Historical photo could be earliest of female geologist

An enigmatic photograph titled ‘The Geologists’ showing a lady and a gentleman in front of some rocks is believed to have been taken at Chudleigh in Devon around 1843 by the pioneer photographer William H. F. Talbot. Recently it has been suggested that the photograph depicts Mary Anning, the famous fossil collector of Lyme Regis in Dorset, with Henry De La Beche of the Geological Survey.

However, new research from Dr Mike Taylor, Honorary Research Fellow with the School of Museum Studies and Research Associate, National Museums Scotland, and costume historian Sarah Levitt, Head of Leicester Arts and Museums, suggests that the photograph is unlikely to be of Anning – but could instead depict another woman engaged in geology from the 19th century. 

“What is so interesting is that there were so many women interested in geology that Anning was only one of many candidates,” Dr Taylor said. “That is remarkable when one realises how miserably difficult it was to go out in the field in those ‘respectable’ Victorian clothes, especially for upper - and middle-class ladies.

“The photo itself may be the earliest known photo of any West Country geological activity, and of a woman engaged in geology anywhere.”

While the photo may not be of Mary Anning, last year Dr Taylor was involved in research about a childhood memento that he concluded belonged to the famous fossil collector .