He Was What He Ate

By Gayne C. Young

He was a theologian, geologist, and paleontologist, had part of the moon named after him, and tried eating his way through a list of every animal known to man. His name was William Buckland, and his life was even crazier than his effort to taste every animal on the planet.

William was born in Axminster, Devon, England on March 12, 1784. He was interested in science and had a natural curiosity about everything from an early age and began collecting fossils as a child. He graduated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford with a BA in 1805. He earned his MA 1808 and became a Fellow of Corpus Christi in 1809. Around this time, he was also ordained as a priest and appointed a Reader (According to Wikipedia that’s “a senior academic with a distinguished international reputation.” Yes, I had to look that up. I don’t know these things. I’m not British.) in mineralogy in 1813. He went on several lecture tours and in 1820 published Connexion of Geology with Religion Explained, which justified the new science of geology and reconciled such with the biblical accounts of creation and Noah’s Flood. He also came up with the concept that the word “beginning” in the Book of Genesis actually meant an undefined period. In 1824, he announced the discovery of giant fossil bones at Stonesfield. He named the creature the bones came from Megalosaurus, or “great lizard.”

Yes, William more or less discovered dinosaurs.

At home William essentially lived in a zoo. He had always been fond of animals and kept a great number of pets. His inside pets included guinea pigs, snakes, frogs, ferrets, hawks, owls, cats, dogs, and a pony. He also lived with a pet hyena named Billy. His outside pets included a large pet tortoise—which he allowed people to stand on or ride—foxes, and chickens. In addition to living with animals, William ate them. A lot of them. So many in fact that he publicly declared numerous times that he wanted to eat his way through the complete list of zoology.

Although no one knows when William started eating everything, he was known to yell during lectures that, “The stomach rules the world! The great ones eat the less, and the less the lesser still,” and regularly quoted Genesis 9:3: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.” William not only tried to eat every living thing but would often present odd foods to guests. He was known to have served guests plates of roast ostrich, panther, porpoise, crocodile steaks, and hedgehogs.

William loved eating mice on toast but declared that the common mole was utterly disgusting. He said the bluebottle fly was even worse (Maybe stewing the flies wasn’t the best method of preparation.). William devoured so many weird concoctions that he could identify things by taste that others could not. Such as the time he visited an Italian cathedral whereupon a priest told him the floor was slick thanks to an ever-flowing blood of sacrificed martyrs. William knelt to the floor, gave it a long solid lick, and declared the dampness bat urine. He would know.

Perhaps the most famous food William ever ate however was the more than 140-year-old mummified heart of King Louis XIV of France. The heart had been stolen during the French Revolution then somehow acquired by Lord Harcourt, the Archbishop of York who showed the old organ to William. The very interested William announced, “I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king before” and tossed the heart down his gullet.

While no one knows exactly how many different species of living things William actually consumed, history knows that he died in 1856 of a disorder of the neck and brain. His legacy lives on across the world and in space. Dorsum Buckland, a ridge on the Moon, is named after him, as is Buckland Island (known today as Ani-Jima), the Iñupiat village of Buckland in Alaska, and Buckland Peaks in New Zealand’s Paparoa Range.

Surprisingly though, to this date no all-you-can-eat buffet has been named in his honor.

From the FE Films Archive

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