Ref NoMS/133
TitleA description of a fossil Alcyonium in a letter to A.B. Lambert - Gideon Mantell
AdminHistoryGideon Algernon Mantell (1790 - 1852) was an English obstetrician, geologist and palaeontologist.

Mantell was born in Lewes, East Sussex, on 3 February 1790, the son of a shoemaker, Thomas Mantell, and Sarah Austen. The Mantell children could not study at local grammar schools because the elder Mantell was a follower of the Methodist church and the 12 free schools were reserved for children who had been brought up in the Anglican faith. As a result, Gideon was educated at a dame school in St. Mary's Lane, and learned basic reading and writing from an old woman. After the death of his teacher, Mantell was schooled by John Button, a philosophically radical Whig who shared similar political beliefs with Mantell's father. Mantell spent two years with Button, before being sent to his uncle, a Baptist minister, in Swindon, for a period of private study. Mantell returned to Lewes in 1805 when he was apprenticed to a surgeon, James Moore, for 5 years. Following his father's death, he inherited money which he used to further his education, and in 1811 he gained a diploma as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He also received training in midwifery duties. He returned to Lewes, and immediately formed a partnership with his former master, James Moore, which proved very successful.

In 1813, Mantell began to correspond with James Sowerby. Sowerby, a naturalist and illustrator who catalogued fossil shells, received from Mantell many fossilised specimens. In appreciation for the specimens Mantell had provided, Sowerby named one of the species Ammonites mantelli. On 7 December, Mantell was elected as a fellow of the Linnean Society of London. Two years later, he published his first paper, on the characteristics of the fossils found in the Lewes area.

In 1816, he married Mary Ann Woodhouse, the 20-year-old daughter of one of his former patients who had died three years earlier. They had 3 children together. He also purchased his own medical practice and took up an appointment at the Royal Artillery Hospital, at Ringmer, Lewes, in 1816. In 1822, he published 'The Fossils of the South Downs', and his wife made the discovery some teeth which Mantell later identified as those of an Iguanodon. Once it was proven correct, Mantell was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1825. He published many books, including 'The Age of Reptiles' in 1831 and 'Discovery of the Maidstone Iguanodon' in 1834.

Mantell moved to Brighton in 1833 but became almost destitute after his practice suffered. His house was turned in to a museum but this also proved to be a financial loss. To raise funds, Mantell sold his dinosaur collection to the British Museum for £4000. He then moved to Clapham Common where he continued to practice as a doctor but his life was struck by a series of sad events. In 1839 his wife left him and his son, Walter, emigrated to New Zealand. In 1840 his daughter, Hannah, died at the age of 18, and in 1841 Mantell was involved in a carriage accident on Clapham Common which left him with a debilitating spinal injury. He moved to Pimlico in 1845 and began to take opium to help with the pain from his injury. He died on 10 November 1852, following an overdose of opium.
DescriptionBound manuscript entitled 'A description of a fossil Alcyonium from the Chalk Strata near Lewes, in a letter to A.B. Lambert Esq. F.R.S. [Fellow of the Royal Society], V.P.L.S. [Vice-President of the Linnean Society] by Gideon Mantell F.L.S. [Fellow of the Linnean Society] and Member of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Includes 8 pages of handwritten text and 6 water-colour drawings by G. Chassereau and Mantell. Also contains a loosely inserted portion of a further letter to Lambert adding information on the same subject, dated Sept 28, 1815
Date1814 - 1815
LevelFile
Extent1 bound volume and 1 loose letter
LanguageEnglish
Notesbinding very weak
Publn_NoteSee Transactions of the Linnean Society 11, 1815, for further information.
Creator NameMantell, Gideon
Access_StatusOpen
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