Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Newman, Leslie John William (1878–1938)

by C. F. H. Jenkins

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Leslie John William Newman (1878-1938), entomologist, was born on 16 February 1878 at Sandridge (Port Melbourne), son of English parents Ebenezer Newman, storekeeper and later schoolmaster, and his wife Rhoda, née Shanks. Leslie was the eldest of four children and was educated partly at the School of Horticulture, Burnley, where he later taught for five years. His interest in insects was stimulated by visits from the government entomologist Charles French and his son Charles Hamilton. Newman also worked in Ararat apple orchards and at a Melbourne nursery.

He moved to Western Australia in 1903 and next year became horticultural inspector in the Department of Agriculture. On 1 June 1905 at Claremont he married Annie Eliza Rigg; their happiness was marred by the early death of their two sons, from influenza and drowning. In 1906 Newman took charge of the insectary, to receive and propagate insects collected abroad by the government entomologist George Compere for the implementation of a controversial programme of biological control. Newman was appointed economic entomologist and head of the department in 1918, and government entomologist two years later.

Few government officers then had university qualifications; practical experience was respected more. He was once refused leave without pay in order to visit American institutions and to consult famous entomologists. A keen naturalist, Newman encouraged his staff to make a general insect collection rather than one containing only species of economic importance. Consequently the collection proved of scientific as well as economic value to specialists all over the world. Also, despite some colleagues' ridicule, he continued to advocate biological control, and established several successful parasites and predators in Western Australia; farmers were grateful.

He won world repute for his use of chemical lures and poison baits against the Mediterranean fruit fly; and his pioneer work in grasshopper and sheep-blowfly control was excellent. The results of his thirty-year investigations enabled him to make many contributions to the Journal of the Western Australian Department of Agriculture.

Newman was deeply religious: his kindly, gentlemanly demeanour concealed an iron resolve which he applied to moral judgement and fair conduct. This caused his suspension from the public service for insubordination twice, and the threat of a writ for defamation of character, by a government minister. However, his suspensions were lifted without penalty, and the minister judged it unwise to proceed with the defamation case.

Newman belonged to the Western Australian Naturalists' Club, the Royal Society of Western Australia, the Entomological Society of London, and the Linnean Society of New South Wales. He gave much time to the Claremont Methodist Church as trustee, lay preacher, Sunday-school teacher and chorister. He also loved sport. Survived by his wife, he died from hypertensive cerebro-vascular disease on 8 December 1938 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Musgrave, Bibliography of Australian Entomology 1775-1930 (Syd, 1932)
  • Western Methodist (Perth), Dec 1938
  • Western Australian Naturalist, 9, 1964, p 149
  • Western Mail (Perth), 9 Dec 1939.

Citation details

C. F. H. Jenkins, 'Newman, Leslie John William (1878–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/newman-leslie-john-william-7831/text13597, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 30 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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