The Jansons, a family of entomologists

by Peter Andrews


This article details the history of the Janson family who were the proprietors of a successful London Natural History business from 1852 until the 1980s.

Edward Wesley Janson. (1822 - 14 September 1891).

Edward Wesley Janson was born on the 14 March 1822 in Hackney, London. His father John Christian Janson came to Britain from Holland in the early 19th century. Edward was educated at the college of La Fleche in France and then studied medicine at Edinburgh, but he relinquished his career to assist his father as a Dutch Merchant in London. Later he became a secretary to his father who took the position of the London agent of the Dutch-Rhenish Railway Company. At an early age he became a passionate entomologist, hunting insects in Highgate Woods and Hampstead Heath in the then unspoiled countryside near his home. He specialized in Coleoptera and soon became a very skilled and knowledgeable collector and an acknowledged authority on British beetles. His first published article appeared in the Zoologist (1848), 'Notice of the occurrence of rare Coleopterous insects, with observations on their habits'. Later he extended his studies to the world Coleoptera, beginning with Staphylinidae and later the Elateridae, of which he had the largest collection.

Janson began his Natural History business in 1852. In 1868 he was listed as Natural History and General Agent and bookseller at 30 Museum Street, Bloomsbury. He moved to 28 Museum Street in 1869 and during 1875-76 to nearby 35 Little Russell Street. In 1886 the business became Janson and Son when it moved to 44 Great Russell Street, this had the advantage that it was situated directly opposite the British Museum.

E.W. Janson joined the Entomological Society of London in 1843, he was the curator of the insect collection between 1850 & 1862. With the resignation of the society's secretary J.W. Douglas in June 1856, Janson became his successor until 1861. Neave (1933) states that when Janson was the curator of the society's collections, bitter quarrels broke out over his management. The Entomological Society of London at this time appeared to be going through a period of difficulty, not only financial, there was a power struggle between two factions, with Henry Tibbats Stainton calling for Janson's removal in 1862, a motion that was unsuccessful. When the Society's collections were sold in 1863 to the British Museum, Janson was appointed the Librarian, a post he held until 1876. In 1866 Janson was voted an honorary member of the Entomological Club that had an exclusive membership of eight.

Edward Wesley Janson
Figure 1. Edward Wesley Janson.

From 1850 to 1861 Janson wrote chapters on Coleoptera for H.T. Stainton's Entomologist's Annual. He worked hard on the British Coleoptera which was then comparatively little known and his only guide was James Francis Stephens' Manual of British Beetles (1839). He corresponded with many leading European authorities, adding many species to the British list. He was the first British entomologist to investigate the Myrmecophilous beetles associated with ants nests, and in an article in the Entomologist's Annual (1857) he recorded that his studies had produced 14 species. Two years later, such was the impact of his work, other British coleopterists such as Thomas Vernon Wollaston (1822 – 1878) had followed his example and examined ant nests for beetles, communicating their discoveries to him. When Janson published a second article on the Myrmecophilous beetles in the Entomologist's Annual (1859) he was able add a further 20 species.

Janson was known to be forthright in his manner, which sometimes bought him in to conflict with other entomologists. On one occasion he publicly quarreled with George Robert Waterhouse (1810–1888), who he had studied and hunted beetles with. In the Entomologist's Annual (1858) Janson had criticized Waterhouse's Catalogue of Coleoptera that led to heated exchanges in Entomologist's Weekly Intelligencer between the two men, until the editor and owner of the journal Stainton decided to put an end to the dispute.

E.W. Janson's British Beetles transferred from Curtis's British Entomology was published in 1863, with descriptions provided by himself. It is said he instigated The Journal of Entomology : descriptive and geographical that was published in parts by Taylor and Francis of London between 1862 & 1866 (comprising 2 volumes). Janson published his own scientific journal Cistula Entomologica between 1869 and 1885, that was provided for taxonomists to describe the many new species that were being sent to Britain from all over the world. Among the contributors to Cistula Entomologica were A.G. Butler, H.W. Bates, T. V. Wollaston, F. Walker. G. R. Crotch, C. O. Waterhouse and H. Druce. Although Janson specialized in the Elater beetles, he published only on paper on this group, in Cistula Entomologica (1882) 'Descriptions of six new species of Elateridae collected by Mr Clarence Buckley during his second expedition to Ecuador'. The taxonomist Arthur Gardiner Butler (1844-1825) an assistant-keeper of the zoology department at the British Museum and later an assistant librarian there, provided many papers for Janson's journal. Butler in 1878 named the Japanese endemic skipper Pelopidas jansonis in his friend's honour.

Janson published a number of works on entomology and natural history which included A.G. Bulter's Lepidoptera Exotica (1869-74) and A handbook of the Coleoptera or Beetles of Great Britain and Ireland, (1874) by Herbert Cox. He helped finance a number of publications. One now very rare work published by Janson was the Zoology of the voyage of the H.M.S. Erebus & Terror, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross, during the years 1839 to 1843, a lavish production in two volumes, one of the authors being Joseph Hooker who was the botanist on the expedition. During the Ross expedition to Antarctica H.M.S. Erebus & Terror visited New Zealand, Falkland Islands and Cape Horn, Chile, where Robert McCormick and Hooker collected zoological and botany specimens.

A typical day in Janson's shop during this period was provided by Harold Janson from information he found in the family papers " The shopping experience of the Victorian age seems from a twenty-first century standpoint to be remarkably leisured and bears a resemblance to an amalgam of ritual ceremony and social gathering. The upper classes received the expected deference to their purchasing power. The pungent incense of cigar and the aroma of good whiskey provided as a gift of homage to the discerning potential buyer would have wafted around the Janson establishment" (C. Janson, 2011).

Many famous entomologists passed through Janson's shop doors in search of something to add to their hobby. Equally, many famous personages wrote to E.W. Janson. Charles Darwin was a frequent visitor to the shop, when he called he had a designated chair reserved for him, which became known as Darwin's chair. In May 1868 during a visit Darwin payed 11 shillings cash for some insects. He wrote a number of letters to Janson and in the Descent of Man (1871) he writes " Mr Janson stated at the Entomological Society that the females of the bark feeding Tomicus villosus are so common as to be a plague whilst the males are rare as to be hardly known".

The naturalist Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892) who spent ten years collecting butterflies in Amazonia was a frequent purchaser from E.W. Janson. His letters to Janson are written on Royal Geographical Society notepaper, he being at the time their assistant secretary. Bates seems to be on friendly terms with Janson as this extract from an informal letter dated 21 March 1872 suggests "Dear Janson you call upon a fellow to stump up rather too suddenly, last week I had to pay Buckley and must have a short time to get the coffers replenished". Janson certainly seem to have been erratic in his book keeping. In a letter dated 10 November 1876 Bates wrote " Dear Janson you have not sent me your account. I find it settled at the end of 1872, you have therefore to supply me with a statement from the 1st January 1873. It strikes me there is some error in your books." It does seem that Janson was rather neglectful in sending out bills to his customers. During October 1873 Bates bought 85 American Coleoptera from Janson for £5 10s, which were collected by the Dr G. H. Horn. Bates also helped Janson in others matters, in letter dated 8 May 1872 he writes " My Dear Janson Mr Kermode (introduced me by Dr Hooker of Kew) has a collection of Tasmanian beetles which he wishes to have arranged and named. I have recommended Oliver to him, so if he is disengaged he will perhaps accept and state his terms to Mr Kermode." This does show that by this time Janson's son Oliver had gained much expertise on the Coleoptera. Frederick Bates (1928-1903) Henry's younger brother worked in the brewery business, building up a large collection of Coleoptera. He wrote in a letter dated 17 May 1874 "My dear Janson the box and book reached me safely, alas there is but one thing new to me, I find it difficult to get hold of new things, since I last wrote to you I have lost my dear little daughter 8 years old. It has been a painful trial to us. Have you read Wallace's articles in the Fortnightly Review. What is thought of him. It is marvellous strange. I have got the dialectical original on the same subject. Fairly flabbergasted, the evidence seems genuine." A letter of sadness at his great loss and one of genuine surprise at the writings of Alfred Russel Wallace regarding spiritism.

