Buckland | William | 1784-1856 | geologist and palaeontologist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

William Buckland (1784-1856), a reverend's son from Devon, was an eminent geologist and academic, as well as a prominent moderate Anglican priest. He was educated at St. Mary's College, Winchester and at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, from which he graduated with a BA in 1805. In 1808, he was ordained as a priest, and in 1813 he was appointed as a reader in mineralogy at the University of Oxford. Contrary to some references, Buckland was not actually a professor. The confusion arises because he published his works as "professor Buckland" in London, no doubt to be taken more seriously. As well as his academic duties, he was Canon of Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, chairman of the Oxford Gas Company, and also a practical geologist applying his knowledge, for example, to farm drainage.

While not a radical thinker - no sweeping new theories came from him - Buckland was a competent, though not universally respected geologist, due to his eccentric and decidedly un-Victorian enthusiasm for his subject. Among his important discoveries were deposits of coprolites (fossilised faeces) at Lyme Regis, which proved the carnivorous nature of certain ancient animals, and signs of ancient glacial erosion in Scotland, which led to the theory of glaciation being expounded, though he was never entirely comfortable with it. At one point, Buckland also believed he had proved the existence of the flood, by looking at strata and fossil remains in caves, though he later came to a compromise view, where the landscape of Britain was formed by a combination of glaciation and floodwater from the glaciers.

Buckland is said to have been an entertaining and eloquent speaker on his subject, which led some to appreciate his work all the more and led others to despise him for "reducing the science to buffoonry".

There are conflicting reports of the number of scientific papers he wrote; the Royal Society talks of 53, Agassiz talks of 66.



Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

Reliquiae Diluviana; or Observations on the Organic Remains Contained in Caves, Fissures and Diluvial Gravel, and on Other Geological Phenomena Attesting the Action of a Universal Deluge, ( 1823)

Geology and Mineralogy Considered With Reference to Natural Theology, (1836)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1808: Appointed Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

1808: Ordained Priest of the Church of England

1813: Appointed Reader in Mineralogy, University of Oxford

1818: Appointed Reader in Geology, University of Oxford

1818: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society

1822: Awarded Copley Medal of the Royal Society

1824-1825: Elected President, Geological Society

1825: Appointed Canon, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

1832: Elected President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science

1840-1841: Elected President, Geological Society

1848: Awarded Wollaston Medal


List of sources for the biographical information:

Gillispie, Charles C, Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol II, (New York , Scribner's, 1970)

Lee, Sidney, Dictionary of National Biography, vol III, (London, Smith, Elder & Co, 1908)