Mary Buckland (1797- 1857 ) was a British palaeontologist and scientific illustrator, born just a couple of years before fellow palaeontology enthusiast Mary Anning.
Geology was in Mary’s early life: first encouraged by her father, when her mother died and her father remarried, she then lived with Sir Christopher Pegge’s family- an anatomy professor at Oxford who also taught geology and mineralogy. She inherited his fossil collections following his death
As a young woman Mary became involved with the cutting edge of the new science of palaeontology, drawing beautiful illustrations of fossils for notable scholars George Cuvier and William Coneybeare. She also worked on fossil curation at Oxford museum, such as labeling and conservation. She continued to collect fossils, and Louis Agassiz and Charles Lyell described rare specimens of sponges she found.
Mary’s interest in fossils was matched in the man she married, William Buckland, already one of the key figures in early geology and palaeontology. The story goes that they first met in a carriage, both reading copies of Cuvier’s latest work. After they married in 1825 they went on an epic fossil-fest honeymoon across Europe, visiting many of the famous sites and names in palaeontology.
As is the case for other early trowelblazers married to men who worked professionally in their fields, Mary collaborated in William’s research. She not only illustrated publications but apparently wrote some of the text too, as well as going on field trips together. Additionally, she worked on some of the experiments inichnology (trace fossils) that William undertook, such as working out that some fossil footprints were made by tortoises.
During their marriage, William became increasingly influential within geology and palaeontology, and although still operating within a religious framework, published evidence that the biblical flood was not supported by geology- a book which Mary contributed to.
While unable to professionally pursue her interests, Mary must have interacted with many of the scholarly visitors to their house in Oxford. Buckland himself was famously eccentric in the range of meats served at dinner, and a charming silhouette of him, Mary and their son suggests their family home, like his office, was filled with fossils as well as live animals.
Following William’s appointment as Dean of Westminster in 1845, they left Oxford, and Mary taught in the village school. After her husband died in 1856, she continued with scientific work on marine zoophytes and sponges until her own death just a year later.
Written by @Ferwen
Edited by Becky
Can you help us find out more about the photo?
Photograph information at wikimedia page states that the photo is described in Burgess’ book as “in the possession of Mrs. Phyllis Cursham”, presumably referring to the 1960s when the book was published.
We found out (via some googling) that Phyllis Cursham was probably Mary Buckland’s great grand-daughter, but is now likely to have passed away. She had a daughter, Barbara Cursham ( and intriguingly they both seem to have had orchid species named after them).
We hope that someone reading the blog might know the current whereabouts of this photo (and if it really is of Mary)- was it donated to a museum or learned society, or does it remain in the Cursham family? We would like to ask permission formally to use the image. Also, maybe there are other photographs of Mary out there?
Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey (1986). “Buckland, Mary Morland”. Women in science: antiquity through the nineteenth century : a biographical dictionary with annotated bibliography. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. p. 49. ISBN 9780262650380.