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Fossil Reptiles in the National Museum of Ireland (Vertebrata: Reptilia): History of the Collection
N. Monaghan1

1. National Museum of Ireland, Natural History Division, Merrion Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
2. University College Dublin, Department of Zoology, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

September 2003

Historical Background | Catalogue of Specimens

Historical Background

A general history of the geological collections has already been published (Monaghan 1992). Various collections acquired over the last two centuries include fossil reptile material, the most significant are outlined here.

Jurasic Marine Reptiles
The first records in the museum relate to the holotype specimen of Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni (F8785), its arrival in Dublin and its transfer from the Zoological Gardens to the Museum of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). All of the relevant information appears in the publications listed under its catalogue entry.

RDS Purchases
A number of payments are recorded in the RDS purchases register, supported by some manuscript lists in the geology purchases file. These refer to a variety of fossils purchased from James Marder of Lyme Regis. In detail, it is not possible to pin down individual specimens apart from Marder's offer of 'a baby saurian' for £3-3-0 (probably F8766) and the head of an 'Ichthyosaurus platydon' (this could be F8768 or F8769, assuming Marder's taxonomic name is reliable).

William Lee Collection
The bulk of the present National Museum of Ireland (NMI) collection of marine reptiles must have come from William Lee who died on 20th October, 1867. The acquisition by purchase of the Lee Collection is recorded in RDS minutes. The purchases register (15 March 1867) records a balance of £136 being paid to Mr. James Tacey (spelt 'Taces' in museum accession register, 15 May 1868). The Lee Collection included Lias fossils. Some fish and invertebrates are recognizable on the basis of their 'Lot. n' style labels (where n is a number of a lot destined for auction). A list was made by Prof. Etheridge on 21 November 1867 and sent, by Valentine Ball, to Alexander Montagu Browne, the keeper of the museum at Leicester. The list can not now be found. Browne (1889) cited various specimens always referring them to Lee's collection and quoting their locality as Barrow-on-Soar. Some of these specimens are definitely from other localities and it has been assumed that Etheridge's list was only taxonomic and did not contain locality information.

It has been assumed that all Barrow-on-Soar material and most of the other large reptiles, apart from casts, were part of the Lee Collection. Although some specimens were definitely bought from Marder, large specimens would have been costly and should have been recorded. Plaster replicas of British Museum (Natural History) specimens are assumed to have been received as donations from their Trustees as was the case for a number of other fossils in the NMI collections, although in such cases the source was usually recorded by Lydekker.

In 1891, Richard Lydekker catalogued and arranged the vertebrate fossils (apart from the fish, which had been the work of James W. Davis in 1888). Lydekker did not record the origin of the specimens unless they had been donated by dignitaries. In particular, purchases were never detailed and therefore Marder and Lee were not mentioned at all. The present collection compares closely with Lydekker's catalogue, but there are some problems caused by the fact that the letters used in Lydekker's catalogue were not attached to the fossils (apart from skulls, not mounted in plaster).

In the NMI, there is one ichthyosaur skeleton more than the total mentioned by Lydekker. There is also one plesiosaur and one ichthyosaur in University College Dublin (UCD) which were believed by Seymour to be from the RDS collection (as is much of the UCD teaching material). If so, why were they not catalogued by Lydekker, particularly as they are both very good specimens? The rest of the teaching material 'transferred' to the Royal College of Science was probably brought there by G. A. J. Cole after Lydekker made his catalogue. Cole started working in the museum in 1896, and was made formal custodian of the geological collections in 1899. During this period, he was also Professor in the Royal College of Science and Director of the Geological Survey.

Until Lee's original list (perhaps in Ball correspondence, or in RDS?) is traced, the collection will remain connected together by comparison with Lydekker's descriptions, matrix 'typical' of the three localities involved, or the old glazed labels used for display (which only cover part of the collection).

Alfred Nicholson Leeds Collection
In 1893 the museum purchased a number of specimens of crocodiles and other marine reptiles from Leeds. These are mostly disarticulated pieces but with some good crocodile skulls.

Siwalik Collection
The museum holds some material from the Siwalik Hills in the foothills of the Himalayas. A full list was published by Lydekker in 1884, giving the history of acquisition of the material from a variety of sources.

The catalogue was compiled using the information from glazed labels, some 1910 vintage photographs of the display of ichthyosaurs where labels can be seen, and correlations of fossils with physical descriptions by Lydekker.

Catalogue of Fossil Reptiles [link]


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