A woman in science: Eleanor Ormerod and her sketchbook

An unusual volume in the Border Counties Collection of E.R.G. Salisbury held at Cardiff throws interesting light on the youth and early education of Eleanor Ormerod (1828-1901), a 19th century entomologist.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Eleanor was a renowned expert on the turnip fly and other agricultural pests: she became a consultant at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, and an examiner at the University of Edinburgh. She was awarded medals by the University of Moscow and was the first woman granted an honorary LL.D. at Edinburgh. Eleanor Ormerod grew up at Sedbury Park in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, one of a family of ten children of the antiquarian George Ormerod (1785-1873). George Ormerod is chiefly remembered as a historian of Cheshire, and it probably for this reason that a volume of plates of sketches made by the Ormerod family is to be found among the books collected by Salisbury, Cheshire being one of the main counties represented in his Border Counties Collection.

Despite her later fame as a scientific expert, Eleanor had been privately educated at home with her sisters, and she was largely self-taught in her field. Her education included painting lessons from the pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt. The illustrations in this volume are attractive landscapes and local scenes from both sides of the River Wye near Chepstow and around her home at Sedbury Park.

"SW view of Penhow or St. Maur Castle in Monmouthshire" (1852)

There are twenty illustrations by various members of the family: the mother Sarah and sisters Susan Mary and Georgiana, and four by Eleanor herself. The sketches are dated between 1834 and 1852. According to an anecdote related of Eleanor, her interest in insects was ignited on 12 March 1852 when a rosy-winged locust was caught at Chepstow: possibly she lost interest in sketching local landmarks after this date!

This is a charming volume from a little-known part of the Salisbury Collection, and it shines some light on the private education and background of a woman who was a pioneer  in a scientific field.

"Offa's Dyke in its ascent towards its termination on the Sedbury Cliffs and the shore of the Severn Estuary"


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