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Froggatt, Walter Wilson (1858–1937)

by D. I. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Walter Wilson Froggatt (1858-1937), entomologist, was born on 13 June 1858 in Melbourne, son of George Wilson Froggatt, and his wife Caroline, née Chiosso, both born in Yorkshire, England. Educated at the Corporate High School, Sandhurst (Bendigo), he was encouraged to study nature by his friend Richard H. Nancarrow, a bush naturalist. After leaving school, Froggatt spent four years on the land in Victoria before moving in 1880 to the Mount Brown goldfield near Milparinka, New South Wales, where he collected specimens. Two years later he collected on the Flinders River, Queensland, sending material to Sir Ferdinand Mueller and Charles French. Although his scientific knowledge was slight, through observation and fieldwork he developed a sound knowledge of botany.

In 1885 with the assistance of Mueller, Froggatt was appointed special zoological collector and assistant zoologist, and later taxidermist, to the New Guinea expedition organized by the New South Wales branch of the (Royal) Geographical Society of Australasia. His work was widely acclaimed and his competence and devotion to duty was praised by J. W. Haacke, chief scientist to the expedition. In 1886 (Sir) William Macleay proposed Froggatt for membership of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. He took an active part in the affairs of the society and in 1898-1937 he was a member of its council, serving as president in 1911-13. He was also a member and later a fellow of the Linnean Society of London.

Employed by Macleay as collector for his private museum, in 1886 Froggatt was in Queensland and in 1887-88 worked in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia. Arising from that experience, he prepared a paper 'Note on the Natives of West Kimberley', his first contribution to the Proceedings of the local Linnean Society. From 1892 until 1896 he was geological collector to the Technological Museum, Sydney, where he worked with J. H. Maiden. Froggatt edited a manuscript in which Maiden had made a study of the history of the Sydney Botanic Gardens, and published it in part in the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Australian Historical Society, of which he was a member from 1928 until 1937.

In October 1896 Froggatt was appointed entomologist in the Department of Mines and Agriculture. He published the results of his research and observations, frequently in the Proceedings of the local Linnean Society, the Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales and the Australian Forestry Journal (nearly 400 in all). At the request of Lever's Pacific Plantations Ltd, he investigated coconut palm pests in the Solomon Islands in 1901 and two years later, on behalf of the French Planters' Association, he studied the palm leaf beetle. In 1907-08 he travelled overseas on behalf of the governments of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia to investigate problems of insect pests, particularly the fruit fly. In 1911-21 he lectured on entomology in the department of agriculture at the University of Sydney. Froggatt retired from the State Department of Agriculture in 1923, but was appointed forest entomologist by the Forestry Commission. At the request of the Commonwealth government he made a report, 'of great value', on timber borers and other insects. He finally retired in 1927 and that year sold his collection of insects to the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Froggatt also contributed significantly to the popular study of natural history. He was a founder in 1891 and later president for a record eleven years of the Naturalists' Society of New South Wales, a council-member from 1910 of the (Royal) Zoological Society of New South Wales, which elected him a fellow in 1931, and a founder of the Australian Wattle League, the Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales and the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia. He was a member of the Australian National Research Council in 1921-32.

In addition to scientific papers and official reports, Froggatt published newspaper articles on popular science, especially economic entomology. He wrote six books: the first, Australian insects (1907) was for many years a standard text. In 1933 he began a series of elementary 'nature books' for children with the Insect book. In his garden at Croydon, Sydney, he grew many Australian trees and shrubs, which he generously gave to local municipal bodies for planting in parks and streets. At the reserve at Balls Head, his work was commemorated in a look-out.

Froggatt died in his residence at Croydon on 18 March 1937 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by his wife Anne Emily, née Lewis, whom he had married at Long Gully, Victoria, on 15 January 1890, and by a son John Lewis, an entomologist in New Guinea, and by two daughters, Joyce, a schoolmistress, and Gladys, the author of the World of little lives (1916) and More about the world of little lives (1929).

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (New South Wales), Transactions and Proceedings, 3 (1885), 4 (1886)
  • Australian Naturalist, 1 (1906-09), 10 (1937)
  • Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales, Gould League Notes, 1937
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 June, 24 Dec 1885, 22 June 1923, 19 Mar 1937
  • Mosman Daily, 15 July 1937
  • Royal Geographical Society (New South Wales), diary, New Guinea exploration expeditions, 1885 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

D. I. McDonald, 'Froggatt, Walter Wilson (1858–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/froggatt-walter-wilson-6251/text10765, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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