The Zoologist/4th series, vol 5 (1901)/Issue 722/Obituary for Eleanor A. Ormerod

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Obituary for Eleanor A. Ormerod  (1901) 
William Lucas Distant & Thomas Prichard Newman

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 5, issues 722 (August, 1901), p. 310–314


Eleanor A. Ormerod.

By the death of Miss Ormerod there has passed away a notable Englishwoman. She was not only recognized as a naturalist—being an entomologist of no inconsiderable attainment—but she was distinguished in the higher sense of rendering her science a practical value for the good of humanity. We know in many cases the absolute impossibility of bringing zoology into the domain of our national economy; we also clearly see the advisability of not seeking to do so on insufficient grounds; but it was the great work in the life of Miss Ormerod that she made her favourite science a blessing to the community. Unendowed, except by her singleness of purpose, she took up a work which appertains to a non-existent governmental department, and cheerfully devoted her talent and much of her means to the service of the agricultural and trading community. That this is no hyperbole, and that entomology may be made a factor in the welfare of our commercial life, is proved by the notices of her death in papers which have reached us, not only such as represent the agricultural interest, but others bearing such names as 'Mark Lane Express,' ' Meat Trades Journal,' ' Boot and Shoe Trades Journal,' &c. She may be said to have consecrated the study of insects in the economic and commercial instincts of our national life.

The lady who thus brought natural history to the aid of the democracy was well-born and carefully nurtured. She was the third and youngest daughter of the late George Ormerod, D.C.L., F.R.S., &c., the author of the 'History of Cheshire,' who belonged to the Lancashire branch of the Ormerods of Ormerod. Her mother was the eldest daughter of John Latham, M.D., F.R.S., Fellow and sometime President of the Royal College of Physicians. She may thus be said to trace her parentage from an aristocracy of intellect. Born on May 11th, 1828, she had reached an age of seventy-three years. As a woman, Miss Ormerod maintained the potentialities of her sex by being the first lady member admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, and we believe also of the Entomological Society; while she still further carried the standard by being the recipient of the degree of LL.D. of the University of Edinburgh, for the first time a female distinction in the Scottish capital.

It is, however, in her twenty-four Annual Reports that the work done can be properly estimated. Farmers, agriculturists, and others recognized her as the authority to whom to apply for advice as to combating, if not overcoming, the plagues of noxious insects. An entomologist reading these Reports in a purely technical spirit might sometimes mutter "compilation," but this they never were, except in the sense that the sum of all human knowledge is a compilation. As a real student, she sought the best authorities; as an honest woman, acknowledged the sources from which she had obtained her information, and there that matter ended; her advice as to practical endeavour was her own, based on a wide experience, and in this sense compilation might as easily be charged against every historian. To know what has been done is the object of the publication of our annual 'Zoological Record,' and to have little knowledge of it is the weakness of weak zoologists.

The death of Miss Ormerod and the termination of her gratuitous services raises the whole question as to whether the time has not arrived for the appointment of a governmental bureau, where these matters—of vital interest to agriculture—should be entirely dealt with. America has long led the way in this enterprise, and we may eventually live to see entomology recognized as one of the most beneficent sciences. When this takes place the name of Miss Ormerod will be remembered as that of the pioneer of the movement, and as one who approached her subject with the grip of a man and the love of a woman.

Another writer who had most intimate relations with the deceased will now add some personal recollections.


It has been thought curious that a lady should take up agricultural entomology and not only dabble in the science, but practically make it her own, as Miss Ormerod has done, so far as this country is concerned. The beginning was undoubtedly example and precept. Dr. George Ormerod, as well as his brothers and ancestors, had been acute observers and practical workers in various fields of science; the same may be said of his wife and of her forbears. Observation of the habits of insects with patient interest was one of Miss Ormerod's earliest recollections. With her, interest was centred in life and habit, not in the making of collections.

As she grew to womanhood the duty fell to her of overseeing the farm and park-lands constituting her father's estate at Sedbury, on the Wye. The recollection of the beauty of Sedbury Park was a constant pleasure; and perhaps there was in it something of a family pride. She seems to have assumed practical management in every branch, and to have entirely won the confidence of those under her orders. She acquired a working knowledge of agriculture, made more thorough and accurate by the habit of intelligent, painstaking observation of little things in early years. Thus was entomology united to agriculture. Opportunity was abundant for observing insect depredation and experimenting for remedy, and the habit was formed of investigating life-history with a view to discovering the vulnerable point of attack, and of seeking hidden causes for visible effects. She became the counsellor of those under her at home, and it was an easy and natural transition to counsel practical farmers farther afield as help was sought.

At her father's death, she and her sister removed to Isleworth, where, in 1877, she determined to publish a few Notes of Observations on Injurious Insects; this was given to numerous correspondents, and was followed next year by a Report of the attacks of the year, with free quotation (carefully acknowledged) from those who had enquired and experimented with remedies. The Reports became Annual, grew in bulk and authority, and soon determined what was to be Miss Ormerod's future life-work.

It was no dilettante work, but involved concentrated application and energy. On various occasions an amanuensis was tried, but unsuccessfully; the only help in correspondence and editorship until the closing years was that of the dearly loved sister, so gifted as an artist—her other self—who died in 1896, and whose death cut away one-half of the light of the life that was left.

With Miss Ormerod correspondence was not perfunctory or official. Extreme and dignified courtesy—perhaps it would be called old-fashioned courtesy—marked her every action and word. Every enquiry (and many were concerning attacks already treated of in the published Reports again and again) would receive full and detailed reply. When on one occasion advised to minimise labour by enclosing a printed account of the remedy, "with Miss Ormerod's compliments," she derided the suggestion—it was not in that manner that her connection had been built up.

On the subject of payment she was very sensitive: payment would be tendered her for official duties, for evidence in law cases; but she would have none of it. Her publications, besides taking time, must have been a considerable item in annual expenditure; they were given to all who had helped her in however small a degree, as well as to scientific colleagues in this and other countries. "If my correspondents thought I was making money out of them, do you think they would continue to help me?" she would ask. Her leaflets upon special subjects were given away by hundreds of thousands, with hearty thanks to those helpers who would intelligently distribute them.

Fourteen years since, during return, somewhat overwrought, from an official meeting, a street accident occasioned an injury which was followed by lameness and almost constant physical suffering. She was never in strong health, and this was a shock to the whole system. "Sometimes," she said, "I lie awake at night wondering whether I can live through the pain until the morning." She not only lived through it, but bravely worked through it day after day, that the farmers whose interests were so near her heart might not suffer from her neglect.

Miss Ormerod valued the honours that were bestowed upon her by scientific societies; but the reason for appending them all on her title-pages was not vain-glory, but lest any should feel hurt by being omitted. She greatly appreciated being elected the first lady member of a learned Society; but what was felt to be the great honour of her life was the conferring upon her by Edinburgh University of its LL.D. degree. She received numerous medals of honour in recognition of her services to science, and amongst them perhaps those most esteemed were that of the Société d'Acclimatation of France, and the gold medal of the University of Moscow. There is something tangible about a medal; it can be shown to interested friends, and incidents connected are recalled and related. Towards the close, as a consequence of the special illness, there were times of depression, when fears came that she was forgotten, and her life's work had been of no avail. On one of these occasions the sight of the collection of medals with their inscriptions served as a distinct restorative to a more cheerful view of life.

"There's a many will miss her; she was a good woman," said one of her working-men neighbours. Her kindness and courtesy to those about and around her have bound her to them in affectionate regard.


This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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