9 Fossils in the Marketplace

The philosophical societies made the acquisition of visually and conceptually spectacular fossils a priority. Often such priorities were locally determined. In Bristol and Bath the desire was for fossil sea lilies, in Leeds and York coal plants were particularly favoured. Whitby soon found something peculiarly appealing about ammonites, and Scarborough would make its name from the plants of Gristhorpe and ‘lobsters’ of Cayton Bay. But of all the fossils on the wish-lists of the new museums none were as highly prized as complete articulated skeletons of marine reptiles. In the early 1820s few such skeletons existed in Britain and their true nature attracted much speculation. As the decade progressed they were to become considerable prizes for provincial museums, capable of thrusting them to the fore within philosophical circles and elevating the smallest coastal town above its metropolitan neighbours. They became signifiers of, or metonyms for, cultural status and scientific enterprise regardless of the true nature of the holding institution.[1] Soon becoming key elements in the fossil market, museums wishing to acquire them needed a full purse or considerable ingenuity. In Yorkshire, the remains of these animals were most likely to be found in the cliffs and quarries around Whitby. The Whitby society’s great desire was to ensure that the best of these finds remained in the town, but it could only achieve this if it could control the fossil market.

The events leading to the discovery and interpretation of marine reptiles have been widely reviewed.[2] However, it is useful to give some background to the research interests of Vernon’s close friend William Conybeare, who, employing Cuvierian comparative anatomy, was to distinguish and describe the three main elements of this fauna: the IchthyosaurusPlesiosaurus and crocodile. His paper of 1821 described an anatomical ‘gradation of arrangement’ in forms of animal life which had been created to fill ‘all places and sources of sustenance’ – though he was at pains to distance himself from Lamarck’s ‘monstrous’ ideas of progression or transmutation. Such gradation is discussed, for example, in his paper of 1824, where, in the plesiosaur ‘nature in the organization of the animal frame has caused the sternal portion to shift its position along the vertebral column.’ His three papers, published between 1821 and 1824, provide a useful record of the progress of ideas about these animals driven as they were by fossil collecting and discovery.[3]

When, on 6 April 1821, Conybeare came to read his first paper before the Geological Society, the Ichthyosaurus as a general type was already well represented by a number of fairly complete specimens, and a wealth of fragmentary material. This paper provided the first detailed anatomical description of its skeleton and enabled the identification of even its most fragmentary remains. The modern crocodile, which was at this time well known and widely represented in collections, formed the basis for comparison. True fossil crocodiles were also known, though less perfectly than the Ichthyosaurus, and not then from the same strata. Conybeare’s fragmentary fossil crocodiles came from much later rocks. They included a skull from the ‘Oolitic’ rocks of Gibraltar near Oxford, as well as a specimen from the Isle of Purbeck, in Dorset. ‘We have not however, as yet, had an opportunity of examining the bones from Whitby.’ While there was considerable interest in the geological distribution of crocodiles, they were perceived as offering little challenge to the comparative anatomist; crocodilian zoology was best observed in the modern animal. Fairly complete specimens of the dolphin-like Ichthyosaurus, however, remained highly prized and successive finds produced noticeably different species and even specimens of extraordinary size. William Williamson, for example, later reported seeing a lower jaw seven feet long, containing three-inch-long teeth.[4] Ichthyosaurs had modern analogies in other animal groups, although not in modern reptiles; they were remarkable but not beyond comprehension. Their skeletons were found in increasing numbers throughout the century.

The Plesiosaurus remained for a long time a mysterious giant reptile; in April 1821, its skull and lower jaw remained unknown. Conybeare had, however, managed to isolate the paddles and much of the post-cranial skeleton from fragmentary specimens. Even after the discovery of a complete specimen, these ‘strange monsters’, with their long necks and short tails, were viewed as extraordinary. Without modern analogy, they remained enigmatic and undoubtedly the most prized British fossils.[5]

Conybeare’s search for the remains of the Plesiosaurus was assisted by Henry De la Beche who had been given the task of using his local knowledge to locate appropriate material for description from the fragmentary remains held by Mary Anning and other collectors in Lyme Regis. As Conybeare’s research progressed he kept De la Beche appraised of those distinguishing features which might allow the isolation of further specimens.

With regard to the Plesios. look carefully in the collections & at Miss Anning for fragments of his head – if any bit of jaw has teeth in Alveoli it must belong to it so watch this narrowly – the snout I have just got from Weymouth which I have every reason to believe belongs to a species of this animal is very like the fossil gavials – & has its nostrils distinctly similarly placed. I hope you will bring with you as many of such specimens as are portable as you can – teeth – vertebrae & odd looking bones are instructive & take little room – try & get a few instructive & cheap specimens for me – I should be willing to embark about five pounds in the speculation & fully rely upon your discretion in applying it.[6]

Deprived of the suites of perfect specimens available to later generations, Conybeare and his contemporaries placed a high value on crushed and fragmentary remains. Cranial material, fragments of articulated skeletons and even isolated bones were seen as important acquisitions for provincial museums. Philosophers, particularly medical men, would attempt to emulate the great comparative anatomists during both the investigation and interpretation of these specimens. Examples of extant species became essential comparative models and were simultaneously acquired for this purpose, ‘as facilitating a discovery of the former state of the world, by comparison of the bones of animals which are now found in the fossil state, with recent analogues’.[7]

As research progressed so the relative value of specimens became revealed and, indeed, changed over time. Fully articulated ichthyosaur skeletons, for example, became increasingly common as the premium paid for completeness led to an improvement in collecting method, preparation and ‘presentation’. However, this premium also led to widespread falsification and reconstruction – what dealers referred to as ‘improved’ specimens. Conybeare, for example, in attempting to discern the nature of the plesiosaur from fragmentary remains had been led astray in his reconstruction of its paddles by a specimen belonging to Colonel Birch which he later ‘learnt that when the specimen was found, the bones in question were loose, and had been subsequently glued into their present situation, in consequence of a conjecture of the proprietor.’[8] The most perfect specimens might stand the test of time as materials for publication, usurping a role that had previously been occupied by more fragmentary remains. A good example of this is seen in the Whitby crocodile skulls collected from the early 1820s. Initially these were of great interest and scientific potential, but when Owen came to describe these animals in the early 1840s he based the bulk of his description on the single articulated specimen in Whitby museum. Other complete crocodile skeletons were found, but articulated plesiosaurs remained fairly elusive and prices consequently rose. 

In May 1822, Conybeare returned to the Geological Society to present further clarification of the anatomy of these reptiles. He had hoped to have a complete Plesiosaurus in tow but the storms of the previous winter had failed him. He did have some new insights, however. Thomas Clark had, by this time, found a crushed plesiosaur skull in the Lias of Street in Somerset. It was Conybeare who detected the importance of this specimen: ‘The Philosopher of Syracuse could not have shouted Eureka! in a more triumphant tone than that in which this able expounder of nature’s mysteries hailed the most hideous of all fragments, as the veritable head of the Plesiosaurus.’ De la Beche had also been successful. He was now in the possession of an almost perfect lower jaw, found at Lyme Regis in the previous December, possibly in the material Anning had for sale. It was assumed to come from the plesiosaur: ‘We find in the same place skeletons of a Saurian animal wanting the jaw, and the jaw of a Saurian animal wanting the other bones; and no other claimants exist for either.’ Buckland saw this jaw at Conybeare’s house and wrote immediately to De la Beche: ‘I have been more delighted, than with anything fossil I ever yet beheld, by the sight of your glorious jaw of Plesiosaurus which deserves to be cast in gold and circulated over the Universe.’ Buckland did indeed have the sculptor Francis Chantrey make some casts which were circulated widely, including to Cuvier and the Yorkshire Philosophical Society; a cast was also placed in the Geological Society museum on 6 December 1822. He retained the specimen on display in his newly refurbished museum in Oxford, where he hoped it would stay. ‘I hope you retain your intention of finally depositing the Plesiosaurus jaw in our collection of Bones, decidedly the richest and most instructive of its kind in the world’, he told De la Beche, ‘In the glass cases where it now stands pro tempore it will receive no more fractures but will become a monument Ore perennius’.[9]

The fracture Buckland refers to was caused by Johann Miller who had been curating the Oxford collections. The jaw was repaired and Buckland continued to lobby for its retention in the city. He claimed that at least here it would ‘be more useful and seen by a greater number of individuals likely to become active geologists such as Strangways & Webb & Lyell & c. than in any other place you can possibly discover for it’. But, feeling that this alone might not persuade De la Beche, he also appealed to his vanity, ‘for fame’s sake (the names of the donors being now affixed to all our important presents) the eye of the whole rising generation of educated gentlemen in the country will be upon it in the Oxford Museum whilst in any county museum or city it will meet the sight of one generation at a time’. Buckland was desperate: ‘we may allow 40 for one elsewhere, your present if committed to the University will be 20 times as useful here than in any other possible collection …’.[10]

Despite the lack of a complete specimen Conybeare had a fairly clear picture of what the Plesiosauruslooked like and how its skeletal components could be distinguished. He was already aware that long- and short-necked varieties existed but had to wait until the last week of January 1824 for a complete skeleton to finally appear. When it did, the size of the skull and particularly the extreme length of the neck caused him not a little surprise. This fossil was found by Anning and sold to the Duke of Buckingham for £100 and Conybeare ultimately named it Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus. The discovery was made known by Conybeare almost immediately at an evening meeting of the Bristol Literary and Philosophical Society and shortly afterwards at the Royal Society Club and the Geological Society. ‘I made my beast roar almost as loud as Buckland’s Hyenas’, Conybeare later told De la Beche. Other material was also coming to light: a skull had been found in the collections of the Philpot sisters in Lyme, and Buckland received a number of large bones of what Conybeare called Plesiosaurus giganteusfrom the Kimmeridge Clay of Market Rasen in Lincolnshire.[11]

Buckland later claimed that Conybeare’s remarkable skills as a comparative anatomist had enabled him to reconstruct the skeleton of the Plesiosaurus without seeing the fully articulated specimen – ‘from dislocated fragments before any entire skeletons were found’.[12] This is only partly true. Excepting the proportions of the head and neck, Conybeare had assembled an image in his mind of what the plesiosaur might look like from disassociated material which he had surmised belonged to the same animal. At the Geological Society, he used a fair drawing of the Buckingham plesiosaur supplied by Mary Anning, rather that the specimen itself as he had hoped, to describe the new animal. This drawing acted as a template into which he could slot his prior discoveries and suppositions. But the head and neck, the most distinguishing features of the animal, could not have been predicted. All the while this remarkable skeleton was held up in the English Channel, having been shipped directly from Lyme Regis for this meeting. Following Conybeare’s eloquent exposition its arrival in London was greatly anticipated.

