Thursday 4 February 2016

Dru Drury Day

It's time for an anniversary, and today's is that of the pioneering English entomologist Dru Dury, born on this day in 1725. (A shame he wasn't a Doctor, then he'd have been Dr Dru Drury.) The illustration above, by the great Moses Harris, is from Drury's 'Opus entomologicus splendissimus', Illustrations of Natural History.
 Drury, a successful and wealthy goldsmith (and father of 17) with a royal warrant and a shop on the Strand, spent much of his spare time amassing and describing a huge collection of insects from around the world, including more than 2,000 species of Lepidoptera alone - this at a time when there were thought to be no more than 20,000 insect species in total. It is said that when the Danish entomologist Fabricius visited England, he inspected Drury's collection with 'as much glee as a lover of wine does the sight of his wine cellar well stocked with full casks and bottles'.
 As well as paying others to collect specimens for him from around the world - issuing precise instructions and paying a standard rate - Drury enjoyed collecting for himself, mostly in Middlesex and the still rural suburbs of north London, but with excursions into Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Epping Forest. His diaries speak of 'Swallowtails very plentiful' around Warnham in Surrey, and 'Black Veind white Butterfly [now extinct] plentiful and fine' in Epping Forest. A reminder of the wealth of butterfly life in England in the 18th century - a wealth that lasted well into the 20th century.
 Drury died at the ripe old age of 79 and was buried at St Martin's-in-the-Fields. When his mighty insect collection was sold a couple of years later, it fetched barely £600 - less than a sixth of what he spent on it. Ah well, it was never about the money...

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