Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hewitson, William Chapman
HEWITSON, WILLIAM CHAPMAN (1806–1878), naturalist, was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 9 Jan. 1806. Educated at York, he was brought up as a land-surveyor, and was for some time employed under George Stephenson on the London and Birmingham railway. Delicate health and the accession to an ample fortune through the death of a relative led him to give up his profession and devote himself to scientific studies. After residing for a time at Bristol and Hampstead, he purchased in 1848 about ten or twelve acres of Oatlands Park, Surrey, and built a house there, in which the last thirty years of his life were spent, and where everything was arranged with a view to his favourite studies. In early life he collected British coleoptera and lepidoptera; he then devoted attention for some years to the study of birds' eggs, in 1833 making a trip to Norway to discover the breeding-places of some of our migratory species. Notes on ornithology and oology from his pen will be found in vol. ii. of Jardine's ‘Magazine of Zoology,’ in the ‘Ibis,’ the ‘Zoologist,’ and other periodicals; but from the date of his settlement near London he concentrated his attention on lepidoptera, more particularly the diurnal lepidoptera of the world. He bought specimens from travellers and naturalists in all quarters of the globe, whose expenses he often partly or wholly paid. In one instance a single specimen cost him 350l. He thus formed what was probably the most complete collection of diurnal lepidoptera in the world, and this, together with some choice pictures and water-colour drawings, and some valuable stuffed birds, he left to the nation; they are now in the natural history section of the British Museum in Cromwell Road, South Kensington. Hewitson was a most accomplished artist and scrupulously accurate draughtsman, and his figures, whether of birds' eggs or butterflies, are drawn and coloured with conscientious care, but they were, after all, only perfect diagrams, as he intended them to be. In his own line, as a pictorial describer of butterflies, Hewitson stands unrivalled. He became a member of the Entomological Society in 1846, the Zoological in 1859, and the Linnean in 1862.
Hewitson died at Oatlands on 28 May 1878. He married about 1848, but his wife soon died, and left no children. He left his library of works on natural history, with a legacy of 3,000l., to the Natural History Society of Newcastle, his native town, and a large sum to the Müller Institute, Bristol. The rest of his fortune he bequeathed to various charities, and in legacies to friends interested in his own studies.
Hewitson's principal works are: 1. ‘British Oology,’ 3 vols., Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1833–42. 2. ‘Coloured Illustrations of the Eggs of British Birds,’ 2 vols., 1846; 3rd edit. 1856. 3. ‘The Genera of Diurnal Lepidoptera’ (written in conjunction with E. Doubleday), 1846, fol. 4. ‘Illustrations of New Species of Exotic Butterflies,’ 5 vols. 4to, 1851–76. 5. ‘Illustrations of Diurnal Lepidoptera,’ 2 vols. 4to, 1863–78. 6. ‘Descriptions of One Hundred New Species of Hesperidæ,’ 1867, &c. 7. ‘Descriptions of some New Species of Lycænidæ,’ 1868. 8. ‘Equatorial Lepidoptera,’ 1869–1870. 9. ‘Bolivian Butterflies,’ 1874, and a number of articles on kindred subjects in the magazines devoted to entomology and ornithology.
[The Entomologist, 1878, xi. 166; private information.]