By Joe Ibrahim – 6th February 2017
While digitising the collection of Haswell slides at the museum, I came across a very old set of insect wings, all labelled with the name R.J. Tillyard. These slides were all about a hundred years old, ranging from 1914-1917. This, of course prompted a google of the name R.J. Tillyard.
Tillyard inspecting rock specimens
Tillyard was a Linnaean Macleay fellow in zoology, he was appointed chief of the department of biology at the Cawthron Institute, he was conferred an honorary Doctorate of Science from Cambridge, and was the most influential and internationally known Australian entomologist in his time. However, the story begins when R.J. Tillyard was born on the 31st of January, 1881 in Norwich, England. Tillyard attended a school called Dover College, an English private boarding school that still runs today. Upon graduating, Tillyard tried to join the army but couldn’t due to his case of rheumatism. Alternatively, he went on to learn Mathematics at Cambridge University, which he had won a scholarship for, and went on to graduate as a senior optime (a Cambridge term for second class) in 1903.
“In the field” portrait of Tillyard
A year later in 1904, Tillyard moved to Sydney and taught mathematics and science at the Sydney Grammar School. Seven years of teaching later, Tillyard decided to study zoology at the University of Sydney. Tillyard went through with the Linnaean Macleay fellowship program, a research degree which allowed him to conduct research full time while earning a degree. Tillyard developed a fondness for insects here, and during this time he released many publications on dragonflies, lacewings and scorpionflies. It would also be during this fellowship where he created the microscope slides we are imaging at the Haswell Museum today, a hundred years later. He then published “The biology of Dragonflies” in 1917, and was awarded with a Doctorate of Science from the University of Sydney in 1918, followed by an honorary doctorate from Cambridge in 1920. In 1919, New Zealand was having an issue with declining trout numbers, so they invited Tillyard over to investigate due to his knowledge of aquatic insects. After Tillyard managed to link their problems with a single parasite, he went on to become the chief of the biology department of the Cathron Institute in New Zealand. During his time there he wrote a textbook named “The Insects of Australia and New Zealand” which was published in 1926.
Left: Some of Tillyard’s insect wing specimens created at the University of Sydney and held in the Haswell Museum. Right: his book, “Insects of Australia and Zealand”.
CSIRO created an “Economic Entomology” division in 1928, Tillyard, being the most internationally known Australian entomologist at the time was named its first chief. However, Rohan Rivett, the CEO of CSIRO at the time claimed that he received resignations from “almost every scientist who came into frequent contact with Tillyard”. In 1933 Tillyard had a breakdown and went on sick leave, but he did not end up coming back. Tillyard then passed away in a motor accident in 1937.
Left: a micrograph of a Crane Fly wing specimen prepared by Tillyard. Right: a similar Crane Fly wing diagram featured in his book.
Tillyard left behind sets of different entomology slides in the museum. The slides are slightly weathered down but the specimens can still be observed easily under a microscope. Tillyard’s legacy will hopefully be preserved with the rest of the Haswell amuseum indefinitely, and this small bit of history won’t be lost.