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BUCKLAND, William (1784-1856)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 378 LDGSL/56
Held at: Geological Society of London
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Full title: BUCKLAND, William (1784-1856)
Date(s): [1810-1845]
Level of description: Series
Extent: 17 files
Name of creator(s): Buckland | William | 1784-1856 | geologist and dean of Westminster


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born in 1784, in Axminster, Devon, William Buckland had developed an interest in natural history and geology whilst exploring the local woods and quarries with his father Charles Buckland, the rector of Templeton and Trusham. Buckland was initially home schooled by his father, but in 1797 entered Blundell's School in Tiverton, enrolling the following year at St Mary's College, Winchester.

With the help of his uncle, John Buckland, he entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford, as a scholar on the Exeter Foundation, obtaining his BA in classics and theology three years later. Buckland was elected Fellow of the College in 1808 when he was ordained. During this time he had been attending the lectures of John Kidd, reader in mineralogy at Oxford and when Kidd resigned in 1813, Buckland succeeded him. That same year he became a Member of the Geological Society. In 1818 he was appointed to the new readership in geology and his inaugural lecture of 1819 'Vindiciae geologicae', compiled with the help of his mentor the Rev William Daniel Conybeare, explained that the facts of geology were conversant with the record of the creation of the Earth found in the Bible - notably the presence of older gravels (diluvium) which could not be explained through normal river deposits and therefore provided evidence of a 'universal deluge', that is Noah's flood.

Buckland's most important early geological work was on fossil cave faunas, principally his excavations of the Kirkdale Cavern, Yorkshire. There he discovered the bones of hyenas and other exotic animals such as an elephant, hippomatus and rhinocerus. His theory that the cave was a hyena den and the exotic animals had been dragged in as their prey was backed up by his experiments on and observation of modern hyenas. The results were published as 'Reliquiae diluvianae' (1823), and his discoveries at Kirkdale won him the Royal Society's Copley medal in 1822.

Due to his modest income from his two readerships and teaching, by 1825 Buckland was considering leaving Oxford for a more lucrative position, such as vicar, elswhere. However with the help of influential friends such as Sir Robert Peel, Buckland managed to obtain the position of canon to Christ Church which had an income of five times his previous salary. In December of that year he married Mary Morland, who had been helping him with his work and also illustrating his papers for a number of years.

In the field, Buckland notoriously dressed in a rather eccentric manner, always wearing his academic gown and carrying a large blue bag from which he would draw out his latest finds such as fossil faeces of giant marine reptiles. Buckland had found and identified these 'Coprolites', the term he coined for fossil faeces, in Lyme Regis when he worked with the fossil collector Mary Anning.

Buckland continued to research and publish over the next two decades, notably his influential treatise 'Geology and Mineralogy' of 1836, in which he abandoned his former belief in the geological effects deriving from the biblical flood. Indeed after a visit to Switzerland to see his friend Louis Agassiz in 1838, the Swiss naturalist had convinced him that glaciation had been more extensive in the past - leading Buckland to reinterpret his early theories and observations of a universal flood as evidence instead for the new glacial theory of an ice age. Buckland was extremely active within the Geological Society, serving twice as its President between 1824-1826 and 1839-1841, and winning the Wollaston Medal (the highest award bestowed by the Society) in 1848.

In 1845, Buckland had become dissatisfied with academic life in Oxford and accepted the appointment of dean of Westminster, coupled with the rectorship of Islip, near Oxford, although he still continued to lecture on geology in the university town. However by 1850 his diminishing mental health, possibly resulting from a fall from a coach a few years earlier, prevented Buckland from performing his duties as dean or professor. He retired to Islip but was later placed in The Retreat, a mental asylum in Clapham where he died on 14 August 1856.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of William Buckland, [1810-1845], comprising:

Manuscripts and illustrations relating to William Buckland's published work, notably the lithographs of the skeletal remains of extinct animals found in cave deposits intended for the proposed second part of 'Reliquiae diluvianae', 1825-1829; Letters from Roderick Impey Murchison to William Buckland, 1827-1841; Seven maps with geological colouring and notes by William Buckland, [1810-1840].

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The original arrangement of the LDGSL series was not hierarchical. Material by the same creator/author was not collected together, instead each file or distinct item was given a different reference (not always sequential). In order to make them easier to find, where possible the papers relating to Buckland are placed together, however there are still a number of items relating to Buckland throughout the collection.

Conditions governing access:

Access is by appointment only, daily readership fee is applicable unless you are a member of the Society. Please contact the Archivist for further information.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies, subject to copyright and the condition of the original, may be supplied. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Archivist.

Finding aids:

Online detailed catalogue will be available shortly.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

The majority of Buckland's papers and collections are held by the Museum of Natural History, Oxford University, however other material held at various institutions includes: Letters from churchmen, 1833-1849, Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Western Manuscripts; 55 letters from Sir Robert Peel, 1836-1849, Yale University Libraries: Beinecke Library; c.300 items of correspondence, 1818-1854, Royal Society; c 700 items of correspendence and papers, 1800-1956, Devon Record Office; Drawings and lecture notes, British Geological Survey; Correspondence, 1818-1849, British Library; Correspondence, 1825-1836, National Library of Wales; Correspondence, notes and papers, 1814-1849, Cambridge University: Fitzwilliam Museum; Correspondence with James Forbes, St Andrews University Library; 17 letters to Sir William Hooker, 1832, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Library and Archives; Letters, Linnean Society; 84 letters to Gideon Algernon Mantell, 1821-1849, National Library of New Zealand: Alexander Turnbull Library; Correspondence with Sir Charles Murray, National Records of Scotland; Letters to the Marquess of Northampton, 1831-1849, Castle Ashby; 15 letters to Sir Richard Owen, Royal College of Surgeons of England; 22 letters from Joseph Pentland, 1820-1822, Nottingham University Library, Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections; c.50 items of correspondence with Lord Playfair, Sir Robert Peel and others, Imperial College Archives and Corporate Records Unit; 17 letters to Sir Walter and Sir John Trevelyan, Newcastle upon Tyne University: Special Collections; Correspondence, Bristol University Information Services: Special Collections; Letters, 1835-1838, Natural History Museum.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Obituary, published in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London vol 13 (1857). Description by Caroline Lam

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
July 2012

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