The delicate little picture of the insect currently on the Centre for History of Science home page is a detail from a watercolour of the crop pest Lichtensia viburni, known as viburnum cushion scale. The drawing is contained in a volume of original artwork by Robert Newstead FRS (1859-1947) produced for a monograph on British Coccidae (scale insects) in 1900. Newstead recieved a grant of £20 from the Royal Society towards research costs for this work and as a mark of gratitude presented the original drawings to the Royal Society in 1946. The piece marked a key advance in the study of agricultural pests.
Newstead went on to become a well respected entomologist focusing on the study of tropical diseases and travelling widely in his research. He joined the Royal Society’s Nyasaland (Malawi) expedition of 1911 investigating links between the tsetse fly and the wide spread disease of sleeping sickness. He sent regular progress reports on his research to the Royal Society’s Tropical Diseases Committee. In one letter, dated 13 November, Newstead explains that he has discovered that the tsetse fly breeds in three spots in the forest and has examined the stomach contents of birds to find out about the distribution of the fly (Royal Society archives CMB/51/32).
The Royal Society archive recently acquired a set of black and white glass photographic negatives which document this expedition. Although some are cracked and have gone a little mouldy over time, with a bit of cleaning and some manipulation in Photoshop, we were pleased and relieved to see that they came up very nicely and produced clear images as you can see in this example:
Both the reports and photographs provide a fascinating insight into early 20th century fieldwork of this type and the international work of Royal Society Fellows. A display on other 20th century Royal Society expeditions can currently be seen at Carlton House Terrace.
Robert Newstead was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1912 and, with the advent of World War One, soon after became heavily involved in advising the Government on the importance of insects in warfare and played a key part in establishing the Royal Society Grain Pests (War) Committee.
As if he wasn’t busy enough, Newstead also held the post of first Curator (from 1886-1913) of the Grosvenor Museum in Chester, the town where I grew up. On graduating from university I went back home for a while and worked as a volunteer at the Grosvenor Museum which inspired me to pursue a career working with historical collections.