Self-Fashioning Scientific Identities: A Conference Report and Outlook

The following post was kindly written by Lea Beiermann, a PhD student researching nineteenth-century microscopy at the University of Cologne. You can find her on Twitter here.

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Antiqued portrait of Paul du Bois-Reymond in Emil du Bois-Reymond‘s Untersuchungen über thierische Elektricität, vol. II (Berlin: Reimer, 1884)

What did a nineteenth-century janitor have to do to become an acknowledged member of the scientific community? Could sailors publish their notes taken on maritime expeditions, and did that make them ethnologists? And how did women navigate a sea of male scientific identities? These are some of the questions that were discussed during the workshop “Self-Fashioning Scientific Identities in the Long Nineteenth Century” hosted at the University of Leicester on June 15th.

Research into scientific self-fashioning has long proven to be a useful tool for analysing both changes and continuities in scientific culture. Crafting a trustworthy persona for oneself is crucial when attempting to claim an authoritative position in scientific circles and beyond. Nineteenth-century self-fashioning in the sciences would often build on established personae – like the solitary genius – while reinterpreting them at the same time. As Steven Shapin (2012) has observed, “the late modern expert still retains some characteristics of the early modern virtuoso.”[1]


Photographic portrait of Constance Naden c.1886. Further Reliques of Constance Naden (London: Bickers and Song, 1891), frontis.

The “SciSelf” workshop, which was accompanied by lively #sciself2018 Tweets, facilitated exchanges among researchers looking into the intricate relations between scientific, gender and class identities in the long nineteenth century. Papers presented at the workshop, which was funded by the Constructing Scientific Communities project, provided rich perspectives on the formation of scientific identities, questions of scientific authority, autobiographical writing and science popularisation.

The first panel, focusing on disciplinary identities, exposed nineteenth-century strategies of being recognised as an ethnologist, a physiologist, or forging a decidedly interdisciplinary identity. The second panel laid bare the difficulties experienced by scientists managing multiple scientific personae, while papers on the third panel presented both authorial and photographic ways of “writing” scientific identities. Strategies of popularising science were analysed in the final panel on science in public, followed by a keynote by Dr Patricia Fara (University of Cambridge) on female identities in early twentieth-century science.

The papers presented at the “SciSelf” workshop analysed nineteenth- and early twentieth-century science in Britain, America, the Netherlands, Romania and Germany, inviting us to look at national differences and parallels. The international scope of these papers both testified to the spread of the notion of self-fashioning as an analytical lens and suggested that it may be worthwhile to engage in further comparative or transnational studies of scientific identities. Likewise, it seemed that comparing the various personae underlying nineteenth-century self-fashioning may allow to better understand the development of amateur and professional scientific alliances, within and across disciplines.


Portrait of Sir Ronald Ross, May 1898. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images.

Finally, the “SciSelf” workshop also reminded us to reflect on our own self-fashioning as historians of science. Judging by the #sciself2018 Tweets, presenters were forced to leave their research “dungeons” to attend the conference or combine breakfast with preparatory paper reading. Although these Tweets painted endearing pictures of researchers absorbed in their work, they made me aware that our increasing self-presentation on digital (and non-digital) platforms comes with the obligation of considering the implications of our own self-fashioning – which identities are we crafting and who are we including in or excluding from our scientific communities?

[1] Shapin, S. (2008). The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


The Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation (1890-)

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Title page of the very first number of the Entomologist’s Record

In 1890, a schoolmaster and lepidopterist named James William Tutt (1858-1911) established a periodical intended to ‘supply a magazine devoted entirely to the wants of British entomologists’. According to Tutt, the two other existing periodicals, the Entomologist and the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, contained far too much on foreign species that had no real use or application for the those whose collecting was limited to Britain. The Record allowed short notices in which entomologists exchanged information regarding their fieldwork, much in the same manner as they would through private correspondence. Tutt made this comparison explicit, claiming that much of the most important things he had learnt from others had been communicated ‘in a casual way’ through letters.

