When acquiring collections museum curators always try to gather as much information on the specimens as possible. Field notes are one important source of information about specimens, along with labels, photographs and journals.
The data that accompanies a specimen (be it an animal, plant or geological object) is just as important as the specimen itself. It is particularly important to know when and where something was collected.
An important example of notes accompanying collections is the work of William Buckler. The illustration pictured (right) was drawn by William Buckler (1814-1884) and is part of a volume of illustrations compiled by the Rev. John Hellins of Exeter.
Buckler the artist
According to an obituary Buckler, ‘when quite young, […] showed great aptitude and taste for drawing’ and later went on to become a student of the Royal Academy where he ‘distinguished himself in the Antique School, and in drawing from life’.
Buckler the entomologist
After moving to Emsworth, Hampshire, in 1848 Buckler took an interest in entomology and for nearly three years was employed to draw the larvae of a particular group of small moths. Buckler was sent live larvae in the post from which to draw, and since a fully grown larva must be figured at once before it pupates, the time constraints this entailed impinged on his personal life to such an extent that he reluctantly gave up this employment.
Yet, his interest in butterfly and moth larva illustration remained. He continued to correspond with the entomogists of the day and was sent specimens from all over the country and the Continent to figure. He produced many thousands of drawings.
Perfect illustrations to the last
In the obituary, which was written anonymously by Buckler’s most dedicated correspondent, it notes that despite debilitating ‘bodily ailments’ such as ‘Scrivener’s thumb’, that at times meant he could scarcely write legibly, his illustrations were immaculate to the last. The author writes ‘I believe I have the last figure he drew, namely, the copy of one he had taken of a larva of Deilephila euphorbia, which had been sent to us by Dr. Chapman from the continent, and this done in November last is perfect in all its intricacy of detail as well as in general outline and effect’.
The caption to the watercolour reads: ‘Deilephila euphorbiae on Euphorbia peplus from Switzerland. Found by Dr J. A. Chapman’.
Underneath Hellins has noted that ‘This is the last figure I received from Mr Buckler – it reached me 27th November 1883…it is a copy of the figure which he had taken from the living larva.
This illustration also forms part of a volume of Buckler’s drawings and watercolours compiled by Rev John Hellins, a friend of Buckler’s and the vicar at Exeter jail. Hellins writes ‘Figures commenced to be placed in this book Feb 21 1861 with very few exceptions they are by Mr W Buckler – of Emsworth, Hants – who has generously sent me his figures of all species of Lepidopterous larvae – which for any reason were not secured at once in his own Book. J.H.’
All of the illustrations pictured here are to be found in Hellins’ book. One or two illustrations were drawn by Henry D’Orvile (the son of shell collector George Montagu).
It is noteworthy that all of these figures are accompanied by information concerning where and when each larva was found, its scientific name, who collected it and often also the date the larva pupated and then emerged as an adult. Although we do not have any of these specimens within our collections the book is a very attractive and useful record of the life histories and locations of many butterfly and moth species.