For two years the family continued to struggle with earning a living. In 1812 Joseph came across something neither he nor Mary had ever seen before. It was a head of what appeared to be a fossilised crocodile. A year later after a stormy winter which battered the coastline, Mary finally uncovered the body to go with the fossil head. Mary always referred to this fossil as a crocodile; it was the first complete one ever found. This find brought in a huge sum of money for the family, Lord Henley from a nearby mansion paid £23 to have the complete specimen. He later sold it to William Bullock who displayed it in the Bullock’s museum in London. There was a lot of interest in the specimen which was later sold again to the British Museum for £45; it was here it inherited its scientific name, Ichthyosaurus.
Mary accompanied many upper class men whilst they were fossil hunting on the beach. Many were big names of the time such as William Buckland who was to become President of the Geological Society of London. One man, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch took advantage of Mary and her skills to build up his own personal collection. But by 1820 he felt sorry for the family because by this point the family had begun selling their furniture in order to make a living. Birch decided he would auction his fossil collection off on the 15th May 1820 at Bullock’s. The auction raised an astounding £400 for the Anning’s although it is not known how much of this actually made it to the family. Mary also accompanied Sir Roderick Murchison and his wife Lady Charlotte Murchison during their visit to Lyme. This formed a life long friendship between Charlotte and Mary.
In the early 1820’s Mary found another new fossil species, a Plesiosaurus which was later followed by the discovery of a Pterodactylus, a winged reptile, which was the first of its kind to be found in the UK. Although Mary was the first person to find some of these fossil species, she never really received any recognition for her discoveries because of her level in society. It was only in her later years that people would begin to take notice of her and the work she had done.
The family continued to earn what money they could but in 1825 Mary’s brother stopped fossil hunting to take up a role as an upholsterer. At this point Mary took over the family business. By 1826 she had earned enough money to buy a property with a large glass front window, which would allow her to sell and display her finds. The business became successful with many geologists visiting the shop to purchase items for their collections.
Towards the end of her life, Mary became ill causing her work to tail off. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1846. Because of her failing health, she was to face financial struggle once more but the Geological Society of London stepped in and raised money for her. She passed away on the 9th March 1847 at just 47 years of age. She is buried in the churchyard at St Michaels in Lyme Regis, where the Geological Society also paid to have a stained glass window made to commemorate her memory and lifelong work.