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The famous Devon landslips of 1839 and 1840

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Ten plates comprising a plan, sections, and views, representing the changes produced on the coast of East Devon, between Axmouth and Lyme Regis by the subsidence of the land and elevation of the bottom of the sea, on the 26th December, 1839, and 3rd of February, 1840, from drawings by W. Dawson, Esq. Civil Engineer and Surveyor, Exeter, the Rev. W.D. Conybeare and Mrs. Buckland. With a geological memoir and sections descriptive of these and similar phænomena, byd the Rev. W.D. Conybeare. The whole revised by Professor Buckland. London, John Murray 1840

'View of the Great Chasm of the Axmouth Landslip, looking Westward', from Conybeare et al, on the changes produced on the coast of East Devon by the subsidences in 1839 and 1840
'View of the Great Chasm of the Axmouth Landslip, looking Westward'


Between late 1839 and early 1840 there occurred on the south coast between Axmouth and Lyme Regis one of the largest and most dramatic landslides in Britain. Over half a mile of cliff at the Axmouth end slipped first beginning on Christmas Day 1839, followed by a shorter section of cliff about a mile up the coast towards which slipped in February 1840. This rare and remarkable book was put together by a formidable team of geologists.

Conybeare, who had carried out the pioneering studies of the extinct marine reptiles, Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus, was Vicar of Axminster at the time of the slips and was thus on the spot to take first-hand accounts from witnesses as well as making a number of significant geological observations on them. William Buckland, with whom Conybeare had often worked, was a famous and flamboyant lecturer of geology and mineralogy at Oxford and author of many influential papers on geology. His wife was known as a geological artist.

The fine measured drawings were largely executed by William Dawson of Exeter, better known as an artist than as a civil engineer and surveyor. Mary Buckland made two of them, while Conybeare provided the coloured longitudinal section of the coast and contributed geological colouring to a transverse section of the slip.

Conybeare’s clear explanatory text includes eye-witness accounts of the major slip as well as the geological explanations for the causes of both areas. It also contains an account of earlier landslips, notably at the Undercliff on the Isle of Wight at about the same period as the Dorset/Devon slip, slips on the Isle of Portland in 1734 and 1792 and at Hawkley in Hampshire in 1775 in order to prove conclusively that such events were caused by excess of water, in this case springs beneath the greensand below the chalk, rather than by earthquakes.

The book was published by subscription and contains a list of subscribers, who include many fellows of the Geological Society such as Lyell, De la Beche, Fitton and Murchison. This copy is rather battered but bears the ownership inscriptions of a member of Dawson’s family and of the geologist, A.W. Clayden (1855-1944), Professor of Geology and Physics at University College, Exeter, and author of 'This history of Devonshire scenery', 1906.

'A View of the Landslip from Great Bindon - looking Westward to the Sidmouth Hills and Estuary of the Exe'
'A View of the Landslip from Great Bindon'


Oblong folio. (vi) + 14pp, 12 litho plates numbered 1-10 and 2 un-numbered of which 5 hand-coloured and 4 double-page. Contemporary quarter calf, worn and rubbed. Boards cracking at centre. Heavy foxing to some plates. Near contemporary ownership inscription of E.M.P Dawson, The Close, Exeter, later ownership inscription of A.W. Clayden FGS. Boxed rather than rebound to preserve original condition.