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Palaeontological passion

Wm Buckland

As St Valentine's Day approaches, geologist and science writer Nina Morgan* gets to the heart of what makes palaeontologists tick.

Geoscientist 21.1 February 2010

For keen collectors, geology is not so much an occupation as a major preoccupation. This was certainly the case with William Buckland (1784-1856), first reader in geology at Oxford University. In a letter written in 1832 to the his ex-student, the politician and enthusiastic collector of fossil fish, Sir Philip de Malpas Grey-Egerton (1806–1881), Buckland offers congratulations on Egerton's impending marriage in terms only a keen fossil collector can appreciate.

Christ Church
January 23rd 1832

My Dear Sir Philip,

Mrs Buckland begs to unite with me in the offering of our most sincere congratulations to you on the brilliant Discovery announced in your last, of a Jewel of great price which you have resolved to make your own, and to submit to the inspection of the learned at our proposed scientific meeting in June next. The only rival specimen I have heard of as likely to be present, and which has the reputation of being the greatest Beauty in the mineral world, is a specimen that will be brought by the Marquis of Northampton, who has joined our Society, and has lately possessed himself of a fossil lizard enclosed in amber more exquisitely beautiful than the fairest of the fossil Saurians, and which your specimen alone I expect to find possessing the power to eclipse. Your scientific description of that specimen is, I presume, submitted to me as a paper to be read at the meeting, when all who may be present will have opportunity of ascertaining its fidelity by comparison with the original, and of applauding the taste and discretion you will have exhibited by the selection you have made. I presume our friend Lord Cole will appear in his unenviable state of single blessedness.

Again, repeating our united congratulations, and with most sincere wishes for your happiness, I remain,

Yours always very sincerely,

W. Buckland.
Presumably Anna Elizabeth Legh, Egerton's intended, knew what she was getting into. And if she had any doubts, she could always have consulted Mrs Buckland, the former Mary Morland. Legend has it that William Buckland was first attracted to Miss Morland when he observed her reading a book by French naturalist and zoologist, Georges Cuvier. After their marriage, in 1885, he promptly whisked her off on a geological wedding tour of the continent that lasted nearly a year.


William Buckland's letter to Philip Egerton and the story of the Buckland's wedding tour appear in The Life and Correspondence of William Buckland, D.D., FRS by his daughter Mrs Gordon, published by John Murray in 1894.
  • If the past is the key to your present interests, why not join the History of Geology Group (HOGG)? For more information and to read the latest HOGG newsletter, visit: Keen collectors will note that registration for the HOGG Conference on Geological Collectors and Collecting is now open. A full programme and registration form are available for download from the HOGG website.

* Nina Morgan is a geologist and science writer based near Oxford.