Lyell notebooks
An example of some of the notebooks of geologist Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875). The archive comprises 294 manuscript notebooks.

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Considered of “outstanding significance for the development of modern scientific knowledge”, the notebooks were consigned for sale by the executors of Charles 3rd Baron Lyell who died in 2017. However, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has halted the sale and is calling for a UK buyer to raise £1.44m to keep them in the country.

Arts minister Michael Ellis said: “This archive reveals the workings of one of the most influential scientists of the last 200 years and provides us with an extraordinary insight into a time when science was changing long-held beliefs about the world. I hope a buyer can be found to keep the unique records of a British great in the country.”

The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council.

Committee member Peter Barber said: “Charles Darwin once wrote that ‘I always feel as if my books came half from Lyell’s brains’. Lyell’s notebooks and papers are perhaps the most important source of information not only on Lyell’s own multifarious researches - including climate change as well as geology - but also on intellectual networking and networks in Victorian Britain and on numerous other, non-scientific as well as scientific, aspects of Victorian society.”

The RCEWA, which hopes the notebooks will eventually be made available to researchers, made its recommendation on the grounds of the “outstanding significance of the notebooks to the study of Lyell’s work, the development of modern scientific knowledge, and late-Georgian and Victorian intellectual culture”.

The decision on the export licence application for the notebooks and manuscripts will be deferred until July 15 and could be extended until October 15 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the notebooks is made at the recommended price of £1.44m.