How one man was responsible for many of our collection items

Portsmouth’s natural history collections comprise around 119,000 specimens of plants, animals, fossils and minerals. The most extensive collection was amassed by HLF Guermonprez, which was transferred to Portsmouth Museum in the 1970s from Bognor Regis and is held in trust by Portsmouth City Council.

Henry Leopold Foster Guermonprez was born in 1858, the eldest child of Belgian émigré Jean Henri and his English wife, Charlotte. The Guermonprez’s lived in Chelsea for many years and Henry, who had trained as an architect, stayed in the family home looking after his parents who were both in poor health.

Photograph of HLF Guermonprez
HLF Guermonprez

In the early 1890s the family moved to Bognor Regis in West Sussex, after visiting the town on previous occasions. Guermonprez had a passion for natural history and thousands of specimens were collected from around Bognor Regis and West Sussex over a period of 30 years. What makes this an important collection is the data accompanying each specimen, detailing where and when it was collected.

Guermonprez was interested in all aspects of natural history and these are reflected in the collections held at Portsmouth. His collections comprise fossils, plants, molluscs, marine invertebrates, taxidermy, birds’ nests and insects, which includes a large Lepidoptera collection. In addition to collecting his own specimens, Guermonprez received material from other naturalists and purchased other collections at sales and auctions.

Although Guermonprez only published a few papers, he was in contact with many zoologists and botanists of the time and exchanged records of specimens found in his collection. One of his few papers was on a Psocid (Barklouse) that he had found in August 1892. The paper includes a plate of Guermonprez’s scientific drawings of details of his own specimens, as well as those collected by Edward Saunders and Enderlein who had also found specimens of the same species.

Guermonprez contributed records to several publications. His Orthoptera (Grasshoppers and Crickets) specimens were cited in ‘A Monograph of British Orthoptera’ by William John Lucas, which listed British species and where they were found. Guermonprez Orthoptera records are listed for Sussex, Parr (Cornwall), Hayling Island (Hampshire) and Tunbridge Wells.

Other contributions include the ‘Flora of Sussex’, the ‘Victoria History of Sussex’, and a ‘Complete Lists of Plants, Seaweeds, Lepidoptera, Crustacea and Mollusca to be found in Bognor and Neighbourhood’, which was published as an appendix in Webster and Webb’s ‘Bognor Guide for 1891’.

Guermonprez also wrote a weekly column, ‘Selborne Notes’, for The West Sussex Gazette from 1906 – 1924, which reflected his diverse interest in Natural History. Most of the cuttings from his weekly column are held at Portsmouth Museum, along with an extensive archive of letters and postcards of Guermonprez’s correspondence.

After Guermonprez’s death in 1924, his collections remained in the family home until 1943, when the house was damaged by a bombing raid. The collections were passed to the Council and housed in Bognor Regis Museum until most of the natural history collections, including the Guermonprez Collection, were transferred to Portsmouth Museum in the 1970s.

Crane M D. 1974. H L F Guermonprez 1858-1924: A West Sussex Naturalist. Portsmouth City Museum & Art Gallery
Guermonprez, HLF. 1906. Reuterella helvimacula, Enderl., A new genus and species to the list of British Psocidae and the discovery of its hitherto unknown male (with a Plate). Entomologists Monthly Magazine. Vol XLII, Pp 57-59. Gurney and Jackson, London
Haes, ECM. 1974 (?) Orthoptera in Sussex. Entomologists Gazette. Vol 29. Pp 181-201
Lucas, W J. 1920. A Monograph of British Orthoptera. London. Printed for the Ray Society