Tom Fort

Fish out of Water

The Man Who Ate the Zoo: Frank Buckland, Forgotten Hero of Natural History


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At the age of two years and eleven months, Frank Buckland encountered a live crocodile – or possibly two crocodiles – obtained by his father, the eminent divine Dr William Buckland. When he was not yet four, he identified some fossils shown to his father as ‘the vertebrae of an ichthyosaurus’. Aged seven, he was placed on the back of a turtle released into the ornamental pool at Christ Church, Oxford, where his father was a canon of the cathedral.

Darwin observed of Dr Buckland that he was ‘incited by a craving for notoriety’. With such a father and such an upbringing, it is hardly surprising that Frank – the only son to survive into adulthood – should have developed into a prime example of the type so beloved by Victorians: the showman.

Buckland’s shortish life – he died aged fifty-four from an addiction also typical of his age, obsessive hard work – is celebrated here with great gusto by the journalist Richard Girling. Buckland, with his wild enthusiasms and manic energy,

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