Wednesday, 28 May 2008

F. P. Dodd, The Butterfly Man of Kuranda

F. P. Dodd, the Butterfly Man of Kuranda

During a recent visit to Far North Queensland, Dr Geoff Monteith suggested a clean-up of the Dodd gravesite in Kuranda was in order. On Friday 23 May a small group of entomologists assembled at lunch in the Kuranda Cemetery on the Kennedy Highway to clean the headstone and reminisce about the life and times of the Butterfly Man of Kuranda.

The Group. From left to right Geoff Monteith, Max Moulds, Paul Zborowski, Kerry Huxham, David Rentz (in back), Margaret Humphrey, Geoff Thompson. (Photographer Caroline Fewtell).

The Task!

The workers!

The finished product.

Following the cleaning, Geoff Monteith read the complete poem of Longfellow quote on the headstone from the very book that Dodd owned.

The reading.

The book.

A detailed account of the life of F. P. Dodd and his relatives is beautifully presented in a 34-page booklet written by Geoff Monteith available from the Queensland Museum (see below). This should be consulted by anyone interested in following up on the life of this interesting person. Much of the information presented here is drawn from this source. This is only a brief account of what is available in the book noted above.

Frederick Parkhurst Dodd was born on 11 March 1861 in Wickliffe, Vic. and died in Kuranda on 27 July 1937, aged 76. He started his working life as a banker in Charters Towers, Qld and at the age of 34 made a “sea--change”, quit his job at the bank to collect insects! The family moved to rural Queensland and at the age of 43 eventually settled in Kuranda. At the time he had three children and a wife to support. In brief he became a professional insect collector and supplied professionals and amateurs alike with the fruits of his efforts. His home became a tourist attraction. His children, Colin, Elizabeth and Katherine became doorkeepers and assistant guides on busy days. He made specialty collections, mostly of moths, which are the most colourful insects around Kuranda with probably more than 2000 species at any one locality alone.

Members of the Dodd family. Daughters Kate and Elizabeth standing, Frederick and Jane seated. The had four sons, Walter, Frederick, Colin and Alan. Descendant live today in the Atherton-Cairns area.

Dodd's garden where he raised many plants he used to rear his moths. The site is across the street from the present day post office. Where's the rainforest?

Youngest daughter Katherine with a giant Kauri log so large that it could not be moved by train to Cairns because it would not fit through the tunnels! This would be quite a tourist attraction had it been left growing where it was found.

The Kuranda State School circa 1904. Note how different the place looks from what it does today. Not much rainforest then.

Dodd took his collection “on tour”” around eastern Australia, often accompanied by one of his children to help in setting up the displays in halls. There must have been tedious and the amount of careful packing a very time-consuming activity as the cases had to be taken overland and by sea. His arrangement of specimens was considered as “unscientific” by professional entomologists but his point was not to pander to them. He was trying to attract the interest of the average person and so once he gained their attention by his displays he could then relate the discoveries he had made. And he made many important observations on the life histories of many common and obscure species. Probably this interest in the life history of insects is what lead one of his sons, Alan, to become a professional entomologist. At the age of 17 he published 4 papers and eventually named 478 species in the wasp family Scelionidae alone! He was instrumental in the success of the Prickly Pear project in bringing the Cactoblastis moth to Australia from Argentina and was awarded the MBE and OBE for this. The Alan Dodd Tropical Weeds Research Centre in Charters Towers, Qld was named in his honour. He died in 1981.

The "Poem Case". This display gives a verse from the Longfellow poem composed to honour the 50th birthday of the American biologist Alexander Agassiz. The words are spellout in tiny yellow pyalid moths and the signature in green beetles, common around Kuranda. (From Monteith, 1991).

Many of Dodd senior’s species were new and were described by overseas entomologists with the important “types’ being placed in foreign museums like the British Museum (now the Natural History Museum, London). This practice came to infuriate Australian entomologists because whenever they had to check a species against the type, they usually had to deal with overseas museums many of which were reluctant to trust the fragile insects to the post what with wars and the great distance to Australia. This meant that Australian entomologists (yours truly included) had to traipse around Europe (to a lesser extent America) on expensive (but enjoyable) “type trips” to view and compare types with newfound examples. Incidentally, this was one of the reasons for the founding of the Australian National Insect Collection, Canberra, a part of CSIRO Entomology. Such a properly funded facility would accommodate leading entomologists ho would document the Australian fauna and place the type specimens of their new species in an Australian collection. Laws were passed to make it legally binding for both Australians and visitors alike to deposit type specimens of new species in Australian collections. These draconian measures were not widely accepted in the entomological world with both Australians and foreigners feeling that this was a bit heavy-handed. But the law still stands. If anyone wants to export insects from Australia a permit is required. Any new species resulting from such collections must be deposited in an Australian collection.
As a commercial collector, Dodd would be greatly inhibited in his activities today by these laws. He may not have coped. He seemed to have a short fuse and may have gotten into conflict with the law as it stands today. Who knows?


Monteith, G. B. 1991. The Butterfly Man of Kuranda. Frederick Parkhurst Dodd. Queensland Museum, South Brisbane. (Requests for this publication should be directed to the Queensland Museum, Box 300, South Brisbane, Qld., 4101.)


Christopher Taylor said...

You've just allowed me to put a face to the label - thanks! I'm currently working through the Queensland Museum Opiliones collection, and about 90% of the specimens seem to have been collected by Dr. Monteith.

Mr. Smiley said...

Good one. I'm glad to see that someone reads this stuff.


Max said...

Good to see others interested in this as much as me, I am F.P.Dodds GG grandson and I am in a similar field to him still. Must meet Dr Monteith one day?

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