E.W. Janson was a committed bibliophile who was particularly interested in the literature of entomology and amassed a considerable library with many rare works. Janson gave his collection of British Beetles to George Robert Crotch (1842–1874), who presented it to the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology. His collection of world Elateridae consisted of 25,000 specimens with at least a 1000 original types. Janson had purchased the important collection of Elateridae made by the Belgian entomologist Ernest Candeze (1829-1898) and which were the basis of his now very rare Monograph of Elateridae (published in four volumes, Liege, 1857-1863). He also later brought a second collection formed by Candeze and his collection contained those of Latreille, Dejean, Buquet, Reiche, Laferte, Gory, Parry, A. Deyrolle, Schaum (part) Bakewell, W.W. Saunders, Miniszech, E. Brown, A. Murray, H. Atkinson etc. He also had a large series of specimens collected by Wallace, Bates and Buckley. Dr F. D. Godman purchased Janson's collection of Elateridae, presenting it in June 1903 to the Natural History Department within the British Museum (Gunthur, 1906).

Janson's Natural History and publishing company prospered, with the anonymous writer in his obituary in the Entomologist's Monthly Magazine (1891) recording " As a Natural History Agent he did much, often for the mere love of the thing, to enrich the collections of many of our prominent entomologists". A year before he died the natural history business was taken over by his younger son Oliver.

Edward Mason Janson (1847–1880).

He was the eldest son of Edward Wesley Janson. He joined the Entomological Society of London in 1869, and became curator for a period when Frederick Smith left to join the British Museum. Like his father he had problems working with H. T. Stainton and resigned his post. His followed his fathers interest in Coleoptera and went to Chontales in Nicaragua in 1869 to make collections of insects, discovering some fine species of beetles. In the Entomologist's Monthly Magazine (1870) F. Bates dedicated a beetle Exerestus jansonii of the family Tenebrionidae to E.M. Janson, who had collected it in Nicaragua. H. W. Bates in the Transactions of the Entomological Society of London (1869-70) described a number Janson's Nicaraguan beetles including the beautiful Cosmisoma titania of the Cerambycidae family. Janson took employment in Nicaragua as a mining engineer, when he visited England in 1879 he was unwell. Returning to Nicaragua the following year he died there aged just 33, leaving a wife and three children.

Cosmisoma titania
Figure 2. Cosmisoma titania. Enlarged from H.W. Bates, 1879 -1886 Biologia Centrali-Americana Insecta Coleoptera, Longicornia 5: Plate 5.

Oliver Erichson Janson (1850 – 25 November 1926).

When his father died his younger son Oliver Erichson Janson took over the Natural History and publishing business. Like his father he was interested in Coleoptera, collecting beetles as boy near his home at Fortis Green. His childhood happy hunting grounds were Finchley, Hampstead and Highgate. He had a life long interest in British Beetles, he also specialized in the world's Cetoniidae, in which he became a leading authority, building up a very impressive collection. He became a member of the Entomological Society of London in 1869.

O.E. Janson's first paper 'Descriptions of new species of Australian Cetoniidae' appeared in Cistula Entomologica (1873), one of a number that were published in that Journal. He also described species of the family Cetoniinae in papers published in The Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Transactions of the Entomological Society of London, The Entomologist, Entomologist's Monthly Magazine and Notes from the Leyden Museum. In the Entomologist (1891) he described a new Goliath beetle Neptunides (Taurhinastanleyi in honour of the explorer Henry Morton Stanley who had recently led the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition between 1886 & 1889. Janson had been sent a female specimen of the new Goliath beetle by the French entomologist René Oberthür who had obtained it from a missionary stationed in Uganda, the Reverend Pastor Camille Denoit (1862–1891). In Cistula Entomologica he published two papers on Lepidoptera, the first appeared in 1878, 'Notes on Japanese Rhopalocera', describing new species collected by the American collector F.M. Jones.


Olivier Erichson Janson
Figure 3. Oliver Erichson Janson photographed c1925. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 1927.

He acted as an agent to sell and purchase collections at J.C. Stevens Auction Rooms at King's Street in Covent Gardens. O. E. Janson was a keen buyer himself. At the sale of Major F. J. Sidney Parry's collection of Stag and Goliath beetles (Lucanidae and Cenoniidae) in 1885, there was fierce competition between Janson, Rene Oberthur and Emile Deyrolle that resulted in record prices.

Eleanor Ormerod (1828-1901) of private means became a pioneering English economic entomologist, studying injurious insects in what was then a strictly man's field of study. She became highly regarded and won a series of gold medals for her work. She worked closely with O. E. Janson, writing many letters to him, asking for help in identifying her insects, calling him her technical expert, they collaborated together on Notes and Descriptions of a few Injurious Farm & Fruit insects of South Africa, published in 1890. Janson providing the identification and descriptions of the species.

In 1906 O.E. Janson visited Iceland to collect Coleoptera, giving some of his specimens to the Reykjavik Museum. At the Entomological Society of London in July of that year he exhibited 39 species of beetles that he had found there, some of them previously unrecorded from Iceland. Janson became interested in the Coleoptera of Ireland, making several visits there, his accounts of his finds during his excursions were published in the Irish Naturalist. His first visit to Ireland was to Killarney in July 1914, where he had arranged to meet the London coleopterist L. H. Bonaparte-Wyse. In spite of the serious and dangerous political situation in Ireland, Janson accompanied by Bonaparte-Wyse again visited Killarney in 1919, on their return from south-west Ireland, during a short stay at Dublin, he recorded they went up Sugar Loaf Mountain in Country Wicklow in search of the ground beetle Harpalus 4-punctatus, where they took a good series. Harpalus 4-punctatus Dejean, 1829 is a junior synonym of Harpalus laevipes Zetterstedt, 1828. Janson accompanied by Bonaparte-Wyse visited Waterford in south-east Ireland in June 1922. He visited Lough Neagh in Co Antrim and Newcastle in Co Down in Northern Ireland in June 1923 to collect beetles.

In the Entomologist's Monthly Magazine (1917) O.E. Janson shows his usual enthusiasm and dedication to his studies of British beetles. He writes in an article entitled 'Rediscovery of Tapinotus sellatus' " Coleopterists should be pleased to learn of the re-occurrence of this very rare and pretty Curculio in the Norfolk Fens after a lapse of seventy-one years, in June last I spent a week in the neighbourhood of Horning with the object of making a thorough search for Tapinotus sellatus and Bagous binodulus, two of our rarest Curculionidae that have long occurred there, after much hard work and constant torment from biting and stinging Diptera, I had the gratification of finding a fine specimen of the Tapinotus by grupping at the roots of the dense vegetation on the bank of one of the numerous dykes." In spite of much searching he failed to find B. binodulus. In the EMM (1921) he writes of the discovery of a new British beetle "In July last I spent a fortnight beetle-hunting in the Norfolk Fens, most of the time being devoted to dredging in the innumerable dykes that intersect the marshes adjacent to the River Bure between Wroxham and Horning, in another unsuccessful attempt to re-discover the rare Bagous binodulus. I found all the water-frequenting Coleoptera to be unusually scarce, but on July 24, the last day of my visit, my efforts were rewarded by finding in the net a small weevil, quite unknown to me with the affinity of which I was puzzled. On showing this to Mr Champion upon my return, he with his special knowledge of the European and American Curculionidae, was able to identify it at once as Stenopelmus rufinasus." This new British beetle was a North American species that had apparently been accidentally introduced in Britain. Tapinotus is a misspelling of TapeinotusB. binodulus has not been seen in Britain since it was last recorded at Horning Fen in the Norfolk Broads during 1861 and is considered extinct in Britain. (Natural History Museum website).

As, the 20th century progressed O.E. Janson saw a need to diversify his business, after the First World War there were far fewer wealthy gentleman collectors that had provided the main custom. Now there was a wider variety of customers, public institutions such as the Bolton Museum bought many specimens. Educational authorities and Crown agents became good customers. Professional collectors were equipped for their expeditions. In one consignment to Papua New Guinea, butterfly nets and moth screens had to be packed into their boxes so that the natives did not steal them, to use the material to make clothing. He also saw the need to supply the growing army of school-boy collectors, advertising in the popular Boy's Own Paper that had a large readership.

Cerwin Janson (2011) describes the shop at 44 Russell Street which set the theme for the much of the 20th century " the clients were as diverse and distributed around the globe as the countries the specimens came from. Originally the shop inhabited the ground floor with a facade of ashlar into which were set two large sash windows. Here were displayed the wares of the mounted Lepidoptera using the most aesthetically pleasing for the casual passer-by on the street to readily appreciate. Inside the room was lit in that manner most evocative of Victorian drama gas mantles. The customer entering the shop would have experienced the light from the gas flame glinting on the gigantic iridescent birdwing butterfly from New Guinea and the shiny elytra of huge black beetles. This meaning of lighting was still in use in the latter years of the 20th century. In fact it was retained long enough for it to cease to be old fashioned and instead became a period feature."


