Francis Trevelyan Buckland

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Francis Trevelyan Buckland
PSM V28 D300 Francis Trevelyan Buckland.jpg
Born (1826-12-17)17 December 1826
Oxford, England
Died 19 December 1880(1880-12-19) (aged 54)
Nationality English
Occupation naturalist, surgeon, popular writer

Francis Trevelyan Buckland (17 December 1826 – 19 December 1880), known as Frank Buckland, was an English surgeon, zoologist, popular author and natural historian.


Buckland family silhouette

He was the son of William Buckland, a noted geologist and palaeontologist, and Mary, a fossil collector, palaeontologist and illustrator.

Frank Buckland was born and brought up in Oxford, where his father was a Canon of Christ Church. After education by his mother, he went, at eight and a half, to a boarding school in Cotterstock, Northamptonshire. From 1837–39, he went to a preparatory school in Laleham, Surrey, run by his uncle, John Buckland, a brutal headmaster who flogged his pupils quite excessively.[1] Relief came with a scholarship to Winchester College, a school with an unbroken history of six hundred years. Here he was taught by the Second Master, Charles Wordsworth, who sent letters of praise to his father. Winchester had a harsh regime, but was much preferable to his previous school. He was not a first-rate scholar, but managed to gain entrance to Christ Church, Oxford, after failing to get a scholarship to the smaller Corpus Christi.[2]

Buckland studied at Christ Church from 1844–48, graduating at the second attempt. He went at once to London to begin training in surgery. His father had the advice of Richard Owen and Sir Benjamin Brodie. Brodie personally escorted Buckland to St George's Hospital and enrolled him as a student under Caesar Hawkins FRS, Surgeon to the hospital.

Buckland had a liaison with a woman of humble birth, Hannah Papps, who bore him a son in 1851. They married in 1863, but the son died early.

Buckland's early death was presaged by lung haemorrhages, which might suggest tuberculosis or perhaps lung cancer. His death certificate is, as so often in those days, unhelpful. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.[3]


Buckland studied surgery at St George's Hospital. A visit to Paris in 1849 gave him a chance of comparing their methods with those in London. In London most of the nurses were illiterate; one who claimed to read was tested with a label reading "This lotion to be applied externally only". The nurse interpreted it as "Two spoonfuls to be taken four times a day".[4]p48

Buckland was made a MRCS in 1851. He was appointed Assistant Surgeon (= house-surgeon) at St George's, 1852. [2] A vivid word-portrait was written by a surgical colleague, Charles Lloyd:

Four and a half feet in height and rather more in breadth – what he measured round the chest is not known to mortal man. His chief passion was surgery – elderly maidens called their cats indoors as he passed by and young mothers who lived in the neighbourhood gave their nurses more than ordinarily strict injunctions as to their babies. To a lover of natural history it was a pleasant sight to see him at dinner with a chicken before him... and see how, undeterred by foolish prejudices, he devoured the brain.[4]p59

The Life Guards[edit]

Frank was elected to the Athenaeum Club in February 1854, and later that year was gazetted as Assistant Surgeon to the Second Life Guards. This appointment that left him plenty of time for his growing interest in natural history, since the Household Cavalry were not deployed abroad from the Battle of Waterloo (1815) until the Battle of Tel-el-Kabir in 1882. Buckland held the appointment until 1863.

Natural history and zoöphagy[edit]

Buckland gradually gave up surgery to devote himself to natural history. He made a good income as a writer for The Field and other periodicals, and from the sale of popular books. He was much in demand as a lecturer and speaker.

