Ormerod, Eleanor Anne (1828–1901), economic entomologist
by J. F. M. Clark

Ormerod, Eleanor Anne (1828–1901), economic entomologist, was born on 11 May 1828 at Sedbury Park, Gloucestershire, the youngest of the ten children of , historian and antiquary, and his wife, Sarah (1784–1860), eldest daughter of , a president of the Royal College of Physicians. Although he also owned a property, Tyldesley, and its attendant coalmines in Lancashire, George Ormerod's sole residence was Sedbury Park, from 1828, soon after the time of its purchase (1825), until his death in 1873. Consequently, Eleanor Ormerod spent more than half her life on the family's 800 acre estate, between the Severn and Wye rivers, opposite Chepstow.

Although her brothers received instruction from Thomas Arnold, Eleanor Ormerod was educated at home by her mother. Consisting principally of biblical knowledge, moral precepts, and French, her education equipped her with society skills. These were rounded off with private tuition in music and painting. She received the latter from William Holman Hunt, when the family made their annual pilgrimage to London. In addition, Eleanor and her elder sister Georgiana honed their philanthropic skills through the execution of a book-lending scheme for their deserving fellow parishioners of St Mary the Virgin, Tidenham, Gloucestershire. Throughout her life, Eleanor Ormerod dispensed philanthropy through each of her local Anglican parishes. Despite her education and training, however, she participated little in society before the death of her parents. Although her father attended to his duties as magistrate for the counties of Cheshire, Monmouth, and Gloucester, he did not care for society. An amateur historian, he occupied himself with topographical and literary interests, and led a reclusive life. According to a niece, Diana Latham, George Ormerod was an autocrat, who maintained a strict family discipline. This behaviour bore significant repercussions for his entire family: none of his three daughters and only three of his seven sons married.

Within the confines of this insular family setting, the children were encouraged to engage in various intellectual pursuits and hobbies. Two of Eleanor's elder brothers, and , who studied medicine, took an interest in botany and entomology. However, the pervasive patriarchy of the family precluded Eleanor from gaining encouragement or approval from her elder male siblings. For this, she drew upon her sister and lifelong companion, Georgiana.

By her own account, Eleanor began her intensive study of entomology in March 1852, when she assiduously pored over a copy of James F. Stephens's Manual of British Coleoptera or Beetles (1839). Her entomological contributions to a wider audience began after the death of her mother in 1860, and in the final years of her father's protracted illness. In 1868 she responded to a published plea from the Royal Horticultural Society to contribute to a collection illustrative of insects beneficial and baneful to British agriculturists and horticulturists. For slightly less than a decade, she submitted insect specimens, which either she or the estate's agricultural labourers had procured. Her contributions were acknowledged in 1870, when the Royal Horticultural Society awarded her their silver medal. But this was merely a prelude to her future efforts, because her entomological endeavours ‘were not approved of nor taken seriously by some of her elders, and could not have been carried out until the break up of the home on the death of Mr. Ormerod’ (Eleanor Ormerod, 19). The death of her father in 1873 released Eleanor Ormerod from the confines of familial privacy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her first published papers appeared in the Linnean Society Journal, the Entomologist's Monthly Magazine, and the Gardeners' Chronicle in the same year as her father's death.

Supported by an inheritance, Eleanor and her sister Georgiana relocated to Torquay to be near an uncle and his family. After three years, the two sisters moved to Dunster Lodge, Spring Grove, Isleworth, where they could be closer to London, and to Joseph D. Hooker, director of Kew Gardens, and his wife. Until she and her sister made their final move to Torrington House, St Albans, Hertfordshire, in September 1887, Eleanor used her intimacy with the Hookers to continue her entomological investigations in the gardens at Kew. These were in addition to her daily recorded observations for the Meteorological Society, to which she was elected a fellow in 1878, the first woman to be so. Two years later, she edited Caroline Molesworth's Cobham Journals of meteorological and phenological observations. Her introductory description of Caroline Molesworth (1794–1872) could easily have been an autobiographical statement of Eleanor Ormerod, economic entomologist.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, there were numerous unheeded calls for the creation of a post of government entomologist in Britain. At the behest of the prominent agriculturists Maxwell Masters and John Chalmers Morton, Eleanor Ormerod responded to these calls and issued a seven-page questionnaire, entitled Notes for Observations of Injurious Insects, in early 1877. Later that year she published and distributed a compilation of the information that she had gleaned from various correspondents in the form of her first ‘semi-official’ annual report. Compiled in the same manner each year, these reports ran continuously until 1901, and established Ormerod as Britain's de facto government entomologist.

