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William Willoughby Cole (1807-1886), 3rd Earl of Enniskillen

William Willoughby Cole, 3rd Earl of Enniskillen. GSL/POR/56/43.

Viscount William Willoughby Cole (1807-1886) was educated at Harrow School and then entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he enrolled in the geological classes taught by the flamboyant William Buckland (1784-1856).  Cole (from 1840 the 3rd Earl of Enniskillen), and his great friend Sir Philip de Malpas Egerton (1806-1881) both collected fossils, exploring the British Isles together.  In 1830, Buckland sent the two on their first foreign trip to seek out the cave deposits which had recently been discovered in Bavaria.  The two friends turned the trip into a ‘geological grand tour’ and on their travels met the Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) who was researching fossil fish for his monograph 'Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles' (1833-1843/1844).  Inspired, thereafter Cole’s and Egerton’s collecting activities focused almost entirely on fossil fish.  Each man kept his own, distinct fossil cabinet but they would share acquisitions which frequently involved tossing a coin to see who would get which half of a prized specimen. 

Philip de Malpas Egerton. GSL/POR/56/41.

Failing eyesight towards the end of his life limited his geological activities and in 1882 Enniskillen’s palaeontological collection, numbering just under 10,000 specimens, was sold to the newly founded Natural History Museum where it fittingly joined Egerton’s collection.  Its route there was not without incident as thieves broke into the crates at Crewe railway station but, disappointed by what they found, threw some of the collection into the River Dee.