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A coloured plate from volume 4 of the Entomologist’s Record (1893), showing the varieties of some British Lepidoptera

Tutt himself was a bullish character, and his forthright manner did not endear him to some. He was dedicated to a thoroughly scientific and biological approach to entomology, and the Entomologist’s Record reflects this. The very title of the periodical points to major shifts in the life sciences, particularly when compared to an earlier publication such as the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer (1856-61). While correspondents to the latter periodical had openly mocked Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species when it was published in 1859, the Entomologist’s Record was expressly intended to allow collectors to share information regarding the variations within species that form the basis of evolutionary theory. Much of the work done by entomologists during the nineteenth century was primarily concerned with the classification of species, determining and delineating the differences between insects and sorting them accordingly. This task was not a simple one, as insects exist in a multitude of forms that defy any attempt to arrange them into a satisfactory system. As much of this process was carried out through the study of dead and dried specimens, far less attention was given to the insect as a living organism. Furthermore, the question of how such a profusion of variation had come about was considered by many naturalists to be beyond the bounds of reasonable speculation. However, by the 1890s, a new generation of entomologists were seeking to address this issue, taking up the theories of Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, and placing a greater focus on understanding the physiology of insects.

The best illustration of this shift in emphasis is supplied by Tutt himself, who is perhaps best known today as among the first entomologists to observe and speculate as to the cause of industrial melanism that occurred in the peppered moth, which has become one of the most celebrated (and controversial) examples of natural selection. Moths of this species were observed to be of a darker colour in certain localities, and it was in the Entomologist’s Record that the implications of this difference were first seriously considered by Tutt and his peers. Various solutions to the question were suggested, including differences in climate or diet, but it is now considered to be the result of air pollution. The peppered moth had evolved to be light in colour, in order to be camouflaged against the lichens growing on the bark of trees, but the industrialisation of the nineteenth-century led to a decline in air quality, killing off much of the lichen and staining the tree trunks with soot. Within the affected areas, the moths adapted through natural selection to become almost black in colour, thereby ensuring greater protection from predators. The Entomologist’s Record and those who contributed to it were therefore key players in this now-famous discovery.

The distinctive cover image of the Entomologist’s Record was produced by Frederick William Frohawk (1861-1946), who became a distinguished entomologist and zoological artist. The Record continues to be published, and only recently ceased to use this illustration.

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Lighter and darker varieties of the peppered moth, from Richard South’s Moths of the British Isles (1907-09)


The Naturalist (1864-)


Title page of the Naturalist‘s first volume

The year 1864 was a busy one for the business of natural history periodical publishing. Not only did it see the inception of the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine and the revival of the Entomologist, both of which were London-based publications, but in the north of England another periodical was brought into being. The Naturalist, not to be confused with another periodical of the same title (published 1851-58), was a product of the thriving industrial town of Huddersfield. The northern counties, and Yorkshire in particular, were a hotbed of natural history in the nineteenth century, and was home to the first ‘Union’ of natural history societies: the ‘West-Riding Consolidated Naturalists’ Society’, later expanded and renamed simply the Yorkshire Naturalist Union. This organisation, founded in 1861, brought together the various local natural history societies based in towns and cities of the region, aiming to coordinate their efforts in advancing knowledge of the flora and fauna of their native county. Initially, this encompassed six societies over an area of around twenty miles, numbering around 200 members, but this steadily grew to encompass naturalists from across the north of England. The Naturalist, which went through several iterations under different editors and owners during its early years, was closely associated with the Union from the beginning, and continues to serve as their official publication.


Coloured plate showing varieties of Magpie and Garden Tiger moths collected in Huddersfield by the Naturalist‘s editor

The opening address of the Naturalist cited the demise of the Weekly Entomologist (1861-63), and before that the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer (1856-61), as a reason for beginning another periodical that offered a way for naturalists to exchange correspondence and specimens. The focus of the new publication was not limited to entomology, though insect collecting was purportedly among the most common pursuit among the Yorkshire Union’s members. The chief aim of the Naturalist, however, was to bring together the various clubs and societies, providing a forum through which they could communicate with one another and give some sense of cohesion to their individual efforts. The 1850s onwards saw a notable increase in such groups, and it was observed in the Naturalist that ‘there is scarcely a town in the kingdom, and in the North of England scarcely a village, in which some society, either “Botanical”, or “Entomological”, or “Naturalist” does not exist, whilst “Field Clubs” are continually exploring every portion of the country’. It was hoped a periodical would serve a dual purpose in binding these disparate groups together, but also to publicise their work to a wider public beyond the north of England.