The only material from Yorkshire known to have come before Conybeare at this time was supplied by John Bird, via Buckland. Whitby’s relative geographical isolation had meant that it was also isolated from the major developments then taking place in geology. In terms of local rocks, those in Whitby were considered analogous to those in Lyme Regis, although the latter had, apparently, been much more productive in fossils. This is easily understood as Lyme Regis had long been a fashionable destination for the touring gentry.[13] It had also been the playground of the young De la Beche and Buckland, and was the best exposed and nearest Lias for men based in London, Bristol and Oxford. Tourism had generated a trade in fossils and shells which would enable chance finds, as all rare fossils are, to come to light. It led to the establishment of a colony of collectors who could be active outside the tourist season, building up their stores from the shoreline, from winter cliff falls and from quarrying operations then taking place in the limestone cliffs. The trade brought with it the connoisseurship necessary to distinguish important material; collectors were inevitably well-briefed by those gentlemen philosophers and others who sought to purchase the most spectacular finds. It also had the unique talent of Mary Anning. A social phenomenon in her own lifetime, she was an extraordinarily knowledgeable collector and dealer who undoubtedly acted as a funnel for the finds of coastal labourers and others. In 1826, gloomy about the market, Anning reluctantly used George Brettingham Sowerby as a London agent on a commission of 20 per cent of profits. The fossil boom, which would in part be fed by provincial museum building, had hardly begun. As discoveries became known, so they acted as catalysts stimulating market interest. But that market remained fickle, dominated by a few major collectors and supported by many others more interested in general types, the size of the mount and its price. Lyme Regis was monitored by all serious English collectors. Conybeare and De la Beche were certain that it would provide the answers they needed.

In Whitby the market was largely undeveloped. There were dealers but in the early 1820s they lacked contacts in more lucrative markets and were also ill-informed about what to look for or the value of what they found. Certainly, Yorkshire prices were considerably lower than those on the south coast. While the county had received numerous geological tourists, they were fewer in number than those visiting Lyme. Local interest in geology remained, in the period before the philosophical explosion, largely in the hands of nascent geologists like Young and Bird, and antiquarians like Hinderwell. Yorkshire geology remained in a pre-scientific age.

It was in this atmosphere of isolation that Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society sought to establish and control a market in fossils. By exclusive exploitation of such local riches they could rise above their rivals in neighbouring towns and cities. Whitby was the only town capable of doing this. York lay in a palaeontological wilderness but greatly desired these fossils as demonstrated by some of its earliest honorary memberships: Young, Bird, Conybeare and De la Beche.[14] Scarborough was too far from the saurian producing beds and had yet to discover its own fossil wealth. It also lacked the zealous captaincy of a Young or Vernon. Hull was even further removed. 

Whitby takes control

The Yorkshire Philosophical Society had been formed with the intention of taking full advantage of the fossil wealth exposed in the rocks around Whitby. But with the simultaneous formation of a local society at Whitby, it found this objective difficult to fulfil. Vernon could have patronised the local collectors had he known any. He was aware that to acquire the most important and, by inference, the most infrequent finds he needed well-briefed eyes and ears in Whitby. He had no choice but to ask the town’s most noted geologists, Young and Bird, to be his coastal agents.[15] Superficially this could be viewed as a strengthening of intersociety bonds but in reality was simply adding honour to the rivalry which existed between them; if they were to do battle for these fossils they would do so as gentlemen. However, such an arrangement would never give York superior collections; first-class material would remain in Whitby provided the local society could pay or control the collector’s prices. In a free market, Whitby would never be able to compete with York or the other major centres of philosophy now forming in Bristol, Cambridge, Manchester, Dublin and elsewhere. To succeed it needed to control both prices and distribution. Its own brand of protectionism would centre on active collecting and take advantage of the increasing importance of fossils to local incomes. The local society could offer collectors both a ready market and an agency for the distribution of specimens to more distant buyers including philosophical societies and private collectors. As exhibits of Whitby fossils became established in museums across the country so they became important shop windows for further sales. And as Young and Ripley became agents for an increasing number of societies so their buying power increased and with it their power over field collectors. 

In this way the Whitby men found themselves acting as agents for both consumers and producers; they were at the hub of fossil distribution. Everything of any significance first passed through their hands. In doing this there is no evidence that Young acted corruptly or took a commission on sales. Indeed, his most admired characteristics were his honesty and generosity, but as his motives centred on civic pride, he could hardly be considered unbiased. He also had a Christian motive for encouraging collectors, knowing that these specimens could lift lowlier members of his flock out of their poverty. By assisting collectors in this way he accumulated considerable goodwill even when the economics of the marketplace did not ensure collector loyalty. This was reflected in his first refusal on new finds and lower (or wholesale) prices. The local society’s collection became a fluid assemblage of bones, ammonites, fossil plants and other specimens. As better specimens were purchased or acquired so older material was sold on or exchanged. By these means the collection could be progressively improved. 

Young also put collectors in direct contact with buyers. Thus during 1823, Whitby’s most prominent dealer, the carpenter Brown Marshall, was able to sell 140 fossil specimens, including numerous fragmentary remains of Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus, to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society.[16] The Brown Marshalls – father and son – became the most important collectors of vertebrate fossils on the Yorkshire coast. Of the father little is known. He was originally a carpenter living on Cliff Street in Whitby not far from Young’s house and chapel. He soon began to advertise himself as a ‘fossil collector and dealer’, later moving into a shop in Church Street and then the Masonic Hall on John Street which had rooms beneath. His son, who was born in 1816, inherited the Church Street shop and also the collecting skills of his father. The shop itself was 21 feet by 16 feet 6 inches in floor area, with two plate glass windows. At the time of his death in 1878 the younger Brown Marshall possessed a huge ichthyosaur and a plesiosaur, as well as many other saurian specimens. While he had a perfect understanding of the local strata and the position of the fossils, key skills for the collector, he continued to believe that the earth was flat and resisted all geological training and knowledge.[17] Because of their rather lowly status – they were not members of the local philosophical society – they were probably credited with finding fewer specimens than they did. Many of their collecting successes were reported in local magazines but they did not attract the same attention as Mary Anning, despite some similarities. Once established, they probably also acted as an outlet for the finds of other locals. 

In the 1820s, society members also saw possibilities for exchanges from their own collections. John Bird, a proficient collector in his own right, was soon negotiating with Vernon over the acquisition of two incomplete specimens of Ichthyosaurus from his collection. Vernon was told that ‘one of the boxes contains the bones of an Ichthyosaurus, the detached bones of one of the paddles is very interesting as intire as any that have been found in the district.’ But this was hardly a perfect specimen: ‘The head being crushed and mutilated was indistinct’. Bird, however, suggested that the York men might be creative if they wanted to produce a specimen of museum quality: ‘I have packed in the same box two parts of another head, found near the same place, and which appears to have belonged to an animal of the same size and species, which together with the other bones will make a good specimen of the Ichthyosaurus.’[18]

Presented as such these remains when combined formed a useful illustration of the animal type, but while simple illustration might satisfy the local philosophers the York men required more rigour. Vernon wrote back. Had Bird more data about the finding of these remains, particularly regarding their stratigraphic position? The Whitby curator seemed unwilling to give an exact locality – the most Vernon received was ‘in this district’, ‘in one place’ and with ‘aluminous rock attached’.[19] It was recorded as ‘Lias, Whitby’. Bird sent only a few fragments of the ‘indistinct’ head, thus further reducing the scientific integrity of the specimen. As an artist he probably felt this head had little illustrative quality. Vernon would have preferred the specimen intact rather than as individual bones, and indeed this was how Bird had originally obtained it. But in the dry air of the cabinet it soon fell to pieces as the clay matrix shrank. The York philosophers could only be assured that the bones belonged to the same animal but again had no information on their association when found.

The Yorkshire Philosophical Society urgently needed material of this type but they had no control over how it was collected or the data that was extracted with it, and the Whitby men seemed rather cagey about releasing exact details. The collecting arrangement also failed the York philosophers through a disharmony of objectives. They were, after all, attempting to construct a geology of the county and this more than anything relied upon good field data; the Whitby philosophers, on the other hand, were imposing a brand of territoriality to protect a local resource over which they felt they had dominion. Their central motive was promotional.

To extract science with the specimen a philosophising gentleman needed to be on site during excavation or at least have access to the site soon afterwards. But George Young’s influence on others in the town was overpowering and there seems to have been no one in Whitby with sufficient knowledge of field method to undertake this work. Bird was a keen collector but apparently lacked an awareness of the importance of geological context which was only now being disseminated through the geological network. Perhaps he was unwilling to supply it. A further problem lay in the selection of material arriving in York; this was also being made by local philosophers whose views on geology and understanding of the fauna were completely at variance with the York men. All the Yorkshire Philosophical Society could do was accept or refuse what was offered; invariably they accepted it.

Early in 1824 Vernon took a trip to Whitby to examine the local society’s collections in the hope of acquiring duplicates, and purchasing specimens from collectors. These he would then personally donate to the Yorkshire society before the AGM in February. One specimen Vernon particularly desired, which he saw in the Whitby society collections, was a plesiosaur paddle. But the needs of Whitby remained a priority: ‘we cannot spare it from our collection, unless we find another of the same kind.’[20] Young knew that if they could purchase a superior specimen they would be able to recoup any outlay by the sale of this duplicate. The only way Vernon could hope to gain was if Young passed up material of which he failed to see the significance. The chances of this were not slight as both Young and Bird frequently referred to specimens as being of the ‘same kind’, suggesting that their assessment of duplication was based on superficial characters.

