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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Henry Edwards, c. 1874

Bradley and Rulofson

albumen photograph on cabinet card (support: 16.5 cm x 11.3 cm)

Henry (Harry) Edwards (1827–1891), actor and entomologist, arrived in Melbourne in 1853 after a short-lived attempt at studying for a career in law. More interested in insects and acting, Edwards had taken lessons in natural history and participated in amateur theatre in London before coming to Australia to join his brother on a property outside of Melbourne. Almost as soon as he arrived, he began collecting, eventually amassing a collection over 1600 insects and butterflies plus birds and botanical specimens which later became one of the first collections acquired for the National Museum of Victoria. He also made a return to the stage, appearing with George Selth Coppin’s company and later with Gustavus Vaughan Brooke in both Melbourne and Sydney. In August 1860, Edwards appeared alongside Brooke in Australia’s first production of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, one reviewer ‘taking the opportunity of speaking in the highest terms of the spirited acting of Messrs Brooke and Edwards’. On the occasions when his acting work took him to Sydney, Edwards consulted the eminent entomologist William Sharp Macleay, who mentored him in his natural history pursuits. He left Australia in 1865, heading to San Francisco, where he leased and managed the Metropolitan Theatre and became a founding member of the Bohemian Club and the California Theatre’s company. As he had done in Australia, Edwards spent much of his spare time off on various collecting jaunts and studying at the California Academy of Sciences. He was elected a member of the Academy in 1867 and later became its curator of entomology. In late 1878, Edwards left for the east coast, working firstly in Boston for two years and then New York, where he was active in entomological societies and where he founded and edited a magazine for butterfly enthusiasts (from 1881 to 1884). The New York home that he shared with his wife Marianne (Gustavus Vaughan Brooke’s former spouse) is said to have had at least one floor given over to the accommodation of his huge natural history collection. Edwards continued to perform until his early sixties, but ill health forced his retirement from the stage in 1889, the year he published his Bibliographic Catalogue of the Described Transformation of North American Lepidoptera. After his death in 1891, his collection of 300,000 insect specimens was donated to the American Museum of Natural History.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2015

Accession number: 2015.28

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Bradley and Rulofson

Henry Edwards (age 47 in 1874)

Subject professions

Performing arts

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.