Although the vast majority of these men and women were drawn from a variety of backgrounds, pursuing natural history in their spare time, the efforts of the Union became increasingly well-organised. Influential members sought to mobilise this large and diverse network of practitioners into a rigorously scientific ‘army’ of workers. Against the background of growing specialisation and professionalisation in the life sciences during the later nineteenth century, the Union became a key site in which the naturalist tradition continued to be influential, with regular excursions and surveys undertaken by its members. The Union, and the Naturalist, remain highly active today in recording wildlife and thereby providing valuable biodiversity data.

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Members of the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union on an excursion in 1903

The Entomologist (1840-42, 1864-1973)

The Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine was not the only periodical launched in 1864 that catered exclusively to those who collected and studied insects. Unbeknownst to Henry Tibbats Stainton, Thomas Blackburn, and their fellow editors of the Monthly Magazine, others were plotting to fill the gap in the market left by the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer (1856-61). In fact, it was someone very well known to them who would beat them to it, when Edward Newman (1801-1876) commenced the Entomologist in May, a whole month before his unwitting rivals. Newman, the head of a printing company that specialised in natural history publications, was proprietor and editor of the Zoologist (1843-1916). As a friend of Henry Tibbats Stainton (1822-1893), Newman had also printed the Intelligencer, although their relationship had since become less close. According to Newman, many saw him as the man to remedy the lack of an entomological periodical, as he claimed that ‘between the demise of the Intelligencer and the birth of the short-lived Weekly Entomologist I had no less than ninety-seven pressing solicitations to commence an entomological periodical’.

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Title page of the Entomologist‘s second volume

The Entomologist of 1864 was not a new periodical, but a revival of the same journal Newman had originally published from 1840 to 1842. At the end of this first volume, he decided to merge the Entomologist with the Zoologist, a decision that was likely to have been at least partly informed by financial considerations, as unlike his friend Stainton, Newman had no independent wealth with which to fund his periodicals. A specialised magazine such as the Entomologist was not a commercially viable option in the 1840s, while the Zoologist appealed to a wider readership and thereby turned a profit. However, by the 1860s, and in the wake of the Intelligencer‘s success, it seems there was a much more considerable demand for an exclusively entomological periodical. The second volume of the Entomologist therefore commenced in 1864, over twenty years after the end of the first, with this hiatus possibly being the longest lapse of time between consecutively numbered volumes in periodical history.

In terms of contents, the Entomologist was a mix of the shorter notices and observations common to almost all natural history periodicals of the period. Following in the populist spirit of all Newman’s publications, it admitted a wide variety of contributors and was far less exclusive than the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine. A noteworthy contributor to the magazine during 1877 was Eleanor Anne Ormerod (1828-1901), who published a series of articles on the subject of injurious insects including the turnip weevil and the Colorado beetle. That same year, Ormerod issued the first of her Notes for Observations of Injurious Insects, a questionnaire through which she collated information regarding species that posed a threat to crops, and would go on to be appointed as consulting entomologist to the Royal Agricultural Society in 1882. As the name of the Colorado beetle suggests, it originated in the United States, where it had become a major pest to potatoes. In 1877, reports of its arrival in Europe – aided by unwitting human transportation – raised considerable alarm. As Ormerod noted, beetles had been found in Liverpool, presumably brought by the ships coming to dock there. She gave a brief account of their lifecycle and appearance, and warned ‘at present we have only to do with stragglers; it is of the greatest importance to spread knowledge of their appearance over the country as rapidly as possible, that none of these may escape’.

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Eleanor Ormerod’s article on the Colorado Beetle, given prime position at the start of the issue for September 1877

At Edward Newman’s death in 1876, the Entomologist remained under the ownership of his son, Thomas Prichard Newman. The editorship was given over to John Thomas Carrington (1846-1908), a naturalist and journalist who would later purchase the popular natural history periodical Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip. In 1890, the Entomologist was acquired by the wealthy lepidoperist John Henry Leech (1862-1900). Although Leech did not travel himself, he had amassed a vast number of butterflies from China, Japan, and Korea through the efforts of collectors working on his behalf. Leech intended to use the Entomologist as a medium through which to publish the research upon these specimens, and accordingly appointed the curator of his collection, Richard South (1846-1932), as editor of the periodical. Subsequently, under various different editors and owners, the Entomologist would be published continuously until 1973.

