8 Collecting in Pursuit of Answers

In addition to collector networks, personal donation and individual fieldwork, there were a few rare occasions when societies put all their resources into a research-driven excavation. This was most likely to occur when a localised deposit of fossils had been discovered and excavation might reveal their detailed stratigraphic context and in the process answer some fundamental geological questions. In Yorkshire this was only really likely to happen if a bone cave was uncovered or if bones were found in one of the gravel deposits which littered the Yorkshire landscape. These gravels and the bones they contained were thought by many to be the remnants of the Biblical flood. One of the earliest examples of this kind of excavation took place in 1829 at Bielsbeck, a farm lying midway between York and Hull. But Bielsbeck was essentially the legacy of the earlier Kirkdale Cave excavations, which ignited a local fascination for geology in the first place. 

Fig. 8.1 Location of Pleistocene sites.

The fauna of Kirkdale Cave was a chance discovery of John Gibson in July 1821. A native of Kirkbymoorside in Yorkshire, who was then a partner in an Essex chemical firm, Gibson returned to Yorkshire to visit friends when he discovered bones in blocks of limestone being used to repair a road. He traced the source of these blocks to a large quarry then being excavated along the brow of the slope on the eastern side of Hodgebeck, a river near his home village. The quarry had hit upon a bone cave, making an entrance just four feet square. The cave itself extended several hundred feet into the surrounding limestone, yet lay only fifteen to twenty feet below the surface. The owner of the land soon expressed a wish that the bones from this cave ‘fall into the hands of such persons, who would deposit them in public institutions or otherwise take care of them, to preserve the interesting memorials of this wonderful cavern.’ But as yet, of all the Yorkshire towns, only Leeds had established a society and was capable of taking such material; the cave was equidistant from, and within easy reach of the residents of, York, Whitby and Scarborough. William Salmond, George Young and William Eastmead, (the latter of Kirkbymoorside), undertook initial mapping of the cave, and they with Gibson and others soon cleared it of its remains. Gibson departed for Essex with the largest collection of all, distributing remains widely throughout the London institutions.[1] This included no less than 300 hyena canine teeth, undoubtedly some of the most evocative objects recovered.

At Vernon’s request William Buckland visited the cave in December having first heard about it from Edward Legge, the Bishop of Oxford and Warden of All Souls, who used to attend his geology lectures. Pentland and Cuvier had been pushing Buckland to go for more than a month as they were desperate to get intelligence and specimens.[2] When Buckland arrived he found that much excavation had already taken place. Most of the overlying stalagmite crust, for example, had been removed. The stratigraphy of the entrance had also been destroyed preventing any conclusions as to the relationship of the internal deposits to the sands and gravels found outside. What he found most remarkable about the deposit of bones, in addition to their fine preservation, was that few were whole. As the teeth were easier to identify and more durable than the bones, Buckland used them to assess the size and nature of the animal population. From Gibson’s collection alone he knew that at least 75 hyenas had occupied the cave and that these hyenas were one third larger than modern forms.

Fig. 8.2 Hyena jaw from Kirkdale. From Buckland 1822.

In a masterly paper, read before the Royal Society in February 1822, he transformed this inert pile of bones into a dynamic ecosystem inhabited by a local population of hyenas, elephants, rhinoceroses and a wealth of other animals. Rich in supplementary information and underpinned by the power of clear logic, Buckland painted a graphic, fantastic and yet convincing picture of another world. Within nine months this work earned him the Copley Medal from the Royal Society. Buckland’s hyenas were also made to ‘roar’ from the pages of the world’s press; this was one of the great media sensations of the century.[3]

In presenting the medal, Humphry Davy, whom Buckland had taken to the cave, said that it had been suspected for some time that such finds in Britain and elsewhere represented faunas which had once lived in those countries. ‘Yet that this had never been distinctly established till Professor Buckland described the cave in Yorkshire, in which several generations of hyaenas must have lived and died.’ As Buckland himself had explained, faunas were previously thought to represent the remains of animals which had drifted on the diluvial currents of the Biblical Deluge. As a result of this new work two theoretical views might be taken of the subject: ‘one, that the animals were of a peculiar species fitted to inhabit temperate or cold climates; and the other, which he thought the most probable, that the temperature of the globe had changed.’ Buckland, however, was in no doubt that these were different species. Evidence from Cuvier’s study of their skeletal anatomy and discoveries of wool-clad elephants and rhinoceroses in Siberia clearly indicated this. Perhaps further proofs might be found amongst other discoveries of diluvial remains. For Davy a distinct epoch in the history of time had been created: ‘a point fixed, from which our researches may be pursued through the immensity of ages, and the records of animated nature, as it were, carried back to the time of the creation.’[4] Thus began a dominant theme in nineteenth-century geology, not just in Britain but worldwide, and one in which the Kirkdale story would continue to excite interest.

Through this publication Buckland established his position as the country’s pre-eminent expert in organic remains, particularly among the landed gentry and provincial philosophers aspiring to scientific notice. He consolidated this position as the British expert on cave faunas in the following year with the publication of a more extensive account in Reliquiae Diluvianae. As the title indicates, to Buckland these faunas were proofs of the Deluge. Though not without his critics, he had become ‘the great advocate and interpreter of the diluvial theory’. He utilised this popularity to extend his existing network of observers; he now received the very latest intelligence on fossil discoveries made across Britain and the continent. Interest in these faunas had long existed. Caves in Germany, for example, had been systematically explored from the late eighteenth century and were still spewing forth vast quantities of bones. These finds were now being distributed throughout Europe. These caves had been among the sites visited by Buckland on his post-war tour of Germany with Conybeare and Greenough in 1816. Around this time, interest in cave faunas had been stimulated in Britain by limestone quarrying for Plymouth breakwater. This revealed a cavern containing the bones of hyena, rhinoceros and other animals which became so famous they were amongst the first fossils Vernon sought to acquire for the Yorkshire Museum, through his contacts with Lady Morley.[5]

It was by the amalgamation of Yorkshire’s three largest collections of Kirkdale fossils that the Yorkshire Philosophical Society was born. It was the best possible start for a body with such high objectives in geology; as a repository, at least, it was thrust into the realm of headline science.[6] It could also boast a direct link to the man at the centre of this research. These specimens were to become touchstones for future development, relics of almost religious significance which encapsulated the new philosophy of selfless science and benefaction. By 1840 this material which filled ‘but one of 100 cases’ was ‘still the centre of the strongest attraction’. Fossil remains associated with the diluvium continued to form an underlying interest within the society.[7] Towards the end of the decade this was to culminate in its most assertive and systematic attempt at research-motivated collecting and perhaps the first systematic palaeontological excavation in Britain.

The York society continued to acquire Kirkdale specimens from other members and, on their death some years later, mopped up the remnants of Atkinson’s and Salmond’s collections. Some duplicate material was given to the Leeds society and elsewhere; again, collection growth was an act of distillation. Kirkdale material found its way into every Yorkshire museum, and many museums across the country, and in each it was treated as having an almost unmatched significance.[8] The cave continued to generate considerable discussion long after Buckland’s paper was published. For Buckland and his disciples, Kirkdale became a new predictive model to be superimposed on all subsequent cave finds. But not all the local philosophers were disciples. 

