March 12th

1784 – Rev. William Buckland Born

Dean William Buckland was the first person to scientifically describe what would come to be known as a dinosaur, but although he was a pioneer, he was one of the most colorful dinosaur detectives of all time.

Buckland lecturing / University of Oxford

Buckland will always be remembered for his description of Megalosaurus in 1824, but he was a very eccentric and interesting personality in his own right. He famously surrounded himself with fossils–even having a tabletop set with coprolites (fossilized dung).

He was determined to eat every known animal, including reputedly devouring the heart of King Louis XIV. He was shown this relic and gobbled it down quickly before anyone could stop him.

His fascination with living animals and fossils dominated his house in Christ Church. Frogs and snakes inhabited cages in his dining room, while guinea pigs ran along his floors. Visitors told of occasional bites from Buckland’s jackal, which also wandered the house—sometimes devouring the guinea pigs, much to the horror of houseguests.

William Buckland also kept a bear as a pet–the biblically named Tiglath Pilesar–whom he brought to wine parties. Charles Lyell, one of Darwin’s best friends and scientific consultants, wrote of such a gathering at the Botanic Gardens: “Buckland had a young bear dressed up as a student of Christ Church, with cap and gown, whom he formally introduced…The bear sucked our hands and was very caressing.” Shy students worried for their dignity after speaking to ‘Tig,’ and Buckland found much amusement in making them do so.

Share your favorite stories and illustrations of William Buckland and Megalosaurus with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.