S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Weale, Mr James Philip Mansel (botany, zoology)

Born: 1838, London, England.
Died: Date not known, Place not known.

J.P. Mansel Weale, amateur naturalist, studied law and modern history at the University of Oxford, qualifying as Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 1860. By 1863 he was in the Eastern Cape and for some time resided "at the Koonap River" (a tributary of the Great Fish River; Grahamstown Journal, 3 March 1869). At some time he farmed on the property "Brooklyn", near King William's Town (Gunn & Codd, 1981).

Weale's interest in botany centred mainly around the role of insects in the pollination of flowers, particularly orchids. He corresponded on the subject with Charles Darwin*, who sent several of his papers to the Linnean Society for publication. In February 1867, at a meeting of the short-lived Port Elizabeth Natural History Society (established in 1866), he read a paper on the structure and fertilisation of orchids of the genus Bonatea. His paper included the description of a supposed new species, found at Bedford, which he proposed to name Bonatea darwinii. The paper was published in the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) in 1869. In 1873 four more short papers by him were published in the same journal. These dealt with an orchid of the genus Disperis that he found on the Kagaberg, Bedford; the fertilisation of the orchid Disa macrantha; notes on some South African species of the orchid genus Habenaria; and the fertilisation of some species of the family Asclepiadaceae.

During 1867 the Albany Natural History Society was founded in Grahamstown and at a meeting held on 9 October that year Weale was admitted as an honorary member. At this same meeting P. MacOwan* mentioned that Weale had sent him a parcel of plants from Algoa Bay which included a single specimen of the rare Agathosma owanni (one of the buchu shrubs). In May 1869 a note by Weale on the orchids of the Cape Colony was read before the society by Dr W.G. Atherstone*. It contained observations and amendments to the descriptions of orchids in W.H. Harvey's* Genera of South African plants. A few plant specimens collected by Weale were cited in the Flora Capensis (Vol. 5(3), 1912-1913) and the orchid species Disperis wealei was named after him by H.G. Reichenbach.

Weale also made some contributions to zoology. In 1863 he collected specimens of the common "platanna", or clawed toad, Dactylethra capensis (now Xenopus laevis) at Port Elizabeth. He described them in the Annals of Natural History in 1866 and proposed that the species described as Dactylethra mulleri was in fact the male of Dactylethra capensis. His subsequent observations on the species indicated that the young frogs and larvae described by Dr J.C. Gray as Silurana tropicalia were actually the larvae of Dactylethra capensis. It is clear that he made a detailed study of this species from egg to adult, including dissections and microscopic observations. His findings were presented in a paper before the Albany Natural History Society in January 1869.

Only two months later, in March 1869, Weale again addressed the society, this time on migrating butterflies of the family Pieridae, which he first studied during a brief visit to Cradock around Christmas 1866. His subsequent observations of the recognised species, described from his notebook for December 1867, led him to speculate on the possible occurrence of natural hybrids in South Africa. In July 1869 he presented his final paper before the society - a detailed technical description of a single dried specimen of a female bee which he named Ericplectica textrix. Earlier, in September 1868, he had presented the society with an eagle which could not be identified and was considered to be possibly a new species. In later years Roland Trimen* of the South African Museum, in the preface to his book South African butterflies... (1887-1889), acknowledged Weale as a contributor of specimens and drawings of butterflies from the East London - King William's Town region. He also presented some birds from Bedford to the Albany Museum, Grahamstown.

Weale probably left South Africa in 1888, for during that year he presented the Albany Museum with a valuable collection of 330 books and scientific journals. The collection included some books on botany, zoology and physiology, 20 issues of the Natural History Review (1861-1865), 75 of the Magazine of Natural History (up to 1887); 31 of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 45 of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, 95 of the Sciences Naturelles, and 24 of Buffon's Natural History. At this time he was living in (or near) King William's Town. As early as 1870 he already owned a farm near the town.

During the eighteen-nineties Weale published three items of a political nature in London: The truth about the Portuguese in Africa (1891, 196p, which reflects a favourable attitude towards the Portuguese); Africa and Ireland historically compared (2nd ed., 1896, 38p, a comparison between the British government of Ireland and the administration of the Cape of Good Hope); and A statement of outrageous illegal attacks and assaults on a disfranchised Outlander, graduate of Oxford (1899), which seems to indicate that he was in the Transvaal just before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

List of sources:
Bullock, A.A. Bibliography of South African botany (up to 1951). Pretoria: Department of Agricultural Technical Services, 1978.

Cape of Good Hope. Catalogue of the natural history collections of the Albany Museum, Grahamstown (Appendix to Parliamentary Report G24-'83). Cape Town: W.A. Richards & Sons, 1883.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the managing committee of the Albany Museum, 1888.

Grahamstown Journal, 11 October 1867, p. 3; 9 October 1868, p. 3; 3 March 1869, p. 3; 19 May 1869, p. 2; 23 June 1869, p. 2; 9 August 1869, p. 3: Albany Natural History Society.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). . Documents relating to Weale, J.P.M.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

South African Magazine, 1867, Vol. 1, pp. 198-199 and 328-329: Port Elizabeth Natural History Society.

Trimen, Roland. South African butterflies: A monograph of the extra-tropical species (3 vols). London: Tr?bner & Co., 1887-1889.

Compiled by: C. Plug