Saturday, 28 December 2013

James Charles Dale

13th December 1791 to 6th February 1872

The Dalean legacy (Part 1) ...

James Charles Dale, circa 1864, (Figure I)

James Charles Dale (Figure I) was born at Iwerne Minster, near Blandford, Dorset, on the 13th December 1791. Born into a family of wealthy landowners he spent much of his adult life studying entomology. He was undoubtedly one of the most influential entomologists of his time, and his collections, spanning numerous insect orders, are probably the single most important and comprehensive to have ever been compiled in the British Isles.

In his early years, whilst attending Wimborne Greene Preparatory School, Dale was given a specimen of the Clifden Nonpareil, Catocala fraxini, reputedly taken by the Reverend W. Stovey (Rector of Hinton Martell, 1785-1799) at Boveridge, near Cranborne, around 1740, and whose son was a fellow pupil at the same school (Dale, 1808, cited in Brown, 1980). This specimen is still in the Dale collection (Figure II). When just nine years old, Dale captured a specimen of the Queen of Spain Fritillary, Issoria lathonia, at West  Orchard, near Sturminster Newton. The capture of this rarity, one of the very first to be taken in this country, and the earlier gift of fraxini, must have been a great encouragement for him to take up the study of entomology, a passion that would last his lifetime (Brown, 1980).

Clifden Nonpareil, Catocala fraxini, circa 1740 (Figure II)

After attending Wimborne Grammar School, in 1807 he was sent for private tutoring with the Reverend Thomas Shepherd, MA, who had a school at Enborne, near Newbury in Berkshire (Brown, 1980). In the same year Dale commenced his entomological diary, which was to continue every day without break for 64 years, the last entry being on the day of his death in February 1872.

In total, Dale’s daily journals and detailed books of records, which are accessible, by appointment, at the Library of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH), comprise an impressive 57 volumes. In addition, there are over 5000 letters from around 287 correspondents, excluding societies (Smith, 1986). They form one of the most important historical legacies left by any British entomologist. Reading through his diaries and correspondence, as I have been privileged to do on many occasions, has provided me with a captivating window into both his mind and era. Several pages from his journals of 1815 (Figures III and IV), 1832 (Figure V) and 1872 (Figure X), are shown below and highlight a number of British rarities and events including (i) Mazarine Blue (cymon), (ii) Swallowtail (machaon), (iii) Scarce Swallowtail (podalirius), most probably collected by the Rev. Dr. Abbott of Bedford, who died in 1817, and purchased after his death by Dale (Dale, 1890; Walker, 1907), (iv) Large Copper (dispar), (v) Bath White (daplidice), (vi) Large Blue (arion), (vii) his discovery, new to Britain in 1832, of the Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon), and, not least, his death in 1872.

Dale's diary for June 1815 (Figure III)

Dale's diary for July 1815 (Figure IV)

The discovery of Thymelicus acteon, 15th August 1832 (Figure V)

To be continued ...


  1. I would be most interested to know whose hand writing is on the explanatory label below the fraxini specimens.
    If you are able to shed any light on this I would be most grateful.