Janson Insect shop
Figure 4. Oliver Erichson Janson and his son Robert Baille Janson outside their shop at 44 Great Russell Street, London.

Janson and son insect advertising
Figure 5. Janson advert. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 1926.

O.E. Janson's world collection of Cetoniinae was purchased by the Dutch entomologist Frans Titus Valck Lucassen (1885–1939), who in a bequest left his collection to the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie at Leiden. Janson's British beetles came into the possession of his grandson, who while studying at Cambridge University in 1934 sold it to the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology for the very modest sum of £15. The collection was housed in a 30 drawer cabinet, it contained a 100 species new to the museum collection, often in a long series. It contained many of Janson's Irish beetles. The collection was amalgamated into the general collection in 1945. The museum also purchased his marked-up check list and a diary, which is titled Entomological Journal No 2 New Series from 1864 to 1926 British Coleoptera and contains detailed entries that give the localities, date of capture, habitats and numbers of specimens taken and contains much information regarding the beetles Janson and his father acquired from numerous other Coleopterists.

O.E. Janson's correspondence.

The following extracts from O.E. Janson's correspondence are taken from the vast Janson archive consisting of thousands of letters from many entomologists. The archive which is held by British Museum of Natural History has the potential for an endless source of study. The Janson's letters include those from W. Doherty, J. Waterstradt and A.S. Meek, three professional collectors of different nationalities, who were busy hunting insects and other natural history specimens in the more remote regions of the world, where no or very little previous collecting had been carried out. Their letters detail how they were able to dispose of their collections through agents such as Janson, who had many contacts with private collectors. Janson exhibited their specimens at the meetings of the London Entomological Society, giving the members the opportunity to view many wonderful new and rare insects. 

Letters to O.E. Janson from William Doherty.

The American William Doherty (1857- May 25, 1901) became a professional collector in the Far East in 1886. He collected extensively in many regions that included India, Burma, Malay Peninsular, Java, Lesser Sunda Islands, The Moluccas, Western New Guinea and the Philippines. His last expedition was to British East Africa, today's Kenya, where he died of dysentery at Nairobi, aged just 44. As regards his insect collections, Doherty liked to keep his opinions open and although he had many offers, he refused to be tied down by any contractual agreements to one collector. Because of their quality, his insects were much sought after, and became widely dispersed among private collectors and museums.

The letters from Doherty in the Janson archives are dated 1892-1901. Doherty visited parts of coastal West New Guinea and its islands in 1892 & 1893. He had a dangerous encounter with the Sentani people and after being pursued by the hostile natives to the coast, he was eventually able to make peace with them. At Ansus on the Island of Jobi (Yapen) his ship was attacked by natives. During a later visit to Yapen his lead Lepcha collector and friend Pambu was murdered by the natives while collecting there in 1897.

In a letter from Makassar, Sulawesi sent early in 1893 Doherty wrote to Janson " I have received your letter. I am glad the specimens reached you in fair condition. I shall probably send you my New Guinea collections from Calcutta. Though much better than any recent lot I have sent you, it is still not as good as I expected. In the matter of seasons I have had a long sum of back luck again. I have always done my best. I am aware there are accumulations of beetles in clearings depending on the season, the kind of trees felled, the stage of decay, and the distance from the sea, but as it happens, I never found a clearing in good condition, though I have examined hundreds. The best of my New Guinea lot are from Geelvink Bay. The Humboldt Bay is smaller as it was very dry there during my stay. There are small lots from the Islands of Jobi and Biak. Some of these localities have never been visited. The specimens will bring you good prices. There is a fair variety of Cetoniidae. There is hardly any Dynastes which were very rare, in the absence of large mammals. At present we are down with beri beri a terrible disease, characteristic of New Guinea, and this life has cost us dear, I fear one will die. " Doherty survived his serious illness and reached Calcutta, where he wrote to Janson on the 1 March 1893 advising him that he was sending his New Guinea insect collections. He added a sketch map of Dutch New Guinea, to which he added the names of the localities where he had collected. Doherty's map shows he visited the following localities around Geelvink Bay (Cenderawasih Bay) Dorey (Manokwari), Andai, Wendesi, Roon Island and Yaur. In the Schouten Islands besides Jobie (Yapen) and Biak he made collections at Korido on the south coast of Supiori. Jamna Island and Lake Sentani were also visited. Doherty informed Janson that his new address would be Florence Italy care of the American Consul, as he was visiting Europe, before going home to America. During a visit to England two years later, on his way back to the Far East, he had meetings with O. E. Janson, Walter Rothschild, and the curator of the Tring Museum, Ernst Hartert, who he was on friendly terms with, having first met him in Malaya during 1888.

The life of an overseas collector appears to have had a detrimental effect on Doherty's health. He met with Ernst Hartert in England before his last expedition to Africa. Hartert found him unwell and very nervous and on account of his health tried in vain to dissuade Doherty from his collecting expedition to British East Africa. After visiting Calcutta to recruit Lepcha collectors, Doherty arrived in Mombasa in October 1900 and set out for the high escarpment where he set up camp at 8000 feet in the Settima (Aberdare) Range. In October 1900 he wrote to Janson from Mombasa. " I sent you by G.W. Wheatley, 10 Queen street, Cheapside a small paper box of beetles taken near Mombasa, generally at eight or ten miles away. When sold please send the value to my father James Monroe Doherty Lafayette bank, Cincinnati. My next sending will be from the forests at 8000ft and will probably include many novelties". Doherty's last letter to Janson was written on 10 February 1901 from the ' Escarpment' " On returning here I received your letter and learned that the small collection of beetles made in Mombasa was redirected by Wheatley & Co. I have no idea what became of it, it is the first time Wheatley has made a mistake in my affairs. Kindly send the Hemiptera to Bang Hass Dresden. I have quite a large collection of beetles and land shells ready to send to you. They may be roughly said to be from the Escarpment 6500-9000 feet high forest. I hope you will do a list. My address is Mombasa, British East Africa. I am working near Lake Naivasha." As the large Collection of Beetles did not arrive, Janson unaware that Doherty had died on the 25 May in a hospital in Nairobi, after being carried down from the mountains by his faithful Lepcha collectors, wrote to him " we received your letter February 10 and have expected the large collection of beetles and land shells you mentioned ready to send to us but they have not come to hand. I hope they have not gone astray in Mombasa but it is curious what has become of them. I must conclude they went to Bang Hass and he kept them". Janson's letter to Doherty was sent back to him, that an official had stamped in ink 'deceased'. Walter Rothschild greatly admired Doherty and described him as " unquestionably the best field collector for the last fifty years". (M. Rothschild, 1983). Janson exhibited at a meeting of the London Entomological Society on the 5 March 1902 a pair of the impressive Goliath beetle Stephanocrates dohertyi Jordan, 1901 that Doherty had discovered in 1900-1, in the mountains of Kenya.

Letters to O.E. Janson from John Waterstradt.

The Danish professional collector John Waterstradt (1869-1944) corresponded with O.E. Janson between 1899-1909. Waterstradt and his Malay collectors visited a number of areas in the Far East that included Borneo, Philippines, Malay Peninsula, the Moluccas, Waigeo, Yapen etc. Janson received many specimens from Waterstradt who also sent collections at various times to Walter Rothschild of Tring, Charles and René Oberthür in France, Jacob R. H. Neervoort Van de Poll in Holland, Hermann Rolle in Berlin and Otto Staudinger in Dresden. Waterstradt's letters to Janson are written in neat impeccable English. In a letter dated 3 August 1899 written from Singapore, Waterstradt writes to Janson. " Dear Sir I am a collector of natural history specimens. When in London last summer I called at your place but unfortunately did not find you at home. *Shortly after my return to Borneo I was severely wounded in the right shoulder making my arm useless and therefore impossible to write. Now my arm is getting better I hope soon to be able to return to Borneo again, at present I have a number of Malays collecting for me in Borneo, Palawan, Batjan and Halmahera. Some of which I expect to return in a few weeks with their collections of insects. I should therefore be very pleased if you would let me know if you will take over part of these collections in commission for me, and dispose of them to private collectors. If so please let me know and also the amount of commission you would charge. It is very probable that I will go to the islands of New Guinea or thereabouts as soon as my health improves. In the meantime my address is Labuan, Brunei." *During 1899 Waterstradt had taken a break from collecting and became heavily involved in oil concessions in Brunei, a decision which almost cost him his life. A disgruntled Malay competitor tried to murder him by shooting him as he sat on the veranda of his house.


