William Lennon (1818-1899)

William Lennon was elected an ordinary member of Society on 6 January 1863.

His address is initially given as of the Crichton Institution and latterly, after 1879, of Brooke Street, Dumfries. In the early years of the Society he was noted as Head of Section (town) for Zoology.

He was among those repledging their membership on the reconstitution of the Society on 3 November 1876. In the reconstituted Society he held office as a Member of Committee and was also a member of the committee appointed to prepare the Society's Transactions for publication (1879).

On 2 August 1890 he and W. Hastings, were elected 'as honorary members on account of their merit as scientists and their services to the Society'.

In addition to the information provided by his obituary (below) it is known that William Lennon joined the staff of the Crichton Royal Institution on 1 November 1843 and was paid a salary of £40 per annum throughout his long working life. He served as the personal attendant to Sir Edward Vavasour from 16 May 1843 until that gentleman's death on 23 August 1885. No doubt recognising his long service, and the personal nature of his position with Sir Edward, when uniforms were introduced in the late 1870s he was excused from wearing one. He, Lennon, retired on 1 September 1885 and received a pension of £30 per annum.

He appears to have been married more than once — in the 1851 Census he is recorded living at Cherrytrees on Glencaple Road, as an 'Attendant at CRI' living with his wife 'Jannet'. In Holy Cross Cemetery (off Glebe Street, Dumfries — where there are now many destroyed or damaged stones) Lennon's memorial is to be found heavily overgrown with ivy against the wall between the north-east corner and the mortuary chapel: His death is recorded along with that of his wife Marion Clarke — the daughter of James Clarke and Mary Wilson. She died on 21 July 1886, aged 50 years. Lennon's will and inventory of estate were recorded in Dumfries on 6 February 1900 — his wife is then recorded as Isabella Rhind.

At the instigation of Isabella Rhind some at least of his entomological collections were donated to the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh (now the National Museums of Scotland).


Obituary for William Lennon
Dumfries & Galloway Standard, 3 January 1900

DEATH OF A NOTABLE NATURALIST

In the death of Mr William Lennon, of Brooke Street, Dumfries, which occurred on Saturday, there has passed away an ardent student of nature and a most kindly and much respected man. He was one of a family of octogenarians. The oldest brother died some time ago at the age of 85. Mr John Lennon — one of four survivors of the family, and who is notable for his intimate knowledge of the poets — was born on the day of the battle of Waterloo. William had himself entered on his eighty-second year a few weeks ago. He was born in Dryfesdale, in a cottage near the scene of the famous conflict between the Jardines and the Maxwells, and brought up in the parish of Applegarth, where his father was in the service of Sir Alexander and Sir William Jardine, and in which his maternal grandfather has been farmer in Muirhoushead. There he served an apprenticeship as a shoemaker. The family subsequently migrated to Dumfries, the father obtaining employment with Mr Threshie of Barnbarroch. William meanwhile established himself in business in Annan; but on his brother being appointed head attendant at the Crichton Royal Institution, he succeeded him as the personal attendant of the late Sir Edward Vavasour. Thus began a connection with the Crichton Royal Institution which continued for over forty years, and which afforded him many facilities for those natural history pursuits which had a fascination for him from boyhood. Mr Lennon was a devoted member of the Catholic Church. As one of the managers of the St Vincent de Paul Society he did much good work in relieving the wants of the poor. He was also one of the originators of the Young Men’s Society of St Andrew’s Church, and he was last year presented with an address in recognition of his services. On New-Year’s night the brethren of St Vincent de Paul carried the coffin to St Andrew’s Pro-Cathedral, where requiem mass was celebrated yesterday morning, and in the afternoon the interment took place at Holy Cross Cemetery, in presence of a large number of sorrowing friends. He is survived by Mrs Lennon.

***

A brother naturalist writes: William Lennon’s was a busy life. Not as the commercial man, or the professional, or the men of public affairs regard a busy life. Rather it was quiet, uneventful, a kind of behind-the-scenes existence, but every minute filled up with a constant plodding after nature’s secrets and ways. He was essentially a working-man naturalist, without more than an elementary education. Yet learned professors and scientific men of world-wide fame delighted in his acquaintance and were in regular correspondence with him, while he was a welcome guest in circles far above his own in social station. His love of nature was pure and unselfish. He was a naturalist because he could not help it, and would have been one even if he had been doomed to live on an uninhabited island.

