This On His Majesty’s Service envelope is franked with two red 1d N.S.W. ‘Shield’ stamps and a single green ½d stamp, all three perfined OS/ NSW, were cancelled by THE EXCHANGE/ N.S.W. A manuscript at lower left shows that the cover was sent on 3/9/1912 from the office of the Department of Agriculture. There is also an indistinct boxed purple handstamp which reads in part ‘ENTOMOLOGICAL BRANCH/ DEPT. OF AGRICULTURE/ SYDNEY, as well as a small black handstamp ‘66' in a circle. The cover is addressed to Mons. G. Severin, Curator Mus(eum) Royal Nat(ural)/ His(tory), Rue Vautier 31, Bruxelles, Belgium. The reverse was not seen but the vendor states that it was backstamped ‘9 Oct’ (Figure 1).
In Belgium, Hector Lebrun was to emerge as a staunch supporter of ‘Museum Habitat groups’ at the beginning of the twentieth century. Lebrun had studied medicine at the University of Louvain, where he also obtained a doctorate in natural sciences. For a time, he worked at his alma mater and also spent time at a number of German university laboratories. In 1898, he was appointed aide-naturalist at the Royal Museum of Natural History (Musée Royal d’Histoire Naturelle) in Brussels.
In a contribution to the Annales de la Société royale Zoologique et Malacologique de Belgique, Guillaume Severin would sharply criticize Lebrun. Severin was born to German, naturalized Dutch parents, in The Hague in 25 August 1862, was not a graduate like Lebrun, but had been trained as an artist and industrial designer in Li ge. When his health weakened, his doctor instructed him to walk in the country air. In his free time, he developed a special interest in insects particularly the Coleoptera, and was appointed aide-naturalist at the Royal Museum in Brussels in December 1890 and then promoted in 1899 to the post of curator of the department of arthropods.
As a representative of the Belgian Government he attended an international conference on zoology in 1907 in Boston, and at the same time he visited several American natural history museums to compare them to those in Europe, particularly Brussels. As a result of this trip Severin in no way shared Lebrun’s enthusiasm for American museums, for he considered that the use of ‘habitat groups’ was unscientific, unproductive and expensive. He claimed that they frequently distorted scientific truth and represented little more than demonstrations of shameless sensationalism, and did nothing to encourage reflection on nature itself which in Severin’s eyes was the mission of all natural history museums.
Lebrun counter-attacked Severin, saying that the museums must be scientific, but the obsolete methods were still being used at the Royal Museum of Natural History, by displaying the entire collection of the same specimen one hundred times, rather than focusing on a carefully chosen selection. In addition Lebrun stated that the picturesque groups in the American museums pointed to a mentality that was superior to that of the Europeans and to a more intimate and thorough understanding of nature. Around the turn of the century, American Natural History Museums championed mass public education, whereas most museums in Europe were still primarily characterized by the imperatives of research.
Severin fulfilled his functions as curator (also known as conservator) with untiring devotion to increasing the collections in entomology and he also devoted a portion of his activity to the School of Tropical Medicine where he taught doctors who were preparing to go to the Congo in regards to their learning of entomology necessary for their mission. Severin has been described as gifted with intelligence and high practicability, both an artist and musician, of impulsive character, who had the affection of all entomologists. After his retirement from the Museum in September 1927 he lived for a while at La Panne on the Belgian coast, not far from Calais. He died suddenly at the age of 76 at Saint Idesbald of an embolism on July 23, 1938 while he was studying some insects captured by himself, the day before.
Severin’s obituary was published in the Bulletin & Annales de la Société Entomologique de Belgique in 1938 as well as in the Biographie Nationale publiée par L’Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in 1968, so there is little doubt that he was a highly regarded entomologist (Figure 2).
The scientists at the Entomologist Branch of the Department of Agriculture in Sydney were probably consulting him about insects in 1912.
Addendum (December 2010): A printed red 1 d 'Shield' postcard of N.S.W. cancelled with a roller cancel of Sydney N.S.W. was seen dated NO 25 5 AM wihout the year, and there was a rectangular black handstamp showing it was taxed DEF 5/ FINE 5, a total of 10 CENTIMES. It was poorly addressed to Monsieur Severin, Musee D'Histoire naturelle, Bruxelles, Brlgium, but the reverse was not seen (Figure 3).