Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer (1856-61)

‘Why do entomologists need a weekly newspaper?’ asked the very first number of the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer in April 1856. This periodical was the work of one man, Henry Tibbats Stainton (1822-91), who ran the Intelligencer at his own expense and acted as the sole editor. The bulk of each issue was devoted to short notices written by correspondents, detailing the insects they had captured and giving exact information regarding the species, appearance, the date, weather conditions, and collecting methods used. In this way, it operated in much the same way as a private correspondence network, though on a much larger scale, with a readership of around 600 at its peak. Insect populations are inherently transitory, varying from week to week – and even day to day – depending on climatic conditions and a host of other factors. Rapid communication between collectors is therefore of paramount importance, and the Intelligencer aimed to provide a means by which entomologists could keep abreast of each other’s activity. Stainton hoped that the quick exchange of information among collectors would allow each individual to work with increased efficiently, completing more work in a single season than had hitherto been possible in two or three.

Insect collecting was widespread hobby among nineteenth-century society.  The readers of the Intelligencer were diverse in terms of class, if not in gender. Stainton himself remarked that no women wrote to the periodical, despite the many women who actively participates in entomology during this period. Costing just a single penny per issue, correspondents to the Intelligencer ranged from working-class collectors, such as the Sheffield razor grinder, James Batty, to gentleman naturalists such as Charles Darwin and John Lubbock. Darwin made use of the periodical on a number of occasions, first enquiring about the pollination of British orchids by certain moth species, but also playfully writing a letter on behalf of his children. This note read: ‘we three very young collectors have lately taken, in the parish of Down, six miles from Bromley, Kent, the following beetles’, and was signed in the names of Francis, Leonard, and Horace Darwin. Francis would later fondly recall this incident in an edited collection of his father’s correspondence.

Darwin Children, Intelligencer, 6, p. 99.

Charles Darwin’s letter to the Intelligencer, written on behalf of his three sons.

Each issue of the Intelligencer consisted of eight pages, and could easily have fitted into a pocket be and taken into the field on a collecting trip. The periodical rarely contained illustrations, as these would have driven up the cost of production, but occasionally woodcuts were included to aid insect identification. For example, the issue for 2nd May 1857 contains an image of Gastropacha ilicifolia – the small lappet moth – which ‘at rest looks amazingly like a dead leaf’. This species is now considered to be extinct in Britain, but at the time of the Intelligencer‘s publication, it could be found by attentive entomologists on ‘Cannoch Chase and the Northern Moors’. The adults emerge during late April and early May, hence why Stainton chose to publish the illustration at this time, thereby training his readers to be observant. He notes that the ‘varied fringes’ of the wings ‘ought to catch the eye of the keen collector: dead and withered leaves are not often marked with such regularity’. The periodical was therefore closely tied to the practices of natural history, with the form and content shaped by such seasonal variations.

Intelligencer pic

A woodcut of the ‘Small Lappet’ moth on the title page of the Intelligencer.

The Intelligencer also facilitated the exchange of specimens, as collectors could place adverts listing the insects they had collected in abundance, and were therefore willing to swap for others. Such a system was open to abuse, and this led to acrimonious debates among readers who felt they had been defrauded of their hard-won specimens. This controversy, along with the strain of single-handedly producing an issue a week, may have been among the reasons Stainton chose to discontinue to the Intelligencer after only five years. Despite its short lifespan, Stainton’s periodical left a considerable void in the periodical market, and there were various attempts to replace it. For example, Thomas Blackburn, a teenager who had first begun to correspond with Stainton through the Intelligencer, began his own (almost identical) periodical entitled the Weekly Entomologist (1861-63).

exchange intelligencer

 A typical exchange advertisement published in the Intelligencer.

The Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer exemplifies how a periodical could bring into being a community of naturalists, despite the many differences between the various readers and correspondents. Those who contributed to the periodical embodied the whole spectrum of nineteenth-century natural history, including those who pursued butterflies for sport and aesthetic pleasure, and those such as Stainton who considered themselves to be rigorous men of science. The practical aspects of collecting specimens were the common thread that bound these individuals together.


Play the Mind Boggling Medical History card game today!


Mind-Boggling Medical History

  • Eating too many bananas makes you grow more body hair by increasing the level of potassium.
  • Maggots are used in hospitals to clean infected wounds.
  • Excessive cycling can cause permanent damage to the muscles in the face.*

Look at the statements above. What do you think when you see them? Do they refer to current medical ideas? Are they medical practices from the past? Or are the theories mentioned entirely fictional?  

