Biographical Information

Few artists have captured bugs so beautifully or realistically as John Obadiah Westwood, a prolific nineteenth-century entomologist and archaeologist with unique artisticPhoto of Westwood at his desk. talent. Westwood (1805-1893), born in Sheffield, England, spent his early years there and in Lichfield Staffordshire. He trained to be a lawyer but instead pursued his avocations of entomology and archaeology. He become one of the most prominent entomologists of his era. He served as a curator and professor at Oxford University and served as an entomological referee for the Gardner's Chronicle. Westwood also was a Fellow of the Linnean Society and president of the Entomological Society of London. Oxford University paid tribute to Westwood by conferring an honorary master's of arts degree on him and appointing him a Fellow of the Magdalen College. A true Renaissance man, Westwood's hobbies included reproducing Anglo-Saxon and mediaeval manuscripts, illuminations, ivories, and inscribed stones. Many of his works, such as the 1848 volume The Cabinet of Oriental Entomology, are incredibly detailed and feature richly painted scenes of insect and plant life.

Westwood's motto was "waste not, want not." He was thought a bit eccentric because he recycled materials. Westwood frequently recorded his papers, memoirs, and drawings were often done on the back side of circulars, prospectuses, and other scrap paper.

The Reverend Frederick William Hope, a wealthy amateur entomologist, became Westwood's patron. Hope, who was an entomologist by avocation, received an excellent education in the natural sciences. He went to Christ Church and earned a B.A. degree in December 1820 and an M.A. Degree in April 1823. At Oxford, Hope developed a fascination for zoological studies. He received a curacy in Shropshire to earn his living, but Hope never worked as a preacher because of health reasons. Hope married Ellen Meredith, who supported him in his interest in the natural sciences. The Hopes were very generous people and shared their resources with others interested in the natural sciences. Frederick Hope was well known among British intellectuals. In fact, Picture of the Makers of the Hope Department, Oxford University Museum.Darwin called him, "my father in Entomology." Hope had a very close friendship with John Obadiah Westwood and the two shared a deep interest in entomology. Westwood was thoroughly acquainted with Hope's collections. When Hope donated the collections to Oxford, Westwood acted as a mediator and ensured the safety and security of the collections. Hope asked that Westwood be made "conservator" of his collections and nominated him as the first Hope Professor of Zoology. In a letter to Westwood, Hope wrote, "as you have known my collections above 20 years & have arranged the greater part of the Insects &c. &c., I wish you particularly to be my Curator, as you know the original specimens of Lee's Cabinet named by Fabricius . . . The geographical arrangement of my Insecta cannot be known by anyone but yourself. I do not wish it to be disturbed as it is the result of much labor. [Audrey Z. Smith, A History of the Hope Entomological Collections in the University Museum, Oxford with lists of Archives and Collections (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986) 11-12.]

Oxford University founded the Hope Entomological Collection in 1947 to mark the centenary of the establishment of the Hope Entomological Collections. In Westwood's day the collection was part of the Hope Department of Zoology. The department focused primarily on entomology.

The nineteenth century experienced rapid technological and scientific changes. In the natural sciences alone developments included Edward Jenner's smallpox vaccination process using a cowpox vaccine in 1799, Humphry Davy's discovery of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) which was the first effective anesthetic in 1801, and Mendeléev's development of the Periodic Table in 1870 are but a few of the major advances made in science. Certainly one of the most notable scientific theories of the nineteenth century was Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. While Darwin's theory is accepted in the scientific community today, it proved controversial in the nineteenth century. The idea of natural selection threatened Victorian ideas of Christianity. Westwood, described by some as "a staunch churchman," disagreed with Darwin. Westwood's writing and correspondence indicates that although he was not convinced of the theory of natural selection, he respected Darwin. Westwood may have believed in the earlier Lamarkian theory developed by Jeane Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, the Chavalier de Lamarck (1744-1829), a biologist and founder of invertebrate paleontology. Lamark posited that organisms adapt to their environments and are able to pass these changes on to succeeding generations.


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