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from industrial chemistry in Lancashire by newbie 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 knowledgeable submit in descriptive zoology by a route that might be virtually unimaginable at present. He skilled in England as a works chemist and by dint of his newbie actions in entomology was provided 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 newbie lepidopterist. He had all the time been concerned about bugs, flies particularly, and whereas working in business he attended ‘night time college’ below Abraham Flatters on the Manchester Technical College (finally to develop into half, after an extended collection of mergers, a part of the College of Manchester).

    The First World Warfare modified every little thing. 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 Firms of the Royal Engineers to hold out gasoline assaults on German traces 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 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 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 knowledgeable entomologist and in 1930 was provided 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 necessary agricultural pests. Earlier than shifting to Australia, CSIRO had him work on the Pure Historical past Museum in London with a purpose to find out about collembolans (springtails) and mites (Acarina). It was careworn 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 operating when he reached Australia. His boss wrote to him: ‘Nevertheless you need to under no circumstances come out with no full tools of information of the teams on which you’re to work. I’d fairly 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 bear in mind we have now no knowledgeable on mites or Collembola right here (besides S. Hirst in Adelaide, whom no person 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 through 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 necessary 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 battle, 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 check mites with Womersley on the age of 16. He then certified in medication 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 greatest in descriptive taxonomy, and it’s lucky that he was capable of obtain his ambition and do the work which he cherished greatest… His judgement was sound in coming to Australia, and he was capable of do a lot for acarology. At his loss of life the gathering of Acarina on the South Australian Museum should be one of many largest on the planet, with many sorts and far reference materials despatched in trade. 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 occasions the air might be somewhat clouded whereas some extent was in dispute.

    Herbert Womersley at his loss of life 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 knowledgeable 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