6 January 2016
Landslides in Art – in Mary Buckland
On 25th December 1839 a very large coastal landslide occurred at Bindon in Dorset, southern England. This was a large landslide – it is reported that the mass that moved was 150 m by 500 m, and up to 70 m thick (if we assume an average thickness of 50 m this would give a volume of about 3.75 million cubic metres). The Bindon Landslide caused something of a sensation in Victorian Britain, which of course was increasingly interested in the ways in which the natural world operated. There was particular interest in a feature that became known as Goat Island – a large displaced block – and a large deep tension crack, which became known as The Great Chasm, at its landward side. The landslide inspired a range of artistic work, including a piece of music – the Landslide Quadrille.
The Bindon Landslide is significant in a number of ways. Perhaps the most important is that it was described in detail by two local clergymen, William Buckland and William Conybeare, and a local suveryor, William Dawson. This is commonly thought to be the first detailed scientific description of a landslide. The three Williams produced a detailed published account of the Bindon Landslide, with a set of quite beautiful illustrations by Mary Buckland, the wife of William Buckland. This monograph has been put online in full by the Lyme Regis museum. The illustrations by Mary Buckland are quite beautiful, and stand the test of time as art in their own right. I am featuring just two here, but I recommend that you take a look at the full set. First, this is an engraving of the Bindon landslide from the east, looking west. Goat Island is the large mass on the centre left of the landslide complex, with The Great Chasm dividing it from the back-tilted blocks below the cliffs:
And second, this is a detailed engraving of The Great Chasm:
Note the detail that Mary Buckland captured in this image, including the stratigraphy and the geometry of the displaced blocks. The figures are indicative of the level of interest that the landslide generated in Victorian society.
For those that are interested, there is a reassessment of the mechanisms of the Bindon landslide in a paper by Gallois (2010), which is available online. The paper concludes that:
“Recent geological surveys have confirmed that the description by the Bucklands, Conybeare and Dawson is an outstanding example of observation and analysis, and that their interpretation of the mechanism, although incomplete, was superior to that of any subsequent account.”
The previous edition of this Landslides in Art series is available here.
Gallois, R.W.. 2010 The failure mechanism of the 1839 Bindon Landslide, Devon, UK : almost right first time. Geoscience in South-West England : Proceedings of the Ussher Society, 12. 188-197.