John Waterstradt
Figure 6. John Waterstradt


In a letter dated 4 April 1900 written from Denmark, Waterstradt writes " I asked Mr Rothschild to send you a small collection of Palawan butterflies belonging to me and I just had word from him that he has done so. He has selected 87 specimens from the collection and I have told him to settle with you about the price as I do not know what he has taken, I should say £20 would be about right. Among the lot he has returned are Ornithoptera trojana which I hope you are able to dispose of at a fair price". In another letter to Janson from Denmark dated 16 October 1900, he writes " I wrote to you some time ago re Palawan butterflies I have now got Ornithoptera brookiana and miranda from Borneo, dohertyi from Palawan and O. croesus from Batjan. Do you think you could dispose of them. Can you please let me know and I can send them or bring them myself about the 10th of next month when I come to London on my way back to east. Can you recommend me any special collecting country. How are you getting on with my Borneo collections". In a letter written from Singapore on the 23 April 1901 Waterstradt wrote " I have much pleasure in informing you that I am sending you a parcel by post a collection of Borneo butterflies and land shells as well as a few beetles. There are a number of Ornithoptera miranda and brookiana, Papilio noctula (nox) etc and others with about 400 of the more common kinds. These and the beetles are from Brunei. In a few days I am going to start for Gunong Tahan in the Malay peninsula."

It seems that the Boar War in South Africa had an effect on O.E. Janson's business. Waterstradt wrote in a letter written on the 6 August 1902 " Dear Sir your letter of February reached me some time ago as well as the £24. I was sorry to hear that business has been so bad lately and hope that things turn out better now that the war has been fortunately closed. By the same mail I am sending you a nice little collection of butterflies from the Island of Obi and hope you will be able to do something with them as that is a locality from which very little has as yet been collected. The new species among them will be described by Van de Poll in Holland and you must inform your customers this is so, so that there will be no mistakes. Amongst them is one Ornithoptera which I am certain is new, something between O. croesus and priamus and I trust you will get a good price for them as it is very rare indeed. Mr Van de poll has got two pairs of them and Mr Rothschild 1 pair and I am sending you the only other specimens 3 males and 5 females. I think you ought to insist on your customers taking a fair number of the more common species if they want the rare ones, so as you are not left with all the common ones. Beetles, I only got very few and not anything rare so I am not sending you any. I got a good collection of land snails and will send you them. These are from Batjan. I intend to go to Halmahera to get some Ornithoptera lydius which I think are still very rare in Europe and then I am going to the Island of Jobi (Yapen), where I hope to find lots of rare things as nobody has been collecting there. As I am using a lot of money for all this travel I hope you succeed in disposing of my collections quickly and will send the money to the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank as usual. The more money I get the better as I can employ collectors and the more things I will get. P.S. I have already sent Mr Rothschild a small collection from Obi, so do not offer anything to him, as he probably will only require the rare ones". *While Waterstradt was visiting Obi Island in May 1902 his collectors had found the larvae of a new species Ornithoptera and he was able to breed a series of specimens.

What Waterstradt neglected to tell Janson is that he also sent specimens of the new Ornithoptera from Obi to the dealer Herman Rolle in Berlin who passed them on to Felix Von Ney, who then described the new butterfly as Troides  aesacus in 1903. Waterstradt's habit of sending similar parcels of new butterflies to different dealers and collectors certainly caused some confusion and did not please Walter Rothschild, who believed he had the right to name any new specimens that he had purchased. While he was collecting in Waigeo, an Island lying off the coast of New Guinea, Waterstradt received a letter from Ernst Hartert, Rothschild's curator at Tring, who wrote on 18 October 1902 " I have yesterday sent you a cheque for £40. The Obi Ornithoptera is a new variety (local form) but it seems rather strange that you request us not to describe it, as Rothschild has the first right to describe it and then send a number, 4 males, 5 or 6 females to Fruhstorfer who will hasten to describe them. We of course bought the Obi Lepidoptera principally on the strength of the Ornithoptera as we had most of the others, now of course we could have bought the Ornithoptera from Fruhstorfer." Waterstradt had supposed that Janson sold the Obi Island specimens to Fruhstorfer. Writing from Waigeu Waterstradt enclosed Hartlet's letter with one of his own to Janson dated 2 January 1903, " In November I sent you 8 pairs of the very rare O. lydius. I hope you received them all right. I have not had any letters from you for a long time but nearly all the mail for the Moluccas from Europe for the month of September was lost as the steamer burned at sea, so if you sent me a letter during that month please forward me a copy as soon as possible. From Dr Hartert I was much surprised to receive the enclosed letter I have certainly not sent Fruhstorfer any insects and there has been no other collector on Obi so if Fruhstorfer has got any butterflies from there he must certainly have obtained them from you, although I should be surprised if this was the case, as I think you could gain much better prices for them in England than from Fruhstorfer could afford to pay in any case. I hope you did not let him have all the rare ones and that you told him that Van der Poll has the sole right to describe all the new species. You will see from the enclosed that the Ornithoptera is new and therefore it should have fetched a very good price, besides nobody has got butterflies from Obi except Mr Rothschild. So all of them ought to sell well. I am anxious to hear how you got on with all those from Batjan and Halmahera." Waterstradt had sent to Janson on the 26 August 1902 from Batjan a further 200 butterflies and 2000 beetles from that island.

Janson it seems did not sell Hans Fruhstorfer any Ornithoptera aesacus or other butterflies from Obi, how the German collector got them remains a mystery as he did not visit that island during his travels. Waterstradt did visit Obi again but found no further larvae or adults of O. aesacus. In a letter written from Malang, Java on the 30 April 1903 Waterstradt writes to Janson " I am pleased to hear our friend Fruhstorfer did not get the Obi Ornithoptera from you, when in Ternate I got your former letter sending £80. *I had to leave Ternate hurriedly as the doctor ordered me to come home to Europe at once now I feel so much better and the doctors say I can remain here for another year. I am off to the Philippines in a few days. I did not send you any of my last collection because I felt too unwell to do anything with them, therefore I sent them all to my father where I suppose they still are. A few days ago I wrote him to send them to you the 4000 Lepidoptera which includes 42 O. lydius. There may be a possibility that my father has already sold the whole collection. I returned from a four month stay on Obi without a single new Ornithoptera, so there is no doubt that this will remain very rare. On Ambonia I bought a small collection of butterflies containing 44 Ornithoptera priamus, 30 Ornithoptera *Remus and helana and about 350 other butterflies as well as 1000 beetles and I hope you shall do something with them, as I shall require a lot of money for my trip to the Philippines. In another month I shall receive the collection that my men made on Jobi and I should not be surprised if they find another new Ornithoptera". What is clear from Waterstradt letters is that the birdwings butterflies were much sought after and because of their limited availability, provided both for their collector and the dealer a good source of income. Little did Waterstradt and Janson realize that O. aesacus would not reach European collectors again for another eighty years and then at first only one or two specimens, today it is common in collections. * Waterstradt had a liver illness. * Troides hypolitus.

In a letter dated 15 August 1903 written from the island of Labuan, Waterstradt writes " I am at present here in Borneo and am now sending you by parcel post two tins containing about 1700 very fine Orthoptera from Borneo. I heard from my father he was sending you my collection from Halmahera and I trust you have sold a good deal of them especially the O. lydius, I am now going to Mindanao. Waterstradt sent a letter to Janson from Davao on the 6 June 1903, " Here in Mindanao we have had an enormous amount of rain lately so I have not been able to do much collecting but as soon as the rainy season is over I am going up high Apo Mountains where I am pretty sure to find a number of new species". In a letter written to Janson from Malang, Java on the 24 March 1904 Waterstradt wrote " I am please to hear you have disposed of nearly all the Lepidoptera from Halmahera. *You have no fear as regards the O. lydius as it is most unlikely that anymore will come to Europe in the near future, seeing that there are no collectors in this part of the world just now and even if there were it is not likely that they would find any of them, as they are very rare there, though not as rare as the Ornithoptera from Obi. Three times I have sent collectors to that place to try to find some more of them and each time they have come back with the same story that it was impossible to find anymore of them, so there is not likely to come any more of them to Europe for a long time to come. My collection from the Philippines is only a small one and I am bringing it with me to Europe. So we can see what can be done with it". *It seems that Janson selling Waterstradt's Ornithoptera croesus lydius to his clientele was a little worried that if many more came onto the market, it would not make a good impression with those valued customers who had payed a high price for them. Just as Waterstradt predicted, it was not until sixty years later that many more specimens of O. croesus lydius arrived in Europe and flooded the market.

