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Henry Riley

Henry Riley (1797-1848) was a local surgeon and medical school teacher who had graduated MD in Paris in the mid 1820s; he 'was very like a Frenchman in appearance and manners' (Prichard, 1894, p. 6). Riley lived in Berkeley Square, Clifton, and he had gained brief notoriety in 1828, when he was fined £6 for attempting to rob a grave in Brislington, Bristol (Smith, 1917).

Portrait of Henry Riley MD, by J. G. Swayne MD, from collection labelled 'Lecturers at the Bristol Medical School, AD 1840. Drawn by J. G. Swayne MD, then a pupil'. From Smith (1917).

Riley gave a successful series of lectures on 'Zoological and Philosophical Anatomy' in Bristol in 1831-1833, emphasising the works of Lamarck, Cuvier, and Geoffroy, and he was a member of the important group of gentleman naturalists who founded and sustained the Bristol Institution (Taylor and Torrens, 1987; Taylor, 1994). He served on the Bristol Institution Committee from 1833 to 1836, and at the same time he was secretary of the Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society, which procured £7000 for the purchase of land and the establishment of Bristol Zoo in 1835-1836 (Green-Armytage, 1964; Hunter, 2004, p. 454).

Riley's credentials in palaeontology had been established by his lectures, and by his description of the Lias cartilaginous fish Squaloraia (Riley, 1833, 1837), based on a specimen obtained from Mary Anning (Taylor and Torrens, 1987).

  • Green-Armytage, A.H.N., 1964. Bristol Zoo 1835-1965. A Short History of the Bristol Clifton and West of England Zoological Society. Arrowsmith, Bristol, 115 pp.
  • Hunter, P., 2004. Veterinary Medicine: a Guide to Historical Sources. Ashgate, Aldershot, 611 pp.
  • Prichard, A., 1894. Bristol Medical School. Arrowsmith, Bristol, 31 pp.
  • Riley, H., 1833. On a fossil in the Bristol Museum, and discovered in the Lias at Lyme Regis. Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 1, 483-484.
  • Riley, H., 1837. On the Squaloraia. Transactions of the Geological Society of London, Series 2, 5, 83-88.
  • Smith, C.M., 1917. A History of the Bristol Royal Infirmary. Arrowsmith, Bristol, 507 pp.
  • Taylor, M.A., 1994. The plesiosaur's birthplace: the Bristol Institution and its contribution to vertebrate palaeontology. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 112, 179-196.
  • Taylor, M.A., Torrens, H.S., 1987. Saleswoman to a new science: Mary Anning and the fossil fish Squaloraja from the Lias of Lyme Regis. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society 108, 135-148.

The paper

Benton, M.J. 2012. Naming the Bristol dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus: politics and science in the 1830s. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 123, 766-778. Download pdf of the paper.

Dicynodon Illustration courtesy of John Sibbick.
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