Thomas Algernon Chapman: The Story So Far

Thomas Algernon Chapman: a Scottish doctor and entomologist from the 19th Century who moved to Abergavenny and then Hereford.  He was the Medical Superintendant at Burghill Insane Asylum before retiring to Surrey.  Hereford has a small collection of Coleoptera and a slightly larger collection of Lepidoptera that were donated by him in 1894.  I was tasked with assessing the condition of the Coleoptera specimens: to see whether they needed any repairs; and to determine the quality of their identification and labelling.  In addition to this, we wanted to know more about the collector and donor of the material; this will give the collection some hitherto unknown context.

Thanks to the traineeship, I have been able to spend a considerable amount of time researching these areas.  When investigating Chapman and his life, it became apparent that he was a gentleman of high regard.  He was a member of various natural history institutions across the country; dedicated his spare time to scientific research (concentrating on various insect orders and their development); he was generous, informed and keen to help his peers; he supported Hereford Museum, instructing others to make collecting for and donating to it a priority.  He has even been referred to as equally as knowledgeable and insightful as Darwin himself. 

Unfortunately, the collection he donated to Hereford Museum does not have particularly comprehensive data associated with it.  Throughout my research, despite uncovering a wealth of information, there were still gaps in the story; links that remained broken.  I found out that the Natural History Museum in London has some of his material and I will visit to find out more.  I also decided to look beyond Hereford and London.

Chapman was born in Glasgow where he studied and worked.  I contacted the Hunterian Museum (part of the university Chapman attended) who confirmed that they too have specimens collected by him.  Fortunately, I was able to visit.  I looked through nearly 20 boxes of entomological material, comparing that collection to ours; I looked at the labels, methods of storage and the paper records.  It was very useful and while many questions were answered, yet more were raised.  I now know where the trail leads and am working on visiting other institutions to complete the story.  I am currently speaking to Oxford University Museum of Natural History which has listed Chapman specimens; hopefully they will provide some answers.

It is only because I am funded by the HLF that I am able to carry out research like this, enhancing Hereford Museum’s existing collection and the information held; something that may not be possible otherwise.  I am also building new links (and developing existing ones) with other institutions which is important for all concerned.  The skills and training this project is providing me with, both in a professional and personal capacity, is invaluable.  In addition to learning so much and gaining excellent experience to take with me in the future, I am also enjoying it greatly.

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