In a letter dated 5 September 1904 written from Belgium where Waterstradt was busy selling his exotic orchids, he writes to Janson " Mr Charles Oberthur has got all my Lepidoptera and Rene Oberthur has the first option of buying all my Coleoptera but if cannot agree a price I will send them to you. I have only got one or two pairs of the large Theodosia from Borneo and I will take them to London with me, I hope to get some more from my collectors. Waterstradt now took over the running of his fathers horticultural business in Copenhagan. He wrote to Janson from Copenhagan on 5 April 1905 " one small collection has arrived from my Borneo hunters there are about 250 Theodosia and 40-50 other rare beetles, in all 290. Waterstradt's last letter in the Janson archives was written on the 12 November 1905, concerning payment " I wrote to you last spring and at the same time sending you a small collection of very rare beetles from North Borneo, I should be keen to know the sales of my collection." Waterstradt did return twice to Borneo, although it was now mainly orchids that provided his income.

Letters to O.E. Janson from Albert Stewart Meek.

The English professional natural history collector Albert Stewart Meek (1871-1943) collected mainly in New Guinea, the surrounding Islands and the Solomon Islands. Meek had an arrangement with Walter Rothschild that he would send all of his collections to him, so he had the first choice of specimens for his museum at Tring. In a written agreement between Rothschild and Janson dated 1896, the dealer received Meek's insects that the Tring Museum did not want for its collections. There are letters from Meek to O.E. Janson and Son written between 1896 and 1927. The following are a few extracts and notes taken from Meek's letters to Janson that mention some of his collecting expeditions between 1896-1908. In his letters to Janson, when referring to the birdwing butterflies that he collected, Meek often uses both the genus Troides and Ornithoptera for the same species.

Albert Stewart Meek
Figure 7. Albert Stewart Meek.


Meek wrote from Cairns in Queensland in his first letter to Janson dated 25 October 1896 " I leave for New Guinea within a week and hope to be in camp on Woodlark Island in about three weeks from now. I have three Kanakas and a black boy from Cairns, so they will find plenty to do in camps. I shall also have two New Guinea boys with me. So you can reckon having good collections come over. I bought a whale boat at Sidney just for going short distances and for getting stores with and shall not buy a craft until I have done Woodlark and other places as to have enough to buy it outright. I trust you are having better health than when I last saw you." Meek had collected on Woodlark Island previously, but setting out on this expedition from Samarai by way of the Trobriand Islands, in his whale boat, he was unable to reach Woodlark at first due to fierce trade winds but managed to land and collect on Goodenough Island, where he was in constant danger from being attacked by hostile natives. He later, with his whale boat on board a cutter was able to reach Woodlark, but then on setting out for Fergusson island, he was nearly drowned when his boat overturned and was lost. He then purchased a small cutter the Calliope and went to his old camp at Nadi on the south coast of Fergusson island.

Meek sent a letter to Janson from Fergusson Island dated 30 May 1897, informing him "I am consigning a large collection of birds from here to * Mr Gerrard. Enclosed one case of large beetles, all dried before being packed, so they should arrive in good condition. There is a great lot of Ornithoptera. I know they are not worth much being only duplicates of previous collections and several hundred land snails. The reason I am not writing before, I have been laid up with large ulcers on the legs and not been able to get about. I was by myself the first four months with only New Hebridean boys. I was close to getting in trouble on Goodenough Island with the natives and had to clear out. Again on Woodlark I was wrecked and had a boy drowned that was the narrowest thing I was ever in. It was a nice long swim in the surf. There came a great cyclone or hurricane or something that lasted two days and wrecked the camp and damaged most of the store boxes. Now its about time things took a change. My legs are almost healed. My younger brother was with me but he is not much of a success being either ill or well, just sick enough not to care whether he works or not. I expect he will be home by Christmas" * T. Gerrard & Co., 48, Pentonville Road, London who sold Zoological and Botanical Specimens.

On the way to Cooktown from Samarai in his own boat, Meek writes in letter dated 12 May 1898 " I formed very fine collections on St Aignan, Rossel, and Sudest. I sent thirteen males of what I take to be a new species of *blue Ornithoptera, also a large number of females. I should be glad of your candid opinion with regards to my dealing with Tring. I am not well satisfied so far and unless they intend to act fairly and keep their word with me I shall not give them their preferences to my own. Could you drop them a hint that I am not too well satisfied. I do not intend again to send them collections from localities not specified in the agreement as I intend to sell them." In a letter to Janson dated 13 March 1899 Meek writes from New Guinea " Dear Janson, sending you a very large collection of Lepidoptera, fifteen thousand, most of which is set. You ought not to complain of all the good things being taken as this time there is one pair of *O. paradisea or allied species which are to come to you to be valued as per agreement. It may be a new species, I rather fancy it is myself, it seems the male is more brilliant than those in the museum. It is the first male ever taken in British New Guinea. Did you receive any *blue Ornithoptera from the Islands. I got one small one from Rossel, several on Sudest, nine males on St Aignan besides a lot of females, they seem to have a happy little way of forgetting such things. *They are constantly wanting me to go out of the way to impossible islands and are particularly anxious not to stop long at the Solomons. I wanted them to permit me the whole of the Solomons to work but no. They ban the quiet Islands as they had bad things from there and leave only the bad places. It's not really good enough and I don't intend to go unless I should hear of something apart from collections to interest me" *Meek was correct in assuming the birdwing butterfly was probably not the O. paradisea that had been discovered in German New Guinea. He had discovered the first male of Ornithoptera meridionalis at Milne Bay, British New Guinea in 1898. The male of O meridionalis captured by Meek at Milne Bay was retained by Rothschild and not sent on to Janson. *Meek had discovered the blue Ornithoptera priamus caelestis in the Louisiade Archipelago in August 1897. Some authors regard this as a distinct species. *The reference in the letter to they, is to Walter Rothschild and his curators Karl Jordan and Ernst Hartert. Meek's letters to Janson reveal that initially he had a difficult working relationship with Rothschild and his staff at the Tring Museum. Meek often refers to them simply as the 'Museum'.

In a letter dated 6 June 1898 Meek wrote to Janson " received bad news from the museum and rather fed up of working for nothing. Kindly send me a lot of store boxes as I don't expect to get them from the museum and one box of the best watercolours to Samarai. I want them for my wife who will illustrate the larvae and pupae of the various insects".

Meek wrote to Janson on the 21 November 1899 from the small Island of Samarai, lying off the coast of southern British New Guinea where he often resided " I expect to fill at least three dozen boxes with set insects from the mainland. I have set 2000 already and there are many good things among them. There is a Taenaris with black hindwings and large blue and black spots, which only occurs in the mountains. There is a long series of it . I got £321 for the St Aignan collection and £199 for the set of insects from ? I make a good lot of money but it all goes. I would not care about telling the museum because they would not believe me, but at the present it would take £200 at least to get me square with everything. I had £290 from you, Gerrard and my *brother (£126) for the collection of Australian eggs and bird skins of the last trip. So long as the museum act up to the agreement I am satisfied, I don't care a great deal. I shall fulfill my part to the letter. Have you ever seen a fly like this, I had one previously from Fergusson Island but it was lost. (Meek added a drawing of a remarkable Diptera, a Stalk-eyed fly of the family Diopsidae). Young *Eichhorn got a bad dose of the fever last week, vomiting green water every few minutes for two days and two nights". * E. H. Meek, who had taken over his fathers, Natural History Business at 56 Brompton Road, London. *Albert Frederic Eichhorn who had long association with Meek and continued to collect for him after he had retired.