Following in John Curtis's footsteps, Eleanor Ormerod constructed a large portion of her entomological career on an association with the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE). In May 1882, she became honorary consulting entomologist to the RASE. This followed her election to the Entomological Society of London in 1878, and the publication of her Manual of Injurious Insects, with Methods of Prevention and Remedy (1881), and a special report on the turnip fly (1882). As honorary consulting entomologist, she prepared annual and periodic monthly reports, and responded to queries from members. She received no remuneration for her efforts. Charles Whitehead, a member of the RASE, recalled that Ormerod:
frequently produced from the depths of the pocket in her handsome black silk dress ‘strange beasts’ as a member … termed them … On two occasions some of these escaped from the box and crawled over the table, much to the discomfiture of the aforesaid member. (Whitehead, 47)
While returning home from her first RASE meeting, Ormerod suffered a blow to her knee that resulted in partial lameness and periodic pain in one leg. Fittingly, she used the pretence of her troubled leg to resign from the RASE ten years later. The real reasons for her resignation lay in a dispute with Charles Whitehead that had boiled over in 1891. At issue was the ‘unacknowledged’ work that she did for the RASE and Whitehead, who took up the salaried position of ‘agricultural adviser’ when the Board of Agriculture was established in 1889.

Eleanor Ormerod was largely responsible for promulgation of the discipline of economic entomology in Great Britain. Between October 1881 and June 1884, she delivered six lectures, as special lecturer on economic entomology, at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester. In 1883 she spread her message to schoolteachers by delivering ten lectures at South Kensington's Institute of Agriculture. The latter effort resulted in the publication of her Guide to the Methods of Insect Life (1884), which metamorphosed into A Text-Book of Agricultural Entomology (1892). In addition, she contributed ‘suggestions and revisions’ to the relevant parts of William Fream's enduring Elements of Agriculture (1892). Between 1882 and 1886 she was a member of a committee, which included T. H. Huxley and J. O. Westwood, appointed by the government to advise on the management of collections relating to economic entomology in the South Kensington and Bethnal Green museums. In 1889–90, she successfully introduced agricultural entomology as a voluntary subject for the senior examination of the RASE, and as a compulsory examination subject at the Royal Agricultural College. And from 1896 to 1899 she acted as an examiner in agricultural entomology for the University of Edinburgh. As part of an unsuccessful lobby to have agricultural science established as a degree subject, she offered the University of Oxford £100 in 1897. By the terms of her will, she bequeathed the University of Edinburgh £5000. Through lectures, textbooks, and examinations, Eleanor Ormerod played a pivotal role in the institutionalization of economic entomology.

As she admitted to one of her numerous foreign correspondents, Eleanor Ormerod stopped ‘entirely at home like a limpet on a rock’ (Eleanor Ormerod, 198). Although she entertained James Fletcher, William Saunders, C. V. Riley, John Smith, and Ritzema Bos when they visited Britain, she never left Britain on professional business. Nevertheless, the versatility of her correspondence networks allowed her to engage in colonial entomological research. For instance, she became involved with South African economic entomology when a British emigrant, and former contributor to her annual reports, contacted her to identify the Australian bug (the cottony cushion scale, Icerya purchasi) for the Eastern Province Naturalists' Society. This work resulted in the publication of her Notes on the Australian Bug (Icerya purchasi) in South Africa (1887), and her Notes and Descriptions of a Few Injurious Farm & Fruit Insects of South Africa (1887). Similarly, a direct appeal from the government of New Zealand resulted in her publication of a small pamphlet on the Hessian fly. And after the Barbados Agricultural Society requested her services in 1892, she produced a booklet on the sugar-cane shot-borer beetle (Xyleborus perforans).

