Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Here's to you, MR Robinson

I have had interesting but, to be honest, disappointing news, via a message from a Mr Robinson, a name which is hallowed among those who pursue the study of moths. Why hallowed? Regular readers will know that the answer lies in the incomparable Robinson Moth Trap.

This combination of sturdy bowl, translucent canopy, bulbholder and mercury vapour lightbulb is a simple object but extraordinarily effective at attracting moths at night. Its engineering is uncomplicated: modelled on the lobster pot principle of a trap which animals enter through a cone which presents them with great, indeed usually insurmountable, difficulty if they try to get out again. But there is also science and detailed research involved in the nature and reach of the lamp.

As sold by the excellent Watkins & Doncaster who have supplied me with butterfly and moth equipment since I was seven years old. They go back to 1874, not that I was alive then.

Now, I have always thought and have often told others, that this device was the work of Mr and Mrs Robinson, a thought which has given me much joy as an example of women being involved in entomology, practically and with enthusiasm. This is rare historically, as with so many other fields in a society which separated men's and women's roles and gave most of what I would consider the interesting ones to men.

There are famous exceptions, of course, but they have suffered from being too exceptional, the learned but inconceivably wealthy and somewhat eccentric Miriam Rothschild being a good example. So Mrs Robinson was treasured in my mind as an example of Everywoman making a lasting contribution.

Alas for such dreams.  Her son Max wrote in my Comments section as follows:

This was back in March and the post on which he wrote - headed Tootlety-toot and presumably the one that his cousin spotted - was published in July 2015. Hence my slowness in catching up. Many apologies all round.

How did I come to believe in Mrs Robinson's role? I fear that I must have noted moth-related scientific papers attributed to 'Robinson and Robinson', put two-and-two together and made five. In fact they will have been the work of Hugh and Peter R or perhaps Hugh and Gaden R. Journalists, eh!   I apologise again.

It was interesting to Google Gaden Robinson and find the nice, enthusiastic pictures of him, above, (from a tribute in the Journal of Systematics and Biodiversity which he c o-edited; sorry, I haven't got the conclusion) and also - odd coincidence - a story about him and Miriam Rothschild's sister Pannonica who claimed to have been named after a butterfly and even had a song written about this in her honour by Thelonious Monk. Yet another Rothschild, Hannah,  tells the story in her book The Baroness: The search for Nica Rothschild which you can read online.  Here's the relevant bit:

Great stuff - and a very useful addition to Things To Say When Asked The Difference Between A Butterfly And A Moth.

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