from industrial chemistry in Lancashire by means of 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 put up in descriptive zoology by a route that will be nearly unimaginable in the present day. He skilled in England as a works chemist and by dint of his novice actions in entomology was supplied a put up in Australia to research with some extent of urgency the mite infestations that have 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 business he attended ‘night time faculty’ beneath Abraham Flatters on the Manchester Technical Faculty (finally to change into half, after a protracted sequence of mergers, a part of the College of Manchester).

The First World Battle modified the whole lot. 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 fuel assaults on German traces in retaliation for the primary use of poison fuel (chlorine) by Germany in April 1915. All the boys 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 unit, Gretna, the large manufacturing facility inbuilt 1915-1916 for producing cordite. The positioning 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 ladies). 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, changing 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 have been despatched to him in Bristol for additional work.

He began to hunt work as an expert entomologist and in 1930 was supplied a put up 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 examine and management of two species of which have been vital agricultural pests. Earlier than transferring to Australia, CSIRO had him work on the Pure Historical past Museum in London so as to find out about collembolans (springtails) and mites (Acarina). It was careworn to him that he should study as a lot as doable there and through a go to to South Africa so that he might hit the bottom operating when he reached Australia. His boss wrote to him: ‘Nonetheless you have to in no way come out with out a full gear of information of the teams on which you’re to work. I might quite you spent an extra month or two in England than that you simply got here out with out all the knowledge you may presumably collect. Please keep in mind now we have no skilled 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 laborious at CSIRO each in subject research and on taxonomy. Nonetheless, he didn’t keep lengthy as a result of CSIRO was beneath 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 by 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 put up 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 have been the vectors of scrub-typhus have been an vital explanation for illness within the Western Pacific theatre through the Seconds World Battle. The united statesA.’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.Okay.’s Colonial Workplace and the U.S. Amy medical analysis unit in Malaya.

Womersley was an lively member of the Royal Society of South Australia, serving as secretary, editor, treasurer, vice-president and president. By 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 have 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 demise the gathering of Acarina on the South Australian Museum have to be one of many largest on this planet, with many sorts and far reference materials despatched in alternate. He gave a great deal of help to earnest college students of the Acarina… A bond of affection developed naturally with him in the middle of work, though at instances the air may very well be a bit of clouded whereas some extent was in dispute.

Herbert Womersley at his demise 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 skilled 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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