The York society placed considerable value on gifts of fossil reptile material. In its lists of donations saurians were highlighted in more general collections.[21] Thus in 1823 a donation from Vernon was recorded as ‘Specimens of Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus, Whitby. 450 other fossils …’. Anthony Thorpe gave ‘Two portions of the upper jaw, and a section of the vertebrae of Ichthyosaurus, four vertebrae with ribs of Plesiosaurus, lower jaw of Crocodile’ as well as ‘Many other Fossils and Minerals.’ Joseph Eglin of Hull gave an ‘Ichthyosaurus (head, vertebrae and paddles) & other fossils, Lias, Whitby’.

Whitby’s ‘inestimable’ crocodile

The advantage of the coastal society in gathering the real prizes of the fossil world was revealed in the second week of December 1824. It was then that the elder Brown Marshall found, in the Alum Shale cliffs at Saltwick, what was to become Yorkshire’s most celebrated fossil. Marshall had come across a snout protruding from the cliff face which he excavated together with some other bones. He took the skull, potentially the most saleable part of these generally fragmentary finds, to show Young. Young was interested, presuming it to be a particularly good example of the mysterious plesiosaur. He had assumed that ‘the heads of large marine animals found here are principally of two kinds – the one shewing large eyes, sometimes encircled with bony plates, and placed on the sides of the head; the other shewing smaller eyes, placed near together, on the upper part of the head with two deep depressions in the cranium immediately behind the eyes. The former is termed an Ichthyosaurus; the latter we have hitherto considered as the Plesiosaurus of Conybeare.’[22]

Excited at the prospect of acquiring an entire plesiosaur, Young ‘directed him to be very particular, in his further researches on the spot, not only to obtain the vertebrae, but the fin-bones.’ Marshall returned to the site and began to excavate into the cliff at considerable risk to himself suspended from the top of the cliff by ropes. Within a few days he had extracted a large skeleton, 14 foot 8 inches long, which he laid out in the curved fashion in which it had been found (see figure 9.1). Young was then invited to see Marshall’s prize. ‘When I went to survey the supposed Plesiosaurus judge my surprise, when instead of an animal with fins for swimming, I found one with legs and feet, adapted for walking: instead of a fish, I found a Crocodile.’[23]

Phillips, when he heard the news from Goldie the following January, found the ‘discovery of a genuine crocodile at Whitby … very interesting because it seems to countenance the old paper in Phil. Trans.’ That the accuracy of William Chapman and John Wooller’s eighteenth-century discovery was doubted is also clear from the Whitby philosophers’ summing up of the importance of this find: ‘The existence of the crocodile among the large animals imbedded in the alum-shale, had not hitherto been satisfactorily ascertained: but this specimen establishes the fact beyond all doubt; the animal being fully identified by the bones of its legs and feet, with some claws, and large portions of its scaly crust.’[24]Chapman and Wooller’s fossil was probably already lost in the vaults of the British Museum, another important non-participant in the saurian debate. This older specimen had already been the centre of argument in France where it was considered a dolphin by some, but Cuvier in 1812 was certain it was a crocodile though this was well before the accurate description of other marine reptiles.[25]

Fig. 9.1 Three Whitby crocodiles. The 1824 crocodile (top) measuring 14 feet 8 inches was purchased for £7. The bottom two, measuring eight and nine feet in length, were collected early in 1842. They were offered to Sedgwick by Matthew Green for £40 each (this being reduced to £30). Green supplied annotated diagrams with each giving the size of the individuals and notice of other saleable features (number of vertebrae, preservation, fixing and so on). Top image from Young 1825. Others from Green to Sedgwick, 11 February, 23 and 28 March 1842, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/121a-c. By permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

Crocodile jaws were not uncommon finds along the Yorkshire coast. Young, in 1817, remarked that Bird had a specimen looking exactly like a crocodile jaw. In addition to Chapman and Wooller’s specimen, others had been recovered, including a jaw in 1781, a skeleton in 1791 and a cranium, in the possession of Anthony Thorpe of York, found in 1816. But not all of these were true crocodiles. Another partial specimen, belonging to George Watson of Whitby, had been discovered in 1819. This Young reported to the Wernerian Society of Edinburgh in the same year, recognising it as almost identical to recent descriptions of what was to become known as the Ichthyosaurus. ‘To what class of animals this skeleton, and others found at Whitby, should be assigned, it is difficult to determine’, Young wrote. ‘They appear, however, to have little or no alliance with the crocodile family.’ From all the evidence he had to hand or could gather from visits to other collections, he tentatively suggested that these fossils were ‘analogous’ to the dolphin.[26]

Sedgwick also had specimens, having left Whitby in 1821 with two crocodile jaws in his luggage including ‘a wonderful beauty’.[27] Sedgwick acquired these with the help, presumably, of George Young (and perhaps Brown Marshall) for in his report to the auditors it was remarked that ‘He also succeeded, through the assistance of a clergyman at Whitby, in purchasing some valuable spoils of the Ichthyosaurus, which have been conveyed to Cambridge in three large cases’. These were never to be heard of again until Owen identified them as Teleosaurus chapmanni – a crocodile and not an ichthyosaur – in 1841 as part of a review of British fossil reptiles for the British Association. In 1821 the drawers of the Woodwardian Museum were entirely full and new material remained in packing cases. This situation persisted until 1841 when the museum was moved to new premises and some of its contents unpacked for the first time. These specimens were unseen by Conybeare who was looking elsewhere for answers to the plesiosaur riddle. In 1822, he did not doubt that the crocodile existed in the Lias but could find no evidence and would not trust old records: ‘The crocodile is said to have been discovered in the Lias, but the fact remains doubtful.’ Stukeley’s so-called crocodile was, according to Conybeare, really a plesiosaur and Chapman and Wooller’s specimen ‘too badly drawn to afford any certainty’.[28]

Another early specimen had been owned by Bird who donated this ‘head of a fossil crocodile’ to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in 1823. This was, in the donations list, clearly distinguished from the ‘head of Ichthyosaurus’. The name Plesiosaurus was also in use in York at this time but ‘crocodile’ probably remained as a catch-all term for marine saurians. The find, which predates Brown Marshall’s skeleton, was lent to Buckland who was using his network of contacts to support Conybeare’s research. It seems likely that Bird donated it to York before he was fully aware of its identity as he refers to it as ‘the head of the fossil animal which I lent Mr Buckland’ and Conybeare remarks that it was completely buried in shale when it arrived with him. It was not seen by the York philosophers until ‘the long sought head of a crocodile from Whitby’ arrived back in York in September 1826 having been cleaned, prepared and identified by Conybeare. By this time the identity of the Yorkshire crocodiles had been resolved. But it had not been Brown Marshall’s articulated specimen but Bird’s skull, in the hands of Conybeare, which really proved the existence of Lias crocodiles on the Whitby coast. The Bristol man informed Vernon some 11 months prior to the finding of Brown Marshall’s specimen, that Bird’s skull was indeed a crocodile. Having laid ‘open the whole of its anatomical details’, there can be little doubt that Conybeare was here using the term specifically.[29] It seems strange then that Phillips saw Young’s specimen as confirmation of the eighteenth-century report; it certainly made the case as clear as daylight to the non-anatomist but by this time the identity of Bird’s skull was known. 

Eager to exploit his discovery, Conybeare intended to have this specimen sent to London in April 1824 for exhibition at the Geological Society, where Chantrey was to make a cast, and where he intended to read a paper on fossil crocodiles at the next meeting. However, by this time he seems to have began to have doubts about the laws of comparative anatomy: Buckingham’s plesiosaur had a neck with more vertebrae, and was comparatively the longest, of any quadruped; it could not have been predicted. ‘I mention this circumstance thus early, as forming the most prominent and interesting feature of the recent discovery’.[30] He could no longer make assumptions about what a Lias crocodile might actually look like and sought examples of the vertebrae from Vernon.

In 1824, Robert Pickering, who was establishing Malton as a rich locality for fossils from the Coralline Oolite, also donated the upper jaw of a crocodile to the York society. Goldie, responding to Young’s announcement of the new crocodile, told him: ‘We possess a considerable portion of the head of an animal of the Crocodile genus (not Ichthyo- nor Plesio- saurus) from the Malton Oolite.’  A lower jaw, presented at this time and possibly the same specimen, became the subject of considerable debate within the society. Buckland, who was visiting at the time of its donation, took it to London to be ‘drawn and engraved or lithographed’, giving it to Francis Chantrey ‘whose masterly chisel sometimes leaves the works of Art, to lend its aid to Science’ for the purposes of preparation. On its return Phillips remarked, following comparison with other specimens in the collection, that it had the dentition of Ichthyosaurus.[31]

Phillips, in 1829, illustrated what to any modern observer is obviously an ichthyosaur as ‘a singular head which seems to differ from any hitherto described fossil animal’. This not only highlights the uncertainty of identifications but also the reason for it; new types of reptile were being found in various parts of Britain throughout the decade. Consequently the local observer had no reason to believe that this fauna was restricted to so few ‘types’. The discovery of the Duke of Buckingham’s plesiosaur with its forty neck vertebra had no parallels in the animal world. Most vertebrates had less that nine, only birds exceeding this but still only reaching half the number found in this new animal. ‘What a leap we have here’, Lyell remarked to Mantell. In 1825, Young remained doubtful about the length of the neck on this specimen, believing the vertebrae may have been violently displaced. His search for a complete Plesiosaurus was in part motivated by a desire to see if the neck really was as described. In the 1835 edition of Phillips’s book he replaced the words ‘fossil animal’ with ‘Ichthyosaurus’; no doubt one of his eminent subscribers, such as Conybeare, had put him right. By this time the extent of the fauna was well known. Buckland, for example, declined to go to Northampton to view a new fossil animal in the possession of George Baker, the Northamptonshire historian and antiquary, on the assumption that it would be of a form already well known: ‘after all the skeleton is probably either an ichthyosaurus or plesiosaurus’.[32]

The price Young paid for Brown Marshall’s crocodile was just £7. At the time, and for many years afterwards, this specimen was unique in British palaeontology.[33] It is clear that the Whitby society had little money for speculation on fossils as even the low cost of this specimen thrust it into debt. Just four years earlier the Royal College of Surgeons had purchased Lt Colonel Thomas Birch’s ichthyosaur, used in Sir Everard Home’s description of Proteosaurus, for £100. In 1811 Anning had sold a ‘crocodile’ – actually an ichthyosaur – for £23. In 1831 Mary Anning asked £40 for a small and perfect ichthyosaur, the price perhaps reflecting the increasing number of specimens then entering the market, and Buckland’s daughter tells of a specimen six feet long being sold by Anning for £15 in 1844 (again a decrease perhaps reflecting changes in the market). The first complete Plesiosaurus had also fetched £100, but this price would rise as the century progressed. Further evidence can be gathered from Colonel Birch’s sale of 1819 which gives the best indication of prices in the free market at this time. Here Mantell noted a small ichthyosaur head selling for £6, and other partial skulls for more than £10.[34] Even if it was thought that less could be learned from fossil crocodiles, this was the first proven Lias specimen and the oldest and most complete fossil crocodile ever found. At £7 it was a remarkable bargain.