These are just some of the weird and wonderful statements we put to people who play Mind-Boggling Medical History, a game developed by Dr Sally Frampton (University of Oxford) and colleagues, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Mind-Boggling Medical History is an educational game which is designed to challenge preconceptions about history and show how ideas in medicine change for a variety of reasons. From floating kidneys and wandering wombs to transplanted heads and dogs who detect diseases, the game challenges players to look at a series of statements and decide which concern current medical practice, which are based on historical ideas or practices no longer used, and which we have … well … just made up! Players can choose from a number of rounds related to different medical themes, including ‘sex and reproduction’, ‘animals’, ‘mind’ and ‘treatment’. We have produced both a physical card pack, available to those working in education, nursing, public engagement and museums, as well as an online version that is freely available to all (https://mbmh.web.ox.ac.uk/home).

Developed in collaboration with the Royal College of Nursing, and drawing on the interdisciplinary work of the ‘Constructing Scientific Communities’ project (headed by Professor of English Literature Sally Shuttleworth), Mind-Boggling Medical History has been created with museum visitors, school students, and University nursing and medical students in mind. Accompanying lesson plans and learning resources for use with GCSE History and BSc Nursing students are available to download for free on our website.

The game is intended to show players how historical theories can prompt questions about current understandings of medicine, the need for health and medical practitioners to stay up-to-date in their field, and the impact that changes in medical knowledge can have on patient care. The game was developed into a more sophisticated resource after playing it with museum visitors at a series of public engagement events in both Oxford and London. The aim is to get people thinking about medicine in its past and present contexts and show that the differences between the two are not always clear or straightforward. Faced with tobacco enemas, heroin-laced medicines and an enthusiastic reliance on smelling urine to diagnose disease, it can sometimes be difficult to see beyond our own incredulity at how illness was treated at different points in the past, and to instead consider why certain theories and practices emerge when they do.

Mind-Boggling Medical History encourages users to look more closely at how ideas change in medicine, how they can often come in and out of fashion (think leeches!) and how modern-day medicine can equally play host to bizarre and unexpected ideas and treatments. Sometimes the truth can seem stranger than fiction.

Contact: sally.frampton@ell.ox.ac.uk

Constructing Scientific Communities:  www.conscicom.org

*A: (1) Fictional; (2) Present; (3) Past

Arabella Kenealy (1859-1938): Medical woman, author and eugenicist

NB: This article contains references to eugenicist ideas and descriptions of miscarriage that readers may find upsetting.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, which we typically mark by highlighting the achievements of pioneering women in history. Last year, I appeared in a video for ConSciCom discussing the Victorian medical-woman movement, talking about how early female practitioners paved the way for later generations of women in medicine. There is immense value in highlighting the inspirational activities of our female forerunners; it improves the visibility of women’s history and helps to redress traditionally male-dominated narratives. However, in doing so, we also risk sanitising or erasing more problematic aspects of women’s history. Not all ‘pioneering’ women can or should be treated as proto-feminist icons.

The subject of this profile – Arabella Kenealy, an early medical woman and author, who was also an outspoken eugenicist – deftly illustrates this. As Angelique Richardson has shown, there was considerable interaction between the New Woman and eugenicist movements at the fin de siècle,[1]  and Kenealy was a particularly prolific and extreme spokesperson on degeneration.

Arabella Kenealy

Born in Portslade, East Sussex in 1859, Kenealy was one of eleven children from the marriage of Edward and Elizabeth Kenealy. Her father was a barrister, who earned notoriety for his eccentric conduct when he acted as counsel during the Tichborne Case. The young Kenealy was educated at home, and she later studied at the London School of Medicine for Women. In 1883, she was licensed by the King’s and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland, the first licensing body in the UK to admit women. She went on to practise medicine in London and Watford between 1884 and ‘94.

In 1893, her novel Dr Janet of Harley Street appeared, amid a vogue for fiction about medical women.[2] The narrative tells the story of Phyllis Eve, a young woman who runs away from her dissipated husband on her wedding day. She finds refuge with Dr Janet Doyle, a successful physician who attempts to make Phyllis her protégé.

