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Littler, Frank Mervyn (1880–1922)

by Dennis Abbott

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Frank Mervyn Littler (1880-1922), ornithologist, entomologist and accountant, was born on 1 January 1880 at Launceston, Tasmania, only son of Henry Charles Littler, accountant, and his wife Annie Rosina, née Horne. He was educated at Launceston Church Grammar School where he won various school prizes, was captain of the cricket team and in the football team. He followed his father into accountancy and employment at the Mount Bischoff Co. office at Launceston.

Littler's scientific interests began early. Between 1901 and 1913 he published twenty-five items listed in H. M. Whittell's The Literature of Australian Birds. In 1901 his article 'Bird protection' was published in the first issue of the Emu, journal of the Australian Ornithological Union. He was a founding member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union and his paper 'Notes on some birds peculiar to Tasmania' was read before its Melbourne congress in November 1902. From 6 July 1901 to 1 July 1905 he wrote a fortnightly column on Tasmanian birds for the Launceston Weekly Courier; it provided much of the groundwork for his best-known work, Handbook of the Birds of Tasmania and its Dependencies published in 1910. It was well advanced for the time, written with the text arranged in a format now adopted for field guides. Entries for species had an observation section as much as two or three pages long, based on Littler's personal observations. Ornithologists still refer to this work, especially when making historical comparisons with present-day population densities and distribution and behaviour patterns.

Littler was described as both an entomologist and an ornithologist during his life, whereas he is referred to posthumously solely as an ornithologist. However, he joined the Entomological Society, London, in 1903 while attending an entomological congress in London where he had been invited to represent Australia and New Zealand. He was also a member of the Entomological Society of America and the American Association of Economic Entomologists. Anthony Musgrave's Bibliography of Australian Entomology, 1775-1930 credits him with four articles.

Littler made collections of bird-skins, insects and butterflies including local and other species acquired by exchange with other collectors. Though his obituary in the Mercury stated that he presented a splendid entomological collection to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, neither this donation nor that of bird-skins which his daughter believed he made to the museum can be verified. His publishing virtually ceased after 1913 and many of his papers were lost after his death.

Littler continued his sporting activity after he left school, rifle-shooting and playing cricket for several seasons with the Nil Desperandum Club. He died on 1 July 1922 at Ravenswood of meningitis and was buried at Carr Villa cemetery, Launceston, with Anglican rites. On 27 February 1908 he had married Honora Ivy Iacyanth, daughter of William Holyman, at Launceston. His wife survived him together with a son and a daughter who affectionately remembered her father as a gentle man of tall, slender build.

Select Bibliography

  • B. W. Rait, The Story of the Launceston Church Grammar School (Launc, 1946)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 3 July 1922
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 6, 20 July 1922.

Citation details

Dennis Abbott, 'Littler, Frank Mervyn (1880–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/littler-frank-mervyn-7211/text12479, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 March 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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