Brown Marshall could perhaps see the benefits of selling it to the local society – it was a captive market and an agency for other sales. Certainly Young was capable of being aggressively possessive about finds which he considered should stay in Whitby and the collector could not afford to upset such a useful ally. It is also possible that Marshall was one of Young’s flock; certainly Young was always ready to help his lowly neighbours. Alternatively it is possible that Marshall was not aware of the prices specimens fetched elsewhere. He certainly had little idea what he had found. The scutes covering its back looked to him like fin bones, however, to the uninitiated they do resemble ichthyosaur paddle or ‘fin’ bones. Young, however, knew that crocodiles had a covering of bony scutes and it was the absence of these bones in earlier finds which had encouraged his belief that the crocodile had not previously been found. He knew immediately what he had: not simply a fossil reptile or the long hoped for Plesiosaurus, but something new, evocative, finely preserved and beyond the wildest imaginings of Whitby philosophers. Like other contemporary reptilian finds, this specimen was principally a treasure, an illustration, a status symbol and only to a lesser degree an artefact of science.[35] Overnight the crocodile placed the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society in an enviable position within philosophical circles.

Young could not wait to inform his rivals in York. His society, which could already boast Yorkshire’s most entire ichthyosaur, was about to acquire the most complete crocodile. In describing the find to the York philosophers, he was not only asserting his society’s superiority (at least in this one area), but also whetting their acquisitive appetite for relics of this new type of monster. The York society was easily hooked. They had to have a Yorkshire crocodile immediately. But where were these to be found? Armed with the complete specimen, Young and his colleagues went in search of other crocodile remains in the society collections, specimens which they had mistakenly identified as Plesiosaurus. They found two such examples showing bones and, most importantly, the skull, and informed the York philosophers of their intention to sell the larger (Young does not say better) specimen. This, he said, showed more of the snout than did the new acquisition. The price for immediate delivery was £5! York replied almost immediately and the specimen was dispatched forthwith on 3 January 1825. The decision to sell this specimen to York, knowing its appetite for such fossils, had been made on the same day the society had decided to purchase Marshall’s crocodile: 17 December 1824. The price at which they then agreed to sell the duplicate was then £4.[36] They had decided that if the York philosophers did not want it they would find a purchaser elsewhere. The income from this sale was needed to pay for Marshall’s much finer example.

If the York society was to make maximum capital out of such a purchase it would need the specimen in York when Young and Bird began to make the new find known. Goldie had asked Young to send it in time for the society’s anniversary meeting on 11 January. The deal done, and the fossil in the carrier’s waggon, Young now gave more details of what York had bought: ‘It is a ponderous mass, being highly pyritous. It shews the head, except the small end of the snout; and a number of vertebrae, with some other bones, will be found chiefly round the edge of the mass. Whether a chissel might discover more without injuring the specimen, I cannot say.’ After a deduction for packing and carriage the Whitby society made £4 4s on the sale. Young justified this as the price they had paid for the fossil in the first place and that which Thomas Hinderwell had paid ‘for a head of the same kind without any vertebrae’.[37] However, Young did not reveal the small price he paid for the fairly complete skeleton now entering the collections, a price which he had largely recouped by the sale of this one fairly poor specimen.

With the purchase made and the debt partially cleared, George Young could begin the process of publicity. In early January, Bird set about sketching the new skeleton. Copies were then sent by Young to the York society, the Geological Society and the Wernerian Society in Edinburgh, with an explanation of where all the component parts were placed relative to each other and their completeness. Young’s published description of the crocodile was informed and meticulous.[38] It had been found with the head in natural position but the body belly-up. This was soon rectified and the bones cleared of matrix. Now Young was sure that Chapman and Wooller’s skeleton was identical and that the 1791 skeleton, of which he had a rough sketch and which equalled the new find in size, was also a true crocodile.

Following the reading of Young’s communication in York, Phillips drew comparisons with the modern gavial. At the earliest possible opportunity he had made a special pilgrimage to Whitby to see the crocodile, having been lecturing in Hull when the news reached him. On Wednesday, 2 February 1825, Young gave Phillips a guided tour of the museum’s newly extended collection of saurians. Phillips made detailed notes on the new specimen, paying particular attention to the skull, limbs and the number and type of vertebrae. He applied no superlatives in his description; but Young would have left him in no doubt as to what he thought of it: ‘It is on the whole, the most interesting specimen of the kind ever found on this coast …’. As Young told the members of Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society a week later, his publicity campaign had been extremely effective: ‘This important discovery has excited intense interest in the literary world our fossil crocodile being superior to any kind now existing in Britain or perhaps any other country.’[39]

From the two common types of saurian that had previously blinkered his view Young could now distinguish ‘from specimens of amphibia and large marine animals, now in the Museum … that at least four or five kinds of these bulky inhabitants of a former world have been lodged in our alum-shale.’[40]The Whitby society was to change its direction away from simple acquisition and towards local research, or so it seemed: ‘the labours of the Society, in future years, may be the means of throwing much light on the nature and structure of these remarkable animals.’ In reality, it was giving emphasis to that part of its collections it wished to enhance; its role in the development of new knowledge was to remain entirely in the realm of possession and supply.

The acquisition of this new crocodile was to be the society’s greatest coup. It was to raise the museum to a new level of scientific prominence and make it an essential detour for the scientific tourist. Every future publication mentioning the town also mentioned ‘our inestimable fossil’.[41] Other collectors and societies now sought specimens and by 1850 Whitby crocodile remains were widespread. This find also transformed the nature of fossil collecting along the coast. It would now be increasingly difficult for the Whitby men to remain in control. The potential for high prices could not be kept from local collectors, as gentlemen and societies began to see this as a location capable of supplying fossils found nowhere else.

The York men could feel nothing but frustration as poor and incomplete specimens continued to arrive from Young and Marshall. Young, for example, told them, ‘Brown Marshall has recently obtained a specimen of Ichthyosaurus, having one of the eyes with the hard bony plates in a distinct & interesting form’ but added ‘in other respects the specimen is of little value, being much mutilated’.[42] According to Young, specimens with complete eyes were rare: ‘with the exception of one specimen in our Museum, and one in Bullock’s Museum, I have seen no other Ichthyosaurus with the eye complete.’ But Young was no expert. Marshall valued this specimen at 30 shillings and flattered the York society with first refusal.

By July 1825, Vernon felt that the only way to improve the situation was to visit the area himself. He asked Phillips, who was lecturing in the West Riding, to accompany him. Phillips was enthusiastic: ‘Nothing could give me so much pleasure as to visit with you the native country of Crocodiles & Ichthyosauri, whose remains have become so wonderfully interesting.’[43] However, Smith’s eagerness to complete their lecturing engagements meant that Phillips did not go. In the following year they would canvass the Scarborough collectors instead.

In 1826, Vernon still hoped that society members might turn up important finds during their trips to the coast and Salmond accordingly gave the March meeting details of the localities around Whitby which had produced the IchthyosaurusPlesiosaurus and crocodile. In the following month the society acquired an alligator skeleton together with a depiction of the animal in life. James Atkinson had also given his private collection of comparative anatomy to the Museum: ‘a collection rendered peculiarly interesting by the illustration it affords of those fossil remains of antediluvian animals, which occupy the most prominent place in the society’s museum.’[44]

In the autumn, a letter arrived from Conybeare offering to have Johann Miller prepare a series of casts of fossil reptiles in the Bristol Institution. If real specimens were hard to come by, casts would at least provide useful comparative material. In the late summer of 1828 they took delivery of their first consignment, purchasing a further 20 specimens in January 1830, and still more in 1837. Chantrey, too, became the supplier of numerous fossil casts including that of the Duke of Buckingham’s Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus and the fine Ichthyosaurus communis in the Geological Society. Murchison also contributed a cast of the upper part of a gigantic saurian femur from Sussex in 1827. Conybeare’s offer sparked an idea in the minds of the society’s council: they might not be able to compete with their coastal counterparts in fossil dealing or exchanges but they did have at their disposal a particularly rich and diverse collection. They now intended ‘to have a series of casts made from the best fossil specimens in the Museum, for the purpose of exchange with other Institutions.’[45] When the much sought-after plesiosaur paddle finally arrived from the Whitby society, York responded by returning a cast of a plesiosaur lower jaw. This was probably a copy of the cast of De la Beche’s ‘glorious jaw’ which Chantrey donated to York in 1824.

Yorkshire plesiosaurs in the free market

The most prized of all marine reptiles was the Plesiosaurus, an animal of extraordinary proportions and unique strangeness. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s every museum in the country desired an example. Ichthyosaurs were now being found in considerable numbers, yet were still described as ‘precious reliquiae’. By this time the Whitby coast was becoming renowned for its saurians and the fossil market was burgeoning. The Whitby society had acquired its best example of the plesiosaur from the sale of the late John Bird’s collection in 1829. It purchased an even better, though far from perfect, specimen early in 1830. The coastal philosophers, however, remained short of information with which to distinguish plesiosaur remains and asked Phillips, a member of the Geological Society, if he could obtain cut price copies of the Transactions containing Conybeare’s description.[46]

The spring of 1831 brought with it ‘a superb specimen of the Plesiosaurus’, found by Brown Marshall at Hawsker just south of Whitby. It was immediately purchased by Isaac Stickney, the honorary curator of geology at the Scarborough Literary and Philosophical Society, for just £14. ‘It lay like the crocodile figured by Mssrs Young and Bird with its tail towards the land.’ The plesiosaur was placed on loan in the Scarborough Museum on condition that the society pay interest on the purchase price until such time as it could afford to buy the specimen outright.[47] In this way Stickney could not only hope to gain the kudos of possession and supply but also a small profit. 