Meek writes in a letter dated 4 April 1900 from Samarai " Received your letter enclosing £63. 17, at the same time a cheque from the Museum for £133. This made altogether £620 from the museum of which £497 were for Lepidoptera alone, I am afraid if we had to depend on others outside of Rothschild we would make a very sorry living at collecting. As soon as my boat comes back which ought to be in a day or two I going to have another try at Troides meridionalis. I am not much afraid of anyone else getting it, at least not in the locality as I did. I only got one for five months work that's with trained collectors, as for offering rewards to the natives it does not work, at least in these parts. I have another female taken by my men last month down the south coast, but if I am there myself, there is a great deal more chance of getting a series." Meek informed Janson he had bought a hundred acres on Samarai to farm cattle and already had a herd of thirty and that since January Mrs Meek and her sisters had been at the farm on the Island.

In a letter from Samarai written on the 4 May 1902 Meek wrote "received your letter 8 February, I cannot profoundly understand how you got 29 male victoriae as I sent 49 in all, 11 from Guadalcanal and 36 from Isabel and two bad specimens. I intend going up into the high mountains of the Owen Stanley and spent 200 pounds on the trip." Meek added to the letter " I got eight miles down the coast and was turned back by a government steamer owing to a slight oversight in the shipping offices here in signing the boys as general hands on the Calliope instead as carriers, and as the bad season was coming on, I did not care about starting afresh." At the London Entomological Society meeting on the 19 March 1902 Janson exhibited both sexes of Ornithoptera victoriae from the Island of Santa Isabel that Meek had collected the previous year. He pointed out to the members the variation and markings in the males.

In letter from Port Moresby dated December 7 1902 Meek informed Janson that he had "arrived there en route inland via the Aroa River. I expect to be in the high camps before the wet season commences. I wrote to Hartert some time back giving him information that the things *Weiske had collected were not at high elevation and he poo pooed the idea and he seemed rather annoyed at the idea, since being here I confirmed that information and are now waiting to get one or more of the collectors they had, as they may have more convincing proof. * The German collector Emil Weiske (1867-1950) had visited the Owen Stanley Range in late 1899 and early in 1900 and camped at 3000 feet at the Aroa River. Among the new butterflies discovered by Weiske were new species of Delias and the beautiful Graphium weiskei that Rothschild was keen to obtain.

After leaving his camp for a short period at Bowidunna situated at 3000 feet on the Aroa River in the Owen Stanley Range, Meek wrote to Janson from the coast at the Manna Manna mission station on the 2 May 1903 "I have dispatched collections to Tring, where a lot of new Lepidoptera came from a year or two back. I got what I take to be two *new species of Ornithoptera, one like the south Queensland richmondia and another somewhat like the common birdwing, but with smaller and rounded hindwings with gold spots on it. " I also got 15, 7 males and 8 females of the tailed Ornithoptera (meridionalis) same as the Milne Bay specimens and a female of Ornithoptera goliath. This mountain collecting is so damnably expensive, costing £250 plus the £350 for the boat. Coming down the mountain a few weeks ago I had a nasty fall which broke a rib. I expect to get to the old camp in about eight days (it only took six to get down)." * Variation within the common Ornithoptera priamus poseidon.

Reaching his camp again and proceeding higher to the Head of the Aroa River, things did not go as planned, Meek wrote to Janson on the 2 July 1903 from Port Moresby. " I only got in the day before after another two months trip inland and had a bad time of it with measles, only three out of a party of 19 not taking it (myself, one South Sea man, and one New Guinea boy). I had one death then I came away for the boys in time. I shall have had certainly more deaths but for coming away in time. Two boys had to carried part of the way down. I have been unwell myself, one way or another with fever and swollen legs. I got things I wanted but unfortunately did not do enough. I got into camp on the 15 May and left the 6 June and out of that, the insect collectors did 6 or 7 day's work. I cannot blame myself. I think we got between 200 to 300 bird skins, about 30 to 40 animal skins and I set 300 insects almost all different species of Delias of about 20 to 25 species. There is nothing else so high up and they fly for about two hours during the day. There will be something new among them. I also got one more female of O. goliath and one other *Ornithoptera.*Pratt is still in the lower mountains he seems very careful of his hide, I don't think that at the present time in New Guinea there is a man more helpless or even as much as seems to be judging by the conversation I had with him and by reports around here. He has a man with him who goes into the mountains close where we have been. Last year he was badly on his uppers here in Port Moresby and a Government man lent him £50 to buy stores with to make a fresh start. It does puzzle me how the devil a man like him is able to make a living for I am perfectly certain by his gear and other things that there can be no possible comparison between our respective collections, that is of course as Lepidoptera are concerned. I shall imagine that who is financing him has more money than knowledge and what cooks me he has the cheek to say he wants to collect in the Charles Louis Mountains, when without someone with him, he is afraid to go a dozen miles from the coast. The Charles Louis Mountains in Dutch New Guinea would cost I expect over 1000 pounds and a big part or not less than twenty to thirty armed men. I may be misinformed but that's my impression of that place. He is going home in October and will no doubt furnish us with a book of his adventures. I shall be going to the Solomons in a month or two". *Meek had found a female of a new species of birdwing that Rothschild named Troides chimaera. *Antwerp Edgar Pratt (1852-1924) a British professional collector who was in Papua with his son Henry Pratt. He did produce a book in 1906 of his time there, Two Years among New Guinea Cannibals, a Naturalists Sojourn among the Aborigines of Unexplored New Guinea. Meek's comments regarding his fellow English collector are surprising as Pratt was no mere novice collector, having spent 1891 on the border of China and Tibet collecting for John Henry Leech and then visiting Brazil and Peru in 1892, collecting there for two years, visiting among other places Rio Branco. Pratt's sponsors in British New Guinea were Sir George Hamilton Kenrick and George Thomas Bethune-Baker, who wanted him to collect Lepidoptera in the Owen Stanley Range because of the success of Weiske's expedition. Pratt went inland and camped near the village of Dinawa on the Anagabunga River and at Ekeikei situated at 1500 feet in the foothills of the Owen Stanley Range. From here Pratt sent a native collector higher to collect on Mount Kebea. Pratt's British New Guinea collection were certainly much smaller than those made by Meek in this area of the Owen Stanley Range. Pratt's new Lepidoptera, apart from one exception, a species of Riodinidae were all species of moths. Pratt later collected in the largely unexplored Arfak Mountains of Dutch New Guinea. It was Pratt's sons Charles and Felix who made many discoveries among the Lepidoptera in Dutch New Guinea, its Islands and in the Moluccas. Among their new butterflies were Ornithoptera Rothschildi from the Arfak Mountains and Troides prattorum discovered on the Island of Buru.

Janson showed at the meeting of the London Entomological Society on the 20 January 1904 specimens of Ornithoptera Meridionalis and Papilio weiskei that Meek had collected near the Aroa River. Meek informed Janson in a letter written from his boat the Hekla in the Solomons on the 28 May 1904 " I have just returned from Bougainville and dispatch you direct 119 males of Ornithoptera victoriae. They are with a dozen exceptions all good specimens. Have also set a dozen perfect specimens for their selection (Tring), also two males from *Rendova Island I would like to get the male of the new hairy bodied Ornithoptera chimaera I got last year." * Described by Rothschild 1904 as Troides victoriae rubianus.

In a letter dated 19 June 1904 Meek sent his condolences for the loss of Janson's wife. During his next expedition between November 1904 and May 1905 to the Owen Stanley Range by the Anagabunga River, he set up camp at Owgarra, north of the head of the Aroa River. Here Meek was successful in finding the first males and further females of O. chimaera. From Port Moresby Meek sent a letter to Janson informing him that he had 232 set and papered specimens of O. chimaera, with 1280 other insects in papers among them new Delias, and fairly large collection of land snails, together with a case of beautiful orchids. Meek wrote to Janson on the 29 June 1905 from Helen Street, Cooktown " I am sending you 104 males of O. chimaera and 53 females, also 5 good specimens of *Morpho, Taenaris nivescens and 1 male and 2 females of T. meridionalis. These were got last year at the head of the Aroa River. When, I wrote you from there I anticipated not being able to get anymore (Ochimaera) and it was towards the end of the trip that the natives found another blossom tree. There is no danger of the market being flooded, as these insects are rare. I managed to get these large quantities at the St Joseph/Aroa River by offering the local natives axes and a dozen pearl shells and so had hundreds of collectors who know much of the country".*Morphopsis of which Meek discovered two new species described by Rothschild & Jordan in 1905 as M. meeki and M. ula. At the meeting of the Entomological Society of London held on 15 November 1905 Janson displayed a pair of Meek's wonderful new Ornithoptera chimaera and what was said be a remarkable series of mountain Delias.

