Mary Anning


A colour portrait of a woman wearing a green dress in a 19th-century style, a straw bonnet with a red ribbon, a straw basket and a pickaxe. She is standing at the seashore and her left arm is pointing downwards at a large rock and a black-and-white dog asleep next to it. The sky is grey and stormy, with sunny skies visible in the distance.

Portrait of 1847 by B J Donne at the Geological Society (Image from wikimedia commons)

  • BORN 21st May 1799, Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK
  • DIED 9th March 1847, Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK
  • WORKED Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK
  • HONOURS Although her discoveries were crucially important for Victorian palaeontology, she received no honours and was marginalised both as a woman and as a Nonconformist. The importance of her work was only fully appreciated after her death, and she is now widely celebrated as a female pioneer of science. A  plaque is displayed next to one of her discoveries in the Natural History Museum.
  • MINERVA SCIENTIFICA PROJECT Mary Anning/Judith Bingham, Voices for the Future – Mary Anning


This birthday podcast celebarates both the 224th birthday of palaeontologist Mary Anning who was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, on May 21st in 1799, and the unveiling of her statue on the same day, and almost the same place, in 2022 by sculptor Denise Dutton which was commissioned by Mary Anning Rocks. Anya Pearson – Chair of Mary Anning Rocks joins Denise Dutton, Palaeontologist, Emma Bernard (Curator of Fossil Fish at the Natural History Museum) and Tom Sharpe (Biographer of Mary Anning – “The Fossil Woman”) for a most enlightening discussion!

Artistic Connections

There are no known direct connections with the arts; however, Anning’s drawings of her fossils are not just scientifically accurate but demonstrate a high level of artistic talent.


Title: She Sells Sea Shells on the Sea Shore
Composer: Frances M Lynch
Words by:  Terry Sullivan, 1908
Written in: 2015
For: mixed voices
Performed by: Frances M Lynch – Soprano, Samantha Houston – Mezzo, Lauren Lister – BSL Interpreter, Voices for the Future Virtual Choir
Film: Zoom Performance, Sun 17th October 2021 for the Sidmouth Science Festival, Voices for the Future – Fossil Detectives
First Performance: by electric voice theatre Franklin Quartet on 22nd October 2015, at Kings College London – Part of the Arts & Humanities Festival 2015 – Fabrication

A setting of this well known tongue twister which is said to be about Mary Anning, but really isn’t! It was adapted from a vocal exercise for music hall use, and has no connection, except in many children’s minds, with the famous palaeontologist! It can be performed as a simple mesmerising round for any combination of voices, or as in this case, a fun, if heated discussion of what the song is about!
This event was part of the Voices for the Future Project, funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Marchus Trust. “Voices for the Future” seeks to discover, honour, and promote female voices past and present and to inspire, guide and build diverse VOICES FOR THE FUTURE.

Title: A Song for Mary Anning
Words and music by: Cohen Baulch age 9; Year 3, Newton Poppleford Primary School; Sarah Mirkin age 8; Mabel Slade age 11; Class 1, Hawkchurch Church of England Primary School; Beech Class, Payhembury Primary School.
Written in: October 2021
For: voices, piano, digital instruments, and funny noises
Performed by: Mrs Ethelston’s Primary Academy Choir and Cohen Baulch
Commissioned by: Frances M Lynch for the Voices for the Future – Mary Anning project
Film by: Jack Sewell
First Performance: 21st May 2022 at the unveiling of a statue of Mary Anning in Lyme Regis

A Song for Mary Anning is a compilation of the winning entries to the electric voice theatre Mary Anning Song Competition, and was created for the unveiling of a statue of Mary Anning by sculptor Denise Dutton on 21st May 2022 in Lyme Regis, commissioned by Mary Anning Rocks.

Title: The Story of Mary Anning and Ixy
Composers: Years 3 & 4, “Squirrels” Sidmouth CofE Primary School
Words by: the composers
Written in: October 2021
For: voices, piano, digital instruments, and funny noises
Performed by: the composers
Commissioned by: Frances M Lynch for the Voices for the Future – Mary Anning project
Film by: Jack Sewell
First Performance: online as part of the electric voice theatre performance “The Fossil Detectives” for Sidmouth Science Festival, Oct 17th 2021.
Sound Production by: Herbie Clarke & Frances M Lynch

The children created this amazing song during a series of 5 workshops which included talks from Emma Bernard, a palaeontologist and Curator of Fossil Fish at Natural History Museum in London and Dr Patricia Fara, a science historian, as well as a session with Dorset composer Karen Wimhurst. Frances M Lynch and volunteers from Sidmouth Science Festival helped the children use all their newly acquired knowledge to write this musical story about an ichthyosaur, and Mary Anning.
The film was created by Jack Sewell using materials from his onsite workshop at the school, including the model of Ixy by the children.