Of the three original local explorers each found cause for dispute. From Salmond’s recollections of the cave, he felt that the mud had been introduced prior to habitation by the hyenas, that its surface morphology implied the cave had been filled with water. In his view the bones post-dated, and had been trodden into, the mud. The fauna was therefore post-diluvial. One of his supposed proofs was a thin piece of stalagmite with some bones attached. Phillips’s record of Salmond’s conversation on this occasion was rather dismissive. He had examined the York collections and seen no such evidence. A few months later the specimen came to light in the possession of Revd John Graham, the honorary curator of geology, who gave it to the museum. William Eastmead believed the limestone dated from the deluge and that the hyenas were post-diluvial. George Young remained wedded to the older view, that the animals had drifted into chasms in the latter stages of the deluge but that the deluge had also deposited the limestone and other strata. He expressed this view in two lectures to the Wernerian Natural History Society, and in various publications. Visitors to the Whitby museum in 1827 would have seen the bones on exhibition, not supporting the Bucklandian view which had littered newspapers and magazines, but as proof of Young’s theory.[9]

Young’s interest in Kirkdale had been rekindled in this year by an article which appeared in the Philosophical Magazine. The headline read: ‘Discovery of fossil hyaenas in Kent’, which was translated for local consumption, probably by Young, into ‘A new Kirkdale Cave’. In June 1827, John Braddick, a land and quarry owner living just south of Maidstone, discovered an assemblage of bones in 15 foot deep fissures in his quarries. He informed the Geological Society immediately. Geography was to play a large part in the interest generated: ‘From its proximity to the metropolis, it affords to the London geologists a more ready opportunity of becoming personally acquainted with the phenomena connected with such discoveries, than has been before possessed; no assemblage of bones having been previously met with nearer than Somersetshire.’ Buckland and Murchison were two of a party of six who left on the Maidstone coach ‘and threw the Kentish men into alarm’, though it was only the hero of Kirkdale who was named in reports. As Murchison recounted to Vernon: ‘Buckland got in about twice his length & burrowed with great energy – his opinion being that the fissure may still lead to a cave.’[10] But, despite the discovery of a considerable number of hyena teeth and other remains, no cave was found. Braddick donated the fossils to the Geological Society’s museum. 

The discoveries at Kirkdale may have encouraged Braddick to take a closer look at this phenomenon in his own quarries, which had been worked for centuries apparently without discovery. Certainly, without a burgeoning interest in geology and Buckland’s extraordinary discourse on the hyenas of Yorkshire, the Kent discoveries may not have been made. On the Yorkshire coast, the poorly educated artisan soon had little difficulty exploiting an obvious resource and a ready market. However, Kent’s ‘Kirkdale’ demonstrated that past failures to educate or encourage inquisitiveness in the artisan meant that the significance of more complex deposits was not recognised. The heavily hierarchical staffing structure of such quarries separated the finder from the philosophising landowner, until such time as the curiosity of the latter was raised by news of discoveries elsewhere. These were not, after all, the first fossil products discovered here: ‘Mr Braddick’s workmen say they have frequently found them in his quarries, but always neglected to preserve them; one fine head was thus lost but a few weeks ago’. It was necessary to repeat Farey’s call, of a decade earlier, for the philosophising man or women to patronise the labourer: ‘it is highly probable that if the proprietors of quarries in this country will reward their workmen for preserving whatever teeth, or bones, or fragments of bones, they may dig up in the course of working their stone, many similar discoveries will soon be made.’[11]

The Kent discoveries merely echoed those of Yorkshire and Devon, and in themselves could never have provided the proofs Buckland had found in Kirkdale. Nearly all the major discoveries of similar remains during this period arose as a result of stone extraction or agriculture. The discovery of bones at Kirkdale relied upon the chance find of a visitor to the region; not on the men involved in quarrying. The publicity given to these discoveries in Kent and Yorkshire would, if nothing else, raise an awareness amongst landowners that such finds might arise almost anywhere.

Throughout the 1820s the semi-fossilised remains of elephants and deer were frequently uncovered along the coast to the south of Bridlington; they were well known before this time.[12] These, together with occasional finds from the low-lying land to the west of the Yorkshire Wolds, continued to keep interest in the Kirkdale fauna alive. 

It was Buckland who, in 1822, first brought Vernon’s attention to the potential of the Yorkshire coast for this kind of fossil. He was well aware of the Bridlington collectors and dealers; a ‘museum’ in these coastal towns was more likely to refer to a dealing establishment than to a philosopher’s hoard. Buckland told Vernon, ‘At Bridlington there is a man who keeps a small museum and has in it some good things for wh[ich] he asks enormous prices, among them is one wh[ich] he w[oul]d not sell me at any price but might give to the Museum perhaps.’ This was the tusk of an elephant, found locally, ‘so perfect that it is still hard ivory & several snuff boxes have been made from it. The Residuary Portion sh[oul]d be rescued coûte que coûte from such Desecration.’ The specimen was unique. ‘It is the only tusk yet found in England in so perfect a state; that of Dr Alderson’s I mentioned in my last is nearly as perfect but not quite so.’ Buckland’s story of local treasure surely had Vernon leaving on the first coach. Alderson was immediately made an honorary member.[13] The Bridlington ‘museum’ was probably that belonging to Walter Wilson.

The find ‘of fine ivory’ reported in the Philosophical Magazine in this year, was almost certainly this tusk, though it is possible that this refers to Alderson’s specimen. The article stated that a ‘portion of a tusk, about thirty-eight inches in length, twenty inches in circumference at the lower end, and weighing four stone two pounds’[14] had been found at Atwick just north of Hornsea. The tusk was too valuable to be sold in its raw state. 

Before long Buckland changed his mind about this ‘desecration’. Two years after the exchange of letters with Vernon, Buckland acquired some skin and hair of the well-preserved Siberian mammoth from the mouth of the River Lena from Shute Barrington, the Bishop of Durham, to whom Buckland’s Reliquiae Diluvianae had been dedicated. This the Bishop was to pay for Buckland to have appropriately preserved in a box made of the Bridlington (then referred to as Burlington) ivory. By this time there only remained some four or five inches of the original tusk for which the dealer was asking four to five guineas. It appears that the York society made a gift of this to Buckland and from it he had made a crystal-covered silver-rimmed box, which he had inscribed and in which he placed some Siberian mammoth hair. He perceived the two materials as equally remarkable survivals. This became one of his greatest treasures. He had another made and inscribed, which he gave as a gift to the York society.[15]

Alderson donated a portion of an Atwick tusk to the York society in 1824-1825, although this could not have been the tusk to which Buckland referred as Phillips, in 1829, comments on the extraordinary size of the specimen still in Alderson’s collection. Phillips, at the time, remarked how such specimens provided further evidence of a local fauna of exotic animals: perfectly preserved teeth, tusks and horns buried beneath deposits in which the hardest of rocks are worn smooth and round by long distance transport. It was this kind of preservational evidence which Buckland had used to establish that the Kirkdale hyenas were truly local and not drifted remnants of the Deluge.[16]

Throughout the 1820s elephant remains from the Holderness coast continued to pour into the York collections. The frequency with which they were donated, and the nature of the donors, suggests the ready availability of these fossils in Wilson’s, Cowton’s and other shops along the coast. Phillips always saw such material for sale when in Bridlington. A source of similar remains was the peat deposit located at Owethorne much further to the south. James Backhouse and Chris Sykes contributed several specimens from this site over a number of years. Phillips was in no doubt that the peat and the bones it contained were of fairly recent origin and, contrary to a paper published in 1823 by Richard Cowling Taylor, lay above the diluvium. Taylor, a land surveyor in Norwich, was also a disciple of Smith, having received training from him in the early years of the century.[17]