As to the quality of this ‘superb’ specimen, John Dunn was a little more honest when he wrote to give Phillips details, enclosing a sketch by the 14 year old William Williamson. ‘Our specimen is splendid as far as it goes, but imperfect, and imbedded in very hard strata; so that the parts were exceedingly difficult to make out.’ Its finest feature was the unbroken series of articulated vertebrae; its weakest, the lack of both head and neck. Other parts were also ‘vague’ and ‘worn’. This was a useful illustration of the species but it was not the specimen for which Yorkshire had been waiting. Dunn sent Murchison a more positive description of the beast for the ‘Journal of Science’ and to be read at the Geological Society meeting on the 16 November 1831. Size seemed to be the specimen’s most important statistic. Complete, it would have measured 19 feet, the same as Cuvier’s specimens from Havre and Honfleur and, he suggested, twice that of the Duke of Buckingham’s specimen.[48]

The obligation to purchase this rather poor specimen was to have a considerable impact on the society’s ability to invest in future, perhaps better, finds. For more than two years it remained on open display, gathering dust and becoming progressively indistinct. The 40 shillings required to glaze this and a few other fossils was a large sum for an organisation with virtually no operational budget. When Stickney died in 1848, with the society locked into a phase of decline, the debt had still not been paid, and with interest had increased to £18. Payment could then no longer be delayed.[49]

Another specimen appears to have been discovered in the early 1830s in the Great Oolite of White Nab, near Scarborough, which demonstrates the relative desirability of the plesiosaur. This, William Williamson believed, was a Yorkshire example of those reptiles later to be grouped together as dinosaurs. At the time it was simply an ‘unknown Saurian’ though Williamson recognised its similarity to some of Mantell’s specimens, and thought it might be a Megalosaurus.[50] But such discoveries remained surprisingly low key. It was not scientific novelty which grabbed the headlines but completeness. Animals which could only be identified and understood using the arcane methods of comparative anatomy were not as important, culturally, as complete marine reptiles which could speak for themselves. 

In March 1841, three jet workers uncovered the first complete Yorkshire plesiosaur and probably the finest British example then known, in the cliffs at Saltwick or Hawsker (see figure 9.2). The three men, Matthew Green, and Abram and William Brookbank, much to the disappointment of potential purchasers, appeared to ‘know its value’. Up to this time science, and more particularly wealthy collectors, had profited from the ignorance of artisan collectors, especially those working the Yorkshire coast. The 15 foot long plesiosaur was placed on exhibition above Green’s shop in Haggersgate and admittance charged – 6d for gentlemen, 3d for working men and 1d for children. In the handbill that advertised the exhibition it was claimed, quite truthfully, that ‘Among the multiplicity of fossil petrifactions discovered in the neighbourhood of Whitby, this far surpasses all, even the famed crocodile in the Whitby Museum; indeed it is questioned whether any fossil remains were ever discovered equal to that of this wonderful species of the Plesiosaurus tribe.’ The advertisement, which appeared in August, had obviously been written by someone other than the three jet workers, and it seems most likely that this was the work of Richard Ripley, who was later implicated in an attempted sale of the specimen to the British Museum. As Ripley had by now become the main fossil wholesaler in town, it seems likely that he was one of the first men upon whom they called with news of the find; he also headed the group representing the local society when it first approached the men.[51]

As soon as the Whitby philosophers heard about the specimen they called a meeting to form a committee to enquire about the price and raise funds for its purchase. The acquisition was essential, it was after all the local society’s raison d’être – it had waited 20 years for such a fossil to come to light. However, they were shocked to find that the asking price for this important piece of Whitby’s heritage was the astronomical sum of £500. At this point negotiations were halted, but convinced that no buyer would be found the society continued to call for subscriptions towards its purchase.[52]

Fig. 9.2 The 1841 plesiosaur, found by Green and colleagues. This drawing, which may be by Martin Simpson, carries pencil lines possibly indicating the component blocks. NYRO ZW VII Martin Simpson papers, Mic 3787/271/6. By permission of North Yorkshire Record Office.

The Scarborough society simultaneously made a bid for the specimen, sending John Williamson to Whitby to examine the fossil and ‘to purchase the same if approved of and attainable at a fair price’. When Williamson returned without the specimen, it also maintained the belief that it could be had for a smaller sum, say £150. They asked Sir John Johnstone, who was in London, whether he would be willing to put up a loan of £100 if the remainder was raised by subscription. Johnstone recommended caution; the society’s finances and wellbeing were such that a speculation of this sort could put future plans in jeopardy. ‘I confess I scarcely think it would be a prudent step in us to give so large a sum for a Plesiosaurus, however perfect, possessing already as we do a good specimen of the kind.’[53] Johnstone was neither a collector nor an active philosopher, nor did he harbour great ambitions for his local museum; he was also a supporter of the York society. ‘In my own opinion, so splendid an animal as this appears to be, ought to belong to a national or county collection rather than to a district museum like ours’, he told them. The York society, however, burdened by considerable debt arising from property deals, could take no part in negotiations for this fossil. Johnstone offered two possible solutions to the Scarborough men. If their present specimen could be sold for £50 then he would support the purchase. Alternatively, this plesiosaur could be purchased for exhibition in Scarborough for a season before being sold on to another buyer. Johnstone’s advice was, however, put to one side. The society decided it would not go beyond the sum of £150 but that its offer would stand.

The plesiosaur remained on exhibition in Whitby throughout the summer of 1841. The price being asked, it seemed, was too high. It was not snapped up. The summer trade in visitors to the exhibition, however, was probably considerable – a greater attraction than the philosophers’ crocodile – and made the sellers a good income. Why should they be in a hurry to sell, particularly as the longer it was on exhibition the more it would stimulate the market? At the end of the summer they could start to drop the asking price; this was to be a Dutch auction.

In September, Dr William Clark, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Cambridge (and also a student contemporary of Sedgwick), was touring the Yorkshire coast. He stopped in Scarborough where he met with Dr Peter Murray, a keen member of the local philosophical society. When asked what was worth viewing in Whitby, Murray mentioned the museum’s crocodile; he said nothing about the plesiosaur, perhaps hoping that this specimen would still find its way to the Rotunda. Clark arrived in Whitby to discover the Plesiosaurus exhibition, greatly surprised that Murray had not mentioned it.[54]He assumed he knew nothing of it, but this was certainly not the case. At that time the asking price remained at £500; the Whitby society’s offer stood at £150 and they had not re-entered negotiations. Apparently no-one had surpassed this offer.

Clark wrote to Sedgwick urging him to act quickly: ‘It far surpasses any thing of the kind I have ever seen. It is very nearly perfect … such a treasure cannot long be hidden … something must be done quickly.’ Clark, who admitted little geological expertise, urged Sedgwick to visit. But Sedgwick had heard of the Plesiosaurus from George Young who was acting as agent in the sale of a 17 foot ichthyosaur which had formerly belonged to Louis Hunton.[55] Sedgwick was tempted. He visited Whitby for the first time in twenty years. The last time he had left with two crocodile jaws in an age before such animals were admitted from the Alum Shale; would he now carry away the Plesiosaurus?

The Manchester Geological Society had also been approached by Green and his colleagues and was considering the purchase. It wrote to Benjamin Heywood Bright for advice. As Bright told De la Beche: ‘A Perfect Saurian (Dolichodeirus) 15 feet long has been most marvellously brought out of its rock at Whitby. It has been offered I find to the Manchester Geological Society who write to me to know whether £315 is too large a price. If perfect, & absolutely perfect as is represented, I say No.’ The Dublin Institution had also been offered the specimen at a price of £300. And Pearsall, the Hull curator, had entered negotiations with the sellers only to find the price too high.[56]

Sedgwick arrived in Whitby shortly afterwards and the skeleton was also offered to him for £300; the price did not seem excessive but, as Sedgwick told Ripley at the time, he lacked the funds for such a purchase. Around this time the Whitby men again re-entered negotiations, understanding that the price was now nearer 200 guineas. Alterations at the museum stopped in expectation of giving pride of place to this specimen next to ‘our great crocodile’. The society made its offer and later said that it had obtained the agreement of William and Abram Brookbank, but had not seen Matthew Green.[57]

However, it seems more likely that Matthew Green, who appears to have been the dominant partner, had no intention of negotiating with the Whitby society if it could be helped. From Young and Ripley’s response to the eventual sale, it is not difficult to imagine how the over-possessive Young might have reacted to Green’s attempts to sell the specimen to the highest bidder. Green quickly wrote to Clark who had made an offer of £220, haggling for £250, and added ‘Now Sir to give you a clear understanding into the affair – the Whitby gentlemen are wishful to have [it] themselves – and we don’t feel willing they should.’[58] The price on which they eventually settled was £230.

Within days of the deal being struck, and before the specimen had left Whitby, Young and Ripley wrote to William Clark, on behalf of their society. Clark later described this missive to Sedgwick as ‘a most insolent letter’. They were indignant and presumptuous. ‘You are aware of our negotiating for the purchase, but surely you did not know how far the negotiation had advanced, otherwise you would scarcely have felt yourself justified in stepping in between us and the prize we had good reason to consider our own’, they began. ‘We had resolved to give 200 pounds or Guineas for it; two out of the three owners had agreed to our terms … It is natural for you to be zealous for the interests of your Institution, as we are for ours; but we must not forget the position which we hold in Society as gentlemen and men of honour.’ They begged him to give way, and take a cast instead, or at very least allow them to take a cast themselves. But how could Clark comply when his honour had been questioned? His response was vitriolic – ‘you are in no position to ask a favour of me’, he told them.[59]True enough, Green had played the bids of Whitby and Cambridge against each other, but he had no intention of selling it to the local society if it could be helped. Clark knew that the Whitby philosophers were still bidding for the specimen but he believed in the free market and he told them that Sedgwick ‘would have bought it without the slightest scruple (as he did other remains which he found in Whitby) had he thought it worth the money.’ Clark would not recognise their small-town territoriality, though he was probably unaware that Young had long been Sedgwick’s agent in Whitby. He now turned the tables on their accusations. He was considerably more informed of the offers made for the plesiosaur than the Whitby men suspected, including, embarrassingly, Ripley’s role in the failed attempt to sell it to the British Museum.

