She sells seashells by the seashore...

This is us in Lyme Regis. I was reading a sign near the beach about a lady called Mary Anning, born 1799. It was just a brief paragraph about her, telling me she would visit this very beach, with her dog Tray, to collect fossils. Unfortunately Tray was killed in a landslide whilst gathering fossils, narrowly avoiding Mary. Rather aghast at this thought I decided to read up more about this, and her. He was a little rough coated black and white terrier, and he died inches from her feet on the beach. Mary was devastated, being her constant companion whilst she made the trip to the beach for each new tide to check for treasure. There is a beautiful portrait of them both below, Mary is dressed in a long cumbersome dress with matching bonnet, and is clutching a wicker basket and a hammer. Tray is sleeping next to her, with the beach in the background. 

Although she sold fossils to tourists to get by, she was also out looking for dinosaur bones. A palaeontologist in the making. Her and her brother dug up an ichthyosaur skeleton on the beach. As you do. Hard to imagine these creatures stomping around Lyme. But most of her finds came from the soft loose rock layers in the actual cliff face and after particularly bad weather storms would erode away parts of the cliff face to expose possible finds. Being very soft loose rock this was a very dangerous activity, as it could give way like an avalanche and bury you. Perilous work but it was obviously something she excelled at. 

Her finds during her lifetime redefined what people thought about the world, in an era when people still believed that God created the world. She wasn't just a fossil collector. She was a renowned paleontologist. Geologists and Paleontologists would visit her from all around the world for her advice on papers, new bones, to go on hunts with her. She was the best, and they knew it. She ran a little fossil shop in Lyme Regis but never really made much money unless she found something big, like a dinosaur, and then would live off the proceeds of this until her next big find. Obviously there were vast spells where she found nothing of major importance, and many of her dear friends she met throughout her career would step into help her. Some would sell their fossil collections to raise money for her, another, Henry De La Beche, a Geologist, 
painted the famous Duria Antiquior in 1830 based largely on fossils found by Anning, and gave the proceeds of the sales directly to Mary. 

Sadly, because she was a woman living in an era of fusty men, she was never ever recognised by societies or publications for her work. New finds would be credited to the rich men that bought them. The Royal Geological Society would not allow women members, not even as guests. Mary became very bitter and died poor at 47. She wrote to a friend "The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone."  
When she died, stories about her strange life circulated and gained interest in Society, and like many Greats before and after her, she seems to have reached notoriety to the masses after her death. She is even believed to have inspired the tongue twister "She sells seashells by the Seashore". In 2010, the Royal Society included Mary in a list of the Top Ten British Woman who have influenced the history of Science. An uncredited Author in All The Year Round (a Victorian Magazine about Literacy, published weekly and founded and owned by Charles Dickens) wrote in 1865: "The carpenters daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it." 

Artwork by Jemima Williams. A Podcast about Mary can be found by Femmes of Stem here...

Goodbye, until next time...


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