The youngest and most overlooked of the Brontë sisters, Anne died aged 29 in 1849. She is less well known as a writer than sisters Charlotte and Emily, but academics at the University of Aberdeen believe she also deserves recognition as a scientist.
Anne worked as a governess in the seaside town of Scarborough where she collected stones - which have now been deemed to have significant scientific merit rather than being picked up purely for being pretty.
Using portable Raman spectroscopy, a technique used to identify the mineral composition of rocks and stones, researchers analysed Anne’s collection which is housed at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Howarth.
They found that as well as carnelians and agates which she collected in Scarborough, the collection contained flowstone (a kind of calcium carbonate that formed in a cave like a stalagmite), and a rare kind of red obsidian which originated outside of the UK.
It is also likely that Anne would have visited the Rotunda Museum close to where she stayed in the seaside town, which contained exhibits featuring the area’s geology.
Sally Jaspars, a student at the University of Aberdeen’s Department of English, is studying Anne Brontë as part of her PhD and contacted Dr Stephen Bowden from the University’s School of Geosciences for assistance in analysing the collection.
The results of their collaboration, which also involved Professor Hazel Hutchison of Leeds University and Dr Enrique Lozano Diz at ELODIZ, a company specialising in spectroscopy analysis, are published in Brontë Studies.
Sally said: “When I learned of Anne Brontë’s collection I thought it a great opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary research combining science and literature.
“Her interest in geology is mentioned in her literary works – indeed in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall she references the science and a book by Sir Humphry Davy directly.
“This is the first time that Anne’s collection has been systematically described and fully identified, and in doing so we add to the body of knowledge on Anne and show her to be scientifically minded and engaging with geology.
"She was an intelligent and progressive individual who was in tune with the scientific enquiry of the time.”
Dr Bowden added: “Our Raman spectroscopy analysis which we undertook at the Brontë Parsonage Museum shows that Anne Brontë did not just collect pretty stones at random but skilfully accumulated a meaningful collection of semiprecious stones and geological curiosities.
“Anne’s collection comprises stones that are sufficiently unusual and scarce to show that they were collected deliberately for their geological value, and it’s clear that her collection took skill to recognise and collect. “