The “Geological Wizard” William Buckland was arguably one of the most eccentric scientists in history. He began his career focused on rocks, minerals, and fossils, but in his spare time enjoyed some adventurous gastronomical exploration in effectively eating his way through the animal kingdom.
If reports are to be believed, that included gorging on everything from fried dormice to alligators, as well as being able to identify dark splats of bat urine on a cathedral floor using just the tip of his tongue.
Then there was that time he supposedly ate the heart of a French king.
Charles Darwin was not a fan
As Buckland climbed through the disciplines of mineralogy and geology to eventually become a teacher at Oxford University, UK, where he became famous for his sharp wit and peculiar approach to lectures. While some celebrated his charm, others weren’t so keen.
“Buckland, who though very good-humoured and good-natured, seemed to me a vulgar and almost coarse man,” Charles Darwin wrote in his Autobiography according to Dr Chris Duffin of London's Natural History Museum. “He was incited more by a craving for notoriety, which sometimes made him act like a buffoon, than by a love of science.”
While the world-famous naturalist might not have been a fan, Buckland went on to achieve across multiple fields of science and was behind some pivotal discoveries of the past. He acquired a Megalosaurus fossil from a slate quarry in Stonesfield, Oxfordshire, that would become the first scientific description of a dinosaur, explained the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
Buckland knew he had something interesting on his hands, and chose the name meaning “great lizard”. It wasn’t until a few years later that Richard Owen coined the term “dinosaur”, and Megalosaurus became the first of the new clade.
A taste for adventure
When it came to food, the entire Buckland family was up for some pretty extreme culinary experimentation for the time. Visitors to the household were invited to dine on anything from ostrich to hyena, alligator, mice, and tortoises while staying with the Bucklands, with one guest expressing that they "don’t like crocodile for breakfast.”
After eating his way through most of the animal kingdom, it’s said that Buckland took things to the next level.
Eating the heart of a king
It was once a tradition in France to remove organs from the body of dead Kings and Queens so that they could be embalmed and placed into ornate reliquaries. This was the treatment given to the heart of King Louis XIV – until the revolution saw all the reliquaries broken down for parts and the organs sold.
According to the Geological Society for London, King Louis’s big heart made it an alluring prospect for landscape painter Alexandre Pau, who was no stranger to using human remains to make rich colors. After using some of the heart matter, there are a few versions of what happened next.
In one, Pau returns the heart to the royal court. In another, it went to l’Église du Val-de-Grâce in Paris. A third and far more intriguing story goes that it ended up at a show-and-tell in Nuneham House, where who should be dining with the host, Archbishop of York, but our culinary adventurer William Buckland.
"He allegedly remarked that the only thing he had eaten that was worse than mole was bluebottles,” said Prof Jim Kennedy, director of Oxford University's Museum of Natural History, to Oxford Mail. "He is even said to have been shown a box containing the heart of a French monarch, rescued from the revolutionary destruction of St Denis, at the great house at Nuneham Courtenay, south of Oxford. Claiming he had eaten most things, but never the heart of a King, he allegedly did just that."
Eating the animal kingdom? It seems Buckland completed it, mate.