Pioneering fossil hunter remembered

A 19th century fossil hunter born in Whitby is set to finally be remembered.

He spent 40 years braving howling winds and biting cold, making world-first discoveries that helped put Yorkshire’s dinosaur coast on the map.

Few today have heard of Martin Simpson, but he will finally get his moment in the limelight as conservation charity PLACE celebrates the county’s pioneering geologists at its autumn conference in York tomorrow.

Simpson was born in Whitby in 1800, overcame the death of his father at sea, lost his savings in a bank collapse and reportedly died an embittered old man at the age of 90 still hunched over his fossils.

But in his heyday, dressed in top hat and frock coat, carrying a whale bone umbrella and armed with a two-foot rule, pencil and notebook, he pushed back the boundaries of science with a painstaking study of fossils contained in rock layers on the 
exposed coast between Saltburn and Ravenscar.

In one publication alone he listed 200 ammonite species – extinct sea creatures dating back millions of years – of which 25 were new to science. His descriptions of these remain the standard template used for identification around the world.

Geologist Peter Robinson, from Scarborough, believes it is time we knew more about this remarkable man.

He said: “Simpson was made of the real stuff and bounced back repeatedly from setbacks.

“At the time his colleagues regarded him as a genius and we can only imagine some of the terrible conditions he endured while making his discoveries dressed in full Victorian garb.”

The conference is at York St John University and is open to the public.

To book a place contact place@yorksj.ac.uk