Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Like Father, Like Son? - Zoophagy #2

Photo courtesy of
Last week's post looked at the great British eccentric, Jack Buckland, on his mission to eat exotic animals - but what is perhaps not surprising is that his father was pretty weird too! The Very Rev. Dc. William Buckland (1784 - 1856) was a theologian, geologist and zoologist. Perhaps it's some measure of their family life, that it was William who introduced is son to the idea of zoophagy (see last week's post).
In his early life, to prove his theory that bird droppings made excellent fertilizer, William used droppings to write the word "guano" over the lawn of his Oxford college. In due course when summer came, the letters were plain to read from a first floor window.
The Very Rev. Dc. William Buckland.
Another indication of eccentricity was that one night Dc. Buckland was journeying to London when he got lost. His solution was to dismount from his horse, and trusting his extraordinary sense of taste, licked a handful of soil and proclaimed, "Uxbridge!" and then went on his way.

A man of many talents, as well as being a theologian, Dc. Buckland was a palaeontologist and zoologist. Strange as it seems these disciplines are not unrelated because he studied fossil records and from that evidence proposed a 'gap theory' of creation.

This theory tried to reconcile the geological evidence that the earth was very old, with the genesis account of creation. Buckland proposed there had been two distinct periods of creation, separated by an unimaginable period of time. Indeed, in his early career he thought he'd found geological evidence of the biblical flood, work later built on by Louis Agassiz who suggested there'd been an ice age.
A contemporary cartoon of Dc.Buckland investigating a site of scientific interest.
For Buckland's work with the fossil record he was made a member of the Royal Society but this eccentric's talents seem to know no end as he also became president of the Geological Society. He analysed fossilised bones to describe a creature he named "Megalosaurus", which later became recognised as the first scientifically catalogued dinosaur. As a measure of his eccentricity, Buckland preferred to do his excavations and digging wearing full academic dress!
A model Megalosaurus - photo courtesy of Mike Pennington.
Buckland married another fossil enthusiast, Mary. One story goes that she helped him decipher fossil footprints found in a lump of sandstone, by spreading flour over the kitchen table. She then let their pet tortoise walk across the table top and then Buckland was able to recognise the similarity of the footprint.

It is perhaps a fitting end, that when William Buckland died, when the gravedigger started turning over the plot a layer of Jurassic limestone was discovered, which had to be cleared with explosives.

            Another eminent geologist penned the following poem in tribute:

Where shall we our great Professor inter
That in peace may rest his bones?
If we hew him a rocky sepulchre
He’ll rise and break the stones
And examine each stratum that lies around
For he’s quite in his element underground
Fossil fish - photo courtesy of FairlyBuoyant.
All of this leaves me wondering how much upbringing influences children? Do you think Jack would have been less interested in eating giraffes, if his father William had been more 'normal'? And what is 'normal' anyway?
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