Between January & April 1906 Meek visited the Owen Stanley Mountains from the north coast by the Mambare River, camping at Biagi between January & April 1906. Meek wrote to Janson on the 5 May 1906 from the mountains at the head of the Aroa River " I am most disappointed with this seasons trip, there are no Ornithoptera coming in, and any insects to speak off. I find I made a great mistake in not taking home the collections as I intended. Both myself and assistant have been very sick this time. The males of O. chimaera should sell well and should easily fetch 25 pounds each, as no one knows how many I had. They would fetch that at auction anyhow, and there is no chance of getting anymore unless I am sending them, as they are extremely rare and do not fly about old gardens as the other Ornithoptera but confine themselves to the top of trees in dense forest. Sending you another small collection enclosed in the museum's lot".

In a letter dated 30 May 1906 Meek reported to Janson that during his recent trip to the Owen Stanley Range two of his collecting boys were murdered and one injured and left for dead in ambushes by two different tribes of natives as they descended to the coast. Meek writes " *I believe I know where to get another new Ornithoptera, the male and female have long narrow wings. It's about the size or perhaps a little larger than of O. chimaera, but judging by the *prices for new Ornithoptera it would not pay to get it, anyway I am not going for it. I have sent Jordan the damaged female but rather a small specimen. I agree with you there is plenty of good things in New Guinea for the collectors, the question is would it pay to go and get them. This last trip cost me between four and five hundred pounds. You can perhaps believe it when I tell you I had 28 men to pay and provide for". *During this trip Meek had observed, both the male and female of a new species of birdwing flying high. Unable to capture it with a net, he brought a female down with small shot that he used for obtaining bird specimens. It proved to be a new species that Rothschild named Troides alexandrae. * Meek had been disappointed by the prices Janson had got for his specimens of O. chimaera.

Meek wrote from from Samarai in a letter to Janson dated the 2 April 1907 " I am leaving tomorrow at daybreak for the east coast with the intention of collecting there, more particularly for the new Troides, of which I sent one specimen. I expect to get a good series, should I not be too late in the season. Meek added the sad news " you heard of course the death of my brother, he died on the day he was due to have landed".

On the 21 August 1907 in a letter from the Giriwa River on the north east coast of British New Guinea Meek wrote to Janson " you will be glad and interested to hear I have succeeded in breeding a number of the new Troides (alexandrae) and will probably be in a position to send you twenty or thirty pairs of them. They are a really beautiful insect and should command a high price, I estimate they cost me over 30 pounds in value of trade goods encouraging natives to bring in nice things, and the number of common Troides I've had would take four figures I think to represent. Its absolutely useless getting larva from the natives as they received too rough handling for a delicate insect. I've now given up getting the larvae and the natives are being payed to find the pupae. I shall be leaving here in a fortnight when I shall dispatch you the Ornithoptera and draw on you for part expenses."

In a letter dated 21 October 1907 from Samarai Meek writes to Janson " I am sending you 99 specimens of the new Troides alexandrae of which some 35 pairs are bred (77 specimens) and in the best of condition. The remainder being either caught or damaged specimens. I am sending these in papers and enclosed in a consignment to Tring. I am also sending the empty pupae cases of bred specimens and a small collection of Lepidoptera. I shall be drawing against your for 200 pounds."

Meek wrote to Janson on the 7 September 1908 from Port Moresby having returned from another expedition to the north east coast that he had a " few more of the Troides alexandrae. I suppose you could do with a few more of them by now. Will ship you 25 set pairs of bred specimens. I have been very sick this time and was laid up for three weeks with being unable to walk. Meek said that he would now be resting for a spell but would return to the old game again as the collecting life makes one unfit for anything else. Meek later wrote in a letter dated 2 April 1909 that he was very disappointed with the sales of his specimens of O. alexandrae and that his next expedition would be to Dutch New Guinea. Some years later at the London Entomological Society Meeting held on 5 May 1914 Janson showed an impressive series of Meek's male O. alexandrae, to show the extreme variations in markings.

Janson also obtained many of Meek's beetles. In one parcel there were eight specimens of a beautiful new deep violet blue species of the Cetoniidae family that had been collected on Mount Rossel, the highest point of Rossel Island in the Louisiade Archipelago. Janson in the Entomologist's Monthly Magazine (1917) described this as Ischiopsopha violacea. The new beetle was probably collected for Meek by the Eichhorn brothers who visited Rossel Island in 1915. In a letter from Sidney dated 26 July 1916 Meek told Janson he was sending him two small collections from Rossel and Sudest Islands. Meek had loaned the Eichhorn brothers quite a large sum of money for their expedition and given them all of his collecting equipment.

Charles Rothschild letters to O.E. Janson.

Sometimes it was the case that O.E. Janson's transactions did not always go smoothly. Charles Rothschild in spite of his great wealth, in his letters to Janson showed all the anxieties of the passionate collector, in a letter dated 27 February 1908 he wanted to know the whereabouts of his parasitic blood suckers " Dear Sir, I have not received any fleas from you for some time and I am sending you these few lines to say that I hope that you will send some soon." In a letter dated January 1914 regarding his flea specimens, Rothschild writes, I could not decide to purchase the specimens you refer to without examining them, would you kindly forward them for approval. In the event of damage to the specimens in transit or loss in the post I cannot be held responsible if this condition does not suit you please do not consider anymore about the business." Charles Rothschild continued to be a valued customer.

Alfred Russell Wallace letter to O.E. Janson.

Even Alfred Russell Wallace asked for O.E. Janson's advice. Writing from Broadstairs, Wimborne on the 23 July 1908 " A young friend of mind a very enthusiastic all round naturalist and a first rate insect collector wants to go out to the tropics as a collector and would probably remain there for several years. I should recommend him to begin in an English country and the choice seems to be between Burma and British Guiana. Burma I think the best on a whole owing to its great size, known richness and great facilities for all parts of it by large navigable rivers, 700 or 800 miles of railway, besides many good roads and tracks, also mines, timber cuttings, plantations. All I want to know is how much insect collecting has been done there and this no one can tell me better than you. Will you be so good as to inform me whether any extensive collecting has been done there and how long ago and whether any first rate collector is there now and also what demand there is now for tropical insects, I mean are there many private or public collectors as there were 40 years ago when I and Bates were sending home our collecting. A country the size of Burma with enormous forests and numerous ranges of mountains extending from the eastern Himalayas to the Tenasserim only 10 degrees from the equator must be so rich that it cannot I should think have been exhausted yet" Janson's reply to Wallace survives in the BMNH archives but the letter has somehow sustained burn damage in places. O.E. Janson writes to Wallace in a letter dated 28 July 1903. "We received your letter of the 23rd. There have been very extensive collections made in Burma by the late Mr W. Doherty some 10 years ago & also by Mr Fea[?] some 4 or 5 years back & many of their specimens are still in the market. At present there are a few resident Indian Civil Service Officials sending small lots from time to time. British Guiana has not been so extensively collected in, being no doubt owing to the difficulty of getting [Letter burned] distance inland, we have [Letter burned] containing many good things but as is usual in collections made haphazard in very poor condition. We do not think the ordinary run of Insects fetch as much as they did years ago, owing to the facilities that exist for collecting -– Railways Parcel post &c, -- specimens are sent home in much greater numbers now than formerly, but fine, new & rare things certainly fetch as much or more than ever. Of course a collector would do much better in an unexplored region such as many parts of South America, interior of New Guinea, Bougainville in the Solomons etc. but we think a careful collector would do very well in British Guiana up the River Essequibo & might make it pay in Burma. We see you ask us to the [Letter burned] mention -– but for the last year or two owing to increased taxation & business depression both public & private buyers have had to curtail the amount they devote to the purchase of specimens."

In 1920 O.E. Janson had difficulty in sourcing butterflies from South America, he sent a letter to the Brazilian Consulate General in London asking for help and received this helpful reply " you express your desire to obtain collections of butterflies from Brazil, especially from the interior districts of the Upper Amazon. I have the pleasure of giving you the name of a great collector in Brazil Dr Adhemar Morpurgo, Rua da hope, Rio de Janeiro. I would suggest you communicate with this gentleman, as he has written to this Consulate General asking to be put in touch with collectors in this country".

Oliver Jordan Janson (1876 –1964).

