The Scott Sisters

A life history plate of two moths from the family Noctuidae. A life history plate of two moths from the family Noctuidae. On the left is the Mistletoe Moth, Comocrus behri, depicted on Casuarina. On the right is the Joseph's Coat Moth, Agarista agricola, on a native grape vine. Hand coloured lithograph by Harriet Scott from A.W. Scott, “Australian Lepidoptera and their transformations drawn from the life…..”, London, 1864., QM library.

The Scott sisters, Harriet (1830–1907) and Helena (1832–1910), were two of the best scientific illustrators Australia has ever produced. Their father, Alexander Walker Scott (1800-1833), had lost his fortune in an economic depression in the 1840s but retained his grant of land on Ash Island, near the mouth of the Hunter River in NSW. The sisters were taught drawing first by their father and later by neighbour and friend S.T. Gill. In 1851 William Swainson praised their work when he reviewed their father’s then unpublished book, “Australian Lepidoptera and their transformations drawn from the life…..”. Harriet was then 21 and Helena 19 but due to lack of funds the book was not actually published until 13 years later in 1864.

Some of the sisters’ best insect illustrations were therefore done when they were young. They were able to wander Ash Island collecting and observing its insect and plant life. Their careful drawings and paintings of these living specimens are much more alive than the usual illustrations of the time, generally done from dead specimens in Europe.

Later the Scott sisters illustrated many scientific works, including Australian Museum curator Gerald Krefft’s “Snakes of Australia” (1869) and “Mammals of Australia” (1871). Another notable work was J.C. Cox’s “Monograph of Australian Land Shells” (1868).

Detail of Joseph's Coat Moth, Agarista agricola on a native grape vine. Detail of Joseph's Coat Moth, Agarista agricola on a native grape vine. Hand coloured lithograph by Harriet Scott from A.W. Scott, “Australian Lepidoptera and their transformations drawn from the life…..”, London, 1864., QM library.

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