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GEORGE LYELL, NATURALIST CO-PUBLISHER of BUTTERFLIES OF AUSTRALIA; AND, GOVETT'S LEAP, BLACKHEATH

The POST CARD had a red ‘ONE PENNY’ stamp of Victoria which was canceled with a duplex SALE/ PM/ 4.0/ 21 12 04/ VICTORIA and the barred numeral ‘72'.  It was addressed to Geo. Lyell Jnr Esq., Gisborne, Victoria (Figure 1).

The reverse of the postcard showed a picture of an area in the Blue Mountains, N.S.W. known as Govett’s Leap, the Lookout from Blackheath, and there was a ms. from M.J. Wise wishing him a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year (Figure 2).

George Lyell junior, entomologist, was born on 25 July 1866 at Ararat, Victoria, son of George Lyell, printer from Scotland, and his English-born wife Jane, née Avery.  He was educated at Stawell State School, Victoria.  About 1883 the family moved to South Melbourne and for seven years. Lyell worked at Kew for J. Bartram & Son, butter, cheese and bacon factory, progressing from junior clerk to head of the dairy machinery branch.  In 1890 he accepted a partnership in the Gisborne firm of E. Cherry & Sons, manufacturers of butter-factory and dairy appliances and sole suppliers in Victoria of entomological equipment.  On 21 November 1893 at Gisborne, which was to be his home for life, he married a 45-year-old widow Fanny Ould, nee Freeman.

In 1888 Lyell's capture of a Caper White butterfly at Albert Park had turned his attention seriously to insect collecting and prompted him to join the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria where he came under the influence of pioneers of Australian natural history—Frank Spry, (Sir) Baldwin Spencer, Dudley Best, Charles French and James Kershaw.   He built up an enormous collection of butterflies and moths, at first from country areas near Melbourne and then from the Gisborne area and from other States.  A correspondence begun with the National Museum of Victoria in 1902 resulted in his magnanimously donating the collection to the museum in 1932, and working until 1946 to amalgamate it with the museum's existing Lepidoptera holdings.  Lyell continued to add to the collection until in 1951 it stood at 51,216 specimens, representing 6177 species and 534 types:  not only remarkable in its extent, but 'an everlasting monument to the neatness and skill of its donor', it still forms the major part of the museum's Lepidoptera collection.

Lyell contributed papers and notes to the Victorian Naturalist, mainly between 1890 and 1929. In 1914 with G.A. Waterhouse he published Butterflies of Australia, the first comprehensive work on the subject and a valuable reference book for almost twenty years.  He also took a deep interest in native orchids, and his valuable collection of pressed orchids from all over Australia was bequeathed to the National Herbarium, Melbourne.  In a Google book concerning Australian Butterflies, the following caught my fancy:

“Scotland Yard detectives in a recent raid on a house in Surrey, England, recovered many of 3,000 butterflies alleged to have been stolen from museums in Australia last year.

The butterflies are believed to have been sent to England by post in December in parcels marked “Scientific Specimens”....A check of the whole of George Lyell’s butterfly collection (at the Melbourne Museum) revealed that 825 specimens were missing from different showcases.

Investigations led to the discovery that 603 specimens had been taken from the Adelaide Museum and about 1,500 from the Sydney Museum.....by a Cambridge graduate who had been on war duty in Australia for the British Government and had access to the collections.  He was a keen entomologist and had visited New Guinea in search of butterflies.....Scotland Yard detectives had recovered most of the specimens. ”

'Genial and likeable', Lyell was remembered as 'an excellent companion on a ramble'.  At 80 he could still enjoy a walk of several miles although, after a serious illness in 1931, he had given up night collecting;   he was 84 before he admitted his field days were over.  A devout Presbyterian who supported many local organizations, he died at Gisborne on 19 May 1951, and was cremated.  His wife predeceased him;  they had no children.  A picture of George Lyell is seen in Figure 3.

I could not confirm that the sender of the postcard was a fellow lepidopterist, but there is a story associated with Govett’s Leap.   A Blue Mountains website asks “Why is it called Govett’s Leap?”.  Well the origin of the name is controversial, as the waterfall feature is also known as ‘Bridal Veil Falls’, a name which might better attract tourists.   Govett was a surveyor under the direction of the explorer and Surveyor-General of N.S.W., Sir Thomas Mitchell and Govett worked in the area.  But a more exciting version refers to a bushranger Govett who robbed a bank in nearby Blackheath, and he was chased to the end of the ridge and then rode over.  The stolen gold was never found.   The term ‘Leap’ is Scottish for waterfall or cataract.  Although the volume of falling water is meagre in a real photo, the actual fall of the water is about 180 metres to the rocks below (Figure 4).

Part of the text is derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 
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