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The Story of “She Sells Seashells”

How many of you can say you have heard of Mary Anning?

There are very few people who haven’t attempted to master the tongue-twister, “She Sells Seashells on the Sea Shore”, until they are blue in the face.

Mary is the namesake and muse of Terry Sullivan’s infamous 1908 tongue twister. She earned the honour through her hard work and determination.

Lyme Regis is where the legend hails – a popular seaside resort teeming with visitors holidaying in the summer. Lyme Regis has a huge biological significance, offering a wealth of Jurassic fossils in its coastal cliffs, part of a geological formation known as the Blue Lias.

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Mary’s father had earned his living and supported his family by selling objects known as curios, which he found whilst mining the coastal cliffs of the Blue Lias. These curios were incredibly old fossils of many varieties of ancient reptiles. Unfortunately, he passed away when Mary was just 11 years old.

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It was not long before Mary stepped up and assumed his place as the main breadwinner of the family. With her passion for palaeontology already fervently ignited, she followed in her father’s footsteps and set up her own stall. Aside from supporting her loved ones, she also made some incredibly significant discoveries along the way.

The profession was not without its risks. Landslides tested her dedication and even took the life of her dog. However, this never kept Mary from her passion. Mary discovered several whole skeletons of ancient species. In 1823, she found the Plesiosaurus, pictured below; in 1828, she found a Pterosaurus; and, in 1829, the Squaloraja.

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Even though Mary had grown up in a modest household with little to no education, she studied often and re-wrote scientific papers. Her work has since been praised by palaeontologists for its accuracy.

Mary managed to open her own shop called “Anning’s Fossil Depot”, which became a destination shop for geologists and palaeontologists around the country. During the course of her career, she promoted the concept of extinction through her discovery of fossils, proving this existence of ancient reptiles that were no longer living.

In 1847, Mary sadly died from breast cancer. Members of the Geological Society contributed a stain glass window in her memory with an inscription, part of which read: “In commemoration of her usefulness in furthering the science of geology…also of her benevolence of heart and integrity of life”.

The inscription was a testament befitting the sentiment. However; we think that Terry Sullivan’s tongue twister has preserved the memory of Mary Anning forever by using the most powerful thing of all, language.