Voices for the Future – Mary Anning was funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Marchus Trust and was also supported by Mary Anning Rocks, The Geological Society and Sidmouth Science Festival.

Title: Mary Anning
Composer: Judith Bingham
Words by: Mary Anning, Molly Anning, Anna Maria Pinney, Thomas Hawkins, Isaac Watts, H.F. Lyte, Charles Wesley, Alfred Lord Tennyson, David Hume, Gideon Mantell, Henry Kirke White, Thomas Love Beddoes, E.B. Pusey, Wisdom. Collated and added to by Judith Bingham.
Additional Music: Hymn tune: St. Bride, by Samuel Howard.
Written in: 2010
For: solo voice, gravel and rocks
Performed by: Frances M Lynch
First Performance: St. Magnus Festival 2012 by Alison Wells

The video is from the launch of the Minerva Scientifica project in 2013 at Plymouth University and includes extracts of a piece about Miriam Rothschild in addition to Mary Anning. We were joined by palaeontologist Kevin Page from Plymouth University, who gave a talk before the performance and kindly provided the historical images. A complete video/recording will be available in 2021.

Mary Anning is a study of this famous Victorian paleontologist which posed particular problems to electric voice theatre singer and director Frances M Lynch. She recorded the video diary below during the rehearsal process for this piece, which looks at the problem of how to walk on a beach while on stage and make the correct kind of noise! For some time she went to numerous builders yards and walked about on samples of different stones until finding the best ones. The costume and final set were created by electric voice theatre designers Miranda Melville and Elizabeth Dawson.

Frances M Lynch as Mary Anning, on the beach at Lyme Regis (photo by Helen Vincent)

Frances M Lynch as Mary Anning, smashing rocks on the beach at Lyme Regis (photo by Helen Vincent)


Very basic education, but she was literate and later became very well-informed about palaeontology.

Showcase at Natural History Museum of Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni (Creative Commons License)


Fossil collector
She supported her family by selling fossils she discovered on the cliffs at Lyme Regis, and was only a child when she and her brother found the complete skeleton of a creature that in 1817 was named an ichthyosaur. This specimen established her reputation as a major collector.

She studied palaeontology so that she could recognise which fossils would be the most valuable. Her particularly important finds included plesiosaurs and a pterodactyl.

Scientific Achievement

Mary Anning was important because she discovered exceptionally fine specimens of previously unknown creatures that led to major theoretical advances in Victorian knowledge of prehistoric life. Nowadays she is also highly regarded for her ability as a provincial woman to negotiate with metropolitan gentlemanly collectors.

Animals and plants of Dorset in the Liassic period. Lithograph by G. Scharf after H.T. de la Bèche.
By: Henry Thomas De la Bècheafter: George. (Credit: Wellcome Library, Creative Commons License)

Did You Know?

When she was a baby, she was with three women standing under a tree that was struck by lightning. They all died, but her apparently miraculous survival marked her out as someone special

Geologist Henry de la Beche painted an imaginary scene of prehistoric life in Dorset based on her fossil specimens, and sold prints to benefit her financially.

She wrote in a letter: ‘The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.’

She may be the inspiration for the 1908 tongue-twister ‘She sells sea-shells on the sea-shore’.

An Inspiring Woman

Mary Anning has become internationally renowned for the quality, quantity and variety of fossils that she found. After her death, Charles Dickens was one of the earliest to write about her inspirational life, and since then she has been held up as a role model that children can realistically strive to emulate.
One of those children is Evie Swire, who, as they left Lyme Regis beach after some regular fossil hunting, turned to her mum, Anya, and demanded to know why Anning didn’t have a statue. Her indignant question sparked their Mary Anning Rocks campaign which from nothing has successfully raised over £100,000, created a global profile and commissioned a beautiful tribute by sculptor Denise Dutton that was unveiled on May 21st 2022, with the help of A Song for Mary Anning, written by a lot of very enthusiastic children. You can still donate here for their educational program – a long-term learning legacy specifically designed to benefit underserved children in our communities, making sure Mary’s discoveries and her voice is never ignored.