In addition to the coast, the vales of York and Pickering also produced sporadic and fragmentary finds of subfossil bones – a Bos horn from Alne, a stag’s antler from Scampston, an elephant tooth from Overton and so on. A gravel pit at Hessle attracted particular attention from Vernon and Salmond; it again clearly demonstrated the fate of fossils prior to the age of the provincial philosopher. As Vernon reported to his fellow philosophers in 1823, ‘At Hessle in the diluvial gravel lying in the Chalk, bones are found, dispersed, at a depth of twenty feet and below a very hard seam of conglomerated flints. They are chiefly those of the Horse. A man who works in the Gravel Pit informed me that he had once met with the bones of a much larger animal and teeth four times the size which had been thrown away and could not be recovered.’ Buckland encouraged Vernon to continue his researches into this deposit and consequently numerous horse bones entered the York collections. Excavations for a canal at Ferrybridge encouraged similar interest when the society’s local observer, the Revd William Richardson, reported that the workmen had found a petrified tree and nuts. This was sufficient to encourage Phillips to visit the site.[18]

Members were also sending bones and teeth back from further afield, from Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Derbyshire and even France. Other parts of Britain were experiencing a similar upsurge in the discovery of these remains. The Cambridge Philosophical Society, for example, uncovered a large and diverse assemblage of fossil bones near ‘Bamwell’ in 1824. This year also saw two important cave discoveries, from which material eventually entered the York collections. The Revd John McEnery presented a collection of teeth, bones, and casts from Kent’s Cavern in Devon ‘as a small accession to the fossil remains from Kirkdale’ together with a long communication on the nature of the discovery. He first visited the cave in 1825 with William Buckland, and then became part of the professor’s collecting network. It was probably at the latter’s recommendation that material was sent to York. McEnery had given a similar collection to Cuvier, who had expressed an opinion on them, no doubt adding further value to the specimens now in the Yorkshire Museum. The second collection of bones came from Banwell Caves in Somerset, as a gift of the Bishop of Bath and Wells who ‘intends to provide a similar supply to all the principal public museums in this country’.[19] At Newnham in Warwickshire (often simply referred to as ‘Rugby’) a ‘whole herd’ of rhinoceroses and other animals had been preserved and were distributed widely to museums including Buckland’s and that in York. The preservation of these fossils was as excellent as at Kirkdale. Such discoveries served to keep philosophical attentions focused on these faunas. Rugby also provided the first hyena fossils from gravel deposits. Gibson, the discoverer of Kirkdale, also remained active, excavating what appear to have been complete skeletons of elephant, rhinoceros and other animals at Ilford in Essex. Hopes of preserving these skeletons whole, however, were abandoned as the bones crumbled and fell to pieces. Nearly a decade later a suite of these specimens was delivered to the York society.[20]

The philosophical societies had reason to hope that a local deposit of this kind might provide a complete skeleton to rival Whitby’s reptiles. Such specimens were known, and none more so than the ‘Giant Irish Elk’ found on the Isle of Man at the beginning of the decade and presented to the museum of the University of Edinburgh. Its draw was such that Phillips made a pilgrimage to see it on his tour of Scotland in 1826: ‘the noble elk from the Isle of Man, which bears its head on high. “The ‘Regius’ Museum is indebted to his Grace the Duke of Atholl for the magnificent specimen of the Irish Elk”.’ Hopes were raised when the skull and antlers of this species were discovered at Atwick near Skipsea on 31 January 1827 and came into the possession of Arthur Strickland; these measured 6 feet 8 inches between the tips of the antlers. A complete specimen was not, however, found in Yorkshire but in the mid-1830s the Yorkshire Museum acquired an incomplete Waterford skeleton from G.L. Fox. This was later completed through exchanges with the Earl of Enniskillen in 1840.[21] By this means the Yorkshire Museum claimed to be the first museum in England to display such a specimen.


In 1829, a discovery was made in the south-eastern corner of the Vale of York, which resulted in the Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s most earnest attempt at research-driven collecting, but also a long standing feud with philosophers in Hull. The site was also to continue to stimulate interest in successive generations of Pleistocene geologists to the present day. In some respects its exploitation mirrored the earlier excavations of Willson Peale in the United States, who sought, located and excavated a complete skeleton of the mastodon for his museum. It was perhaps hoped that Bielsbeck might also produce a complete skeleton, but the York philosophers seemed satisfied with the science it generated.[22]

The first indications that the area to the south of Market Weighton might preserve important fossil remains came at the very end of 1825. It was then that the Revd Henry Mitton wrote to William Danby concerning the finding of an elephant tusk at Harswell.[23] Danby was one of the vice presidents of the York society and a keen collector. In 1824, he had found the partial remains of a ‘gigantic Bos’ in a peat bog on his estate, Swinton Park, 10 miles north-west of Ripon. Mitton, a graduate of Oxford University, Curate of Christ Church, Harrogate and a neighbour of Danby, had succeeded to lands in the region of Harrogate and in the Yorkshire Dales in 1820. He later became Rector of Harswell, and it was on land belonging to this living that the tusk had been found. Mitton probably knew of Danby’s interest in geology and enthusiasm for the new society in York. Indeed members were encouraged to extend the York network through their own contacts elsewhere in the county.

Mitton’s letter contained information concerning a ‘horn’, nine feet long, found at a depth of seven to eight feet, in a marl pit on the land of one of Mitton’s tenants at Harswell. Within a few weeks Danby had acquired what remained of the specimen (a fragment), and donated it to the society’s museum in his own name. Finds of such extraordinary dimensions suggested, as Phillips surmised from coastal evidence, limited pre-burial transport and therefore the remains of a local fauna. It was some time later that the Yorkshiremen realised the significance of this find and wrote to Danby for exact details of where it had been found. As Mitton explained to Danby, the farmer had been digging a marl pit about 10 feet deep, in strata consisting of undisturbed ‘blue, red and white layers’; the tusk had come from a trench just two yards wide. That this Harswell specimen was potentially an early indication of possibly the same geological phenomenon which preserved the Bielsbeck fauna never became apparent to the York philosophers, or to any subsequent workers. Mitton anticipated that the other tusk would one day be discovered; it never was. [24]

In 1828, a tenant farmer of the name of Foster, living in the solitary farmhouse of Bielsbeck one mile north-west of North Cliffe, found a bone while excavating marl to improve poor sandy land near his house. This he kept but apparently thought little of it. The pit flooded during the winter but was left open for further excavation in the following summer. When these excavations began more bones were found, and continued to be found.[25] Together they had occupied a space of about twenty yards by eight yards, and were soon brought to the attention of William Hey Dikes, honorary curator of the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society. Bielsbeck Farm is almost equidistant between York and Hull.

Dikes lost no time in visiting Foster’s house to see the bones and had little difficulty in identifying them as coming from bear, elephant, rhinoceros, deer, ox and horse. He wrote to Phillips immediately, and Phillips replied by return of post obviously excited by the news. He implored Dikes to go public with the find or be ‘a traitor to the cause of science’.[26] Phillips, who was to leave for Europe the following week, intended to visit the site but was equally interested in getting Dikes on to the right track. Even from this first letter Phillips could see that these finds deserved further investigation and possibly excavation. Nothing similar had been seen in Yorkshire since Kirkdale. Buckland was to be informed immediately. But how should the Hull man proceed? Phillips provided a list of questions: 

Identify if possible all the shells of the Marl. I have good opportunities of doing this at York as our series of freshwater and terrestrial shells is ample. Do they lie in layers? Any mark of peat? Any pebbles or even coarse sand in it? Bones rounded? or not. Any blue phosphate of Iron? Any land shells or indeed any shells, or any line in the Chalk rubble of the top? Sand level over all? Depth to the Red marl. It is worth while to ascertain this by boring (not now, but when the interest is made apparent and subscriptions can be raised).[27]

While Dikes could gather useful data by attempting to answer these questions, he may not have fully understood their significance. Clearly, Phillips had a good idea of those contemporary issues in diluvial geology to which this deposit might provide some explanation. It was not simply a matter of investigating and recording a curious or particularly productive deposit of bones, he saw it as having importance beyond the bounds of Yorkshire. That importance lay in its stratification. Buckland’s hyenas were locked in a cave deposit which said little about the outside world. It had proven impossible to link these firmly to the deposits of gravels which were seen as important relics of the deluge. At Bielsbeck the deposit was clearly stratified and richly fossiliferous. The shells it contained had the potential to indicate climate, and the associated rocks and pebbles might allow correlation with the surrounding gravel sequences. The mammal finds, post-Kirkdale, were now seen as a local fauna preserved in its true environment and not merely drifted carcasses.

