Field of Science

How to celebrate New Year's Eve with style: Fun in a Fossil

For the exhibition in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham the organisers had charged the artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins with the realization of life sized artificial dinosaurs - the new discovered proudly-prehistoric monsters of Victorian Britain. Under severe examination of leading anatomist Richard Owen soon the first models of all known giant lizard of the time - Ichthyosaurus, Plesiosaurus, pterodactyls and the dinosaurs Megalosaurus, Iguanodon and Hylacosaurus, were completed. Owen reconstructed the Iguanodon as large, quadruped rhinoceros, ignoring the discoveries of Mantell, died just some months earlier, who noted that the forelegs are smaller than the hind legs.

To promote the exhibition for New Year's Eve 1853 twenty-one distinguished guests were invited to a banquet inside the unfinished model of Iguanodon. The invitations for the eight-course dinner, accompanied by fine wines and some noble sherry, were written on the outstretched wing of a drawing of a pterodactyl:

"Mr Waterhous Hawkins requests the honour of - - at dinner in the mould of the Iguanodon at the Crystal Palace on Saturday evening
December the 31 st at five o ' clock 1853 an answer will oblige."

Eleven guests could sit inside the belly; ten more places were prepared on a table alongside.
The scene was surrounded by great ribbons of pink and white brocade and plaques bearing the names of the most eminent palaeontologists of Victorian time, Buckland, Cuvier, Mantell and as head naturally Owen as "Newton of Natural History" and "British Cuvier".

Fig.1. "Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham" London Illustrated News, 7 January 1854.

The dinner lasted until long after midnight and according to the reports the temper was excellent, Hawkins himself noted:

"The roaring chorus was so fierce and enthusiastic as almost to lead to the belief that the herd of lguanodons were bellowing".

"The jolly old beast
Is not deceased
There ´s life in him again! [ROAR!]"

Many newspapers reported the event the next days.
The Punch reporter, under the headline "Fun in a Fossil", pointed out that Professor Owen and his friends had

"an exceedingly good dinner...[]. . . Had it perhaps been an earlier geological period they might have occupied the Iguanodon's inside without having any dinner there."

And the London Quarterly Review reported mystified:

"Saurians, Pterodactyls all! . . . Dreamed ye ever . . . of a race to come dwelling above your tombs and dining on your ghosts."


CADBURY, D. (2000): Terrible Lizard - The First Dinosaur Hunters and the Birth of a New Science. Henry Holt & Co. Publisher: 383

No comments:

Post a Comment

Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS