The 18th Century William Jones ' Lycaena dispar ' specimens and Art

by Peter Andrews


In a cabinet at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History there is a splendid drawer which contains specimens of the extinct British Lycaena dispar dispar (Haworth 1803). Two specimens of L. dispar from the William Jones (1750-1818) collection are the oldest known surviving examples. Although, this species was named by Adrian Hardy Haworth in 1803, it had been recorded in Britain as early as 1749, when it was discovered by Dr John Green at Dozern's Bank at West Pinchbeck in Lincolnshire. Up until the time, when Haworth described the British Large Copper as Lycaena dispar, there was some confusion to its real identity ; our butterfly being known as hippothoe, a name Linnaeus had given to another European species, the Purple-edged Copper. Adrain Haworth went to live in Chelsea during 1792 and William Jones was to have a great influence on him. It is highly likely that Haworth had seen the British Large Copper specimens in the William Jones Collection. Haworth later received the news from his friend Fenwick Skrimshire, that he and his brother had observed the rare Large Copper butterfly in the fens of Cambridgeshire during 1797-1798. Knowing it to be known from only a handful of specimens, Haworth later went with F. Skrimshire to collect it there.

William Jones dispar specimens are thought to have originated from a small series of six or seven specimens that were taken in the Fens of Cambridgeshire during 1776. They were sent to Henry Seymer (1714-1785), who then presented them to his fellow Aurelian, the Duchess of Portland, Margaret Bentinck (1715- 1785). It is thought that the Jones dispar specimens were obtained following the Duchess and Seymer sales during 1786, and in either case originated from Seymer. It is notable that Henry Seymer Junior (1745-1800), expertly added colour paintings of the Large Copper butterfly to his late fathers copy of the great work by Moses Harris, The Aurelian 'published in 1773.

William Jones was a wealthy wine merchant who had retired to live in Chelsea in London. Jones was a fine artist and produced 1500 water colour paintings of World Lepidoptera from his own, Sir Joesph Banks and other London Aurelians collections. His paintings were bound into six unpublished volumes and are known today as the Jones Icones. The Jones Icones are a very important early work that was consulted by Linnaeus great student, Johann Christian Fabricius ( 1745-1808). Fabricius based his descriptions of over 200 species of Lepidoptera, that were new to science, on images he found in the Jones Icones. The Fabricius names were published in his 1793 Entomogica systematica . One of William Jones' paintings depicts a male Large Copper, almost certainly the specimen from his collection in the Hope Department at Oxford. In 1929, the Jones epidoptera collection and his Icones were presented to the Oxford University Museum by a descendant.



The oldest known extant specimens of the extinct British Lyceana dispar collected in 1776 in Cambrigeshire. Ex William Jones collection. O.U.M.N.H.

Another fine artist, from a wealthy family in Chelsea, Elizabeth Denyer (1765-1824) produced paintings at the suggestion of William Jones of the lepidoptera in his collection. These were bound in a volume, entitled Drawings of Lepidopterous Insects . Elizabeth Denyer bequeathed her exquisite paintings to the British Museum. Elizabeth Denyers work includes a female L. dispar dispar from the Jones collection, painted from the actual specimen shown here.

Detail of the William Jones L. dispar female by Elizabeth Denyer. Painted around 1800.

It can be seen that the Jones early historic collection, including first extant Lycaena dispar specimens, provides an enduring link between entomology and antiquarianism.

William Jones magnificent work can be viewed here and it shows us what was in the cabinets of Jones, Banks and other great early Aurelians during the latter part of the 18th century.

The original plate from Elizabeth Denyer's work showing the Jones female dispar and Polygonia c-album. A link to Elizabeth Denyer's ' Drawings of Lepidopterous insects' :

by Peter Andrews


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