Buckland was a pioneer of zoöphagy: his favourite research was eating the animal kingdom. This habit he learnt from his father, whose residence, the Deanery, offered such rare delights as mice in batter, squirrel pie, horse's tongue and ostrich. After the 'Eland Dinner' in 1859 at the London Tavern, organised by Richard Owen, Buckland set up the Acclimatization Society to further the search for new food. In 1862 100 guests at Willis' Rooms sampled Japanese Sea slug (= sea cucumber, probably), kangaroo, guan, curassow and Honduras turkey. This was really quite a modest menu, though Buckland had his eye on capybara for the future. Buckland's home, 37 Albany Street, London, was famous for its menagerie and its varied menus,[5] including, at times, boiled elephant trunk, rhinoceros pie, porpoise heads, and stewed mole.[6]

His writing was sometimes slapdash, but always vivid and racy, and made natural history attractive to the mass readership. This is an example:

"On Tuesday evening, at 5pm, Messrs Grove, of Bond Street, sent word that they had a very fine sturgeon on their slab. Of course, I went down at once to see it... The fish measured 9 feet in length [nearly three metres]. I wanted to make a cast of the fellow... and they offered me the fish for the night: he must be back in the shop the next morning by 10 am... [various adventures follow] I was determined to get him into the kitchen somehow; so, tying a rope to his tail, I let him slide down the stone stairs by his own weight. He started all right, but 'getting way' on him, I could hold the rope no more, and away he went sliding headlong down the stairs, like an avalanche down Mont Blanc... he smashed the door open... and slid right into the kitchen... till at last he brought himself to an anchor under the kitchen table. This sudden and unexpected appearance of the armour-clad sea monster, bursting open the door... instantly created a sensation. The cook screamed, the house-maid fainted, the cat jumped on the dresser, the dog retreated behind the copper and barked, the monkeys went mad with fright, and the sedate parrot has never spoken a word since."[7]

An enthusiastic lover of natural history, he became a popular author, writing Fish Hatching (1863), Curiosities of Natural History (4 vols. 1857–72), Log Book of a Fisherman and Zoologist (1876) and Natural History of British Fishes (1881). He also founded and edited the periodical Land and Water. He became Inspector of Salmon Fisheries in 1867, and retained this post for the rest of his life. In this role he was extremely energetic, and made good use of his talent for publicity. He served on various commissions, experimented with fish hatcheries, and developed an Economic Fish Museum.

Though observant, he was not always strictly scientific in his methods and modes of expression. All the same, Darwin used some of his material from Land and Water in the Descent of Man, an honour which Buckland did not appreciate, since he was a strong opponent of Darwinism. But Buckland was no theoretician: his life was lived on the practical side of natural history.

Buckland and fisheries[edit]

The Buckland Foundation is a charity that funds a Buckland Professor each year to give three public talks in relevant parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland on a matter of current concern in the commercial fisheries. The Foundation was endowed from Buckland's estate. Buckland sat on four Commissions at Fish and Fishing between 1875 and his death in 1880. Something of the flavour of his views is given by the following quotations from his reports and articles:

"A greater cry should more properly be established against those which deter or kill the fish by noxious materials which they pour into public waters for their private use and benefit...".
"What objection can be reasonably argued against the employment of revenue cruisers for the accommodation of naturalists, appointed by government ... in order that they make a thoroughly practical examination of the dark and mysterious habits of food fishes."
"We want also samples of the surface water itself under peculiar conditions, for instance, what is the meaning of the wonderful white appearance of the sea which took place last autumn in nearly all the waters of the northern coast of England? What is the meaning of the occasional red appearance of the sea for many square miles? Again, how are we to devise a mesh of net that shall let go the small soles and undersized fry of other sea fish, and keep marketable fish only?"

Buckland founded the Museum of Economic Fish Culture in South Kensington in 1865, the only remaining contents of which are held by the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther.


  1. ^ This, left out of the Victorian biography, was dug up from Wm. Buckland's letters by Burgess G.H.O. 1967. The curious world of Frank Buckland. Baker, London. p 16–17.
  2. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  3. ^ Brompton Cemetery
  4. ^ a b Burgess G.H.O. 1967. The curious world of Frank Buckland. Baker, London.
  5. ^ Barber, Lynn 1980. The heyday of natural history 1820–1870. Cape, London. Chapter 10: The pioneer of zoophagy.
  6. ^ Kacirk, Jeffrey 1999. Forgotten English. Harper, New York
  7. ^ Buckland F.C. How we cast the large Sturgeon. Land & Water, vol 3, 27 April 1867; retold in Barber L. 1980. The heyday of natural history 1820–1870. Cape, London. p149-50 [version here abbreviated]

 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Buckland, Francis Trevelyan". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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