Happy 200th Birthday Sir William Dawson!
200 years ago today, October 13th, 2020, Sir William Dawson was born in Pictou, Nova Scotia.
He was a brilliant man and had a remarkable life. He is the author of my favourite book, Acadian Geology, which was first printed in 1855 and is more enjoyable every time I read it.
In 1859 he discovered a very special fossil which he named Hylonomus Lyelli. It was a turning point in the scientific history of Joggins and Nova Scotia. Today it is still the oldest known reptile in the world.
Throughout the years, I’ve heard so many stories about this accomplished man that I can’t share them all today. However, one of the most memorable, that tells a lot about the character of Dawson, was from his later life. This was when he was the principal of McGill University and learned one of the students was ill and showed up at their door with a pot of soup and a kind word. He was that type of person.
He was knighted in 1884 and died in Montreal in 1899.
I love telling visitors about Dawson while on my guided fossil tours of Joggins and showing them where he discovered the many amazing fossils that still have so much impact today. Perhaps even more so than in the past.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Dawson while reminiscing of his time in Joggins as a young man.
“The tide being low in the afternoon, I rose early next morning, and taking some luncheon in my basket, walked along the shore to the south-westward for several miles. I was amazed at the grand succession of stratiﬁed beds exposed as plainly as in a pictured section, and was interested beyond measure in the beds of coal, with all their accompaniments, exposed in the cliffs and along the beach, the erect trees (Sigillaria) represented by sandstone casts, and the numerous fossil plants displayed in the beds. The tide favoured my expedition, and the day was ﬁne, though small banks of fog drifted up the bay from time to time, dissolving as they touched the cliffs, warmed by the sun. I returned in the evening to the quarrymen’s shanty, thoroughly fatigued, but loaded with fossils, delighted with the knowledge I had acquired, and with my enthusiasm for geology raised to a higher point than ever before. Such was my ﬁrst visit to the celebrated coast-section of the Joggins, on which I have spent so many pleasant and proﬁtable days.”- Sir William Dawson