Lepidoptera were his first study, and his collection of butterflies and moths is perhaps the best local one that has ever been brought together. For the better half of his days, however, Coleoptera engaged his attention almost entirely. As he said himself, in a paper published on his favourite subject — “I have searched almost every field, moor, moss, glen, and stream in the district,” and upwards of 1500 species were collected in Dumfriesshire and Galloway alone, so that, thanks to his labours and to those of his predecessor in the same field, the late Rev. W. Little, of Kirkpatrick Juxta, and others who are yet with us, we now know the beetle fauna of the south-west of Scotland as well as any similar area in Great Britain. It fell to his lot to discover some half dozen new beetles, some new to science, others new to Britain; but all of these were added to the lists in the name of other coleopterists, to whom Mr Lennon in the most unselfish way handed them over. It is within our knowledge that in the case of some of the species Mr Lennon’s name was never even mentioned. Our deceased friend was fairly entitled to protest against such shabby treatment, but he never did so in public. One of his discoveries was Apion cerdo, a little weevil found on purple vetch on the railway banks below Collin. Another was a water beetle found in the flood refuse at Kelton after summer freshets. It rejoices in the name of Hydroporus obsoletus.

Although Mr Lennon’s special hobby was beetles yet he found time to devote odd days to other departments. A very rare, and at the time almost unique, capture of his was a specimen of Eromene occellea, a cram bite moth that is adorned on the wings with a row of little raised golden spots. It came to his net in rather a curious manner. Passing a window in the Crichton Institution one night in September 1865, very late, he saw the moth on the outside of the glass, having probably been attracted by the light inside. Mr Lennon tried to open the window, and found it was fixed. But he saw the moth was a rarity, and so without any further hesitation he at once broke the window with his fist and secured the insect! He used to relate with glee that the authorities made him pay the damage, but he was more than pleased to do so. A capture of Mr Lennon’s that led to some small controversy was the finding of what might have turned out to be a new British butterfly. This was in June of 1868,  and the butterfly was Melitea didyma. One specimen only was found, but its distinctness from other butterflies taken on the same day was not noticed till a considerable time afterwards, the new species has never been added to the list. At the same time, whether or not there was some confusion about the origin of the specimen, those who know Mr Lennon never had any doubt as to his bona fides in the matter.

The third order of the insects that Mr Lennon paid attention to was the Hymenoptera. Although he did so in only a very casual way, yet so minute and painstaking was he in his collecting that he got one new species in this order also. This was a little bee of the genus Sphecodes — wild bees of black and red colours that are parasitic on some of their relations.

Many are the changes in our local fauna that took place under his eye during a long life of devotion to outdoor nature. He used to tell of species once common that have gradually become extinct through the destruction of their chosen haunts. Drainage and cultivation have taken the place of bog and moor and the altered conditions have banished the denizens of such spots. He would tell his young entomological acquaintances how the broad-bordered bee-hawk moths used to swarm in place near Lochaber now occupied by woods, and how he used to dredge the rarest water beetles from mossy hags in Lochar where now the plough and reaper work in their seasons. And there was one incident he was never tired of relating to the select few who were interested and could appreciate the picturesqueness of the story — how after a long day’s hunting in the sunshine he came towards evening across a rushy field at Dalskairth. Over a space of several acres every leaf and every blade of grass was literally hanging with untold myriads of the beautiful “Green Forester” moths. His boxes were filled and his pins exhausted, but he managed to find room for a dozen or two of this usually extremely scarce species and he left for home, buoyed up with the idea that next morning he would have a haul beyond anything he had ever imagined. The next day he was promptly on the spot, but to his intense wonder and disappointment several hours of the most unremitting search only produced a single worn example of the moth that had been on the ground the previous evening in countless thousands. Whence they came and where did they go?

Mr Lennon seldom put his splendid experiences into print. The Transactions of the older Natural History Society here contain one or two of his papers. These are “A List of Lepidoptera taken near Dumfries,” communicated in April, 1863; “Notes on a few of the Rare Lepidoptera observed in the Vicinity of Dumfries,” communicated in January, 1864; “Notes on Lepidoptera,” communicated in March 1871. To the present society he contributed in February, 1878, “The Rarer Coleoptera of the Dumfries District,” and in April, 1880, “Notes on Rare Beetles.” To the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine he often sent short paragraphs dealing with his more interesting finds.

Tall and athletic, his frame was one that seldom knew fatigue, and he could, and often did wander for a whole day athwart the country, covering 30 to 40 miles with ease. This he was in the habit of doing till some six or seven years ago, when suddenly, as he told the writer, he one day realised almost in an instant “that he was an old man.” On that occasion he halted often as he walked home. Since then, although he never relinquished his hobby, his walks were short, and collecting was indulged in for only short periods. But his zest for it remained to the last. And now he has gone to his rest, entering within the veil that conceals from us the illimitable realms of nature, and a universe that stretches throughout eternity.


Articles within the Society's Transactions

  • List of Lepidoptera Taken near Dumfries [1863], Series I, Vol.1, p.53.
  • Notes on a Few of the Rare Lepidoptera observed in the Vicinity of Dumfries, Series I, Vol. 2, p.62.
  • Notes on Lepidoptera, Series I, Vol. 6, p.47.
  • The Occurance of Melitaea Didyma near Dumfries, Series II, Vol. 1, p.51.
  • The Rarer Coleoptera of the Dumfries District, Series II, Vol. 1, p.74.
  • Local Museums [Mention only], Series II, Vol. 2, p.14.
  • Notes on Rare Beetles, Series II, Vol. 2, p.77.
  • Carabus Glabatus [Summary only], Series II, Vol. 3, p.6.