On 30 July, Phillips sent a note to Vernon and Salmond, and dined with them that evening to discuss the discovery. They agreed to go to Bielsbeck Farm the following morning, returning to Vernon’s house at Wheldrake in the evening.[28] Phillips, as ever, brought a barometer and took regular readings on the journey to gauge the elevation of the deposit. At Foster’s house, Phillips made hurried notes and drawings in pencil in his notebook, to be inked in later. He attempted to answer the questions he had asked Dikes. What was the exact location and the stratigraphy of the deposit? Could erratics be used to distinguish particular layers? From which stratum or strata had the bones come? How could this type of deposit be recognised at the surface? The bones were much as Dikes had described them, except one which appeared to come from a lion. Phillips made notes on them, perhaps to Salmond’s dictation: 

Elephant –2 teeth, head of humerus, 1 axis with the epiphysis on face (a bone of foot), lower jaw left side…
Rhinoceros –2 tibiae without epiphyses, part of skull;
2 teeth upper molars of opposite side.
Ox –vast horns (2) occipital & sphenoidal bones…
vertebra 2 which fit cervical
astragalus metacarpal
calcaneum horn flat core[?]
Stag –vertebra horn like fallow? like Kirkdale
Horse –Phalangal, metacarpal, scapula, radius 4
Lion –Upper jaw 2 premolars
Lower 3 molars (2 teeth)
both sides but condyles improper.[29]

The section in the pit, which was now partially flooded, consisted of a thick bed of black marl which could only partially be seen, overlain by grey marl, and then by chalk and flint gravel, with a layer of sand at the surface. In the heaps of black marl, which had been removed from the pit, they extracted numerous shells in which the farmer had taken little interest. At Wheldrake that evening, the three discussed what should be done with the information they had gathered. They obviously agreed with Phillips that it should be written up as soon as possible. Roles had been given to each of the party while at Bielsbeck: Vernon was to write the general paper himself; Salmond would identify the bones and Phillips the shells. This arrangement no doubt took into account Phillips’s imminent departure.

Phillips, however, was aware that the discovery was not theirs but Dikes’s. Immediately on his arrival back in York on Saturday, 1 August, he wrote to inform him of their plan. According to Phillips, Dikes had been mistaken in identifying the remains of bear – these were lion – and also concerning two shell genera – Pupa and Cyclas – which did not occur at the site. But would Dikes publish? ‘I am anxious now to know whether you will do as I recommended; send your account to the Journals or be hooked into ours’, he told Dikes. ‘You will doubtless prefer the former. We shall send to Phil Mag (acknowledging your prior merits and accuracy) and therefore (impudent wretches that we are) recommend you to another shop!’[30]

Dikes might have felt brushed aside by the York men but he did not show it. Certainly the invitation from Phillips was less than generous – they were ready to publish in haste and were to do this in one of the most popular and rapidly published journals of the time. If Dikes had any doubts about the importance of the find, Phillips, who had just completed the definitive work on the geology of the Yorkshire coast, left him in no doubt: ‘It is the most important thing yet known about such osseous remains.’ Perhaps Dikes lacked the will or confidence to publish. He certainly did not seem at all disgruntled by the York plan and sent on loan additional shells, which included the genera Phillips had failed to find, and a portion of bone which he could not identify. It seems likely that this was the metatarsal of a lion, ‘Felis spelaea’. Dikes may have found this bone himself on his visit to the farm as it eventually found its way into the Hull collections. Phillips spent much of the following week completing his part of the paper before setting off for Europe with Revd William Taylor the following Sunday.[31]

The York excavation

With Phillips out of the country, Vernon had to complete the project on his own. This included having borings made to understand the stratigraphy of the site over a wider area. These showed that the black marl sat in a depression which extended in an east-west direction, but was limited in extent to the north and south. Publication in the Philosophical Magazine presented no problems. The matter had been talked through with Phillips and Salmond, and he already had contacts at the journal. The more delicate matter to be resolved was: what was to happen to the material Foster had collected? Hull could undoubtedly claim priority but the York philosophers had taken the investigation further and were indeed to realise in a material way the importance of the site. Bielsbeck Farm was owned by William Worsley who, like so many wealthy landowners, lived to the north-east of York, in the Howardian Hills at Hovingham. Fortunately, Worsley had been one of the earliest members of the York society. Dikes, too, was concerned about what might happen to Foster’s bones and he approached Worsley in the hope of persuading him to deposit them in the Hull museum, only to find that Vernon had already been in contact. Worsley said he would ‘bear in mind’ Dikes’s application.[32] For the time being the bones were to remain at Foster’s house unseen by Worsley, until Phillips’s return from his tours of Europe and the South West.

In September, Vernon, Salmond and Phillips’s paper was published and an ‘account of observations made on a deposit of bones and shells near North Cliff’ by the three plus Dikes was presented by Vernon to the October meeting of the York society. In the published account Vernon takes on the lion’s share of the description and discussion, the other two simply providing appendices. Dikes is given considerable credit for the discovery and his ‘great accuracy of observation’ regarding the nature and disposition of the fauna, and for the suggestion that this represented an antediluvial bog. Vernon suggested that these exotic animals, far from belonging to a climatically different world, lived in an environment not unlike that of present-day Yorkshire. Cuvier had suggested that comparative anatomy might be used to distinguish the climate for which a particular assemblage of species were adapted; those that showed least change from current species gave a truer indication of the environment. But Vernon, having benefited from Phillips’s counsel, believed the invertebrate evidence was even stronger. The key to the interpretation lay in the 12 land and freshwater species of mollusc still extant in Yorkshire.[33] It was quite conceivable that the beck in a former era could have provided the environment which had preserved these animals – Dikes’s antediluvial bog. Widespread gravels seemed to show that at least two deluges had subsequently inundated the region. These gravels elsewhere preserved the same species as Vernon had found here. ‘It should seem probable that the deluge passed away without altering in any very considerable degree the condition of the earth; that the relative level of land and sea had undergone little alteration; that the climate is nearly the same, and that the species and varieties of plants and stationary animals are absolutely identical with what they were more than four thousand years ago.’ The York men, obvious disciples of Buckland, applied diluvial theory and created some understanding of the ecological circumstances of the time. They confirmed the conclusions of Buckland in proving a locally exotic fauna, but suggested that these animals survived in conditions much like those which existed today.

Fig. 8.3 Finds from the 1829 Bielsbeck excavation including Foster’s material.