To enable safe delivery of the specimen, Clark advanced Green £10 for its packing, transport and insurance. But Green had already left with the plesiosaur before the postal order arrived, probably wishing to get the specimen out of Whitby as soon as possible. It came by ship via Hull to Kings Lynn and then on to Cambridge. His partners wanted to be sure the money was properly exchanged and asked Clark to go to the bank with Green to deposit the cash so that it could be withdrawn at Whitby – ‘M Green is no accountant’.[60] They perhaps feared being duped by Green.

Young later wrote to Sedgwick in apologetic tone. The charges made against him and Clark were ‘hypothetical’ but he did not consider the specimen ‘as fairly in the open market’ until their negotiations had ceased. As ‘a Whitby fossil, we had a claim of preference to it above all other Societies.’ He added: ‘the scientific world owes a debt of gratitude to our Society, for had it not been for the impulse given to the search for fossils in this quarter, by its formation & its efforts, many excellent specimens, now enriching museums and cabinets, would have remained undiscovered; & even this noble Plesiosaurusmight have been lying quietly in its matrix. You are aware too, that we have been ready to serve other Institutions, by negociating important purchases on their behalf.’[61] Young’s statement was true enough, but it neglected to point out that the society had attempted a stranglehold on collecting. Once the local fossil market had developed it had little need for the patronage of the Whitby philosophers’ club. 

Young’s belief that a local community could hold dominion over local fossils had been seen in an earlier spat over fossil names, which placed the Sowerbys under attack from ‘the false surmises of the arrogant’ Young and Bird. It might have been tempting for these city men, who had read Young and Bird’s geological text, to believe the Whitby men naïve and ill-informed. But in doing so they would be falling into that universal error of dismissing the provincial observer. As Young complained, ‘But what arrogance is there, in attesting what we have seen, or have not seen, amongst the ammonites in our strata? Is there not more arrogance, in any stranger pretending to know their species and varieties, better than we do, who have such opportunities of observing them?’[62] The fact of the matter was that Young had seen what Sowerby had only heard, and his supposed arrogance was justified. In the current controversy over the plesiosaur, Young’s wrath would now be channelled at the ‘three low-minded fellows’ who had sold the fossil and destroyed the society’s control of the market. 

While Young continued to smoulder in Whitby, Sedgwick now successfully raised subscriptions to purchase the specimen for the University, making a small surplus which could be turned to good use in the purchase of other Yorkshire reptiles. All that remained as a local record was Ripley’s drawing which was circulated widely and even entered local tourist guides.[63] Whitby would continue to mourn the loss of Yorkshire’s most impressive fossil well into the next century.

Success in the free market

Green now had a direct link to Sedgwick, and the Cambridge men access to Whitby dealers; Young had lost his grip on the market. Prices began to match those paid for fossils from the south coast. The number of people collecting fossils for profit also increased. Simpson remarked, in 1842 that ‘Lias fossils are scarce along the coast, all being sold to the dealers.’ Green and partners, for example, now found dealing in fossils a profitable sideline. Early in 1842 there seemed to be a short-lived abundance of fossil crocodiles with at least three fairly complete specimens for sale (see figure 9.1); Young records one being dispatched to the British Museum. Green sold one each to Liverpool and Cambridge for £30 apiece. Previously, Young had been Sedgwick’s local agent and had, in February 1841, been negotiating the sale of a partial crocodile for around £30 for Andrews, a local collector. This specimen consisted of numerous blocks containing both the skull and vertebrae making a specimen nine or ten feet long. These individual components had been laid out in ‘tarras’ ‘nearly in the order in which they seem to have lain in the rock’.[64] Ripley’s wholesale business had also encouraged the market to develop and he continued to supply collectors and museums, selling two ichthyosaurs to König at the British Museum around this time.

Young continued to actively patronise as many collectors as possible including one by the name of Crosbie, who wished to sell an ichthyosaur. Young asked Sedgwick if he was interested, explaining that the ribs and paddles had been repositioned in an unnatural way ‘so as to add to the imposing aspect of the specimen’ but also to ‘have rather deteriorated its value’. Collectors typically fixed the skeletons into boxes ready for display by the purchaser, loose elements being held in place with a mix of cement and rock fragments found lying around their workshops. This practice would undoubtedly undermine the scientific integrity of these specimens but was so expertly carried out that it largely went undetected. As Young added in his letter to Sedgwick, ‘He assures me too, and he is justly regarded as a very honest man, that he did not complete it by adding [parts] of another specimen, a trick which is sometimes played; the whole bones belong to one specimen, nothing being added or taken away.’[65] The £30 price tag was in Young’s opinion ‘far more modest than some would have asked’. Young suggested that he may be taken lower but advises ‘he is poor with a wife and young family’.

Public attention had been drawn to Crosbie in 1837 in an extract from a letter, by the Revd George Howman which had been sent to the Viscountess of Sidmouth, published in the Magazine of Natural History. The Yorkshire coast had become increasingly attractive to tourists, and the local museums did much to promote its geological treasures. ‘I have been delighted with the scenery of Scarborough, Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay & c., and not a little to find myself dwelling amidst Crocodiles, Ichthyosauri, and a hundred other rare remains of the antediluvian world, which that coast teems with’, he wrote. ‘I found a smaller, but perhaps more perfect, specimen, 81/2ft. long, in the possession of a poor man who discovered it, and served me as a guide; I made a very accurate drawing of it to a scale; for some of your scientific friends may like to see it.’ The new crocodile was in the possession of Crosbie who had also been Howman’s guide. Howman explained that the specimen was for sale at a reasonable price, especially considering the rarity of crocodile skeletons; he had subsequently seen a more perfect five foot long example in the collection of Captain Kaines of Chatham. It may have been Crosbie’s collection which had also attracted the attention of the Scarborough philosophers in the previous year, when an earlier spate of crocodiles began to appear. In the usual fashion John Williamson was given his orders: ‘A number of fossil specimens amongst which is a fine head of a crocodile of considerable value being offered for sale, the curator is requested to endeavour to purchase the lot for £15 with a view of disposing of such as may not be wanted.’[66]

The Whitby society’s fortunes recovered from the Cambridge setback in 1847 when ‘a noble specimen of that rare fossil animal the Plesiosaurus’ became available. It had been excavated at Kettleness in the summer of 1844 and exhibited at the meeting of the British Association in York that year, where Edward Charlesworth gave a short notice of its discovery and compared it to ‘the celebrated specimen’ of Plesiosaurus macrocephalus from Lyme Regis in the collections of the Earl of Enniskillen. Unlike the Cambridge plesiosaur, this Kettleness find had a massive head and stronger, shorter neck. The specimen had been given to the York museum by the lessees of the alum quarry from which it had been excavated, but when the owner of the quarry, the Marquis of Normanby and patron of the Whitby society, discovered this he had it removed to Mulgrave Castle little more than a mile from the site of its discovery.[67] In 1847 the Whitby philosophers began a subscription to raise the £200 purchase price, with the society’s patron and the current owner taking a £50 share. The skeleton was complete except for one hind paddle which the quarrymen had dug out and processed before the discovery was made. This was a small loss, the labourers being aware of the financial bonus such a specimen could bring.

In the same year Richard and John Ripley donated a 14 foot Ichthyosaurus ‘worth more than twenty guineas’, excavated from the Alum Shale at Loftus, to the north of Staithes. The museum was at last obtaining ‘a superb set of Saurian animals, such as perhaps no other Museum can boast.’ The society’s motive remained unchanged:

We shall thus follow out the counsels that were given by not a few of our Literary Visitors. That as our neighbourhood presents a richer variety of fossils than perhaps any other part of the world, we should make it our grand study to render our Museum richer in such fossils than any other. The attainment of such an object is not only connected with the honour of our Society and the interest of Science, but with the prosperity of Whitby. Many strangers have been brought here by the attractions of our Museum, and when it is elevated to its high rank now in prospect, as possessing one of the finest sets of fossil organic remains of Saurian animals in the world, its attractions will be doubly powerful, and the advantages resulting to the Town and neighbourhood proportionally great.[68]

The society celebrated its achievement in October; in the following May the man who had made it possible, George Young, died.

By the mid-1840s the market in Yorkshire reptiles was booming. Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, which had taken little prior interest in these fossils, now acquired several. The Manchester Museum also acquired a 19 foot ichthyosaur in 1847. In the same year the York society acquired a crocodile and an ichthyosaur skull, a reflection of the society’s renewed interest in fossils driven by Edward Charlesworth. Early in 1852 York received its most important saurian, a plesiosaur from Lord Dundas, collected from Loftus Alum Mine.[69] Whitby also benefited from other important saurian finds in the succeeding decades including, in 1854, a massive plesiosaur found near the harbour mouth by Brown Marshall. In 1856 Charlesworth was examining ‘The Great Ichthyosaurus at Whitby’ which had lately been discovered and was the largest example then known. However, with some 3 feet 6 inches missing from snout and tail and displaying no sclerotic rings – evidently a prized preservational feature – its value as a museum specimen was greatly diminished. Louis Hunton’s ichthyosaur was acquired in 1867, and a 25 foot long, 8 foot wide Ichthyosaurus crassimanus from Hawsker purchased for £105. In 1861, the Leeds Museum held a Plesiosaurus macrocephalus in pride of place. Owen’s report of 1841 showed the marine saurians as a whole to contain more variety, in terms of species, than had perhaps been previously imagined. Owen’s descriptions, and perhaps the English societies’ motives for collecting, appear also to have fulfilled the nationalistic ambitions of British science.[70]

Browne much later suggested that the high prices raised by the sale of Whitby’s marine reptiles two decades after the purchase of the £7 crocodile indicate price inflation.[71] From this a more active market or an increased desire for such specimens might be inferred, but this conceals the true nature of the local market in the 1820s. The price Young paid for his specimen was ridiculously low compared with prices paid elsewhere or those paid by local collectors for more fragmentary material. It may have reflected a special understanding between Young and Marshall. It is quite clear, however, from his dealings with York, that Young was a shrewd businessman able to control the release of market-sensitive information, and in so doing regulated both the flow of specimens to potential purchasers and, through ‘goodwill’, the prices which his society needed to pay. As Whitby fossils began to realise true market prices the poor local society was less able to compete, but fortunately continued to find a considerable amount of goodwill.