THE LATE WILLIAM LENNON

In the death of Mr William Lennon, of Brooke Street, Dumfries, which occurred on 30th December 1899, there has passed away an ardent student of nature and a most kindly and much respected man. He was one of a family of octogenarians, and had himself entered on his eighty-second year a few weeks ago. He was born in Dryfesdale and brought up in the parish of Applegarth. There he served an apprenticeship as a shoemaker and subsequently established himself in business in Annan; but was afterwards appointed head attendant at the Crichton Royal Institution, and finally became the personal attendant of the late Sir Edward Vavasour. His connection with the Crichton Royal Institution, which continued for over forty years, afforded him many facilities for those natural history pursuits which had a fascination for him from boyhood.

William Lennon’s was a busy life, for he devoted every minute of his leisure to the constant plodding after nature’s secrets and ways. He was essentially a working-man naturalist, without more than an elementary education. Yet scientific men of fame cultivated his acquaintance and were in regular correspondence with him, while he was a welcome guest in circles far above his own in social station. His love of nature was pure and unselfish.

Lepidoptera were his first study, and his collection of butterflies and moths is perhaps the best local one that has ever been brought together. For the better half of his days, however, Coleoptera engaged his attention almost entirely. As he said himself, in a paper published on his favourite subject — “I have searched almost every field, moor, moss, glen, and stream in the district,” and upwards of 1500 species were collected in Dumfriesshire and Galloway alone, so that, thanks to his labours and to those of his predecessor in the same field, the late Rev. W. Little, of Kirkpatrick Juxta, and others who are yet with us, we now know the beetle fauna of the south-west of Scotland as well as any similar area in Great Britain. It fell to his lot to discover some half dozen new beetles, some new to science, others new to Britain; but all of these were added to the lists in the name of other coleopterists, to whom Mr Lennon, in the most unselfish way handed them over. It is within our knowledge that in the case of some of the species Mr Lennon’s name was never even mentioned! One of his discoveries was /Apion cerdo/, a little weevil found on purple vetch on the railway banks below Collin. Another was a water beetle—Hydroporus obsoletus—found in the flood refuse at Kelton after summer freshets.

Although Mr Lennon’s special hobby was beetles yet he found time to devote odd days to other departments. A very rare, and at the time almost unique, capture of his was a specimen of Eromene occellea, a crambite moth which came to his net in rather a curious manner. Passing a window in the Crichton Institution one night in September 1865, very late, he saw the moth on the outside of the glass, having probably been attracted by the light inside. Mr Lennon tried to open the window, and found it was fixed. But he saw the moth was a rarity, and so without any further hesitation he at once broke the window with his fist and secured the insect! He used to  relate with glee that the authorities made him pay the damage, but he was more than pleased to do so. A capture of Mr Lennon’s that led to some little controversy was the finding of what might have turned out to be a new British butterfly. This was in June of 1868, and the butterfly was Melitea didyma. One specimen only was found, but its distinctness from other butterflies taken on the same day was not noticed till a considerable time afterwards, the new species has never been added to the list. At the same time, whether or not there was some confusion about the origin of the specimen, those who know Mr Lennon never had any doubt as to his bona fides in the matter.

The third order of the insects that Mr Lennon paid attention to was the Hymenoptera. Although he did so in only a very casual way, yet so minute and painstaking was he in his collecting that he got one new species in this order also. This was a little bee of the genus Sphecodes — wild bees of black and red colours that are parasitic on some of their relations.

Mr Lennon seldom put his splendid experiences into print. The Transactions of the older Natural History Society here contain one or two of his papers. These are “A List of Lepidoptera taken near Dumfries,” communicated in April, 1863; “Notes on a few of the Rare Lepidoptera observed in the Vicinity of Dumfries,” communicated in January, 1864; “Notes on Lepidoptera,” communicated in March 1871. To the present society he contributed in February, 1878, “The Rarer Coleoptera of the Dumfries District,” and in April, 1880, “Notes on Rare Beetles.” In 1892 he contributed to this magazine (“Annals”, 1892, pp. 107-115), in conjunction with Mr. W.D.R. Douglas, a valuable article of “Some Additions to Scottish Coleoptera.” To the “Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine” he often sent short paragraphs dealing with his more interesting finds

ROBERT SERVICE
From The Annals of Scottish Natural History, April 1900, pp.134–136. Internal evidence suggests that Robert Service was the 'brother naturalist' of the Dumfries Standard obituary of 3 January 1900.


Created 15/06/2008 and updated 24/06/2008 by J. Williams