William Buckland is more properly known as the Rev. Dr. William Buckland. He was a theologian hailing from England and later on he became the dean of none other than Westminster. Apart from his career and service as a well-respected theologian, he was not just a man of God but a man of science as well. He had been a palaeontologist and geologist, and these fields of specialization lead to his detailed documentation of the dinosaur fossil now known as the “megalosaurus.” He had been a proponent of what is known as the “Gap Theory” which was, in a way, a theory that reconciled biblical accounts of creation with the scientific discoveries made by modern man.
Early Life and Educational Background
He was born in Axminster, Devon, on the 12th of March in 1784. He was the eldest son of then Rector of Templeton and Trusham Charles Buckland, and Elizabeth Buckland. It is said that William Buckland’s interest in fossils had been tapped by his birthplace’s proximity to quarries in Axminster which was then bountiful with fossil remains. His father had a keen interest in the development of roads and William Buckland was often taken on trips near the quarries which is why he had become so familiar with such scenes.
Initially, he had been home schooled and it was his father who had been teaching him. In 1797, however, he was entered to Blundell’s school which was in Tiverton to receive a more comprehensive education which would prepare him for his days in the university. A year after his time in Blundell’s, he was moved to St. Mary’s College in Winchester where he was able to progress academically while still being able to retain his love for natural science and history.
After some coaching from his uncle, William Buckland won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College in 1801, and this was where he began his Oxford career. Three years later, he had obtained his BA degree through his scholarship and had also taken pupils to teach. He had never neglected his studies, but he was also able to make time for furthering his knowledge on scientific matters by attending lectures on geology given by John Kidd, as well as anatomy lectures given by Christopher Pegge. In 1808, William Buckland obtained his MA, became a fellow in the college he attended, and was even ordained as a priest that same year.
During the years 1808 to 1812, William Buckland went on numerous geological excursions on horseback to different parts of Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland. He had taken his favourite black mare on his journeys and examined sections of strata. He even took home specimen for research purposes during those excursions.
John Kidd resigned from his post as the Reader of Mineralogy, and it was William Buckland who became his successor. He had a colourful personality which he let shine during his lectures, and that gained him even more students. Apart from being a well-loved lecturer of mineralogy, he had also contributed as a curator of sorts of the Old Ashmolean building. He even added his private collection of fossils and rocks which he had kept in his old room back in Corpus Christi College.
In 1818, he was able to persuade the Prince Regent to bestow him a second reading, and it was Geology. During that time, his studies had kept him very busy and he was involved in justifying the inclusion of geology while keeping in line with the biblical accounts of Creation as well as the Noachian flood. During his days, fossils of animals were believed to be from the great deluge and he had spent a lot of time understanding the timeline between the great flood and the existence of the animals whose fossils he had been examining.
On January 18, 1823, William Buckland discovered a skeleton which he had then named as the “Red Lady of Paviland” since the remains were found in the Paviland Cave. The name was because he had first thought that the remains had been that of a prostitute in the area, and his discovery had been the oldest and most anatomically modern found in the U.K. While he had discovered the strata in the same area where bones of mammoths and other extinct animals had been, Buckland had shared his views with Georges Cuvier who also believed that there were no humans who lived the same time as extinct animals did. He then came to the conclusion that the skeleton had probably been buried in a grave made by earlier people. Years later and after carbon-data tests, the “Red Lady of Paviland” was proven to be a male from around 33,000 years ago.
There was a time when Buckland had taken great interest in the theory of Louis Agassiz and in 1838, he had a trip to Switzerland to meet Agassiz himself. In 1840, these two scientists found evidence of former glaciation. In the same year, Buckland became the Geological Society’s president once more and despite the hostile reaction to the theory he had proposed, he had already been convinced that glaciation was the origin of many of the surface deposits which were in Britain then.
In December of 1825 when he had also accepted the Stoke of Charity in Hampshire, he married Mary Morland. While she had been only 28 then, she already had her own collection of fossils and had even contributed to the works of both Buckland and Cuvier. They had a shared passion for geology, and even their honeymoon tour had destinations only geology lovers would plan on going to. They had nine children, but only 5 survived to adulthood.
In 1850, he was afflicted with a disease which had greatly disabled him and lead to his death six years later. From post-mortem findings, there was a tubercular infection which spread to his brain. Interestingly, the plot which had been reserved for his grave had a Jurassic limestone which needed to be blown up before proper excavation could be done and this was seen as a kid of final jest from the geologist.