Dr Janet is a pragmatic, confident and capable medical woman, who has a large and prosperous practice. Yet the story largely perpetuates gender stereotypes. Women doctors were often seen as androgynous or unconventional figures, and Janet fits this archetype – she is masculine in appearance and describes herself as having a ‘neuter-nature’. [3] By contrast, Phyllis is almost hyper-feminine – sensitive, innocent, and highly-strung. Whereas Janet thrives in medicine, Phyllis wilts from the pressures of study. The narrative is interested in medical education and practice, but it is largely concerned with Phyllis’s attempts to escape her reprobate husband and find love with Janet’s cousin, Paul. The story unfolds as a battle between Janet and Paul for Phyllis’s future. He insists that ‘[a] woman like that is made for love and home and children’ rather than ‘skeletons and pharmacopeias’.[4] He is proven right, and the novel implies that only some (atypical) women are suited to medical work.

In an earlier blog post, I profiled one of Kenealy’s contemporaries, Margaret Todd, the author of Mona Maclean, Medical Student (1892). This novel has aged relatively well, retaining much of its humour and charm, and its independent heroine remains sympathetic and engaging. By contrast, Dr Janet now seems distinctly unpalatable and even shocking in places, both in its more restrictive attitude towards gender roles and its scorn towards the working classes. The titular character vehemently warns of the dangers of degeneration, presenting working-class sexuality as a threat. In one scene, she attends poor patients at the hospital, asking the parents of ‘sickly or evilly-disposed children’ if they are ‘not ashamed to have brought such “human rubbish” into existence’.[5]

The novel was also considered rather outlandish at the time of publication, however. Whereas Mona Maclean is a romance in the realist mode, Dr Janet is a sensationalist and melodramatic novel, with a plotline that encompasses a faked death, bigamy, and adultery. In the closing chapters, the titular character even persuades Phyllis’s dissolute husband to commit suicide, to release his young wife from their doomed marriage. Reviewing the novel, journalist Hilda Gregg suggested that this method of dispatching the villain was ‘highly ingenious’, adding that ‘[i]n Miss Kenealy’s opinion, it is also highly moral in character, but this is a matter on which a very different view may be held’.[6]

Shortly after the novel’s publication, Kenealy contracted diphtheria and retired from active medical practice due to ill-health. She increasingly focused on writing both popular fiction and articles for magazines such as The Nineteenth Century and Eugenics Review. In Dr Janet, the eponymous character represents sexual difference as the ‘acme of development’, positing her own ‘neuter-nature’ as an aberration.[7] Kenealy’s later writing espoused similar views on evolution and sex. It implied that Nature was unconcerned with women’s physical or intellectual prowess, and more interested in procreation. Unlike many of her fellow medical women, Kenealy endorsed conventional femininity and gender roles, fearing that women’s work would detract from their most important vocation: motherhood. She presented women as passionless creatures, who needed to conserve their energies for reproduction.[8] Her book Feminism and Sex Extinction (1920), as its title suggests, concentrated on what she perceived as the harmful effects of the women’s rights movement. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) branded it ‘an interesting study in modern sociology’, and one that would confirm the views of those who saw ‘nought but harm in votes for women’.[9]

As with many eugenicists, Kenealy’s fixation with the decline of the national stock included a concern with congenital illnesses, including venereal disease. In 1895, she wrote a letter to the BMJ, which appeared under the title ‘A Question of Conscience’. This is the first known example of a woman doctor attending venereal disease in private practice.[11] The correspondence records a case where Kenealy withheld treatment from a pregnant women with syphilis, who appeared to be approaching a miscarriage. The patient had previously suffered several miscarriages and borne one child with congenital syphilis. Kenealy characterised her patient as ‘a wreck of a young woman’, dehumanising the existing child with reference to its ‘dull misshapen head’.[10] Kenealy asked the BMJ’s readers for their opinion on her handling of the case.

The letter raised questions about medical ethics and morality and Kenealy’s approach drew criticism from some of her contemporaries. The BMJ later printed a letter from A.G. Welsford, who argued that allowing or enabling miscarriages whenever there was chance of inherited disease amounted to ‘a radical method of eliminating unhealthy strains in the race’. He anticipated it would lead to ‘terrible abuses’, and contended that it was not for doctors to decide whether or not a particular life had ‘value’.[12] In a later letter, Kenealy said that she appreciated ‘the position of trust held by the physician’. She denied that she was advocating euthanasia but claimed that practitioners should ‘allow’ Nature to ‘cast off’ a foetus with congenital syphilis.[13]She continued to use graphic and dehumanising language while defending her position. The BMJ shut down further correspondence on the matter, as it often did with lengthy and inflammatory exchanges.

