Walking with Dinosaurs in the Victorian Era: A Steampunk Perspective

One of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

Humanity’s interested in dinosaur fossilized bones has been recorded for as long as we have had a written history. The ancient Chinese thought they were dragon bones, and were used in traditional medicine. The ancient Europeans thought they were evidence of giants and other fantastic monsters, and later on they were used as supporting evidence of the Biblical flood.

The name ‘dinosaur’ wasn’t coined until 1842, by palaeontologist Richard Owen. He had been reading about the discoveries of the geologist Reverend William Buckland and of Mary Ann Mantell, wife of the Gideon Mantell (a doctor and a palaeontologist).

As an aside, of course, Mary Ann Mantell couldn’t be qualified as a geologist in her own right in this misogynistic era. Her husband always gave conflicting stories of how the dinosaur tooth was found, but it was recognised that Mary Ann had originally found the tooth on a walk and presented to her husband. Mrs Mantell went on to discover a number of fossils for her husband, whose medical practice suffered due to his obsession with fossils. I suspect she tired of his getting the credit for her efforts, because she divorced him after 23 years of marriage.

Victorian dinosaur fever took over in both the field of science and the public arena. There is evidence of the Victorian’s mania still around today. The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are a series of sculptures of dinosaurs and other animals, in Crystal Palace Park in England. They were made in 1852 to decorate the surrounds of the Crystal Palace – after it was moved to its present day location after the closure of the Great Exhibition.


Iguanodon teeth that are around 137 million years old: These teeth were discovered by Mary Ann Mantell in 1822. The first dinosaur teeth found, they provided evidence to support the theory that giant reptiles had once walked the Earth

Iguanodon teeth that are around 137 million years old: These teeth were discovered by Mary Ann Mantell in 1822. Image from the British Natural History Museum.

The banquet in the mould of the Crystal Palace Iguanodon, New Year’s Eve, 1853

One the first American dinosaur was found in 1858, the popularity of dinosaurs escalated world wide. Palaeontology became the obsession of the professional and amateur alike. Its popularity got another boost when Darwin published his famous book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Dinosaurs were clear evidence that there had been very different animals roaming the earth in previous eras.

 I am most certainly writing dinosaurs into some of my narratives.



Filed under History, Steampunk, Women in Science

8 responses to “Walking with Dinosaurs in the Victorian Era: A Steampunk Perspective

  1. After having the kids back at school for a week and a half, I am feeling like a dinosaur myself…old and decrepit!!
    Thanks for a very informative post on a great subject. Wish I could find a few dinosaur fossils myself!

    • Thank you. I would love to discover some fossils too. You can volunteer to help out in paleontological digs in Western Queensland … but you pay for the privilege!

      • Looks like time to send some of my writing off somewhere it pays. Seems everyone else is charging, although scientists tend to be a bit like us. I usually work in marketing but have had a year off due to the chemo. Psyching myself up to go back. It was only 5 hours per week but that extra dribble of cash made quite a difference.

      • Good luck with sending the babies off to market. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had health issues, and I hope everything is going well for you in that department. And you are correct, scientists don’t go into science to get rich and famous.

      • My daughter was awarded a distinction in the UNSW Science competition lat year, which placed her in the top 8% in Australia, so it was quite an achievement. I was quite excited as I’ve worked in science communication but whichever field she decides to pursue, I’d like her to have some job stability and scientists seem to be at the mercy of rant renewals etc. Not an easy road. She’s also artistic and her current goal is to become a fashion designer in Paris. She loved the Eiffel Tower etc.

      • Fashion could benefit from a designer with a science background. As you say, science in Australia is very dependant on grants.

        Your daughter sounds like her rational brain and creative brain are equally balanced!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s