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Dr Gideon Algernon Mantell

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Dr Gideon Algernon Mantell

  • Birth 3 Feb 1790 Lewes, Lewes District, East Sussex, England
  • Death 10 Nov 1852 Greater London, England
  • Burial West Norwood, London Borough of Lambeth, Greater London, England
  • Plot 273, square 100
  • Memorial ID 12603093

English Obstetrician, Geologist, and Paleontologist. He is credited with discovering the first fossils identified as originating from a dinosaur, teeth belonging to an Iguanodon. He was born in Lewes, Sussex, England, the son of a shoemaker. Growing up, he demonstrated a particular interest in geology, exploring pits and quarries near his home. Because his father was of the Methodist faith, he could not attend the local grammar schools because they were reserved only for those children who were raised in the Anglican faith. Consequently, he received his basic education at a dame school in Saint Mary's Lane and then was privately schooled until the age of 15, when he obtained an apprenticeship with a local surgeon for five years. During this time he taught himself human anatomy and when his apprenticeship was over, he began his formal education in London, England, which he was able to finance from an inheritance received from his deceased father. In 1811 he obtained his diploma as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a certificate that allowed him to perform midwifery duties. He returned to his home and formed a partnership with his former master. Although mainly occupied with running his busy country medical practice, he spent his free time pursuing his passion, geology. In 1813 he began to correspond with naturalist and illustrator, James Sowerby, providing him with many fossilized specimens, one of which Sowerby named "Ammonites mantelli" in his honor. Inspired by the sensational discovery of a fossilized animal that resembled a crocodile (later identified as a ichthyosaur) by Mary Anning at Lyme Regis in Dorset, England, he became passionately interested in the study of the fossilized animals and plants which were being found in the area. By 1820 he had started to find very large bones at Cuckfield, even larger than those discovered by William Buckland at Stonesfield in Oxfordshire, England. In 1822 he (or his wife, historians differ on who) found several large teeth, the origin of which he could not identify. After initially being rejected as a new species by the scientific community, he published his "Notice on the Iguanodon, a Newly Discovered Fossil Reptile, From the Sandstone of Tilgate Forest, in Sussex," the first example in history of a fossil being dug up, analyzed, and assigned a genus. The paper was presented at a meeting of the Royal Society, and was met with great acclaim. As a result he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1825 and an honorary member of the Institute of Paris. In 1833 he relocated to Brighton, in East Sussex, England, but his medical practice suffered and he was almost rendered destitute, but for the town's council who promptly transformed his house into a museum. Ultimately, the museum failed because of his habit of waiving the entrance fee. Finally destitute, he sold his museum's entire collection to the British Museum. For his significant efforts in geological research, he was awarded the Wollaston Medal by the Geological Society of London in 1835. In 1838 he moved to Clapton Common in South London, England, where he continued his medical practice. In 1841 he was severely injured in a carriage accident that resulted in a debilitating spinal injury. Despite being bent over with crippling deformity and in constant pain, he continued to work with fossilized reptiles, and published a number of scientific books and papers until his death. In 1849 he received the Royal Medal for his important contributions to the advancement of Natural Knowledge. On November 10, 1852, he took an overdose of opium and died. His postmortem showed that he had been suffering from scoliosis. A section of his spine was removed and kept at the Royal College of Surgeons of England until 1969 when it was destroyed due to lack of space. At the time of his death, he was credited for the discovery of 4 of the 5 genera of dinosaurs known at that time. Among his published works are "The Fossils of the South Downs" (1822), "Illustrations of the Geology of Sussex" (1827),"Geology of the South-east of England" (1833),"The Wonders of Geology" (2 volumes, 1838),"Geological Excursions Around the Isle of Wight, and Along the Adjacent Coast of Dorsetshire" (1847),"Petrifactions and Their Teachings" (1851), and "The Medals of Creation" (2 volumes, 1854). In 2000, a monument was unveiled in his honor at Whiteman's Green, in Cuckfield, West Sussex, England, at the location of the Iguanodon fossils that he first described in 1822.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: julia&keld
  • Added: 4 Dec 2005
  • Find A Grave Memorial 12603093
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Dr Gideon Algernon Mantell (3 Feb 1790–10 Nov 1852), Find A Grave Memorial no. 12603093, citing West Norwood Cemetery and Crematorium, West Norwood, London Borough of Lambeth, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .