was knighted in 1846, and in the same year he served as President of the British Association. In 1855 he became Director-General of the British Geological Survey and Director of the Royal School of Mines and the Museum of Practical Geology in London. From 1860, Murchison turned his attention to unravelling the complex geology of Scotland. Here he was less successful than elsewhere, producing theories about the origin and structure of the highlands that were later overturned. He also founded a chair of geology and mineralogy at the University of Edinburgh and established the Murchison Medal and a geological fund (The Murchison Fund) to be awarded annually by the council of the Geological Society in London.
Sir Roderick Murchison died in London in 1871. His achievements had led to awards from just about every scientific society in Europe, and at least 15 geographic features on Earth are named after him. These include Mount Murchison in New Zealand; Murchison Falls in Uganda; the Murchison River in Australia; and Murchison Island off Canada's west coast. A 58km wide lunar crater, the Murchison Crater, is also named after him.