Every once in a while, I come across a figure from Victorian history who sheds new light on the period as they challenged norms and broke the mold. Mary Anning is certainly one such example.
Mary Anning: Early Life
Mary Anning was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, as seaside town in South West England. From the time she was just five years old, Mary’s father—an amateur fossil collector—taught her how to hunt for fossils along the neighboring beach. This was certainly an uncommon pastime for young girls during the Georgian period, but Mary Anning's curiosity continued to grow over the years as she learned from her father. In 1810, Mary’s father died suddenly, leaving the family destitute and Mary’s mother, Molly, urged Mary to sell her discoveries to help the family stay afloat.
Mary Anning’s Discoveries
Shortly after her father’s death, Mary and her brother discovered the first Ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that lived during the Jurassic period, nearly 200 million years ago. It was a groundbreaking find that stirred up the scientific community. Mary was a mere twelve years old at the time.
Later, in 1823, Mary Anning unearthed the first fossil showing a complete Plesiosaurus. But even as Mary was becoming widely known for her remarkable finds, she was rarely credited for her discoveries. To make ends meet, she sold many of her fossils to male scientists who would often pass them off as their own discoveries. She was even refused membership to the Geological Society of London, which did not accept women until 1904.
Mary Anning at the Natural History Museum
Today, many Mary Anning discoveries are on display at the Natural History Museum in London. These include some of the fossils Mary Anning is famous for, including her Ichthyosaur and Plesiosaurus. Although it took Anning much of her adult life to gain notoriety in her field, today she is celebrated as an unsung hero…but perhaps she will remain “unsung” no longer?
Films About Mary Anning
The Mary Anning story is now being shared on the big screen with films like Ammonite starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan and the biopic Mary Anning & the Dinosaur Hunters, which traverses the evolution of this gifted paleontologist from young girlhood to groundbreaking scientist. While Ammonite portrays Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison as forbidden lovers, many historians dispute that the two were anything more than friends. Disputed love affair aside, the film will hopefully inspire viewers to learn more about this remarkable woman.
Below is a shot from Ammonite which brought to mind some of the scenery that inspired my English Fog scent blend with notes of beautiful bergamot, clove, and ylang ylang.