Oliver's discover dinosaurs?

I wonder if you recognise the man above?

In the capacity of an Oliver family researcher you'd be forgiven for not knowing him as he's not an Oliver nor in anyway related to our Oliver family.

Should you however have any form of interest in geology or palaeontology then you're likely to be very familiar with him.

He is The Reverend William Buckland, he was born in 1874 in Axminster, Devon, the eldest son of the Rev. Charles Buckland, and he later attended Oxford University’s Corpus Christi College.

William Buckland was a prized scientist, geologist, palaeontologist and is said to have 'revolutionised the teaching of science in Oxford, and was the most charismatic teacher of his day'. He was also appointed Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, Dean of Westminster and lived at the Rectory in Islip from 1845 until he died in 1856 and he is buried in the nearby Islip Churchyard.

One of the things that William Buckland is probably most famed for is that in 1824 he studied several bones belonging to a ‘giant lizard’ and he formally named and described them as Megalosaurus (Great Lizard) - this was the first dinosaur to be scientifically described, in fact, this was actually some 18 years before the term dinosaur was coined.

'That's all very wonderful in its on right, but what's it all got do with us Olivers' I hear you say?

Well, the Megalosaurus or 'great lizard' bones described by William Buckland in his 1824 paper were from Stonesfield. In fact, it's well documented that some of the most important examples of bones from what were later to be classed as dinosaurs were uncovered not by geologists, but by more humble quarry workers who earned much needed income by selling their finds to scholars; and the slate workers of Stonesfield were no exception.

Below is an image of the Stonesfield Megalosaurus right lower jaw.

'Okay, that's all very wonderful as well, but is there actually anything Oliver specific here' you say?

Yes, this is where this article gets very special indeed.

Whilst there is no specific evidence that the Megalosaurus bones described by William Buckland were found by Oliver's there is absolute evidence that our Oliver's were liaising with him regarding bones that they had found in the Stonesfield Slate pits. How do we know this? .. wait for it .. because we are able to enjoy looking at a copy of a handwritten letter from David Oliver to The Reverend William Buckland dated 1814!

Yes, do catch your breath, this is quite something, and here it is.

Below is a scan of a complete letter from almost 200 years ago. The handwriting and spelling is just wonderfully eccentric.

(Click and hold your mouse pointer on the image, then drag, up and down to pan across the document).

The letter reads:

Stonesfield Decr the 3
Revd Sir this comes to Lat you no
ther is a Large Boone found in a
Sleat pit very parfect not Broken
in a Large Stone the property of
Charles Howes Sleate Digger
John Oliver have leatly found a
Large Boone very mutch Broken
suposed to be some part of a Horse
December the 1 I David Oliver
found a Large Ribb Boone a bought
too feet in Length But Very mutch
Broken Sir if you pleas to come
an see them
I am your
Homble Servant
David Oliver

This letter represents by far the oldest letter based handwriting from any of our Oliver ancestors.

David Oliver who wrote the letter was baptised in 1765 the son of William and Anne, so a very early Stonesfield Oliver, and he was a great-grandchild of Josiah as the diagram below illustrates (b. represents baptism date).

David himself had 6 children including Joseph Oliver who we know fought at and survived the Battle of Waterloo. David was also at the forefront of introducing Methodism to Stonesfield and he was one of two people who founded the original Methodist chapel in Stonesfield in 1827.

When we consider that in 1814 formal education was still 60 years away meaning that many people were unable to write, it makes the quality of David's handwriting quite remarkable, he was clearly an intelligent and capable man.

The reverse of David's letter is also interesting as is shows a series of notes probably made by William Buckland himself.

(Click and hold your mouse pointer on the image, then drag, up and down to pan across the document).

As we can see the notes detail that on December 19th William Buckland writes 'I owe David Oliver for specimens sent on long vacation' (meaning long summer university vacation). The total owed is 10 shillings and 6 pence and the make up of the money owed is also listed, showing the specimens that David Oliver must have sent him.

According to records held at the Natural History Museum in Oxford there is no trace of this payment ever being settled!

So, 'Oliver's discover dinosaurs?' the title say, yes, just maybe they did. Either way what an amazing and extraordinary document form our family history to have located.

The 1814 letter is copyright of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History Parks Road Oxford and used here with their kind permission.