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Memorial Portrait in Dorset County Museum

John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell


John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell of Whatcombe was one of the founder members of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, from which the present Dorset Natural History and Archaelogical has evolved. He was President from 1875 until his death twenty-seven years later and spent a vast amount of his time and energy developing the Museum and the Field Club. On his death a Memorial Fund was set up to promote natural history, archaeology and science in Dorset, these being his lifelong interests. Two years later the Fund was increased by a donation from Lord Eustace Cecil, who succeeded him as President.


The Mansel-Pleydell, Cecil and Drew Trust exist to attract and reward writers on topics relating to Dorset. The award for the first essay was made in 1906. Click here for a list of previous prize winners.


Obituary of


F.L.S., F.G.S. BORN 1817. DIED MAY 3, 1902. 


In the death of Mr. Mansel-Pleydell, of Whatcombe, Dorset, geological science has lost an energetic and enthusiastic worker, one who in the widest sense was a naturalist, for he was intimately acquainted with the plants, the mollusca, and the birds of his native county, and had published separate volumes on these subjects. The antiquities of Dorset had likewise engaged his attention, while as a Magistrate, as a member of the County Council, and as High Sheriff (in 1875) he had rendered distinguished local services. He was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, and on the death of his father in 1863 he succeeded to the family estates, which included land in the Isle of Purbeck. Here he had fine opportunities for geological research, and the Kimeridge Clay in particular yielded to him many saurian remains, some of which were described by Owen and J. W. Hulke. In 1873 he contributed to the GEOLOGICAL MAGAZINE a "Brief Memoir on the Geology of Dorset" Two years later he was the chief founder, and afterwards President, of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, to the Pro- ceedings of which from 1877 onwards he contributed numerous papers. In one of these he called attention to the interesting discovery of remains of Elephas meridionalis at Dewlish. Although he had reached the ripe age of 84 his keen interest in science was maintained to the end, and his loss will be long and widely deplored in the county and elsewhere by all who had the privilege of his acquaintance.


Mr. Mansel-Pleydell may be regarded as almost the last of the race of country gentlemen of high social position who took any deep interest in geology. For, although he was strongly imbued with a love of natural history generally, and, in fact, was what we might call ' an all-round man,' yet he always held geology in especial favour. We perceive this in the originating of the Dorset Field Club, which was founded by three Fellows of the Geological Society, viz., himself, Professor Buckman, and the Rev. H. H. Wood, rector of Holwell. While Buckman was elected secretary and Wood treasurer, Mansel-Pleydell was made president, and continued to occupy that position until his death. During the twenty-seven years of its existence the President's high reputation and his continuous work added largely to the usefulness of the Field Club, and his influence has helped to preserve it from becoming a mere archaeological society—a fate which is likely to befall so many of these county associations in the near future. The Dorset County Museum likewise has been greatly indebted to Mr. Mansel-Pleydell, for during a long course of years he has enriched almost every department, and more especially that of palaeontology. It is here that his most important 'finds' have been deposited.


We must regard it as a matter for regret that Mr. Mansel-Pleydell's efforts in the cause of geological science were not more generally known, so that probably few persons unconnected with Dorset have any idea of the range of his knowledge in this direction. To this circumstance we may attribute the fact that he never obtained from the Council of the Geological Society any recognition of his services in the cause of geology, although it had no more enthusiastic devotee than the late President of the Dorset Field Club. He was one of those extraordinary men who unite the enthusiasm of youth with the mature judgment of old age, and it may be recorded of him that he ' died in harness' in his effort to attend the meeting at Dorchester, where it had been his intention to deliver his annual address. 

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