William Cole (1844-1922) Founder of Essex Field Club and Entomologist
William Cole (1844-1922) was born on 11th February 1844 at 49 Cloudsley, Terrace, Islington. He died on 27th June 1922 at the Martello Tower, St Osyth, Essex, aged 79, and was buried at St. Osyth Cemetery. Cole had a commanding presence and dignity. He was stout “with massive head and full face with deep-set eyes”. Cole was a planner, sometimes to the extent that work in hand suffered. He was a complex character. Cole was a loner, obsessive, lacked impartiality and was vindictive. He worked tirelessly for the Club, to the detriment of his own health and pocket. Cole lived in Tottenham and Stoke Newington before moving to Buckhurst Hill in 1877. By 1902 he was renting a Martello Tower at Beacon Hill, St Osyth. He suffered a serious nervous breakdown in 1910 and died in 1922 of “senile heart failure, dropsy and paralysis of the lower limbs and sphincter”.
His father, Julius William Cole (1799-1865) was a clerk at the light office, Trinity House. Cole’s mother was Frances Love (1809-1884), the granddaughter of John Love, tenant of Crostwick Hall, North Walsham, Norfolk. William was their sixth son. His parents had 11 children, eight sons and three daughters. William never married.
Cole’s started work in a shipbroker’s office in 1861. He later worked as a shorthand writer for a Lincoln’s Inn barrister before joining a morning newspaper as a shorthand writer. By 1881 he was a science teacher before progressing in 1890 to be a Science Organiser and Curator of the recently formed Essex County Council. At the same time he was secretary to the “Suburban Districts Water Supply Committee”. He was a communicant of the Church of England and an avowed Socialist of the mild Fabian type. In the late 1860s Cole became acquainted with Raphael Meldola in Epping Forest while both were separately hunting insects. This developed into a lifelong friendship and was the catalyst which later led to the birth of the Essex Field Club in 1880. William Cole was elected Honorary Secretary in 1880 and served for 42 years. Cole acted as curator of the Club’s museums and editor of the journal. He also found time to publish many short notes and articles in the Essex Naturalist. Some 66 articles dating from 1887-1915 are credited to Cole in the index to the Essex Naturalist. These range from substantial articles such as his joint report with T.V. Holmes on Denehole Exploration (Essex Naturalist 1887 Vol. 1 pp. 225-256), to a paragraph or so on natural history topics, including his beloved entomology. His notes covered such diverse subjects as archaeology, geology, museums and Epping Forest as well as beetles, moths and butterflies, birds, cephalopods, mammals and reptiles. Cole was elected a Fellow of the Entomological Society in 1865 and was a member until his death. He served on its Committee from 1880-1882. In 1875 he privately published, at Buckhurst Hill, a pamphlet entitled Remarks on a Parasite of Humble Bees. In 1896 he was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society and became an Associate in 1910. The Cole brothers’ collection of British Lepidoptera was presented to the Essex Field Club following William Cole’s death. A report on the collection was prepared by A. W. Mera. He stated the collection had painstakingly been compiled with much time and trouble. Mera detailed certain specimens that had been collected from the 1860s. Localities collected from included, Balcombe Wood, Brighton; Chattenden Wood, North Kent; Chigwell; Clapton; Epping Forest; East Mersea; the New Forest; St. Osyth; Stoke Newington; Wanstead; and Witham. Mera concluded his short paper by congratulating the Club on the “acquisition of such an extensive and interesting collection”.
W.H. George. 2000. William Cole (1844-1922) founder of Essex Field Club. Essex Naturalist,. Vol. 17(NS) pp. 21-30.
A.W. Mera. 1923. The Cole Collection of British Lepidoptera. Essex Naturalist Vol. 20 pp. 172-176.
Yearbook & Calendar for 1905-6. Essex Field Club. 1905. Plate 1 photographic portrait of William Cole. His estate was valued at £452.80 at his death.