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A small woodcut memorialising Edward Newman in the Entomologist following his death in 1876




Programme and Registration for Workshop: Self-Fashioning Scientific Identities in the Long Nineteenth Century

University of Leicester, 15th June 2018, Charles Wilson Building 408


Keynote: Dr Patricia Fara, University of Cambridge

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was no such thing as a scientist. While professional careers in science were gradually formalised, many scientific practitioners aspired to none at all. Lacking blueprints to guide their behaviour, practitioners of all descriptions had to carve out their own identities to demonstrate expertise, prestige, taste, authority.

Scholars of nineteenth-century science and culture have revealed diverse scientific identities, including romantic geologists, chemical-wielding showmen, and poetic physicists, alongside artisan botanists, unpaid draughtswomen, and husband-and-wife collaborations. Recent scholarship complicates rigid distinctions between amateur and professional, populariser and primary researcher, and scientific writing and imaginative prose, producing increasingly nuanced studies of the ways in which scientific practitioners sought to shape their own identities.

Stephen Greenblatt’s now-classic study of ‘self-fashioning’ demonstrated how one might carve out for oneself ‘a distinctive personality, a characteristic address to the world, a consistent mode of perceiving and behaving’. The speakers at this one-day workshop will examine how complex changes in scientific culture can be considered through the lens of self-fashioning. Their papers cover an array of topics that include discussions of disciplinarity, life writing, authority, and the popularisation of science.

Please see the programme below. Those interested in attending should email with any dietary or access requirements. The workshop is free and the deadline for registration is May 23rd.

Funding for this day has been provided by the generous support of the Constructing Scientific Communities project.

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Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine (1864-)

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The teenage entomologist Thomas Blackburn (1844-1912) was not easily discouraged. His first effort to replace the discontinued Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer (1856-61) with his own periodical, the Weekly Entomologist (1862-63), ended in commercial failure. However, in 1864, before he had even turned twenty, he was formulating plans for a second attempt. Blackburn had since moved from his native Cheshire to London, taking up employment as a civil servant. His correspondence from this period is written upon official stationery, stamped with ‘Somerset House’, and it must be assumed that his superiors would not have approved of this entomological use of government property. Relocating to the capital also allowed Blackburn to make acquaintance with the Intelligencer‘s erstwhile editor, Henry Tibbats Stainton (1822-92), along with other leading men of the Entomological Society of London. Among these entomologists was Henry Guard Knaggs (1832-1908), who encouraged the young Blackburn in his plans for a new periodical. The result of these discussions was a letter Blackburn wrote to Stainton in which he laid out a proposal for what would become the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine.

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Thomas Blackburn in much later life

Among Blackburn’s suggestions for the periodical, to which Stainton agreed, was a plan to share the considerable labour of producing such a publication. Rather than a single editor, the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine was managed by a committee. This group initially consisted of Blackburn, Stainton, and Knaggs, along with Robert McLachlan (1837-1904) and Edward Caldwell Rye (1832-85). Stainton and McLachlan were men of independent wealth, while Knaggs was a well-to-do general practitioner. Rye, meanwhile, was a relatively humble clerk with a genius for entomological illustration. They divided the work of editing amongst themselves according to their respective specialisms (with the exception of Blackburn): Stainton was responsible for microlepidoptera (small moths), Knaggs for macrolepidoptera (large moths and butterflies), Mclachlan was a world-renowned expert on Neuroptera (net-winged insects), and Rye worked on Coleoptera (beetles).  All these men were good friends, with committee meetings held at each of their homes in turn. Less formal discussions took place during gatherings of the Entomological Society and other scientific coteries, and they were incessant correspondents. 

