Our spectacular fossil displays and extensive stores contain one of the finest collections of Jurassic fossils in Britain. The Whitby fossil collection is famous for it’s ammonites and massive marine reptiles.
The first reported marine reptile discovery on the Yorkshire Coast was that of a marine crocodile. The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1759 was given a description of the “Skeleton of an Allegator found in the Allom Rock near Whitby, January 3, 1758”. It was discovered by Captain William Chapman and described by John Wooler in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of 1758. The specimen, later named Teleosaurus chapmani Konig, was given to the British Museum in 1781.
The alum quarrymen uncovering these large skeletons sold them as curiosities to other parts of Britain. Certain citizens of Whitby, under the Rev. George Young, became concerned that whilst these curiosities were being found locally they were being ‘lost’ to Whitby and this concern spurred them on to the formation of the Whitby Literary & Philosophical Society in 1823 with the prime purpose to setup a Museum.
One of the major early attractions was another skeleton of the fossil crocodile Teleosaurus chapmani, purchased for £7 in 1824. The collector, Brown Marshall, a carpenter from Whitby, spotted the snout sticking out of the cliff and excavated the skull and the bulk of the skeleton by hanging from the top of the cliff on ropes. Part of the tail was taken out 3 years later. Over the next few years, thanks to the guiding influence of Rev Young, the Museum gained a reputation for its rich fossil collection, particularly the beautiful and gigantic marine reptiles. Many of these are now spectacularly mounted on the walls of the Museum where they rarely fail to amaze and interest visitors. To read the fascinating story behind many of these large fossils read The Floating Egg by Roger Osborne (geology curator at Whitby Museum).