The alum and jet industries played a part in enabling the market to develop. The latter of the two, which was undertaken by hand and without the use of explosives, was to reach a peak in the late Victorian era, employing some 1400 men and boys. It had grown on the back of early nineteenth century innovations in carving and polishing, and it has been suggested that when this went into decline so too did the fossil market and local dealing. Alum mining in the area dates from the late sixteenth century, and by 1822, the six largest mines produced 3200 tons per annum. The last mine closed in 1871.[72] The abundance of ammonite fossils derived from this rock was already becoming known by the late eighteenth century.[73] It was only with the growth of the local philosophical societies that saurian fossils were recognised and saved from burning. Fossil ammonites collected in a few minutes could earn the finder a week’s wages, a fossil reptile a year’s income. It is no wonder that the coast was rapidly cleared of fossils.[74] With the widespread publicity given to the Whitby crocodile it would have been difficult to keep the secret of local reptiles from richer participants in the market. The market was certain to change. Equally, as the shelves of the local societies began to groan under the weight of isolated bones their value began to drop. Articulated specimens maintained their value, and as the relative rarity of the finds became known (plesiosaurs being the least common and most exotic), so price differentials developed.

The situation in Whitby is particularly interesting for the clarity with which it reveals the details of a collecting network and its implications for science. The York philosophers pursued a scientific objective and were well placed to attract men of high scientific calibre to view their collections. The membership included men of wealth and, by implication, men of education. Many, like Vernon and particularly Phillips, were true philosophers; Young and Bird, in contrast, who were able observers, operated in a more restricted arena where fundamentalist Christian doctrines remained unchallenged. Whitby was not a cosmopolitan centre of science, its aspirations in that direction were more limited. Its great object and achievement had been to amass collections which would attract visitors to the town. In this it was entirely successful. Artisan collectors, like the Brown Marshalls, derived income rather than science from the material they collected. Specimens moved up a gradient of wealth, education and status. At each stage they were evaluated against an independent set of criteria determined by the needs and desires of the possessor before being passed on. Inevitably, future use was to be restricted by this process as data, which could only be extracted in the field or on first arrival in the museum, would not be available to the final owners. While true philosophers might eradicate some of these problems by direct field collecting, the most important and spectacular specimens remained rare and only found sporadically. Science, and the acquisition of Britain’s most spectacular museum exhibits, was to remain dependent upon the commercially motivated collector indefinitely.

[1].          For metonymic codes in science communication and patronage, see Turner (1990: 191-2).

[2].          See, for example, Stukeley (1719); Parkinson (1811); Cumberland (1829); De la Beche (1848); Owen (1874-1889); Challinor (1971: 100-102); Torrens (1974); Howe, Sharpe and Torrens (1981); Taylor (1997). Benton and Taylor (1984) provide the seminal account of marine reptile finds from the Yorkshire coast. This formed the basis of Osborne’s (1998) descriptive narrative of the major finds which inevitably underplayed the significance of partial specimens. The emphasis in this chapter is on the scientific, social, political and cultural meanings of these fossils and the peculiar characteristics of the market.

[3].          For ‘gradation …’ and ‘all places …’, De la Beche and Conybeare (1821: 561); ‘nature …’ in Conybeare (1824: 383) referring to the ideas of French anatomist Geoffroy de St Hilaire. See Taylor (1994: 182) for Conybeare’s beliefs about the natural world. Neve (1983: 187-90), Desmond (1989: 211,427) and Taylor (1994: 184) for Dr Henry Riley and development of anatomical debate in Bristol. Conybeare’s three papers are De la Beche and Conybeare (1821); Conybeare (1822; 1824).

[4].          ‘We have not …’, De la Beche and Conybeare (1821: 591). Williamson (1837: 226).

[5].          For ‘strange monsters’, Conybeare, Bristol to De la Beche, Jamaica, 4 March 1824, NMW 299. Lyell (1826b: 521-2) for contemporary view of these animals.

[6].          He knew that ichthyosaurs had teeth in grooves, Conybeare to De la Beche, Lyme Regis [1821], NMW 297.

[7].          HL&PS (1826) Annual Report3.

[8].          De la Beche and Conybeare (1821: plate 42, figs 1 & 5); ‘learnt …’, Conybeare (1824: 387-8).

[9].          ‘The Philosopher …’, Bowen (1854: 85), Mike Taylor pers. comm. ‘We find …’, Conybeare, Bristol to De la Beche, Lyme Regis, 16 December 1821, NMW 297. This ‘very perfect dental bone of the lower jaw’ figured by Conybeare (1822: pl xviii). ‘ I have been …’, Buckland, Brislington to De la Beche, Lyme Regis, 20 April 1822, NMW 163. Francis Chantrey (1781-1841) was one of the country’s most celebrated sculptors, specialising in statues and busts. He was frequently called upon by Buckland and the York philosophers to undertake preparation and casting. See also Taylor (1997) for an account of Chantrey’s involvement in preparation. ‘I hope …’, and ‘In the glass …’, Buckland, Oxford to De la Beche, Bristol, 9 and 28 September 1823, NMW 169 & 170. The jaw was returned to De la Beche on the 29 September 1823. Buckland describes the damage to the specimen as a transverse fracture near the posterior extremity which was repaired invisibly.

[10].        Buckland, Oxford to De la Beche, Bristol, 28 September 1823, NMW 170.

[11].        Conybeare (1824: 381). ‘I made my …’, Conybeare, Bristol to De la Beche, Jamaica, 4 March 1824, NMW 299; for Buckland’s comments to Vernon, see Gordon (1894: 84). Lang (1939: 152) and Taylor (1997: xxiii) give extended and annotated quotation of this letter, see also North (1935: 28). An engraving of the specimen was given in Phil. Mag.67 (1826), 272. Conybeare (1825). Buckland, Oxford to De la Beche, Bristol, 28 September 1823, NMW 170, refers to the Market Rasen bones as belonging to ‘the Great Crocodile’. The remains consisted of the tip of a lower jaw, a femur, the upper jaw, pelvic bones and scapula. These were later described by Owen (1842: 60) as Pliosaurus. Phillips notes that a Mr Wilson of Barnsley was Buckland’s supplier of Market Rasen fossils, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 16 Journal 1826-1827, entry for 22 March 1827. Conybeare (1822: 122) discusses variation in size of cervical vertebrae. For the Philpots’ collection see Edmonds (1978).

[12].        Buckland (1837: 1: 204)

[13].        Lang (1939), Taylor and Torrens (1995), Torrens (1995), Taylor (1997: xxv).

[14].        Simultaneously awarded honorary memberships on 21 December 1822, YPS Minutes of General Meetings 1822-1839.

[15].        Buckland supported this approach: ‘hope you will get some fine specimens of the Ichthyosaurus & Whitby Treasures through Mr Bird and Mr Young’, Buckland to Vernon, 29 December 1822 in Melmore (1942).

[16].        YPS (1825) Annual Report for 1824. Pyrah (1974) gives this as the first acquisition recorded by Phillips in the society’s fossil catalogue started in January 1823, though she suggests this is backdated.

[17].        Whitby Gazette, 9 March and 13 July 1878. Parry Thornton, pers. comm. 

[18].        Bird, Whitby to Vernon, York, 11 August 1823 in Melmore (1942).

[19].        Bird, Whitby to Vernon, York, 9 December 1823 in Melmore (1942).

[20].        In January 1824, for example, Young sent over a box containing a ‘specimen of singular bones of an animal of the Saurian family … promised to your worthy President’ which Vernon later donated to the society. Young, Whitby to [Goldie?], York 22 January 1824 in Melmore (1942). For ‘we cannot …’, Young, Whitby to [Goldie?], York 22 January 1824 in Melmore (1942).

[21].        YPS (1825) Annual Report for 1824, giving a reprint of donations in 1823.

[22].        Young, Whitby to YPS,  21 December 1824, read to the YPS on 11 January 1825, in Melmore (1942). Anon. (1825a).

[23].        For Marshall’s methods, Young (1825: 76), Benton and Taylor (1984: 406). For ‘directed …’, and ‘When I’, Young, Whitby to [Goldie?], York, 21 December 1824 read to the YPS on 11 January 1825, in Melmore (1942). Both phrases are used in Young’s published account, though he replaces ‘fish’ with ‘Plesiosaurus’.

[24].        For ‘discovery …’,  Phillips, Hull to Goldie, York, 7 January 1825, in Melmore (1943a). Chapman and Wooller (1758); Benton and Taylor (1984: 404-5) discuss the finding of this specimen. ‘The existence …’, WL&PS (1825) Annual Report2.

[25].        The collections of the Royal Society were transferred to the British Museum in 1781, but Owen could not find the specimen in 1841 (Owen 1842: 74; Cleevely 1983: 251). Lydekker (1888: 110-11) catalogued this fossil but remarked ‘Originally the specimen was curved laterally as in the figure, but the head was subsequently chiselled out and placed in its present position.’ Torrens (pers. comm.) suggests that this may have impeded the search. Browne (1946) mentions the specimen being on display in 1946. Owen (1842: 74).

[26].        Young (1817: 780; 1820: 450).

[27].        Owen (1842: 74); D.T. Ansted, Cambridge to Sedgwick, 24 December 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/134. Sedgwick, 20 August 1869, in Seeley, Prefactory Notice, iii-x.

[28].        ‘He also succeeded …’, Sedgwick’s report to the Woodwardian auditors, 1 September 1821, in Clark and Hughes (1890: 1: 233). Unpacking, Sedgwick’s auditors report ibid. Conybeare on the existence of the crocodile and ‘too badly drawn …’, Conybeare and Phillips (1822: 266). Stukeley (1719).

[29].        The donation list shows that Bird gave the head of a fossil crocodile, head of Ichthyosaurus, 57 bones of Ichthyosaurus & c., from the Lias, Whitby. YPS (1825) Annual Report for 1824 which included a copy of the donations list for 1823. For ‘the head of …’, Bird to Vernon, 9 December 1823, in Melmore (1942); Conybeare, Brislington to Vernon, 19 April 1824, in Morrell and Thackray (1984: 17). Extracts from this letter were read at the YPS meeting on 3 October 1826. For ‘the long sought …’, YPS Daybook of John Phillips, 3 Oct 1826; YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1 General Meeting 3 October 1826; YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826. This specimen was subsequently repaired by Phillips, having perhaps been broken in transit, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1 General Meeting, 12 October 1826. On identifying the crocodile, Conybeare, Brislington to Vernon, 17 January & 19 April 1824, in Morrell and Thackray (1984: 15, 17). The former letter shows Conybeare’s intention to return the specimen in 1824, the latter indicates the making of a cast and that Conybeare intended to exploit the specimen in a paper and in display.