From the outset, the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine (or the ‘E. M. M.’, as it became fondly known among entomologists) was intended as a very different publication to the Intelligencer. The most obvious dissimilarity is signified by the title, with the periodical being a monthly rather than a weekly. Blackburn argued that this would reduce the workload of the editors, but it necessarily had a significant impact upon the kind of information the magazine contained. Whilst the raison d’être of the Intelligencer had been to rapidly circulate short notices regarding the capture of insects and other time-sensitive news relating to the fieldwork of entomologists, the Monthly Magazine published longer pieces, mostly devoted to works of taxonomic classification. The opening article of the first issue was written by Henry Walter Bates, describing ‘new species of butterflies from Guatemala and Panama’. Although the magazine prided itself on its ‘amateur character’, the shift in content led to a far more selective readership, precluding many of the collectors and beginners who were welcomed by the Intelligencer. Correspondence between the editors reveals that this was a deliberate decision to distance the new magazine from Stainton’s previous publication, as they consciously chose to exclude shorter, gossipy notices of the kind printed in the Intelligencer in favour of more dense, scientific content.  As a result, the number of contributors was considerably more limited, and mostly those who were already members of the Entomological Society.  These were not professionals, but rather represented the metropolitan scientific elite from which Stainton and his co-editors were drawn.

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Title page of the E. M. M.‘s first volume

Despite Blackburn’s instigation of the periodical, the older, more eminent men of the editorial committee came to dominate it. Within a few years of commencing the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, he gave up his position to take holy orders and embarked on an ecclesiastical career that would lead him to emigrate, first to Hawaii and then to Australia. Stainton, on the other hand, would continue to edit the periodical until his death, and was still busy correcting proofs the day before he died in 1892. The Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine continues to be published, and although it is only issued three times a year, it retains its title and sense of history. Much of its content is now the work of professional entomologists, but it continues to use the epigraph from the very first volume, a quote from the French entomologist Joseph Alexandre Laboulbène (1825-98): ‘I therefore exhort everybody to avoid anything personal in their writing or any allusions that exceed the boundaries of sincere and courteous debate’. It therefore seems that over 150 years later, entomologists still need occasionally to be reminded that any disagreements should be conducted in an amicable manner.


The Weekly Entomologist (1862-63)

After five years of publication, the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer was discontinued in 1861. The editor, Henry Tibbats Stainton (1822-92), seems to have lost patience with the considerable workload of producing a new issue each week, and took this unpopular decision at the conclusion of the tenth volume. Insect collectors who had grown accustomed to their ‘newspaper’ were understandably bereft, and there was much discussion as to whom could step in to fill the void. In 1862, a new periodical was announced, entitled the Weekly Entomologist. This journal was printed on behalf of the Altrincham and Bowden Entomological Society, in Cheshire. The title of this group suggests a large gathering of men, but in fact, the Society consisted of three schoolboys: the brothers Thomas and John Blackburn (1844-1912 and 1845-81), and their friend Edmund Geldart (1844-85). All had been avid readers of the Intelligencer, and had sent several letters regarding their insect-hunting to Stainton in the hope of publication. When Stainton discontinued the Intelligencer, his three youthful correspondents took it upon themselves to supply a replacement.

The Weekly Entomologist was almost identical to the Intelligencer in appearance and content. The first editorial was entitled ‘Union is Strength’, and implored its readers to participate ‘in a friendly spirit’, without descending to the acrimony and in-fighting that  had plagued the Intelligencer. Many of the same correspondents who had featured in Stainton’s periodical now published in the new weekly, giving details of the insects they had captured and lists of those they wished to exchange. The focus remained predominantly on the practical aspects of collecting, rather than lengthy scientific papers of taxonomic classification. Another leading article angrily criticised the recently passed Poaching Prevention Act, as this permitted the arrest of anyone found loitering suspiciously upon land set aside for the hunting of game. Entomologists would often fall foul of gamekeepers, as the pursuit of moths in particular necessitated nocturnal visits to woods and fields, armed with nets and other equipment,  which understandably aroused suspicion among those charged with the protection of such land. The editor urged entomologists to join ‘hand in hand against our common foes’, lest they be prevented from collecting insects entirely by the action of ‘aristocrats’. He also attacked ‘the railway capitalists, the farmer, the builder, the agriculturalist’ – all those who wished to ‘do away with the existence of insects’.


