Captain Edward Bagwell Purefoy, 12th Lancers/Buckinghamshire Imperial Yeomanry
Two pages of my 2000 edition of the Aurelian Legacy, regarding “British Butterflies and their Collectors” are rightly devoted to Edward and without his seminal research I would never have been able to take this photograph of a Large Blue butterfly in Somerset on 18th June 2006:
Edward Bagwell Purefoy was born 6th November 1868, the second son of a family of Irish gentry with an estate at Greenfields in County Tipperary. Many of his forbears, as well as his elder brother, were soldiers, and Edward too, after completing his education at Tonbridge School, joined the Kings Royal Rifle Corps in June 1888 as a Second-Lieutenant. Two years later he was promoted to a full Lieutenant and transferred to the 16th Lancers. He saw active service in South Africa where he was seconded to the 57th (Buckinghamshire) Company, 15th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry to act as their Adjutant. He received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with 6 clasps – Paaderberg, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Wittebergen, Relief of Kimberley & South Africa 1901. He is No. 295 on this depiction of the officers who took part in the Relief of Kimberley:
The London Times of 13th August 1901 reported Captain E Bagwell-Purefoy of the 16th Lancers had left South Africa as an invalid aboard the Troopship Assaye on 8th July 1901. The same paper of 27th August 1901 reported the Assaye had arrived at Southampton the previous day with invalid Edward aboard. It is felt the 8th July date was incorrect and the 28th would seem more likely. The reason for Edward being invalided home is not apparent.
Edward had collected and reared butterflies from boyhood and became a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and Royal Zoological Society. Initially he became famous in entomological circles for his attempt to reintroduce the Large Copper butterfly to the UK where it had become extinct about 1850. He was partially successful but the population needed continual maintenance and eventually failed after his death. Below are pinned specimens of Large Coppers Edward captive bred between 1915 & 1920 on the family estate in County Tipperary.
Edward’s more important contribution was to fully elucidate the life cycle of the Large Blue butterfly and understand its essential and complex relationship with a single species of black ant. After his death the Large Blue went extinct in the UK and Edward’s research allowed entomologists who came after him to understand the reasons why and formulate an evidence based re-introduction programme. Today the Large Blue can again be found living wild in the West Country where numerous colonies now thrive.
Edward passed away on 19th November 1960 whilst living in Kent. In his probate his son, retired Lt-Colonel Edward Bagwell Purefoy, is named as the executor of his will.