Few artists have captured bugs so beautifully or realistically as John
Obadiah Westwood, a prolific nineteenth-century entomologist and archaeologist
with unique artistic
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.
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.
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, 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.]
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.
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.