Salmond identified the bones using Cuvier’s Recherches sur les Ossements Fossiles des Quadrupèdes and Foster provided the York men with an indication of the depth from which some of his specimens had been collected: ‘the horns of the ox and the jaws of the Felis lay near the bottom of the excavation; the horn of the stag, the thigh bones of the elephant, and one of the leg bones of the rhinoceros lay low in the upper marl’.[34] Vernon, acting on behalf of the council of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, then set to extend the excavation, apparently employing Foster’s farm labourers to do the work. Vernon’s agreement with Worsley was that this excavation should principally be aimed at information gathering; the bones were to remain the property of the landowner. And no doubt Foster would also benefit from the surplus marl which would enrich the land. Vernon had a new pit sunk and superintended its excavation. The depth of each find in the section was recorded to a resolution of six inches. His objectives were to answer two questions. Were the organic remains stratified in any order of succession and, in particular, do extinct species such as Elephas primigenius lie beneath extant forms? And secondly, was the deposit formed under tranquil waters and subsequently penetrated by ‘the eruption of a diluvial torrent’? 

Phillips arrived back from his travels on Saturday 24 October and was soon informed of the current status of Bielsbeck. The following Monday, he set off to Wheldrake with Vernon, travelling on to Foster’s farm the following day. Here, Phillips noted the stratigraphy, using erratics, rather than fossils, as indices for correlation with diluvial deposits elsewhere. At 14 feet deep in the ‘Black Marl’ he noted and sketched the position of an elephant humerus of considerable size. The head of the humerus was a short distance away on its side.[35] These were collected that day. In Foster’s house were more bones: a very flat clavicle which Phillips considered could be from an aquatic animal, and large coffin bones of a horse. The workmen had that day also found the humerus and ulna of a dog-sized carnivore. The excavation provided evidence of two different sized oxen, plates of elephant teeth, shells and plant remains. At 23 feet, the workmen were in a pebbly part of the marl, below the black marl. The fresh bones smelled ‘phosphoric’ and the marl ‘offensive’. Here the rib of a horse was found perfectly intact. While several bones had polished edges there were ‘no marks of general and confused rubbing on any’. Vernon, now low on funds, was coming to the end of his excavation. In all 600-700 ‘loads’ of marl were removed from the excavation during which the depths and mode of occurrence of the bones were noted. These bones were subsequently identified by Phillips. The exercise had cost the York society just £22.[36]

Phillips travelled back to York on the Wednesday and immediately updated Dikes with developments at Bielsbeck. The York excavations had added a new mollusc to the species list, as well as some bird bones and other specimens. Dikes, who still seemed content with his lot, was preparing to lecture to his own society on the deposit and had written to Vernon requesting the use of any interesting specimens he had uncovered during the excavations and to Phillips for the shells he had loaned. He would also have liked access to the original bones, but Phillips told him these still belonged to Worsley. Phillips encouraged Dikes to visit and witness the excavation for himself but Dikes said he was unable to do so as the fishing ships were just arriving back in Hull ‘and there are so many hungry hyenas looking out for broken bones that if I am not also on the alert I shall have to dine with Duke Humphrey.’[37]

On Friday, 30 October, Phillips travelled again to Bielsbeck, spending the night at Hotham, probably in the company of the Revd Edward Stillingfleet, another supporter of York’s geological exploits. On the Saturday they spent the whole day at Bielsbeck, arriving back at York late that night. The purpose of the visit seems to have been to meet Worsley, who had been very keen to see the excavation, and to bring the bones back to York. Certainly this was Phillips’s last visit to the excavation. As with his previous trips, Phillips’s first action was to give Dikes the latest intelligence. Dikes was certain to require this for his lecture as it would rely to a large extent on second-hand data. The most important aspect of the latest excavation was the palaeoenvironmental information which could be gathered from the disposition of the bones; as a whole ‘the interior of the pit presents nothing new or important’.[38] The dog-sized carnivore was now a wolf, and the occurrence of two bones of its forelimb in close association showed that the animal was not fully disarticulated at burial. He told Dikes, ‘It seems pretty clear that into this ancient lake or swamp gentle currents carried the loose substances of the neighbouring surface and these quietly spread them to be concealed by the accumulating shells and sediment.’ The polished ends of the bones indicated transportation but not a flood: ‘No great land floods ever happened during this deposit of shells, else we should have seen layers of sediment like those above the peat and shells of Holderness – some little fragments of peat lay in the Marl but no wood.’ The associated erratics also did not indicate long ‘beating and wearing in streams of water’.

Vernon, too, wrote to Dikes with information, and promised to send some of the bones which had been recently excavated. He saw no distinction in the faunas of the two marls: ‘The bones are found in every part of both of these marls and of every kind, that is the remains of elephant for instance are near the top of the grey marl and near the bottom …’. Whilst no entire skeletons were uncovered the bones of certain individuals were found in close association. Amongst the finest specimens was the large, heavy and somewhat fragile skull of what Vernon called Cuvier’s aurochs or bison.[39] On the Thursday 5 November Phillips sent the loan of shells to Hull together with:

Head [i.e. of the humerus] and Humerus of Elephant 15 ft

Metacarpal Ox 11[ft] Astrag[alus] Elep[hant] 8[ft]

Wolf 15ft jaw, humerus, ulna, radius

Horse 14ft 3 lower leg joints

11ft long [or large?] bone worn at edges

8ft Vertebra of elephant

14ft caudal vertebra of Eleph[ant].[40]

The listing is particularly interesting for exposing the inconsistency with which the depth and identity of the specimens was recorded during their use. The elephant humerus with separate head recorded here at a depth of 15 feet, was noted as from 14 feet at the time of collecting, and later as 12 feet 6 inches in Vernon’s published account. The astragulus listed here at 8 feet is recorded as from a depth of 10 feet by Vernon. The horse lower limb bones listed here as from 14 feet, were recorded by Vernon as being found at 6 inch intervals (13 feet, 13 feet 6 inches, and 14 feet). The elephant vertebra listed here as from 8 feet is identified by Phillips as the calcaneum (tarsal) in Vernon’s published article.

Dikes was delighted with the materials and information sent from York. ‘I really am very much obliged to you for all the trouble you have had on my account and shall be glad to have an opportunity of proving it when it is in my power.’ There is no indication in this letter that the meeting, at which Dikes had spoken on the previous day, had raised any questions from the Hull philosophers about Dikes’s role in the discovery. The involvement of Vernon’s team of excavators could only add to the significance of the 
collection when it eventually arrived in Hull. The Hull philosophers could only commend their neighbours – ‘The attention of the scientific portion of the public has been forcibly attracted by the exertions of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society.’[41] They had been assured by Worsley that they would receive a share of the specimens still in York.

In early December 1829, Vernon gave an account of his latest excavations to the York philosophers which he published the following January.[42] The skull of the bison was particularly important. Cuvier had remarked that it was impossible to distinguish bovids by the bones of their extremities and that ‘no cranium had yet been discovered with the bones of the extinct elephant, rhinoceros and lion’. Now the remains of this animal could be used to suggest, using Cuvier’s methodology, that the elephants which lay above it in the same deposit must have occurred in the same cold or temperate environment as the bison. The shells were exclusively associated with the bones in the black marl; they were not present in the overlying marl.

As for Vernon’s interpretations of the conditions of deposition, the bones in the black marl showed no signs of rolling and no stones of any size occurred in or below this deposit. The underlying gravels and marls were of riverine origin; the black marl formed in a mere surrounded by marshes. The grey marl formed as the embankments of the mere failed and more frequent tides overflowed the area causing the deposition of shells to cease. ‘Upon the whole, all the appearances hitherto described may be very well accounted for by the common operation of a river like the Humber’.[43] On more theoretical grounds the evidence of overlying gravels made this an antediluvial deposit, and the presence of extant or similar species represented one epoch of creation, contiguous with the present period, which had been interrupted by a transient Deluge. He had little doubt that human remains would also be found in these antediluvial deposits but perhaps not in Britain. For Vernon, it was the determination of this link between ‘natural’ and ‘civil’ history which gave the excavation such importance.

