As someone who grew up almost next door to the estate where Eleanor Ormerod grew up, I've always been interested in her story. I am currently researching in to Sedbury Park house and was in awe of the amazing achievements of Eleanor Ormerod, who despite the fact I went to a small village school in Sedbury (the place she was born and grew up) I never learnt about at school.
Eleanor Ormerod was a renowned entomologist, her study of insects, crops and domestic animals was hugely important in the field of science. Eleanor became the first woman to be honoured with a fellowship at the Royal Meteorological society in 1878 as well as becoming the first woman to receive an honorary Doctorate from Edinburgh university in 1900.
Eleanor was born in 1828 at Sedbury Park house in Gloucestershire, which still stands today. A beautiful Georgian estate with a large amount of land to explore, was where Eleanor's love of insects began. The large grounds allowed her to explore the outdoors and begin her scientific research. I grew up in awe of the beautiful Sedbury Park house, and can vividly imagine the time Eleanor spent outside in the grounds (which once included my childhood garden) searching for bugs and animals, spending hours researching and developing her skills.
Although Eleanor’s brothers attended Rugby school in nearby Gloucester, Eleanor and her sisters were home-schooled by their Mother like most girls of the time. It is incredible to think she wasn’t even properly trained but still managed to be such an influential figure in her field. Eleanor wrote in her autobiography:
“My first insect observation I remember perfectly. It was typical of many others since. I was quite right, absolutely and demonstrably right, but I was above my audience and fared accordingly. One day while the family were engaged watching the letting out of a pond, or some similar matter, I was perched on a chair, and given to watch, to keep me quiet at home, a tumbler of water with about half a dozen great water grubs in it. One of them had been much injured and his companions proceeded quite to demolish him. I was exceedingly interested, and when the family came home gave them the results of my observations, which were entirely disbelieved. Arguing was not permitted, so I said nothing (as far as I remember); but I had made my first step in Entomology.”
(The Sedbury Park estate then and now including the beautiful grounds)
One of Eleanor’s first published papers was about the effects of a poisonous newt. Eleanor went as far as to put the tail of the Newt in her mouth which made her ‘foam at the mouth’ along with other side effects were all documented within the paper.
Eleanor’s sister Georgiana was a scientific illustrator who aided Eleanor’s work with her drawings. After their Fathers death in 1873, the family moved to Torquay and all three of the Ormerod sisters remained unmarried. Strategically three years later Eleanor moved to a friend’s house near Kew Garden to expand her research.
In her career Eleanor was interested in pests that were helpful and pests that were unhelpful to crops, through this research she worked as a consultant to the Royal agricultural society. Eleanor created a network of British farmers to help with her research and from 1877 onwards, Eleanor began to produce what would become 22 annual reports to help farmers create better crops by teaching them about proper practices around pests. Eleanor earnt the title of “Protectress of British Agriculture” for her valuable research.
Eleanor became a popular speaker at colleges and institutes across the country and even lent her expertise as far as New Zealand. Compared to other ‘serious entomologists’ at the time, Eleanor’s concentration on agriculture paved the way for a focus on agricultural entomology, helping to protect British farming.
(Some of her work on display in Chepstow Museum)
Although her status is sometimes disputed due to the fact she did campaign for Paris Green to be introduced as a pesticide which turned out not only harmful to all insects, but humans due to the arsenic content. Eleanor wouldn’t have known this as at the time ingredients like arsenic were highly popular and not yet deemed unsafe. This shouldn’t over shadow all the other brilliant work she did, so it seems slightly unfair she has been tarnished by something so small.
Despite her hard work, Eleanor was never paid for her work. Luckily, she was left a fair amount by her Father and able to live comfortably, it is appalling that institutions used her work but didn’t see fit to pay her for it. Eleanor continued her work right up until her weeks before her death in 1901. Eleanor was buried in St Albans where she had lived since 1887.
I think we should all remember Eleanor Ormerod who dedicated her whole life to the field of entomology without real education or even being paid for her efforts. It is incredible that a home-schooled woman who did experiments on herself was able to earn an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh as well as becoming the first female fellow of the Royal Meteorological society. Eleanor was intelligent and ahead of her time and I believe she should be remembered as a key female in science.
If you want to see more, you can see some of Eleanor’s work at Chepstow Museum and St Albans Museum.
Have you heard of Eleanors story before?
Black and white - https://www.gutenberg.org/files/61597/61597-h/61597-h.htm#ch01
Colour – Taken by me
About the Author
Rosie Maggs - History with Rosie
@historywithrosie / www.historywithrosie.blogspot.co.uk
My name's Rosie, I am interested in all things historical and have set up History with Rosie to share my interests with the world. I graduated in 2019 with a degree in Film Production and I am currently an MA European History student. As well as being a full time Marketing Assistant in the hospitality sector. I have also founded an online magazine 'The Historians' and me and the team are currently working on the next edition.
I grew up in Chepstow which is where my interest in researching Eleanor Ormerod, the incredible woman who I have written about, was born and grew up a few houses away from my own childhood home. In fact, my childhood home was once part of her estate so I feel really in awe of someone who used to walk the same ground and see the same views as me. I hope you enjoy the article and if you want to know more I would be happy to share some more resources about her.