Mary Anning was born to a poor family in 1799. Her father Richard Anning was a carpenter, who later on in life she credited with having taught her everything about fossils.
Her mother was also called Mary Anning, known as Molly Anning. What neither of her parents could have known was the acclaim their daughter would gain both in her lifetime and subsequently.
In recent times the Natural History Museum has hailed Mary Anning 'the greatest fossil hunter'. Throughout her life she made a great many discoveries.
As a child, Mary and her father Richard would go out fossil hunting regularly. They would bring back their fossils, clean and polish them, then sell the fossils to tourists as curios.
In 1810 when Richard Anning died Mary and her family were destitute, burning furniture to keep warm and under constant threat of the workhouse. At this time selling fossils became the family's only source of income.
In 1811 Mary's older brother Joseph Anning discovered the skull of what we now know as an ichthyosaur. It was four feet in length - very sizeable. About a year later Mary found the rest of it and became quite a national sensation. The Victorians were mostly creationists - that is they believed that the world around them was exactly the same as it had been since after the creation story in Genesis. So for them, the suggestion of all these dead, 'fossilised' creatures on the beach brought into question the perfection of God's creation, making both Mary Anning and her discoveries highly controversial.
This controversy, along with her many finds, is what made her famous.
Throughout Mary's life she went on to make a great many more discoveries, including the first complete Plesiosaurus in 1824, followed by the first complete, and still very rare, Dimorphodon in 1828. Dimorphodon macronyx was the first pterosaur to be discovered outside Germany. Unfortunately her gender and lowly social class prevented her from joining the major scientific institutions of the time and many of the people who bought from her claimed her glory for themselves.
Now, over 200 years since she was born, Mary Anning is starting to gain something of the notoriety she deserves and Lyme Regis Museum operates Mary Anning tours.
Why not Visit...
Built on the site of Mary Anning's home, the museum tells the story of the town's remarkable fossils and much more. Museum entry is free for children. Why not book a place on one of our famous fossil walks?
Safety and The Fossil Code
Be safe while you're on the beach, walking along the coast path or collecting fossils.