Did a lightning strike change the course of Mary Anning’s life?

Mary Anning became world-famous for her fossil discoveries but her life was hard. She came from a poor background, and life grew even worse when her father died when she was young.

On 19 August 1800, aged 15 months, she narrowly escaped death. She was taken to see an outdoor equestrian event by a family friend, Elizabeth Haskings, and two other women. The afternoon grew very sultry before “there was an awful peal of thunder” and Mary’s group ran for shelter under a tree before lightning struck and the three women were killed. Mary also appeared dead but she was rushed home, given a warm bath and miraculously revived. Her biographer, George Roberts, wrote: “Mary Anning was born a dull child but after the accident grew up lively and intelligent.”

On very rare occasions lightning has led to other life-changing miracles. The neurologist Oliver Sacks in his book Musicophilia described how a surgeon, Tony Cicoria, was almost killed by lightning in 1994. He recovered and became obsessed with music: he heard it in his head, learned to play the piano and composed his own music.