Across her career, Kenealy was recognised as both a woman doctor and an author. Like Todd, her literary and medical identities intersected, though sometimes in less affirmative ways. In 1896, the BMJ printed a critique of her short story, ‘A Human Vivisection’, in which a Professor vivisects a drunk man. An anonymous reviewer lambasted the plotline, suggesting that if a writer who appeared on the Medical Register believed a practitioner capable of such acts, she should ‘publicly […] disassociate’ herself from the profession. If not, she should do other than ‘slander’ her peers.[14] In a rejoinder, Kenealy emphasised her pride in the profession and pointed out that other authors (such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle) were not attacked for their dubious portraits of medical men. The BMJ inserted an editorial apology, saying it regretted any ‘misrepresentation’ as to Kenealy’s intentions.[15] Kenealy remained active in medical, cultural and public spheres. She campaigned against vivisection, giving evidence to the 1912 Royal Commission, and she also became interested in occultism. She died in Marylebone, London in November 1938.

Kenealy is not the type of woman to be reclaimed as a proto-feminist icon. Her views on eugenics and sexual politics make for distinctly troubling reading. While they partly reflect contemporary ideologies, they were also regarded as controversial and even abhorrent by her peers. Nevertheless, it is important to engage with problematic female ‘pioneers’ such as Kenealy. As identified at the outset, simply reifying individuals as inspirational heroines risks oversimplifying and sanitising women’s history. Recently, historian Fern Riddell has highlighted the role violence played in the suffragette movement, discussing how such militancy has been erased in the cultural imagination. Of course, Kenealy in many ways went against this grain, using her platform to decry women’s rights, but she is another figure who proves difficult to accommodate or integrate into our popular narratives of women’s history. To understand fully women’s varied contributions to history, however, we need to engage with a range of attitudes, opinions and behaviours that shaped public and private life.

[1] Angelique Richardson, Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth-Century: Rational Reproduction and the New Woman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 9.

[2] Kristine Swenson, Medical Women and Victorian Fiction (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005).

[3] Arabella Kenealy, Dr Janet of Harley Street (New York: Appleton, 1894), p. 124.

[4] Kenealy, Dr Janet, p. 143.

[5] Kenealy, Dr Janet, p. 195.

[6] Hilda Gregg, ‘The Medical Woman in Fiction’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 164 (July 1898), 94-109 (p. 108).

[7] Kenealy, Dr Janet, p. 124.

[8] Patricia Fara, A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), p. 40.

[9] ‘Notes on Books’, BMJ, 15 May 1920, p. 676.

[10] Kenealy, ‘Correspondence: A Question of Conscience’, BMJ, 14 September 1895, p. 682.

[11] Anne Hanley, Medicine, Knowledge and Venereal Diseases in England, 1886-1916 (London: Palgrave, 2017), p. 154.

[12] A.G. Welsford, ‘Correspondence: “A Question of Conscience”’, BMJ, 28 September 1895, p. 807.

[13] Kenealy, ‘Correspondence: “A Question of Conscience”’, BMJ, 12 October 1895, p. 934.

[14] ‘Letters, Notes, and Answers to Correspondents: “A Human Vivisection”’, BMJ, 20 June 1896, p. 1544.

[15] ‘Letters, Notes, and Answers to Correspondents: “A Human Vivisection”’, BMJ, 27 June 1896, p. 1588.

Emma Hutchinson (1820-1906)

In browsing many natural history periodicals of the nineteenth century, a casual reader could be forgiven for believing that science was pursued predominantly by men. The overwhelming majority of contributors to these publications were male, and even the few mentions of women involved in collecting are often mediated through their husbands or other male relatives. A Mr J. P. Duncan wrote to the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer in 1858 to relate that, ‘Mrs Duncan captured, yesterday afternoon, a fine female specimen of what I conceive to be Micra ostrina‘. The identity of the unfortunate Mrs Duncan is elided, and although she is rightfully credited with catching the insect, it is her husband who identifies the species and assumes responsibility for informing the periodical’s readers.

Despite the preponderance of men in these periodicals, women were heavily involved in the practices of natural history, though evidence of their roles can sometimes be harder to come by. Some of us will be familiar with the pioneering figure of Eleanor Ormerod (1808-1901), who earned widespread recognition among the scientific establishment for her work on injurious insects. Far less well-known, however, is Emma Hutchinson (1820-1906), who was an important and highly-valued figure within the entomological community. Born Emma Gill, in 1847 she married the Reverend Thomas Hutchinson, a Herefordshire-based vicar and keen botanist. It was the couple’s eldest son who first turned his mother’s attention to the pursuit of entomology, when he caught a moth at the age of five. Thereafter, Hutchinson took to the study of insects with an enthusiasm and dedication far beyond many of her contemporaries.