Vernon did not use the second-hand stratigraphic data Foster had given regarding the occurrence of finds in the first pit, confirming Phillips’s principle that to interpret, one must observe for oneself. As we have seen, as the upper echelons of science lacked respect for the ideas of the provincial philosopher, so the provincial philosopher lacked faith in their non-philosophical allies. Foster’s information, however, appears reliable, placing rhinoceros and elephant remains in the upper marl; and lion and ox in the lower, interestingly consistent with those measured from Vernon’s section where bovids and carnivores are also restricted to the lower deposit. This fact, however, was not apparent to Vernon or any successive excavators; Vernon had hoped to discover such a distinction but his vision seems to have been impaired by theoretical notions of the expected relationship between extinct and extant species. Phillips’s later account of the fauna, which largely repeats Vernon’s description, also suggested that the ‘Remains of quadrupeds … were found both in the black marl and in the superior marly gravel deposits.’[44] He too saw no difference in the make-up of the fauna in each deposit.

Hyenas fighting over bones

At the annual meeting in February 1830, the council of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society congratulated itself on the active part it had taken in the discoveries at Bielsbeck – ‘the most remarkable geological phenomenon which has been observed since the first institution of the Society.’[45] Particular thanks were given to Worsley for ‘the facilities’ and ‘for the regard which he has shown to the interests of the Museum’ – this latter implying a donation of material. Concern now began to well up in Hull over the fate of the collection, amidst rumours that Sedgwick might get a second bite of the cherry for his Cambridge museum. Information regarding the site had reached Sedgwick via William Worsley’s brother, and honorary member of the York society, the Revd Thomas Worsley of Downing College, Cambridge, who had encouraged his brother to make a donation to the Cambridge museum.[46]William Worsley wrote to reassure Dikes; Sedgwick would have to wait until after the other claims had been considered. Vernon also followed this line, saying that such duplicates as might be sent to Cambridge would be at the say so of Phillips and Dikes. But in writing to Dikes, Vernon also made his claim: he had paid the tenant £22 (of which £10 had come from the York society) for the excavation to be undertaken. And Worsley as a member of the York society wished that society to be given first consideration of the finds on the understanding that they would not be monopolised.[47]

A few days later Phillips wrote to Dikes to clarify how the collection should be shared. Phillips could do little but confirm Dikes’s fears: ‘It may possibly have appeared to you that this collection of bones is rich enough to supply more than one complete series of the different animals and you may perhaps in consequence have supposed that the Yorkshire Philosophical Society has taken possession of an undue number of the specimens.’ Phillips then went on to list the thirty-two best preserved items from the original excavation made by Foster – the material which Dikes had been the first to see, and brought to the attention of Phillips. These items had, in Phillips’s opinion, to be kept together ‘wherever they were placed’, though it seems that this was inevitably to be York. Surplus material consisted of just seven or eight specimens: lion (femur), mammoth (three teeth portions; head of humerus; vertebra from tail), rhinoceros (one tooth, two small fragments of tibia), bison (base of skull, two horn fragments, two vertebrae, metatarsal), horse (fragment of radius). In addition the York society could offer bison (metatarsal; rib) and horse (three phalanges; portion of radius) from its own excavations.[48]

Dikes was invited to visit York to see the transaction through. But Phillips warned: ‘It is very much wished that no disagreement as to the partition should interrupt the harmony of two Societies so similar in their plans and objects, nor do I fear this will happen: – but however this may be, I demand for myself a perfect immunity from any discussion as my labour is anatomical not diplomatic: it relates to the classification and not to the disposal of the bones.’ In other words if Dikes disagreed he should take the matter up with Vernon, who had already expressed how he saw things; the decision on how to subdivide the bones according to the needs of science had already been made. Dikes was incensed by the arrangements. Phillips tried to calm the waters and again claimed immunity from any decisions made: ‘as I did not know of his (Mr Vernon’s) intentions on the subjects you will do me the justice to except my name from any reflections connected therewith, as that of one who was not consulted on the subject nor made acquainted with the matter till it was done …’[49]

While Phillips might attempt to remove himself from the controversy that was brewing, it was obvious to him how unsatisfactory were the arrangements suggested in his last letter. In May acquisition of the collection, as offered so it seems, was recorded in the Hull society minutes. The relationship between Dikes and the York society seems to have been considerably dented. Phillips’s best friend in Hull, John Edward Lee, wrote to him in July. Dikes still felt hard done by: ‘I have just seen your note to WHD you never can appease my wrath in as much as I have none to appease.’ Phillips later wrote that the whole collection of bones and shells had been placed in the Yorkshire Museum; though it is certain that Hull did, in 1830, receive the fragmentary remains listed by Phillips.[50]

The Bielsbeck deposit remained of considerable interest to Pleistocene geologists. In 1835, Phillips summed up the significance of the finds as demonstrating a local fauna of tropical animals adapted to a cooler climate, and which existed prior to the deposition of the diluvium which carried with it Cumbrian rocks. The excavation was also important for the rigour with which it was conducted, a unique example of Bucklandian cave investigation, with its careful noting of strata, transferred to an open site. Sedgwick, in his presidential address to the Geological Society in February 1830, congratulated Vernon on his zeal and fidelity: ‘Phenomena like these have a tenfold interest, when regarded as the extreme link of a great chain, binding the present order of things to that of older periods in which the existing forms of animated nature seem one after another to disappear.’[51]

The discovery at Bielsbeck had just come to public attention as Charles Lyell finished his Principles of Geology into which he rapidly inserted an account taken from Vernon’s papers. Unfortunately, Lyell’s account was in error, increasing the depth of the pit tenfold.[52] In 1846 William Williamson undertook a comparison of the diluvium of Yorkshire and Lancashire. He could not believe the published account and needed to be convinced of its integrity. In particular he found it hard to believe that the fossiliferous deposit could have remained in situ subjected to a succession of inundations from the sea. ‘Are you convinced’, he wrote, ‘beyond all reasonable doubt that the deposit at Bielbecks is inferior to and older than the great mass of pebbly clay that characterises the East coast. Is there no room for a possibility that it may be of more recent date?’[53]

Further excavations took place in 1849 and in 1873, the latter undertaken by John Frederick Blake. He also re-examined the collection then in York. While he believed the fossils gave only a poor indication of age, he suggested the deposit was probably postglacial. Specimens dating from this time came onto the fossil market. Hull Museum acquired some from Dr Friedrich Krantz, the Bonn dealer, in 1908. By 1904 the lion metatarsal, which it is suggested here that Dikes found, had apparently been attributed to a deposit at Hornsea. On removing the specimen from its case ‘where it had probably rested undisturbed for nearly twenty years’, Sheppard washed off the label applied by Edwin Tulley Newton of the Geological Survey who had subsequently identified it. Beneath it revealed he another label in Phillips’s handwriting which Sheppard believed indicated Bielsbeck origin. The confusion arose because the specimen was displayed on the same shelf as those from Hornsea. The British Association for the Advancement of Science undertook further excavations in 1906 under the superintendence of Professor Percy Fry Kendall and others, and while confirming the position of the deposit on the Keuper Marl found no evidence to accurately date it to before, during or after the ‘Glacial period’. It formed in a boggy hollow and there was no material at the locality associated with the agency of ice – the overlying gravel being derived from meltwaters. The site of Vernon’s excavation was still visible as a reedy pond. Bones, molluscs, seeds and beetles were collected. Further trenching was undertaken in 1908 to determine the extent of the deposit, and yet more bones were collected. The deposit was briefly reviewed by De Boer and others in 1958 and Gaunt and his colleagues during the Geological Survey’s resurvey of the area in the 1980s; the latter suggesting that the mixed fauna given by De Boer and others needed re-examination; De Boer’s team, however, point out that the mixture of species may result from inconsistencies of identification.[54] Bielsbeck remains relatively little known; its pioneering excavations have never been surpassed.

