1902 Encyclopedia > William Buckland

William Buckland
English geologist and palaeontologist
(1784-1856)




THE VERY REV. WILLIAM BUCKLAND, (1784-1856), the eldest son of the Rev. Charles Buckland, rector of Templeton and Trusham, in the county of Devon, was born at Axminster in Devonshire, 12th March 1784. He was educated at the ancient Grammar School of Tiverton, and at Winchester, and in 1801 was elected by examination a scholar of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. In 1805 he proceeded to the degree of B. A., and in 1808 he was elected a fellow of his college.

From early boyhood he had exhibited a strong taste for natural science; his innate bias was at this time stimulated by the lectures of Dr Kidd on mineralogy and chemistry, and his attention was thus more especially drawn to the then infant science of geology.

He now devoted himself systematically to an examination of the geological structure of Great Britain, making many excursions on horseback, and investigating both the order of superposition of the strata and the characters of the organic remains which they contained. In 1813, on the resignation of Dr Kidd, he was appointed reader in mineralogy in Oxford; and the interest excited by his lectures was so great that in 1819 a readership in geology was founded and especially endowed by the Treasury, Dr Buckland being the first holder of the new appointment. In 1818 Dr Buckland was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1824 he was chosen president of the Geological Society of London, of which he had long been a fellow.

In 1825 he resigned his fellowship at Corpus, and was presented by his college to the living of Stoke Charity, near Whitchurch, Hants, and in the same year he was appointed by Lord Liverpool to a canonry of the cathedral of Christ Church, Oxford. In the same year, also, he married Mary, the eldest daughter of Mr Benjamin Morland of Sheepstead House, near Abingdon, Berks, by whose high intellectual abilities and excellent judgment he was materially assisted in his literary labours.

During the succeeding twenty years he laboured diligently in various departments of his favourite science, visiting many interesting localities, both at home and abroad, accumulating extensive collections, and communicating numerous memoirs to learned societies. In 1845 he was apppointed by Sir Robert Peel to the vacant deanery of Westminster, and was soon after inducted to the living of Islip, near Oxford, a preferment attached to the deanery.

In 1849 his health began to give way under the increasing pressure of his multifarious duties ; and the latter years of his life were overshadowed by a long and serious illness, arising from disease of the base of the skull, which compelled him to live in retirement, to the deep regret of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. He died 24th August 1856, at the advanced age of seventy-three, and he was buried in a spot which he had himself chosen in Islip churchyard.

Dr Buckland was a man many-sided in his abilities, and of a singularly wide range of attainments. Apart from his published works and memoirs in connection with the special department of geology, he accomplished in other directions much that entitles him to remembrance. Few men, indeed, ever more laboriously and consistently devoted a long life to the advancement of the cause of truth and to the benefit of their fellow-men. In addition to the work entailed upon him by the positions which he at different times held in the Church of England, he entered with great enthusiasm into many practical questions connected with agricultural and sanitary science, and various social and even medical problems. As a teacher he possessed powers of the highest order ; and the university of Oxford is enriched by the large and valuable private collections, illustrative of geology and mineralogy, which he amassed in the course of his active life, and which are now known as the " Buckland Museum."

It is, however, upon his published scientific works that Dr Buckland's great reputation is mainly based. His first great work was the well known Reliquiae Diluvianae, or Observations on the Organic Remains attesting the Action of a Universal Deluge, published in 1823, in which he supplemented his former observations on the remains of extinct animals discovered in the cavern of Kirkdale in Yorkshire, and expounded his views as to the bearing of these and similar cases on the Biblical account of the Deluge. Thirteen years after the publication of the Reliquiae, Dr Buckland was called upon, in accordance with the will of the earl of Bridgewater, to write one of that remarkable series of works, known as the Bridgewater Treatises. The design of these treatises was to exhibit the " power, wisdom, and goodness of God, as manifested in the creation," and none of them was of greater value, as evinced by its vitality, than that on geology and mineralogy. Originally published in 1836, it has gone through four editions, and though not a "manual" of geological science, it still possesses a high value as a rich storehouse of geological and palaeontological facts bearing upon the particular argument which it was designed to illustrate.

Of Dr Buckland's numerous original contributions to the sciences of Geology and Palaeontology, the following may be mentioned as being the most important:—1. "On the Structure of the Alps and adjoining parts of the Continent, and their relation to the Secondary and Transition Bocks of England " (Annals of Phil. 1821) ; 2. "Account of an Assemblage of Fossil Teeth and Bones of Elephant, Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Bear, Tiger, and Hyena, and Sixteen other Animals, discovered in a Cave at Kirkdale in Yorkshire " (Phil. Trans) ; 3. " On a Series of Specimens from the Plastic Clay near Reading, Berks, with observations on the Formation to which these Beds belong" (Trans. Geol. Soc. Lond) ; 4. " On the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield" (Ibid) ; 5. "On the Cycadeoideaî, a Family of Plants found in the Oolite Quarries of the Isle of Portland '' (Ibid); 6. "On the Discovery of a New Species of Ptérodactyle in the Lias of Lyme Regis " (Ibid) ; 7. " On the Discovery of Coprolites or Fossil Faces in the Lias of Lyme Regis, and in other Formations" (Ibid); 8. " On the Evidences of Glaciers in Scotland and the North of England " (Proc. Geol. Soc. Lond); 9. " On the South-Western Coal District of England (joint paper with Mr Conybeare, Trans. Geol. Soc. Lond) ; 10. "On" the Geology of the neighbourhood of "Weymouth, and the adjacent parts of the Coast of Dorset " (joint paper with Sir H. de La Beche, trans, Geol. Soc. Lond.)








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