Hutchinson became particularly skilled at the breeding of Lepidoptera, a very difficult task that required dexterity and close attention. While chasing butterflies with a net was certainly a common practice, rearing insects from the egg was an equally established way of acquiring specimens. It ensured the insects were in excellent condition, as identification of species could often rest on minute anatomical differences that were at risk of damage by the less gentle manner of catching them on the wing. Furthermore, it allowed for a more exhaustive study of these insects, giving the breeder a chance to observe the full lifecycle of the butterfly or moth as it progressed from caterpillar to the adult (imago) stage.

Among Hutchinson’s greatest claim to fame was her continuous breeding of Eupithecia insigniata – the Pinion-spotted Pug moth – for over thirty years. In volume 8 of William Buckler’s book, Larvae of the British Butterflies and Moths (1899), the author notes that ‘towards the end of May, 1868, Mrs Hutchinson, of Grantsfield, kindly sent me seven eggs of Eupithecia consignata, laid by a female taken in Herefordshire by her daughter. They all hatched in the course of a few days’. Buckler notes that this was an ‘almost unknown larva’, thereby making Hutchinson’s contribution particularly valuable.

Buckler Larvae

William Buckler’s illustrations of larvae, with Hutchinson’s Pinion-spotted Pug centre-left (no. 2).

Despite her obvious skill and expertise, Hutchinson published very little compared to her male counterparts, nor was she permitted to join her local scientific society, the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, which did not admit women as full members until 1954. Consequently, one of her earliest publications in the club’s Transactions is attributed to ‘the family of Rev. Thos. Hutchinson’. Hutchinson’s obituarist in the Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation lamented that ‘she has left record of so little of her knowledge’, and ranked her among the foremost entomologists in the country at that time. However, she did contribute various short notices to two periodicals, the Entomologist (1864-1973) and the Young Naturalist (1879-90), recording her entomological activity.

Writing in 1865, Hutchinson recorded a successful collecting trip: ‘I shall be obliged to announce in the Entomologist the capture of Cerestoma asperella at Leominster. I believe this insect has only been taken once before in this country, and then by Mr Dale at Glanvilles Wootton. I have taken but a single specimen, and on the same day a lady in our party netted a specimen of Sarothripa revayana, an insect not previously taken here’. The published letter was signed ‘E. S. Hutchinson’, giving no clue as to her gender. This brief statement is highly suggestive, as it demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of Lepidoptera and an ability to correctly identify these insects, but also a familiarity with entomological literature regarding where and by whom previous captures had been made. Furthermore, the reference to a second woman collecting as part of the group demonstrates that Hutchinson was far from unique in her choice of pastime.

Among Hutchinson’s few publications of greater length was an article in the Young Naturalist. As the periodical’s title implies, the magazine aimed to ‘cultivate a taste for natural history’ among children and adolescents. Hutchinson’s piece was entitled ‘Entomology and Botany as Pursuits for Ladies’, specifically addressing young ladies in an attempt to convince her readers that these two branches of study were ‘strictly feminine’ and worth their time. The conversational style resembles the ‘maternal tradition’ of science writing, as characterised by Bernard Lightman, by which women wrote for an audience of children and other women. Unlike her letters to the Entomologist, the article was signed as ‘Mrs Hutchinson’, thereby emphasising that she was a woman and a mother.

A further significant article penned by Hutchinson for the Entomologist in 1881 regards the supposed near-extinction of the Comma butterfly (Vanessa c-album) in Britain, as had been repoorted by a number of other correspondents to the periodical. She disagreed, reporting that the butterfly remained abundant in her native Herefordshire. Furthermore, Hutchinson relates her attempts at conservation, describing how ‘I have bribed those over whom I have control in the parish to collect for me every larva and pupa they can find, and by this means have preserved many thousands of this lovely butterfly’. A great number of these insects she sent to be released in Surrey, in an effort to repopulate depleted areas, ‘but without success’.

After Hutchinson’s death, her scientifically valuable collection of 20,000 Herefordshire Lepidoptera were donated by her daughter to the London Natural History Museum, a testament to the scope and significance of her collecting. She is remembered in entomological nomenclature by a variant form of the Comma butterfly, which is named hutchinsoni in her honour.


The Comma butterfly, from Richard South’s Butterflies of the British Isles (1906). The variety named after Hutchinson, which is slightly paler than the other forms, is bottom right.