from industrial chemistry in Lancashire via novice entomology to world-class experience on mites in South Australia

In my current article on species of mite found on rats in Hong Kong by John Romer within the early Nineteen Fifties I famous that that they had been named by Herbert Womersley (1889-1962) on the South Australian Museum in Adelaide.

Herbert Womersley achieved an expert submit in descriptive zoology by a route that might be nearly unattainable right now. He skilled in England as a works chemist and by dint of his novice actions in entomology was supplied a submit in Australia to research with a point of urgency the mite infestations that had been devastating crops.

Womersley was born in Warrington, Lancashire. His father, a wire drawer by commerce, was a eager novice lepidopterist. He had at all times been excited about bugs, flies particularly, and whereas working in trade he attended ‘evening faculty’ below Abraham Flatters on the Manchester Technical College (finally to grow to be half, after an extended sequence of mergers, a part of the College of Manchester).

The First World Warfare modified all the things. Womersley’s employment as an industrial chemist was put to make use of. First he was within the Royal Military Medical Corps however was transferred to the Particular Corporations of the Royal Engineers to hold out gasoline assaults on German strains in retaliation for the primary use of poison gasoline (chlorine) by Germany in April 1915. All the lads concerned seem to have been chemists in civilian life and got the rank of ‘Chemist Corporal’. In 1917 Womersley was despatched to H.M. Manufacturing facility, Gretna, the large manufacturing facility inbuilt 1915-1916 for producing cordite. The location of 9000 acres (3650 hectares) prolonged for 9 miles to straddle the English-Scottish border close to Gretna. At peak manufacturing 1,400 tonnes of cordite was being despatched to the shell-filling factories every week by a workforce of practically 17,000 (two-thirds girls). Womersley is commemorated on the web site of the museum commemorating the manufacturing facility, The Satan’s Porridge Museum.

From 1920 till 1930 Womersley and his household lived close to Bristol. He was Supervisor of the Gasoline and Steamraising Division of Christopher Thomas & Bros Ltd, cleaning soap producers. It was throughout this era that Womersley turned well-known in entomological circles, turning into a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society in 1926. In Bristol he served as president of Bristol Naturalists’ Society and was one of many promoters and secretary of the South Western Naturalists’ Union. Throughout this time he turned the main authority in Britain on wingless bugs, then lumped right into a single subclass, the Apterygota. Overseas collections in addition to British specimens had been despatched to him in Bristol for additional work.

He began to hunt work as an expert entomologist and in 1930 was supplied a submit within the Division of Financial Entomology of CSIRO in Australia. The pinnacle of the division knew of Womersley’s work, was impressed and had him appointed for the research and management of two species of which had been vital agricultural pests. Earlier than shifting to Australia, CSIRO had him work on the Pure Historical past Museum in London with a view to find out about collembolans (springtails) and mites (Acarina). It was burdened to him that he should study as a lot as potential there and through a go to to South Africa so that he might hit the bottom working when he reached Australia. His boss wrote to him: ‘Nevertheless you should under no circumstances come out and not using a full gear of data of the teams on which you might be to work. I might somewhat you spent an additional month or two in England than that you simply got here out with out all the knowledge you’ll be able to probably collect. Please keep in mind we now have no professional on mites or Collembola right here (besides S. Hirst in Adelaide, whom no one ever sees)… “. 

After 5 months in London and seven weeks in South Africa Womersley arrived in Perth on 25 September 1930. He’s mentioned to have labored extraordinarily arduous at CSIRO each in area research and on taxonomy. Nevertheless, he didn’t keep lengthy as a result of CSIRO was below extreme monetary constraints because the Australian authorities tightened its belt. There have been no new appointments and rumours started to flow into that the entire division during which Womersley labored was going to be closed down. Not surprisingly, in 1932, he jumped ship. He was appointed as entomologist on the South Australia Museum. He stayed in that submit till his retirement in 1954. He was then re-appointed to the museum as acarologist till he retired once more in 1959 however nonetheless continued work in an honorary capability.

The mites that had been the vectors of scrub-typhus had been an vital explanation for illness within the Western Pacific theatre through the Seconds World Warfare. The usA.’s Typhus Fee sought assist from Womersley within the identification of mites. Such work continued in south-east Asia after the warfare, in collaboration with the U.Ok.’s Colonial Workplace and the U.S. Amy medical analysis unit in Malaya.

Womersley was an energetic member of the Royal Society of South Australia, serving as secretary, editor, treasurer, vice-president and president. By way of that exercise he turned concerned in conservation. He represented the Royal Society of South Australia on the Board of Commissioners of the Nationwide Park and Wild Life Reserves of South Australia ex officio as President, He was subsequently appointed a Commissioner in his personal proper. His obituarist famous that he recognized himself intently with the needs of fauna and flora preservation in South Australia. 

Ronald Vernon Southcott (1918–1998) began to review mites with Womersley on the age of 16. He then certified in drugs however continued that curiosity in his medical analysis in acarology. He wrote Womersley’s obituary for the journal Acarologia. It ends:

His achievements in his chosen fields had been appreciable. He was undoubtedly at his finest in descriptive taxonomy, and it’s lucky that he was capable of obtain his ambition and do the work which he cherished finest… His judgement was sound in coming to Australia, and he was capable of do a lot for acarology. At his dying the gathering of Acarina on the South Australian Museum have to be one of many largest on the earth, with many varieties and far reference materials despatched in change. He gave a great deal of help to earnest college students of the Acarina… A bond of affection developed naturally with him in the midst of work, though at instances the air may very well be a bit clouded whereas some extent was in dispute.

Herbert Womersley at his dying in 1962 had come a way from the streets of Warrington and a life as an industrial chemist – and he produced two biologists; one son, an algologist, turned Professor of Botany within the College of Adelade, the opposite, an professional on the flora of New Guinea turned Director of the Nationwide Botanic Backyard at Lae.

Southcott RV. 1963. Herbert Womersley (1889 -1962), Acarologia, 5  323-334.

AMENDED 4 June 2023

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