[1].          These gravel and drift deposits now fall into the ‘Pleistocene’ epoch, a term coined by Charles Lyell in 1839 and popularised with the help of Edward Forbes in the following decade. In 1840 it was beginning to be understood that Britain and Europe had been subjected to successive glaciations in the Pleistocene.  In the jargon of 1821 most fossils were termed ‘antediluvial’, including those found in caves and gravels; those from the alluvium, were ‘postdiluvial’ (Buckland 1822: 172). The story of Kirkdale is well known although accounts vary. See, for example, Boylan (1972); Orange (1973: 7); Rupke (1983b: 31) and George (1998: 11-13). Boylan (1981) has reviewed this assemblage referring it as a whole to the Ipswichian. For ‘fall into …’, quoted by William Eastmead (1824), see George (1998: 11)  and also p.13 for London gifts.

[2].          The roles of participants are somewhat confused; it seems Legge was the informant and Vernon the inviter. For LeggeBuckland (1822: 181) and (Rupke 1983: 31). Pyrah (1988: 15) claims Buckland recalled being told of the cave by Shute Barrington, the Bishop of Durham, but this seems to be an error; Pyrah also states that Buckland’s daughter recalled Vernon being the informant. Pentland to Buckland, 3 November 1821, and letters following, in Sarjeant and Delair (1980: 283).

[3].          It was read on 7, 14 and 21 February. Buckland (1822). For media impact, Rupke (1983b: 36, 68-9).

[4].          For ‘yet …’ and ‘one …’, Davy quoted in Anon. (1822a: 461). Davy’s presence at the cave, Knight (1992: 175). For ‘a point …’, Davy (1827) quoted in Rupke (1983b: 36). Buckland’s beliefs, Green (1996: 233).

[5].          Buckland (1823). For ‘great …’, see Phillips (1827: 138). For criticism and its overthrow, see, for example, North (1934: 84), Page (1969) and Orange (1970). For Buckland’s status, Gillispie (1951: 98). For earlier interpretations and influential work on cave fossils in Germany, see Rupke (1983a: 391). For this tour, Torrens (1998),  Rupke (1983b: 31, 120) and  Buckland (1823). Lady Morley is Frances (c.1791-1857), second wife of the Earl of Morley. Vernon, London to Goldie, 28 May 1823, in Melmore (1942). For an account of the Plymouth deposit, see Home (1817), Buckland (1822: 213) and Green (1996).

[6].          This collection certainly surpassed that in the Geological Society of London. Report upon the Museums and Library, 19 February 1830, Proc. Geol. Soc. Lond., 15, 174.

[7].          For ‘but one …’, YPS (1840) Annual Report for 1839.  Knell (1994).

[8].          Material also found its way to the Royal College of Surgeons, the British Museum, the Geological Society, Oxford University Museum, the Bristol Institution, Cuvier in Paris and elsewhere.

[9].          Salmond presented his ideas at the November 1826 meeting of the YPS but these had earlier been discussed with Phillips and Goldie, see OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 16, Journal 1826-1827, 2 September 1826 and 15 November 1826; YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826. Eastmead’s views are given by Rupke (1983b: 44). For Young’s views, see Anon. (1827a: 347) and Rupke (1983b: 43).

[10].        A new Kirkdale, Anon. (1827b: 73). John Braddick (d.1829). ‘From its …’, Anon. (1827c: 223); ‘and threw …’, Murchison to Vernon, undated fragment [date of excursion 12 June 1827], in Melmore (1942).

[11].        Quote from Anon. (1827b: 73). For an early example of this kind of patronage see Torrens (1982: 430) on William Reynolds (1758-1803). For Farey’s call see chapter 1.

[12].        See Winch (1821: 555).

[13].        Buckland to Vernon, 29 December 1822, in Melmore (1942). Alderson’s honorary membership, YPS Minutes of General Meetings 1822-1839, 6 December 1823.

[14].        Anon. (1822b: 154). The deposit at Atwick was to become a notable source of fine Pleistocene fossils; a combination of elephant and Megaceros remains suggesting an Ipswichian age.

[15].        YPS (1826) Annual Report for 1825 for donation of box. Gordon (1894: 75) for further background. The Lena mammoth discovered frozen in 1806 was one of the most famous fossil discoveries of the first decade of the century, Dean (1985: 32).

[16].        For inferences from preservation, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1, Tuesday 10 August 1824. Phillips (1829: 66) for remarks on a tusk size. Buckland (1823: 175).

[17].        Richard Cowling Taylor (18 January 1789-26 October 1851), Norfolk born, became a land surveyor in 1813. In 1830 he emigrated to the United States. See Quart. J. Geol. Soc.8, xxiii-xxiv.

[18].        ‘At Hessle …’, Vernon speaking at a YPS meeting on Tuesday 14 October 1823, YPS Scientific Communications vol 1. Buckland’s encouragement, Vernon, Eaton Hall to Goldie Tuesday 11 November 1823, in Melmore (1942); YPS (1825) Annual Report for 1824. Ferrybridge, Richardson to YPS, 19 December 1826, in Melmore (1943b); YPS Daybook of John Phillips, 30 May-1 June 1826.

[19].        ‘Bamwell’ is probably Barnwell. Anon. (1824b: 177). McEnery to the YPS, 4 July 1826, in Melmore (1843b); YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826. For visit with Buckland, see Kennard (1945: 163; 196-7). Pengelly (1869) published the whole of McEnery’s manuscript record of his cave researches. For ‘intends …’, Anon. (1824a: 64); YPS Daybook of John Phillips, 22 May 1826.

[20].        Rugby, Gordon (1894: 76); W. Buckland, Oxford to Lady Mary Cole, Bath, 31 March 1821, NMW DLB 156; YPS Report for 1824. Newnham is now in Northamptonshire. Buckland also refers to this as Lawford (Buckland 1823: 180). Significance of hyenas from here, Rupke (1983b: 38). Ilford, George (1998: 14).

[21].        ‘Irish Elk’ is Megaceros giganteus, a giant deer. For the Edinburgh specimen, Anon. (1821: 150); Hibbert (1825); Henslow to Sedgwick, 31 March 1820, (Clark and Hughes, 1, 214). Charlesworth (1847: 87) reports a contemporary rumour that the specimen had actually come from Dublin and that the Duke was duped. See also Davis (1889: 293ff). Phillips’s visit, OUM Phillips Box 81 folder 14(i), Tour of Scotland, 8 July 1826. Atwick skull, see Anon. (1827f: 254); WL&PS (1827) Annual Report5; Phillips (1829: 66) stated that this was the second Irish Elk to be found in Yorkshire. Young stated it was found in a peat bog, but Atwick is an earlier deposit probably of Ipswichian age which also produced John Alderson’s exceptionally preserved elephant tusk. Probably George Lane Fox (d.15 November 1848), a Yorkshire MP. Completion, YPS (1837 and 1841) Annual Report for 1836 and 1840.

