Everard Baldwin Britton 1912-2004


Everard Baldwin Britton


Ev Britton was born in Cardiff, Glamorganshire, Wales on 16.vii.1912. While his father was in the army during WW1, Ev lived with his mother in the small seaside village of West Angle, near Pembroke. There, according to his first teacher, he spent much time turning over stones and peering under bark.

A conscientious student at school, he won two scholarships to University College, Cardiff, majoring in Zoology, Botany and Chemistry, graduating with First Class Honours in Zoology in 1933. He became a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society of London in 1935, gained his M.Sc. in 1936, and was awarded a D.Sc. in 1961 for his contributions to Entomology.

After graduation, Ev went almost immediately into employment with the British Museum (Natural History) as Assistant Keeper in the Department of Entomology where he worked until the outbreak of World War II. During this time, he was responsible for the organisation and use of the world collection of beetles, and visited southwest Africa with the British Museum expedition in 1936-7. His main research interests were the Carabidae of New Zealand and Hawaii and the fauna of Yemen. Ev’s interest in the Australian Melolonthinae (Chafers) was stimulated when the then Chief of the CSIR Division of Entomology in Canberra, A.J. Nicholson, requested a specialist be appointed for a period of 12 months to work in Australia to study the Melolonthinae beetles, in view of their importance to agriculture in Australia. Ev volunteered and spent 14 months in Australia and New Zealand.

During the war, Ev became a Radio Officer with Britain’s Anti Aircraft Command but, in 1942, he joined a group of “boffins” with the Army Operations Research Group developing the emerging radar technology. 1945 saw him rejoin the British Museum (Natural History) as Principal Scientific Officer, a position that involved travelling through post-war Europe, assessing insect collections, and to the Americas. But, with his interest in the Australian beetle fauna, he was seconded to the CSIR Division of Entomology in 1946 and 1947. This visit resulted in the publication in 1957 of the book “A Revision of the Australian Chafers”.

Ev married Joyce Webb at Caxton Hall, London in 1949. At the time of their marriage Joyce was an established milliner at Esher, Surrey, later studying to become a ‘Cordon bleu’ chef and teacher. Together, they designed and had built their home in Oxshott, Surrey where they enjoyed entertaining guests, especially Entomologists, from all corners of the globe. They had two children, Susan and Bridget and a Siamese cat, Jasper.

While at the British Museum, Ev took an active part in the Royal Entomological Society, acting as Editor in 1948, Honorary Secretary from 1951 to 1957 and serving on Council in 1949 and 1958. In similar fashion, he was Treasurer of the Systematics Association for four years and Entomological Editor of the “Annals and Magazine of Natural History” for ten years. In 1936, he published his first paper and, by the time he left England for Australia in 1964, he had 33 papers to his name covering some 742 pages as well as a large manuscript revising a further section of the Australian Melolonthinae. He again visited the (by now) CSIRO Division of Entomology in 1962 and, with an obvious love of Australia and fascination for the Australian beetle fauna, he successfully applied to join CSIRO Division of Entomology in 1963. Although appointed a Research Scientist with CSIRO early in 1964, he remained in England for a few months to study the Australian material in the British Museum and, in September 1964, with his family (and Joyce’s baby grand piano), sailed for Australia on the ocean liner, Oronsay.

During his “reign” in the Coleoptera section, Ev was instrumental in introducing the “unit tray” system into the Australian National Insect Collection. He was a tireless worker both in the laboratory and in the field, and will always be remembered by those who worked with him in the field as being totally unflappable regardless of the conditions. Ev eagerly participated in a number of major field expeditions, visiting central Australia, the Nullarbor, both the Pilbara and south western Western Australia and Arnhem Land (the latter involving a major investigation of the area prior to the establishment of Kakadu National Park). However, he clearly found our menu on field trips “somewhat unspeakable” (which is not surprising considering his wife’s culinary skills). On these field trips, he frequently carried with him journals of the early explorers in the regions in which we were surveying and would read extracts to us from the back seat as we travelled from one site to another.

He was author of the Coleoptera chapter in the first edition of “Insects of Australia” in 1970, the Supplement in 1974, and a co-author of the similar chapter in the second edition in 1991. He was also co-author with John Lawrence of a book, “Australian Beetles” published in 1994. His main research work with the CSIRO was on the Melolonthinae ‘chafers’ and he produced five volumes of over 800 pages dealing with this group as well as a number of other papers. In 1974, he paid a return visit of some six months to the British Museum (Natural History).

On retirement in 1977, Ev actively continued his work on the Australian beetle fauna as an Honorary Research Fellow, finally retiring in July 2000. In retirement, Ev continued his review of the genus Heteronyx in which he dealt with 353 species. Not only was this a mammoth research project but, having taught himself to use the computer in retirement, it included laboriously typing the entire manuscript. His use of the computer enabled him to maintain contact with his many friends via the internet. This was fortunate as it was a timely replacement for his long involvement as a ‘Ham’ radio operator that had become increasingly difficult due to his failing hearing.
In 1963, an English entomologist supplied a reference for Ev when he sought to join the CSIRO. This stated that “Britton was personally very agreeable and even-tempered, he is quiet and very rarely talks about himself. He is one of the few people I have known who always maintains very good relations with all those with whom he comes into contact”. Another stated he was “gifted with the temperament of a true naturalist – a studious nature and most gentlemanly in bearing”. Everyone who ever had contact with Ev would agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments. This was certainly the man we all knew and respected.

Everard Baldwin Britton passed away on 18 January 2004 at the age of 91 years following a severe respiratory infection. He is survived by his wife, Joyce, his two daughters and their families. This gentle man with such an enquiring mind will be much missed by all his family and friends. In his quiet, determined way he made a substantial contribution to our overall knowledge of Australian insects, the critical importance of which is sadly little understood by so many in these economic rationalist days.


UPTON, M. S. 2004. OBITUARY. Everard Baldwin Britton, D.Sc.. 1912 - 2004. Myrmecia January 2004: 2-4.


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