It is likely that dinosaurs have been found throughout man's existence, yet only comparatively recently, in Victorian England, was scientific study applied to the fossils. The first dinosaur discovered in Europe was Plateosaurus discovered in Southern Germany in 1837. The first dinosaur remains discovered in America were a few assorted teeth found by a geological survey of Montana in 1855, followed in 1858 by Hadrosaurus, a dinosaur discovered in Haddonfield, New Jersey. The first dinosaur remains from on the Isle of Wight were found in 1829, and a complete Hypsilophodon skeleton was discovered on the Island in 1832.
Who, then, were the Isle of Wight's, and therefore the world's, first dinosaur hunters?
William Buckland (1784-1856)
The eccentric Dean of Westminster Abbey and Professor of Geology at Oxford University, was the first person to name and scientifically describe a dinosaur, Megalosaurus1, in 1824. This dinosaur was found in Oxfordshire, yet in 1829 William Buckland was the first person to discover and describe dinosaur remains on the Isle of Wight. This was an Iguanodon pedal phalanx, found at Yaverland in 1829.
In 1832 Buckland spent the summer at Yaverland, and found five boxes worth of fossils, the first Island dinosaur bones to be part
of a dinosaur collection. William Buckland also had a complete Hypsilophodon skeleton in his collection from the Brighstone area, but failed to recognise it as a new species, believing it to be a baby Iguanodon.
Gideon Algernon Mantell (1790-1852)
A physician and surgeon who lived in Lewes, East Sussex, and first discovered the dinosaur he named Iguanodon in 1822. Several versions of the story of how he discovered the first bone exist, the most popular is that his wife, Mary Ann Mantell, found a large, unusual teeth in a stone pile used for road building outside Ringmer while he was attending a patient there. She showed them to her husband, who was unable to identify it, yet knew enough geology to know that the rocks were from the Cretaceous.
He located the quarry in Cuckfield from which the teeth had come, and from there found some of the rest of the remains of an animal which he believed was like a prehistoric iguana, which he named Iguanodon, meaning Iguana Tooth. He published his discovery in 1825, becoming the second person to publish discovery of a dinosaur. He did not see appreciable remains of an Iguanodon until 1834, when he was given a sandstone block covered Iguanodon bones, nicknamed the "Mantel-Piece".
Mantell wrote several books on geology and palaeontology, including "Geological excursions round the Isle of Wight and along the adjacent coast of Dorsetshire" in 1854, and the article "Notes On The Wealden Strata of the Isle of Wight,
with an account of the bones of Iguanodon and other reptiles discovered at Brook Point and Sandown Bay" in the second "Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London" in 1846. The dinosaur Iguanodon mantelli is named after him.
Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892)
Sir Richard Owen is perhaps most famous for inventing the term "Dinoauria" in 1842 to describe the first three dinosaurs to be discovered; Buckland's Megalosaurus and Mantell's Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus. He was instrumental in establishing the British Museum of Natural History, now known as the Natural History Museum, having been appointed Superintendent of the natural history departments of the British Museum in 1863, he was instrumental behind creating the new museum, which was opened in 1881.
Owen also named some Isle of Wight dinosaurs, including Poekilopleuron pusillus and Polacanthus foxii, named after William Fox. He went dinosaur hunting on the Island on a number of occasions, and was a good friend of Reverend Fox, and even wrote to Prime Minister Gladstone on Fox's behalf.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Both he and his theory of Evolution are world-known, and remain as famous and controversial now as when first published in his "On The Origin Of Species" in 1859. Although he did not discover any dinosaurs himself, his theory of Evolution has had a major impact in the way dinosaurs are viewed.
Charles Darwin started writing "The Origin Of The Species" whilst at Sandown, very near Yaverland, and returned to the Island, this time to Alfred Lord Tennyson in Freshwater, in July 1868 to recover from the gastric complaint that had interrupted his work on "The Descent Of Man"2. It is likely that whilst on the Island that he went dinosaur hunting, and if not, its fame as a prime location for fossils would doubtlessly have been known to him.
Reverend William Fox (1813-1881)
Fox became curate of the village of Brighstone3 in 1862, the perfect place from which to study the Wealden Cliffs of the south-west coast of the Island. Although Fox was not a professional scientist, his impact on the study and discovery of dinosaurs is beyond computation.
He personally discovered many new dinosaurs, including Aristosuchus, Calamospondylus and Polacanthus, and was the first to realise that Hypsilophodon was a dinosaur species in its own right, and not a juvenile Iguanodon. He has more dinosaurs named after him than any other Englishman.
Dinosaurs were his passion, so much so that he gained the respect, and friendship, of scientists such as Sir Richard Owen and John Hulke4. Fox was described as putting "always the bones first and the parish next", and wished for a permanent position in Brighstone, saying "I cannot leave this place while I have any money left to live on, I take such deep joy in hunting
for old dragons."
Although Fox was unable to retain his position in Brighstone, he stayed on the Island until he died. His vast dinosaur collection is now part of the Natural History Museum collection.
Samuel Husbands Beckles (1814-1890)
Although he mainly went dinosaur hunting in Sussex, he did visit the Island on several occasions. He was the first person to discover dinosaur footprints on the Island, which he described in "On Some Natural Casts of Footprints from the Wealden of the Isle of Wight and Swanage", published in 1862 in both The Geologist and the Quarterly Journal Of The Geological Society of London.
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)
Huxley was very much in favour of Charles' Darwin's theory of Evolution, and was nicknamed "Darwin's Bulldog". Not only did Huxley write "On Hypsilophodon foxii, a new Dinosaurian from the Wealden of the Isle of
Wight" in the Quarterly Journal Of The Geological Society Of London in 1869, in 1870 he proposed the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs, a theory which, despite being ridiculed at the time of publication, is widely supported today.
Harry Govier Seeley (1839-1909)
Famous for writing "Dragons Of The Air", which when published in 1901, was the first popular account of pterosaurs, Seeley also described many of the Island's dinosaurs, including Ornithopsis, Ornithodesmus and Sphenospondylus. Perhaps his largest contribution to palaeontology was in recognising that dinosaurs could be divided into two groups, the Ornithischia and the Saurischia, depending on differences in the construction of the pelvis.
Dinosaurs Of The Isle Of Wight
- Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight
- Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight: Why The Island Is Special
- Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight: Dinosaur Hunters
- Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight: Ornithischians
- Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight: Sauropods
- Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight: Theropods
- Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight: Pterosaurs
- Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight: Live From Dinosaur Island