Underground Reading: Shoe-Bar Stratton by Joseph Bushnell Ames
Underground Reading: Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips

The House of Buckland

Buckland and the octopusFew figures are as revered in our household as William Buckland , D.D., F.R.S., Dean of Westminster, President of the Geological Society and first President of the British Association (1784 - 1856).

He was a wonderfully eccentric genius -  trained his horse to smell out mineral deposits, attempted to devour one of every species (seriously!), ate the heart of a king and mentored Britain's greatest generation of scientific minds. 

Nowadays, Buckland is remembered primarily for his bonkers behaviour and secondarily for his scientific contributions.* But in all aspects of his life, the dude was stone cold awesome. (That's Victorian slang.)

The home of William Buckland, as described by Thomas I. Sopwith, who visited it in the 1830's:

"Dr. Buckland's house is one of those venerable fabrics which form the principal quadrangle of Christ Church. As soon as the old-fashioned door is opened, abundant evidence is presented that the residence is that of a zealous disciple of Geology. A wide and spacious staircase has its floor and even part of its steps covered with ammonites, fossil trees and bones, and various other geological fragments, and in the several apartments piles upon piles of books and papers are spread upon tables, chairs, sofas, book- stands, and no small portion on the floor itself"

Mr. Sopwith returned several times. His description of a later visit:

"Dr. Buckland's house is truly characteristic as the residence of a geologist and scholar... In the breakfast-room was a series of piles of books, boxes, and papers; in short, such a combination of book-stands, chairs, sideboards, boxes, all blended together in one mass of confusion, which I was informed had not been invaded by the dust-cloth for the last five years. The drawing-room at Dr. Buckland's had its share of variety, and the great interest of a tolerable deal of confusion through which a person might range a whole day and find some new index every moment pointing to weeks and months and years of occupation. One of the round tables is formed entirely of coprolites. Another presents on its highly polished surface all the variety of lava, etc, found at Mount Etna."

The author goes on to describe Buckland's family life:

Buckland and his wife had a large family, nine altogether, four of whom were buried in the vault in Christ Church Cathedral. The surviving children were all blessed with excellent health, good tempers, and loving dispositions. If they never quarrelled, the reason must have been that they never had idle playtime. There was always something to do, their animals to feed, or their gardens to tend, or, if a wet day came, they all adjourned to the dining-room and sat round the big table helping Mrs. Buckland to cut and paste cardboard into strong neat little trays for specimens, while one of the party read aloud, generally from a book of travel or Arctic voyage.

That's all the more fun when you learn that the family's pet animals included a tortoise, an eagle, a monkey and a bear. Good luck, kids!

All quotes and image from The Life and Correspondance of William Buckland by Elizabeth Oke Gordon (London: John Murray, 1894).


*Having read the man's journals, Anne thinks his appalling handwriting may have something to do with this.