Eleanor Ormerod spread her entomological word with an evangelical fervour. Three of her campaigns, in particular, reached a broad audience and attracted controversy. In each case producing and distributing special booklets, she offered instruction and guidance on the ox-warble fly (Œstrus bovis), Paris-green (an acetoarsenite insecticide), and the extermination of the house sparrow. She was intensely aware that she was addressing ‘things that might involve discussion unbecoming of a lady writer’ (Eleanor Ormerod, 272–3). Perhaps perceiving Eleanor Ormerod as the embodiment of her androgynous ideal, Virginia Woolf celebrated her as a ‘pioneer of purity even more than of Paris Green’ in her short story ‘Miss Ormerod’ of 1924 (Woolf, 471). Throughout her career, Ormerod remained rather ambivalent about the limitations imposed by her gender. She publicly rebuffed attempts to make her a model for the feminist cause; and she deftly acknowledged the support she received from male colleagues. Often, she used the names of recognized male experts, such as J. O. Westwood, to bolster or legitimate her message. But within the domestic sphere, where she produced all her work, she carefully guarded against any male intrusions. Consequently, she vehemently rejected the suggestion that Professor Allen Harker become her assistant in 1889. After all, she argued, she had her sister and Anne Hartwell, her ‘lady amanuensis’, who had joined the household in May of the previous year.

By the turn of the twentieth century, Eleanor Ormerod had achieved a pre-eminent position in her chosen field of economic entomology. The Société Nationale d'Acclimatation de France awarded her their silver medal in 1899, and the Royal Horticultural Society awarded her their gold medal the following year. On 14 April 1900, however, she received her greatest honour, when she became the first female recipient of an honorary LLD degree from the University of Edinburgh. She deeply regretted that her sister Georgiana, who had died on 19 August 1896, had not lived to witness the event. Unfortunately, Eleanor Ormerod's own physical decline followed rather rapidly. In early 1901, she suffered a combination of rheumatism and a ‘painful and exhausting illness’, that often left her bedridden. Originally diagnosed as the ‘after effects of influenza’, the origins of her illness were later suspected to lie in a diseased liver. By May, Eleanor Ormerod admitted: ‘I believe myself the end may come any time’ (Eleanor Ormerod, 325). On 19 July 1901, she died of cancer of the liver at Torrington House, St Albans, Hertfordshire. After a small and unostentatious funeral at St Albans cemetery, Eleanor Ormerod was buried in the same grave as Georgiana on 23 July 1901.



The Entomologist, 34 (1901) · Entomologist's Record, 13 (1901) · Canadian Entomologist, 33 (1901) · Entomologist's Monthly Magazine, 37 (1901) · Nature, 64 (1901), 330 · The Times (20 July 1901) · Eleanor Ormerod, LL.D., economic entomologist: autobiography and correspondence, ed. R. Wallace (1904) · J. F. M. Clark, ‘Eleanor Ormerod (1828–1901) as an economic entomologist: “pioneer of purity even more than of Paris Green”’, British Journal for the History of Science, 25 (1992), 431–52 · V. Woolf, ‘Miss Ormerod’, The Dial, 77 (1924), 466–74 · S. A. Neave, The centenary history of the Entomological Society of London, 1833–1933 (1933) · C. Whitehead, Retrospections (1908) · J. F. M. Clark, D. Mabberly, J. Pickering, and S. Raphael, Women and natural history: artists, collectors, patrons, scientists (1996) · ILN (12 Sept 1891), 334 · G. Ordish, The constant pest: a short history of pests and their control (1976) · L. O. Howard, A history of applied entomology (somewhat anecdotal) (1930) · N. Goddard, Harvests of change: the Royal Agricultural Society of England, 1838–1988 (1988) · H. R. Fletcher, The story of the Royal Horticultural Society, 1804–1968 (1969) · d. cert.


BL, corresp. · Oxf. U. Mus. NH, Hope Library, corresp., specimens · Royal Entomological Society of London, corresp. · U. Edin. L., corresp. |  Bodl. Oxf., letters to G. W. Ormerod · Oxf. U. Mus. NH, corresp. with F. S. Crawford; letters to J. O. Westwood · Rothamsted Experimental Station Library, Harpenden, letters to W. Parlour and J. Willis


silhouette, 1835 (Miss Ormerod in childhood), repro. in Wallace, ed., Eleanor Ormerod, facing p. 324 · Elliott & Fry, photogravure, c.1900, NPG [see illus.] · photograph, c.1900, U. Edin. · R. T. [R. Taylor], engraving, repro. in ILN (12 Sept 1891), 334 · oils (after photograph by Elliott & Fry), U. Edin. · photograph, repro. in Wallace, ed., Eleanor Ormerod, frontispiece · photograph, repro. in Canadian Entomologist, pl. 5 · photograph, repro. in The British Naturalist: an Illustrated Magazine of Natural History (April 1892), facing p. 60 · photograph, repro. in ILN (27 July 1901), 122

Wealth at death  

£51,921 9s.: resworn probate, March 1902, CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1901)

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Eleanor Anne Ormerod (1828–1901): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/35329