Record

CodePX685
Dates1799-1847
Person NameAnning; Mary (1799-1847); Fossil hunter
SurnameAnning
ForenamesMary
EpithetFossil hunter
ActivityFossil hunter. Found, collected and sold fossils in Lyme Regis along with her mother Mary 'Molly' Anning and brother Joseph Anning at their Fossil Shop.

Mary's father Richard Anning died at age 44, leaving the family to provide for themselves which they attempted to do through continuing Richard's fossil hunting work. The family were on parish relief between 1811 to 1816. Between 1809-1811 Joseph Anning discovered their first major find - an Ichthyosaurus in Lyme Regis, with Mary Anning discovering the remainder of the skeleton. This specimen was sold to Henry Hoste Henley, who then deposited it with William Buckley of the London Museum of Natural History. Bullock's collection was sold to the British Museum in 1819 (the skull is specimen number R 1158).

Mary Anning took a prominent role in running the family business from c1825, when Joseph Anning became a full time upholsterer. Prior to this, Mary had made many fossil finds for her Mother and brother to sell.

Mary's second major discovery was a 9 foot Plesiosaurus, and was described to the largest audience yet at a Geological Society Meeting on 20 Feb 1824. It was purchased by the first Duke of Buckingham. The Duke of Conybeare was named in the associated paper, whilst Mary was not. Mary's third major find was the discovery of the fossil flying reptile Pterodactylus (specimen number R 1034) in 1828, followed in early 1829 her second complete Plesiosaurus (specimen number R 1313). Geologist William Buckland wrote to Charles Konig, Keeper of Geology and Mineraology at the British Museum, saying he had advised Mary to offer the specimens to the Museum. Charles Konig wrote to Mary stating that for the sum demanded, Mary's account of it being superior to that of the Duke of Buckingham's specimen must not be exaggerated (this is documented, in chronological order, in letters DF PAL/100/2/5, 6, 4, 1 and 2).

From 1829, Mary worked closely with William Buckland on his work on coprology. Mary's first and perhaps only visit to London, 7-12 July 1829, is documented in the MSS Owen Collection (OC 62.1/153/4). She stayed with the Murchisons, and visited the Geological Society and British Museum, to whose work and collections she much contributed.

Mary's fourth major discovery was the fossil fish Squaloraja. Only the tail section still survives, in the Philpot collection at the Oxford University Museum (specimen number J 3097). Her fifth and last major find was the Plesiosaurus macrocephalus in December 1830, which was purchased by Lord William Willoughby Cole. Lord Cole also purchaed an Ichthyosaurus, also found by Mary in 1830, which eventually arrived at the Natural History Museum via Oxford University Museum (specimen number R 1336).

Mary herself, and her shop, became a draw for visitors to Lyme Regis. Contemporay, male, accounts differ in their opinion of her - in 1832 Gideon Mantel described her shop 'dirty' and that Mary was a 'prim, pedantic, vinegar looking, thin female'. In 1837 Ludwig Leichhardt wrote how he had the pleasure of making her acquaintance, 'a strong, energetic spinster of about 28 years of age, tanned and masculine in expression' (Mary was actually 37 years of age at this time). In 1844 the King of Saxony visited the shop. The King's physcian recorded the visit, noting how the shop was 'completely filled with the fossil productions of the coast...I was anxious to write down the address, and the woman who kept the shop...with a firm hand wrote her name in my pocket book and added 'I am well known throughout the whole of Europe' '.

Mary's fortunes had changed by the 1840s, as her shop suffered a reduction in sales. In 1838 Mary was granted a special annuity of £25 a year which was provided from £200 raised by private subscription at the 1835 British Association for the Advancement of Science and from £300 that either Buckland or Richard Owen secured from the Prime Minister William Lamb. In 1842 Mary's Mother died and by 1845 Mary had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After her diagnosis, the Geological Society of London also organised a subscription for her.

She was elected in July 1846 as the first Honorary Member of the new County Museum in Dorchester.

She died 9 March 1847.

Contemporaries of the Annings include the fossil 'gatherers' the Philpot family of 'three maiden sisters' and Life Guards Officer Lt.-Col Thomas James Birch.

A portrait of Mary Anning, possibly by William Gray, painted c1842, is held at the Natural History Museum, London.

Mary Anning's personal archive was kept together after her death and was acquired by Lord William Willoughby Cole in 1885, who then passed it to Richard Owen, where it became part of Owen's archive. C D Sherborn became responsible for preserving the Owen archive, however he only preserved items he believed were scientifically important and the rest of the material was dispersed. Therefore, only a few Anning items remain in the MSS Owen Collection, which is held in the Special Collections at the Natural History Museum, London. Historical records about Anning can also be found in the Natural History Museum Archives, British Museum Archives, County Museum in Dorchester, and Ellen S Woodward Collection at McGill University, Canada.
RelationshipsDaughter of Mary Anning née Moore and Richard Anning, and sister of Joseph Anning
Add to My Items