In The Lie Tree, the heroine's father is a natural scientist, so before writing the book I thought I should find out more about the Victorian scientists who would have been digging up ancient bones, fossils and relics. I had a mental picture of bespectacled professors, a bit stuffy but sensible, conscientiously carrying their finds back to museums…
I was completely wrong.
Back in the 19th century, science wasn't usually a paid career, it was a gentleman's hobby. Most scientists were wealthy, enthusiastic amateurs who had picked up a bit of science at university and become fascinated. Some were brilliant. Some were collectors, racing each other to find remains that would look nice in their own trophy rooms and cabinets of curiosities. And some of them were howlingly eccentric.
This is Dean William Buckland, who occasionally served visiting guests mice on toast. (And according to one story, he once ate the pickled heart of a French King, just to find out what it tasted like.)
Here's a trusty tool of the Victorian palaeontologist. Blasting powder!
Yes, perfect for getting through thick, tricksy rock to those precious fossils. Why chip away carefully with a chisel for days, when you can clear it with one great BOOOM!
In the 1850s, life size models of dinosaurs were made for a grand display at Crystal Palace Park. When the models were nearly finished, the obvious thing to do was to invite lots of famous scientists over, and hold a lavish, eight course dinner inside the Iguanodon.
Although they were sometimes exuberant and larger than life, the Victorian scientists pushed back the boundaries of knowledge to a remarkable degree. Even if they made their Iguanodon model a bit too tubby, and decided that its thumb claw belonged on its nose like a rhino horn…