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Early years and first discoveries, 1799-1819

Buckland 2
Extract from map 'The County of Dorset surveyed by Isaac Taylor' (1796), geologically coloured by William Buckland, [1812-1820]. Archive ref: LDGSL/56/3/7

Mary Anning was born on 21 May 1799 in Lyme Regis. Her parents Richard Anning (c.1766-1810) and mother Mary (or Molly) Moore (c.1764–1842) had at least nine children, with only two surviving to adulthood – Mary and her older brother Joseph (1796-1849). 

Her father Richard, a cabinet-maker and carpenter, was known locally as a fossil hunter who supplemented his income by selling his finds to tourists who flocked to the fashionable seaside resort at the end of the 18th century. Anning would later claim it was from him that she learned her fossil collecting skills. 

Plate 5 Lyme
Lyme Regis depicted in 1855, from Brown's 'Beauties of Lyme Regis' (1858). GSL Library collections.

Like many poor, working class children Mary gained a basic education at Sunday School at her local chapel up until around the age of 11. She could read and write, although occasionally spelled words in a phonetic manner.  

In early 1808, her father Richard had an accident which would change the family’s life forever. Walking after dark, he diverged from the main path and tumbled down a cliff.  His injuries meant that he was unable to work and by the time of his death in November 1810, from a combination of the consequences of the fall and consumption, the family were left with £120 of debts and having to rely on relief given by the Overseers of the Parish Poor.

The story of how, after her father’s death, the young Mary Anning came to become a fossil hunter in her own right, was related by Anning herself to subsequent visitors to Lyme: 

“She told me at ten years old her father died, and her mother being in great distress did not attend to her, she wandered along the seashore, and picked up a fossil, which she showed a lady whom she met – this lady was a fossilist and was so much pleased that she gave her half a crown.” Anna Mary Pinney, October 1831, quoted in T Sharpe 'The Fossil Woman. A Life of Mary Anning' (2020).

The possibility of earning an income from fossil hunting inspired the family to make it into a business.  

Click on the images to find out about the Annings' first major finds:

First discovery
   Temnodontosaurus platyodon, 1811-1812
   Proteosaurus, 1818

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