Title page for the second number of the Weekly Entomologist

Lacking the independent wealth with which Stainton funded the Intelligencer, the three schoolboys applied to the erstwhile editor for financial aid, and at first he was happy to oblige. However, the Weekly Entomologist struggled from the outset, failing to attract sufficient support from those who had previously read the Intelligencer. Furthermore, the production values of the periodical were much lower, with frequent errors in printing. Edmund Geldart, who would later recall his time editing the Weekly Entomologist alongside the Blackburn brothers in his memoir, A Son of Belial (1882), asserted that the local printer deliberately inserted these ‘mistakes’ in protest against insufficient payment. In one instance, a sentence on the subject of perseverance which should have read ‘the goal is always before you’, was instead printed as ‘the gaol [jail] is always before you’, significantly altering the meaning of the sentence. Ultimately, Stainton withdrew his support for the Weekly Entomologist, and it folded. Thomas Blackburn continued to correspond with Stainton, and upon moving to London, he collaborated with a number of other leading entomologist’s in establishing and editing the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine in 1864. After a brief stint in the civil service, he took holy orders and was ordained as a priest, and ended his career as a canon in Australia. He maintained his interest in entomology, amassing a large collection of beetles that are now held by the Natural History Museum, London. John Blackburn also worked in the civil service, and continued to collect insects during the long holidays this afforded him. Geldart seems to have lost his interest in entomology, and had a varied career as a teacher, an Anglican priest, and (after undergoing a conversion) a Unitarian minister.


The Substitute (1856-57)

The first volume of the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer ended in September 1856, having begun in April that year. Henry Tibbats Stainton (1856-90), who had established and edited this periodical, did not believe that such a publication was required during the winter months, as most entomologists ceased to collect at this time. There would no longer be any  information to share regarding the capture of insects, as the majority of species were only active during the warmer months. The Intelligencer therefore ‘hibernated’ until the following April, when the collecting ‘season’ would recommence.  However, such was the popularity Stainton’s periodical had gained in this short time that a plan was put in place to fill this temporary void with another publication, and thus the Substitute was created.


Title for the Substitute‘s first issue

The editor of the Substitute was John William Douglas (1814-1905), a long-term friend of Stainton’s, and it was printed by Edward Newman (1801-1876). The periodical’s title was a play on words, as the Substitute was both a replacement (or ‘substitute’) for the Intelligencer, and also an ‘entomological exchange facilitator’. Collectors were not entirely idle during the winter months, but instead used this time to consolidate their collections by identifying and preparing specimens for display. Often they had taken multiples of a particular species, and through the periodical they could advertise to ‘substitute’ these ‘duplicates’ for others. Typically, a correspondent would write a list of the insects they wished to exchange, along with their address, and readers could then peruse these notices and respond to those who possessed the insects they desired. Douglas declared ‘the trouble is not much; it need only be done once, and we shall thus be the “Substitute” for lots of letters’.


Extract from a poem entitled ‘Beetling for Beginners’, describing the different families of Coleoptera

The Substitute also described itself as an ‘entomologist’s fire-side companion’, publishing interesting or entertaining articles to amuse its readers as they remained indoors during the inclement weather. In this spirit, it published picaresque accounts of ‘entomological rambles’ taken in the summer months. Roland Trimen, seventeen years old and with a feted scientific career ahead of him, contributed a florid account of such a trip to the Isle of Wight, which conveys a sense of breathless excitement in the pursuit of Lepidoptera: ‘Here comes something! […] A jump and a twist of the net! We’ve got him!’. Poetry – entomological in theme, of course – also featured. Newman and Douglas both turned their hands to writing verse, usually doggerel in style, and the Substitute printed a number of these. A representative example is ‘The Hymenoptera Described’, which gives an exhaustive description of how to identify members of this insect family. The poem therefore served the dual purpose of entertaining and informing the readers.

In future years, Stainton found that there was ample material to ensure the Intelligencer could be continued over the winter months. The ongoing popularity of specimen exchange provided more than enough letters to publish, and entomologists developed new techniques for collecting hibernating insects (usually by digging them up), thereby allowing collectors to continue their activities throughout the year.

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 efficiency, 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 participated 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 and been 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.

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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 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).

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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.

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.