S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Meyrick, Mr Edward (entomology)

Born: 24 November 1854, Ramsbury, Wiltshire, United Kingdom.
Died: 31 March 1938, Marlborough, Wiltshire, United Kingdom.
Mr Edward Meyrick

Edward Meyrick, educator and lepidopterist, attended Marlborough College (a public school) from 1868 to 1873 and then studied classics at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating as Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 1877. From 1878 to 1887 he was a schoolmaster at Sydney, Australia, and at Christchurch, New Zealand. He was interested in natural history from an early age and though his main interest was in the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), especially the smaller species, he was also at home in botany and ornithology. He started publishing scientific papers in 1878, most of them initially dealing with the taxonomy of the microlepidoptera of Australia and New Zealand. By the year 1900 he had already produced some 55 papers. From that time he gave much attention to the microlepidoptera of the rest of the world, especially the tropics, and eventually was the author of more than 400 publications.

In addition to many descriptions of species and genera Meyrick regularly published important revisional papers in which he attempted to work out the classification of groups on evolutionary lines. The characteristics that he applied in his classification were tested over and over, and then applied rigidly, but he over-emphasized wing venation in his classification to the virtual exclusion of other characteristics and did not use a microscope for detailed studies of structure. He took a keen interest in evolution and its role in the geographical distribution of taxa, and collected much information on the relation between the Lepidoptera of the southern continents. He was a keen observer, with an incredible ability to recognise and remember species, and accumulated a vast knowledge of his subject. The quality of his work was of the highest standard and his descriptions of species follow the same pattern throughout his career. He gave attention also to the food plants and life habits of species, thus providing important information to economic entomologists. He is justly considered the father of microlepidoptera systematics, particularly the classification and nomenclature of the smaller moths.

After returning to England in 1887 Meyrick became a resident teacher of classical languages at Marlborough College, a post he held until his retirement in 1914. During these years he performed a vast amount of entomological work in his spare time. His many publications included A handbook of British Lepidoptera (1895, revised ed. 1928); "Microlepidoptera", in Fauna Hawaiiensis (1899, 153 pp); Descriptions of Australian microlepidoptera (Sydney, 1904, 185 pp); and Lepidoptera heterocera (Bruxelles, 1910-1925), a series of 11 publications, each on a different family of moths. For 25 years he served as president of the Marlborough Natural History Society, showing his keen interest in the local natural history by compiling a Handbook of the Lepidoptera of the District (1911). In 1912 he established his own one-author journal, Exotic Microlepidoptera, which appeared in parts at irregular intervals. By the time of his death four complete volumes of some 600 pages each had been published, plus some parts of a fifth volume, mostly at his own expense. All together he created more than 1500 new genera, while the number of new species that he named was well over 10 000. His knowledge of Latin proved useful in selecting appropriate names for these many new species. Shortly after his death his collection of some 100 000 specimens was presented to the British Museum (Natural History). Eventually a Catalogue of the type specimens of microlepidoptera in the British Museum (Natural History) described by Edward Meyrick was compiled by J.F. Gates Clark (London, 1955).

Meyrick did more than any other early entomologist to bring order into the study of South African microlepidoptera. Through his work the number of described local species increased from less than 400 to over 2000. He usually returned the type specimens after describing them, with the result that these remained available for study by later local entomologists. He started working on the microlepidoptera of the South African Museum, Cape Town, in 1908 and that year alone identified 49 new species and described 7 new genera. This work continued for many years and was reported in a series of seven papers entitled "New South African micro-lepidoptera" in the Annals of the South African Museum (1909, 1910, 1912, 1914, 1917, 1920, 1926). During the same period he published another series of seven papers in the Annals of the Transvaal Museum with "Descriptions of Transvaal micro-lepidoptera" (1909, 1911) and "Descriptions of South African micro-lepidoptera" (1911, 1913, 1914, 1917, 1921). A single paper by him, "Descriptions of some new South African microlepidopterous bagworms", was published in the Annals of the Natal Museum (1917). In recognition of his contribution to the knowledge of the South African insect fauna the South African Biological Society awarded him its Senior Captain Scott Memorial Medal in 1927.

Meyrick was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1904 and was also a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and the Zoological Society of London. In 1892 he married Antonia Eckhard, with whom he had three sons and two daughters.

List of sources:
Annals of the Natal Museum, 1917, Vol. 3.

Annals of the South African Museum, 1909-1926, Vol. 5-23.

Annals of the Transvaal Museum, 1909-1921, Vol. 2-8.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the trustees of the South African Museum, 1908, 1909.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Obituary: Edward Meyrick. Journal of the Entomological Society of Southern Africa, 1939, Vol. 1, pp. 151-155.

Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Compiled by: C. Plug