‘The finest specimen ever discovered’

I have often thought the unsung star of The Manchester Museum is the giant tree fossil (Stigmaria ficoides). When it was found in 1886, it was described as the finest specimen ever discovered.

The fossil tree in the quarry

The fossil tree in the quarry

A party of curators and their wives went out to visit the quarry where it was found. The trip is recorded in Williamson autobiography, ‘Reminiscences of a Yorkshire Naturalist’:

‘On the morning we had arranged to see the Clayton tree, rain poured in torrents, and I tried in vain to persuade Dr. Williamson to postpone his journey… we went out into the rain and proceeded to tramp along unprotected upland paths, or in sodden grass, through a perfect hurricane of howling wind; before half the distance was accomplished, our boots had become pools, and our clothes were saturated.

When we reached the quarry not a living soul was near, only the grey sky above, grey Yorkshire hills around , and the storm raging, when the old geologist met face to face the thing he had hoped so long to see.

The visiting party

The visiting party

The quarrymaster appeared, looking astonished, and said, “Not Professor Williamson!” “Certainly.” “And from Manchester this morning,” said the shivering owner. “Yes, and why not?” “Well, sir,” answered he, “to my thinking, you and the tree are a pair , for teaching us lessons.”‘

See more pictures on Flickr


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