The Harriet and Helena Scott Lepidoptera collection is a unique documentary archive of the scientific ambitions and artworks of two extraordinary nineteenth-century Australian natural history illustrators. Working together with their father, Alexander Walker Scott, on isolated Ash Island in the Hunter River near Newcastle from 1846 to 1866, the two sisters collected and cared for insect specimens, documented their transformations and produced stunning artworks of Australian butterflies and moths.
At the centre of the collection are 100 life-size, superbly detailed and formally innovative butterfly and moth paintings produced for their father’s Australian Lepidoptera and their Transformations, the first volume published in 1864 and the second volume published in four parts from 1890 to 1898. They are arguably Australia’s finest nineteenth-century natural history illustrations. In style, complexity, innovative compositional forms, and artistry, these paintings are unmatched by any other contemporaneous Australian examples.
The archive they sold to the Australian Museum in 1885 is a complete record of their project including notebooks, manuscripts, sketches and drawings, the final finely detailed watercolour paintings and correspondence and production records of their 50-year effort to get their work published and recognised. It provides a minutely detailed account of the insect and plant life on Ash Island through documentation, description and scientific illustration.
For the history of Australian science and scientific knowledge, the collection provides a snapshot of the state of the knowledge of the biology, distribution and species of butterflies and moths in Australia around 1850 and how this knowledge was accumulated, documented, circulated and used.
The Harriet and Helena Scott collection is the only scientific archive of its type in Australia. The rarity of the collection lies in its content, together with its unusually deliberate curation and provenance, and its comprehensive coverage of the Scott sisters’ scientific work and practices ‒ collection, documentation, description and natural history illustration and publication. The Scott collection is the most comprehensive and detailed Australian nineteenth-century women’s natural science and natural history art archive in the country.