[30].        Conybeare (1824: 382).

[31].        For ‘whose masterly …’,  YPS (1825) Annual Report for 1824. YPS Minutes of Meeting, 7 March 1826. OUM Phillips Box 82 Journal and Notebook 1827-1828 gives R. Pickering as a contact in Malton. OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 13. Diary 1825-1826, 7 March 1826 notes Phillips’s talk on this specimen. YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826. Goldie to Young, 29 December 12824, NYRO ZW IV 14/5/1-138.

[32].        For ‘a singular head …’, Phillips (1829: Plate 12 No. 2 and p. 165). For ‘after all …’, Buckland to Marquis of Northampton, 15 December 1837, Castle Ashby 1145 f.131. On vertebrae, Lyell to Mantell, 17 February 1824 (Lyell 1881: 1: 151). Young (1825: 80).

[33].        Price from Browne (1949: 13). Importance of this specimen, from Owen (1842) uses this specimen extensively in defining Teleosaurus, other specimens were much more fragmentary. 

[34].        See Howe, Sharpe and Torrens (1981: 16) and Cleevely (1983: 57) for price of Proteosaurus, an earlier name for the Ichthyosaurus. For 1831 ichthyosaur, Buckland, Oxford to De la Beche, London, 1 May 1831, NMW 179. Buckland also informed Sedgwick, though Botfield and Saull appear to have had prior claims on the specimen. Taylor and Torrens (1987: 145) chart a decline in the prices Anning could charge for ichthyosaurs over this period, and p. 67 for 1811 ichthyosaur. Birch sale, Torrens (1979: 407).

[35].        Young and Bird (1828: 287); Buckland (1837: vol 2,  pl. xxv); Owen (1842: 74ff).

[36].        Minutes of Council, 17 December 1824, WL&PS. Also Goldie to Young, 29 December 1824, NYRO ZW IV 14/5/1-138.

[37].        Quotes from Young, Whitby to Goldie, 4 January 1825 in Melmore (1942). Hinderwell’s specimen is described by Young (1820: 456): ‘the top of the cranium is elevated, and the sockets for the eyes are remarkably distinct.’

[38].        Young (1825).

[39].        ‘It is …’, Young to YPS, 10 January 1825 in Melmore (1942); Phillips’s notes from the meeting of 8 February 1825 YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1; Phillips’s impressions of the specimen can be found in OUM Phillips Box 81 folder 12: Yorkshire Coast notes 1824, 1825, 1826, 1 & 2 February 1825 where he also notes the number of vertebrae in the society’s other prized specimen – a fine ichthyosaur [136 vertebrae]. Another specimen with 144 vertebrae had recently been sent to Edinburgh. ‘This important …’, Anon. (1825b); WL&PS (1825) Annual Report, 2.

[40].        WL&PS (1825) Annual Report, 2. Young (1825: 80).

[41].        Browne (1949: 13).

[42].        Young to [Goldie?] 3 July 1827 in Melmore (1942). YPS (1828) Annual Report for 1827. See also Young, Whitby to Goldie, York, 22 February 1825 in Melmore (1942).

[43].        Phillips to Vernon, 10 June 1825 in Melmore (1943a); Phillips, Leeds to Vernon, York, 2 July 1825 in Melmore (1943a).

[44].        Salmond’s talk, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 13, Diary 1825-1826, 7 March 1826. ‘Alligator’s skeleton brought to the museum’s conversation meeting’ YPS Daybook of John Phillips, 11 April 1826; depiction of alligator by Mr Hepworth [John Doughty Hepworth of York?] mentioned by Phillips in YPS Daybook, 6 April 1826; Goldie presents an alligator, Crocodilus lucius, skeleton and mounted specimen from ‘Guiana’, July 1826, YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826. For ‘a collection …’, YPS (1825) Annual Report for 1824.

[45].        On Bristol casts, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1, General Meeting, 3 October 1826; YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826. YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1, General Meeting, 12 October 1826. YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1, General Meeting, 1 July 1828 at which Miller’s letter informing the YPS of the completion of the casts was read. For ‘to have …’YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826.

[46].        For precious relics, see Anon. (1839b) and Anon. (1842a). YPS was not informed of Bird’s plesiosaur prior to the sale; plants were, however, purchased for them, WL&PS (1829) Annual Report7. For evidence of local lack of information see George Young, Whitby to Phillips, 4 March 1830, OUM Phillips 1830/8; John Dunn to Phillips, 25 June 1831, OUM Phillips 1831/8. Rudwick (1988: 259) shows there were no members of the Geological Society in any of the Yorkshire coastal towns in 1835.

[47].        ‘It lay …’, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1, 5 July 1831. This entry refers to the finder as Brown Lyell but this is an error. Dunn is quite clear in the account given to Murchison that it was found by ‘Mr Marshall, of Whitby … near where that gentleman had formerly discovered the remains of a crocodile’, Dunn (1831: 336). Benton and Taylor (1984: 413). For its display, SL&PS Minutes of Council, 8 April 1831.

[48]. ‘Our specimen …’, Dunn to Phillips, 25 June 1831, OUM Phillips 1831/8. On size see Dunn (1831: 336).

[49].        SL&PS Minutes of Council, 13 December 1833 & 14 April 1848.

[50].        Williamson (1837: 232).

[51].        For ‘know its value’, Clark, Whitby to Sedgwick, Cambridge, 25 September 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/107. ‘Among …’, Handbill dated 7 August 1841, copy in the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge (original in Cambridge University Archives). Minutes of Council, 2 April 1841, WL&PS. Benton and Taylor (1984: 414). Osborne (1998: 180) reprints the handbill and some of the correspondence at UCAM though Clark’s difficult signature should be read Wm. Clark and not J.W. or J.M.W. Clark.

[52].        WL&PS Minutes of Council, 2 April and 11 May 1841.

[53].        For ‘to purchase …’, SL&PS Minutes of Council, Monday 12 April 1841. Johnstone, London to SL&PS, Tuesday 27 April 1841, read at the council meeting, SL&PS Minutes of Council, 10 May 1841.

[54].        William Clark (5 April 1788-15 September 1869) was responsible for founding a considerable museum of comparative anatomy at the University. For student contemporary, see Clark and Hughes (1890: 1: 81). Peter Murray (c.1783-1864), a Scarborough doctor.

[55].        ‘It far …’, Clark, Whitby to Sedgwick, 25 September 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/107. Louis Hunton the pioneering Yorkshire geologist had died in 1838, see Torrens & Getty (1984: 66). Young, Whitby to Sedgwick, 2 September 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/106. In 1867, Whitby Museum acquired ‘a handsome present of a large specimen of Ichthyosaurus acutirostrum, which was formerly in the possession of the late Mr Louis Hunton of Boulby’ which may have been the same specimen, Simpson, Whitby to Phillips, 12 February 1867, OUM Belem/21.

[56].        Bright, Bath to De la Beche, 4 November 1841, NMW 109. HL&PS Minutes 1834-52, 8 May 1842 HRO DSL 2.

[57].        The offer to Sedgwick is mentioned in Young’s later letter attempting to clear up claims of dishonourable conduct, Young, Whitby to Sedgwick, 24 November 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/111a. On the museum, WL&PS (1841) Annual Report19.

[58].        Green, Whitby to Clark, Cambridge, 27 October 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/111b; Green & Partners, Whitby to Clark, Cambridge, 3 November 1841,UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/111c.

[59].        Insolent letter, Young to Sedgwick, 22 November 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/111a enc. ‘You are …’ and ‘We had …’, Young and Ripley, Whitby to Clark, 6 November 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/111. For ‘you are …’, Clark, Cambridge to Young and Ripley [draft copy], 8 November 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/111enc.

[60].        John Cuthard (a Whitby grocer acting for Green & Partners) to Clark, Cambridge, 13 November 1841, UCAM Add 7652/ID/111d.

[61].        Young to Sedgwick, 24 November 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/111a 

[62].        The battle with the Sowerbys lasted through most of the 1820s. This episode is unravelled by Cleevely (1974: 437-8).

[63].        For example, Dowson (1854: 78-88).

[64].        ‘Lias fossils …’, Simpson, Whitby to T.W. Embleton, 16 August 1842, in Davis (1889: 163). BM crocodile, Young, Whitby to Sedgwick, 11 March 1842, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/121. Liverpool and Cambridge crocodiles, Green, Whitby to Sedgwick, 11 February, 23 & 28 March 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/121a-c. Tarras or Trass, a light-coloured variety of tuff used in making cement. For ‘nearly …’, Young, Whitby to Sedgwick, 10 February 1841, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/79.

[65].        Crosbie also spelt Crosby. Young, Whitby to Sedgwick, 11 March 1842, UCAM Adds. 7652/ID/121.

[66].        Revd George Ernest Howman, later Little, (c.1797-1878), see Torrens (1995: 266). ‘I found …’, Magazine of Natural History1 (NS), 1837: 532. ‘A number …’, SL&PS Minutes of Council, 18 August 1836.

[67].        For ‘a noble …’, WL&PS (1847) Annual Report25. Charlesworth (1844). Benton and Taylor (1984: 415).

[68].        WL&PS Annual Report25.

[69].        Phillips (1854: 54); Benton and Taylor (1984: 416) who also list other later finds; Taylor (1992: 49).

[70].        The great ichthyosaur, Anon. (1856). Hunton’s specimen, Browne (1949: 32). Leeds’ prize, Mayhall (1861: 274). For background to Owen’s report, Desmond (1989: 324).

[71].        Browne (1949: 13).

[72].        Hemingway (1958: 17). Browne (1946: 258).

[73].        Torrens and Getty (1984: 59, 61) give a useful insight into the relations between alum making and geology.

[74].        It is impossible to gauge comparative values, then and now. Contemporary incomes give some indication and show the extraordinary value of fossils. These issues are discussed by Taylor and Torrens (1987: 146).

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).