Oliver Jordan Janson was the eldest son of Oliver Erichson Janson, he worked in his fathers business until 1911. When he left he catalogued the insect lots in Stevens’sale rooms in King Street, Covent Garden for many years. He was mainly interested in Lepidoptera and Botany. In 1898 he was elected a member of the London Entomological Society and in 1927 a member of the South London Entomology and Natural History Society until 1953-54. He was the SLENS recorder 1929-30 and 1951-52 and on the council 1931-33. At a SLENS Annual Exhibition meeting held on 22 October 1931 he exhibited 2 males and the first known female of Papilio aristor from Haiti, described by Goedart in 1819, whose type (a male) in the Paris Museum was lost or destroyed. At SLENS meeting on 23 November 1939 he exhibited from Ceram Papilio stresemanni Rothschild which was almost unknown in collections and was considered to be at that time to be a form or subspecies of Papilio (Graphiumweiskei. His insect collections were destroyed in the London Blitz of WW2.

Later years and the Janson Archive.

When Oliver Erichson Janson died in 1926 the business at 44 Great Russell Street was managed by his two sons, Robert Baillie Janson (1888-1969) and William Harold Janson (1879-1960). O.E. Janson's oldest son, Percy Lynn Janson (1878-1958) a carpenter by trade, at this time made the firm's insect cabinets. Robert had worked in his father's shop since the age of fourteen, but left for a short period, being employed by the Novarro Engineering Company. William and Robert did not get along, as they had different ideas how to run their shop. William wanted to concentrate on the specimen and equipment side of the business, while Robert wanted to turn it into mainly a publishing and book business. After a series of arguments, the brothers were not on speaking terms, with William leaving in 1938 to set up the Entomology Company at No 446 the Strand, where he sold specimens and equipment. Robert's son Derek later came to work in the shop. They made their own entomological equipment that they sold at the shop in their small workshop at their home in Finchley. As demand increased for Janson's entomological equipment, it were made in various places in London, their cabinets in Willesden and Balham. Their wood framed nets were made at Woodford and the metal ones at Highbury. The received their insects pins from the Midlands.

Janson and son advert 9
Figure 8. Adverts placed by William H. Janson and Robert B. Janson in The Nauralist, a journal of Natural History for the North of England. 1-2. 1933. 3. 1939.

When Robert Baille Janson died, his son Derek Baillie Janson (1920-2006) took over at the helm of 44 Russell Street. A keen entomologist he re-established the specimen and equipment side of the business. During World War II he joined the R.A.F. He became a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society in 1947 and a life member of the South London Entomology and Natural History Society in 1948. In the 1980's Derek moved his home together with the business to Norfolk, which closed its transactions in 2000.

In 1991 Derek Baillie Janson presented a large historical archive dated 1873 -1929 to the Library at the British Museum of Natural History. It includes the papers of Edward Wesley Janson (1822-1891), Oliver Erichson Janson (1850-1926) and Oliver Jordan Janson (1876-1964). The archive consists of a vast amount of documents, including thousands of letters, among them, many from well known entomologists such as Herbert Jordan Adams, Edward Albert Butler, John Henry Elwes, John Edward Gray, William Jacob Holland, George Thomas Bethune-Baker, William Chapman Hewitson, Thomas Vernon Wollaston, Frederick William Frohawk, Charles Oberthür, Guido Grandi etc. There are also business papers, letter books and account books.

Peter Andrews

February 2019.


To comment this article, please go to this forum thread.


References :

Allington E.G. 1924 A Romance of the Rostrum. London.

Anon, 1891 Obituary E.W. Janson. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 27: 278.

Anon, 1891 Obituary E.W. Janson. Entomologist 24: 252.

Anon., 1927 Obituary O.E. Janson. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 63: 15-16.

Anon., 1931-1932 South London Entomology and Natural History Society. Annual Exhibition meeting 22 October 1931. Proceedings of the South London Entomological & Natural History Society p. 89.

Anon., 1938-1939 South London Entomology and Natural History Society meeting 23 November 1939. Proceedings and Transactions of the South London Entomological & Natural History Society p.19.

Bates, F., 1869-70 Descriptions of New Genera and species of HeteromeraEntomologist's Monthly Magazine 6: 269.

Bates, H.W., 1869. Mr H.W. Bates on Cerambycidae of the Amazon Valley. Transactions of the Entomological Society of London p. 407.

Gunther, A. C. L. G., 1906 The History of the collections contained in the Natural history departments of the British museum. London : printed by order of the Trustees, 1904-12.

Janson archive 1873-1929. Accessed at Library and Archives Natural History Museum December 2018 - February 2019.

Janson, C., 2011 Shopping at Jansons : a short history of a firm of naturalists. Privately published manuscript distributed among family members. Accessed at Library and Archives Natural History Museum December 2018.

Janson, E.W., 1848 Notice of the occurrence of rare Coleopterous insects, with Observations on their habits. Zoologist 6 : 2108-2110.

Janson, E. W., 1857 Observations on the Myrmecophilous Coleoptera or Ants-Nest Beetles of Britain. Entomologist's Annual 3: 85-96.

Janson, E. W., 1858 Notes on Ant Nest Beetles. Entomologist's Annual 4: 78-84.

Janson, E.W., 1858 Mr Waterhouses Catalogue of Coleoptera. Entomologist's Weekly Intelligencer 5: 118-120.

Janson, E.W., 1863 British Beetles: Transferred from Curtis's British Entomology. London Bell & Daldy.

Janson, E.W. , 1882 Descriptions of six new species of Elateridae collected by Mr Clarence Buckley during his second expedition to Ecuador Cistula Entomologica 3: 33 -37.

Janson, O.E., 1873 Descriptions of new species of Australian Cetoniidae. Cistula Entomologica 1: 133-140.

Janson, O.E., 1877 Notes on Japanese Rhopalocera with the description of new species. Cistula Entomologica 2 : 153-160.

Janson, O.E. 1889. Description of a New Goliath Beetle from Central Africa Neptunides stanleyi Entomologist 22 : 40-41.

Janson, O. E., 1917 Descriptions of two New Species of Cetoniidae. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 53: 5-6.

Janson, O. E., 1917 Rediscovery of Tapinotus sellas Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 53: 233.

Janson, O. E., 1920. Harpalus 4 punctatus var montivagus Reitt in Ireland. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 56: 14.

Janson, O. E., 1922 Stenopelmus rufinasus Gyll., An Addition to the list of British Coleoptera. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 57: 225-26.

Janson, O.E. & Bonaparte Wyse, L.H., 1923 A Fortnight's Entomology in Co. Waterford. Irish Naturalist 32: 9-17.

Janson, O.E., 1924 Coleoptera at Lough Neagh at Co Antrim and Newcastle in Co Down Irish Naturalist 33 : 69-72.

Hartert, E, 1901 William Doherty Obituary. Novitates Zoologicae a journal of zoology in connection with the Tring Museum 8: 494-506.

Natural History Museum website : Bagous (Bagous) binodulus (Herbst, 1795) (Accessed November 2018).

Neave, S.A., 1933 The History of the Entomological Society 1833-1933. London.

E., Ormerod, 1890 Notes and descriptions of a few injurious farm & fruit insects of South Africa.

Rothschild, M., 1983 Dear Lord Rothschild Birds, Butterflies & History. Hutchinson.

Rowland Brown, H., 1902 Entomological Society of London Meeting 5 March 1902 . Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 38: 117.

Rowland-Brown, H., 1902 Entomological Society of London Meeting 19 March 1902. The Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 38: 139.

Rowland-Brown, H., 1904 Entomological Society of London Meeting 20 January 1904 The Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 40: 66.

Rowland-Brown, H., 1906 Entomological Society of London Meeting 15 November 1905. The Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 42: 21.

Rowland-Brown, H., 1908 Entomological Society of London Meeting 5 February 1908. The Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 44: 68.

Tennent, J.W. 2010 The Long-winged Troides: discovery of the largest butterfly in the world, in Papua New Guinea, by Albert Stewart Meek (1871-1943) The Linnean Volume 26.

UK Beetle Recording website. Accessed November 2018.

Waterhouse, G.R., 1858 Mr Waterhouses Catalogue of Coleoptera Entomologist's Weekly Intelligencer 5: 102-103.

Waterhouse, G.R., 1859 Mr Waterhouses Catalogue of Coleoptera Entomologist's Weekly Intelligencer 6: 133-135.

Wheeler G. 1915 Entomological Society of London Meeting 5 May 1914. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 51: 248.




Go back to the blog menu with all articles.