[22].        Various spellings: Bielbecks, Beilsbeck, Beilbecks, Bealsbeck (Grid. Ref. 865383). Also referred to as North Cliffe. Sheppard (1932) in an appendix printed a series of letters held by the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society concerning the Bielsbeck material. Much of Sheppard’s interpretation is inaccurate as it ignores the role of Vernon and other sources. His main purpose was to bring to light a rift between the societies in Hull and York, a rift which he later sought to extend in a jealous attempt to diminish the York society’s county role (see Pyrah 1988: 25). Unfortunately, while Sheppard’s printed extracts appear to include almost entire transcriptions of letters, it has been impossible to trace the originals which may well have been destroyed with the Hull Museum in WWII.

[23].        Revd Henry Mitton (1792-1854). Jack Knowles (1982: K2) unpublished pamphlet ‘The Mittons of Craven’ in Leicester University Library where Harswell is misidentified as Haswell.

[24].        Mitton, Harrogate, to Danby 20 December 1825, in Melmore (1943b). Harswell lies less than three miles NW of Bielsbeck. YPS (1826) Annual Report for 1825; Danby, Swinton to YPS, 29 November 1826, in Melmore (1943b).

[25].        The spelling of Bielsbeck farm is also variable. Phillips gives Foster’s residence as Biel beck House. OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 21, Diary 1829. Area covered by Foster’s bones, see Vernon (1829: 226).

[26].        Phillips to Dikes, Monday 27 July 1829, in (Sheppard (1932); Phillips notes the arrival of a letter from Dikes on Wednesday 29 July. OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 21, Diary 1829). Phillips (1835a: 143): ‘I lost no time in proposing … an excursion to the locality.’

[27].        Phillips to Dikes, Monday 27 July 1829, in Sheppard (1932) (but see note on date above).

[28].        OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 18. Notebook 1828; OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 21, Diary 1829.

[29].        OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 18, Notebook 1828. It is likely that they had taken Cuvier’s Recherches sur les Ossements Fossiles des Quadrupèdes which the society had purchased in 1825-1826.

[30].        Phillips to Dikes, Saturday 1 August 1829 in Sheppard (1932); OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 21, Diary 1829.

[31].        Sheppard (1932: 172) found the lion bone in the collections but had no idea why it alone should be there. It seems likely that this was the bone Dikes had found on his first (and only) visit as he would later have no difficulty in claiming it. Europe, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 21, Diary 1829; Dikes to Phillips, [n.d.] sent prior to Thursday 6 August 1829 as this is when Phillips examined its contents, OUM Phillips 1829/29.

[32].        Worsley to Dikes, Saturday 15 August 1829, in Sheppard (1832). Worsley was elected a member of the York society on 14 December 1822, YPS Minutes of General Meetings 1822-1839.

[33].        Laudan (1987: 173) shows that at this time claims regarding the inference of climate from fauna were disputed – a dispute in which Conybeare was involvedVernon, Salmond and Phillips (1829); the shells were donated to the YPS at this meeting – they were the only specimens the York society possessed at this time, YPS (1830) Annual Report for 1829.

[34].        Vernon (1830: 226).

[35].        Phillips’s notes, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 21, Diary 1829.

[36].        Phillips (1875: 12-18); YPS (1830) YPS Annual Report for 1829, 17.

[37].        OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 21, Diary 1829; Phillips to Dikes, Wednesday 28 October 1829, in Sheppard (1932). Dikes to Phillips, Friday [n.d. but undoubtedly 30 October 1829], OUM Phillips 1829/31, referring to the return of the whaling ships and the acquisition of material for the museum.

[38].        Revd Edward William Stillingfleet (Ob. 1868), son of Edward, Bishop of Worcester, and zealous antiquary who had opened several tumuli in the wolds between 1815-1817, who was also educated at Oxford: BA, 1804; MA, 1807; BD, 1816 (Ross 1878: 149). Phillips records ‘Friday. To Mr W with Mr Vernon’, 30 October 1829, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 21, Diary 1829. For ‘the interior …’, Phillips to Dikes, Sunday 1 November 1829, in Sheppard (1932).

[39].        ‘The bones …’, Vernon to Dikes, Monday 2 November 1829; Vernon to Dikes, Tuesday 3 November 1829; both in Sheppard (1932). This was in fact a bison and not an aurochs.

[40].        OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 21 Diary 1829. Vernon (1830).

[41].        ‘I really …’, Dikes to Phillips, Saturday 7 November 1829, OUM Phillips 1829/25. ‘The attention …’, HL&PS (1832) Annual Report for 1829.

[42].        YPS (1830) Annual Report for 1829; Vernon (1830).

[43].        Vernon (1830: 5).

[44].        Though he referred to the lion as ‘Felis’, a member of the cat family, Vernon says ‘a large species’ which Dikes had originally identified as bear. Phillips (1835a: 147).

[45].        YPS (1830) Annual Report for 1829.

[46].        Thomas Worsley (15 July 1797-16 February 1885). Whewell thought him an accomplished man and lobbied the Archbishop of York (one of four electors), through Vernon Harcourt, to have him elected Master of Downing College, Whewell, Cambridge to Vernon Harcourt, 27 May 1836, in Morrell and Thackray (1984: 227).

[47].        Worsley to Dikes, Saturday 13 March 1830; Vernon to Dikes, Thursday 25 March 1830; both in Sheppard (1932).

[48].        ‘It may …’, The first of two letters from Phillips to Dikes, Tuesday 30 March 1830, in Sheppard (1932). Sheppard may have confused the date of this letter which may be earlier. A second letter of the same date relied on a response to the first according to Sheppard’s comments. Surplus material, Sheppard (1932: 178).

[49].        Second letter, Phillips to Dikes, Tuesday 30 March 1830, in Sheppard (1932).

[50].        HL&PS Annual Report, 7, 7 May 1830, HRO  DSL 1 Minutes 1822-1833. Lee, Hull to Phillips, 2 July [probably 1830], OUM John Edward Lee 77 [n.d. 182]. Phillips (1835a: 144). Blake (1874: 75) later listed the collection present in the Yorkshire Museum and this seems to bear out Phillips’s assertion, although Phillips appears to have meant that all the important material was in York. In 1904, Sheppard (1904: 103) says other Bielsbeck specimens were on display in the Hull Museum at that time: lion metatarsal and femur, mammoth, rhinoceros, bison, horse and deer. Sheppard (1832: 179) gives the entry in the list of acquisitions: ‘W Worsley, Esq, Hovingham, Whitwell. Collection of fossil bones discovered on his estate at Bielsbeck near North Cliff.’

[51].        Phillips (1835: 150). Sedgwick, Presidential Address, 19 February 1830, Proc. Geol. Soc. Lond., 15, 197.

[52].        Lyell (1830-1833); an error copied by John Murray in a later publication. William Vernon Harcourt, Wheldrake to John Murray, Leeds, 22 December 1831, BGS IGS 1/1271.

[53].        William Crawford Williamson, Manchester to Phillips, Friday 20 December 1846, OUM Phillips 1846/1.

[54].        For 1849 excavations, De Boer et al. (1958: 197); Dawkins (1866). See also Blake (1874: 75). For Krantz specimens, see Sheppard (1932: 179); for the lion metatarsal of Hornsea, see Sheppard (1904). For the BAAS excavations, see Stather (1908; 1910). See also Gaunt et al. (1992). As I write a new excavation is planned, D. Shreve, pers. comm.

From: Simon J. Knell. The Culture of English Geology, 1815-1851: A Science Revealed Through Its Collecting (Aldershot/Burlington USA/Singapore/Sydney: Ashgate Publishing, 2000).