Womersley, Herbert (AA 872)

Herbert Womersley

Born: 10 April 1889, Warrington, Lancashire, England
Died: 14 October 1962, Adelaide, South Australia

Herbert Womersley’s interest in insects commenced at an early age. In his early 20s, Womersley undertook a night course in microscopy at the Manchester School of Technology. Already a collector of diptera, his newfound skill enabled him to turn his interest to Collembola which were more easily seen under a microscope.

Womersley’s use of a microscope placed him in charge of a laboratory at Fort Chatham when he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914. In 1915 he joined the Chemical Corps of Royal Engineers and was transferred to one of the gas companies. Womersley took part in the first British gas attack upon the Germans at Loos, Battle for the Hohenzollern redoubt and at Somme. He later transferred to explosives manufacture.

With the war behind him, Womersley was able to resume his interest in entomology working on Apterygota and Diptera whilst working as manager of the Fuel and Steamraising Department for Christopher Thomas Bros soap manufacture in Bristol. His involvement with the Bristol Museum and Naturalist Society and Entomological Society of London secured Womersley a position with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Western Australia. Before embarking for Australia he was seconded to the British Museum for training in Museum work. By the time Womersley and his family left for Australia in 1930, he had become an authority on Collembola.

Given the financial constraints due to the depression, Womersley’s three year contract with Council for Scientific and Industrial Research was not renewed. He secured the position of Entomologist at the South Australian Museum which became vacant upon Arthur Lea’s death on 1 January 1933.

Womersley published 196 papers from 1912 to 1963: 150 on mite taxonomy including work on trombidiids, listrophorids, sarcoptids, phytoseiids, macrochelids and trigynaspids. He was a world authority on Acarina.

Womersley was involved with wildlife preservation in his state and was appointed Commissioner of the National Park and Wildlife Reserves in 1945. In the Royal Society of South Australia, Womersley held the following positions: editor from 1937 to 1943, treasurer from 1950 to 1951 and 1956 to 1959, president from 1943 to 1944, and made honorary fellow in 1962. He received the Verco medal in 1943. Womersley was also a representative on the Flora and Fauna Protection Committee that advised the Minister of Fisheries and Game from 1945.

Womersley was married twice and had two sons by his first marriage: John Spencer (1920-1985) and Hugh Bryan Spencer (1922-), both botanists and members of the Royal Society.

Womersley retired from the South Australian Museum in 1954 but was immediately appointed as acarologist, a position created specifically for him. He retired again in 1959 but became Honorary Acarologist. During Womersley’s time at the Museum, he contributed to the war effort once again but this time by providing specialist taxanomic advice and identification of mites to both the United States of America and Australian armies. Troops in New Guinea and the Pacific Islands suffered from scrub typhus and scrub itch, caused by the mites Womersley was working on.

The South Australian Museum Archives contains two cinefilms, apterygote card catalogue, minute book of the Entomological Club of South Australia and a photograph.