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         Theodore Dru Alison Cockerell Papers

Theodore Dru Alison Cockerell, biologist, entomologist, paleontologist and humanist, was born in Norwood, England on August 22, 1866 and started his scientific career soon after.  By age twelve he had written his first publication on his discovery of the caterpillar of the Madeiran butterflies.  He wrote thousands of articles for various scientific journals on such subjects as; the taxonomic studies of flora and fauna recent and fossils, entomology, genetics, evolution, geographical distribution, fish, reptiles, biography, ecology, and even sociological concerns and world affairs.1  Cockerell continued his research up until the day he died in San Diego, California on January 26, 1948 at the age of 81.2


T.D.A. Cockerell began his formal studies at Middlesex Hospital School and at the British Museum.  In 1887 it was discovered that he had a mild case of tuberculosis and was informed that the mild climate of the Rocky Mountains could be beneficial to his condition. Cockerell moved to Westcliff, Colorado in July of 1887.3 It was here that he began to catalogue both the recent and fossil flora and fauna of Colorado. 


An important point in his career was that on his return to England in 1889, was that, at the British Museum, Alfred Russel Wallace asked Cockerell to help him revise his classic work, Island Life. Wallace got him his first job, in Jamaica. They remained close friends for years. N.B.: Wallace was co-discoverer, along with Darwin, of natural selection. Cockerell was instrumental in introducing the Darwin-Wallace theory to the American scientific public. Annie Fenn married Cockerell in 1891. Shortly afterward the couple moved to Kingston, Jamaica where T.D.A. had obtained the curator position at the public museum, a position he held for two years.  In 1892 the Cockerell’s first child, Austin D. Cockerell, was born but died shortly after at the age of 33 days. Along with the loss of his son, T.D.A. was said to have suffered a relapse of his tuberculosis symptoms during 1892.

Cockerell was able to exchange positions with Professor C.H.T. Townsend at the New Mexico Agricultural College, in a climate which was more conducive for his health problems.  On September 9, 1893, his second son Martin Cockerell was born, and Annie Fenn passed away on September 14th.  From 1893 to 1896 he held a professorship of entomology and zoology at the New Mexico Agricultural College.  It was during this period Cockerell began his research of Hymenoptera.  In 1898 he started a position at the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station; he held this position until 1901.


He continued to work in New Mexico as a teacher of Biology at the New Mexico Normal University in Las Vegas; he worked there from 1900 until 1903.  During his stay at Las Cruces, he worked on the side as a consulting entomologist for the Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station and began his research of fossils and fish scales.  On June 19, 1900, T.D.A. Cockerell married Wilmatte Porter.  Martin Cockerell died of diphtheria shortly after in 1901.  In 1903 he moved to Colorado Springs and became the Curator of the museum for Colorado College. In 1904 Cockerell instituted his first expedition to the Florissant Fossil Beds. The work led to the establishment of the F.F.B. National Monument. Also in 1904 they moved to Boulder, Colorado and while Wilmatte became a teacher at Colorado State Preparatory School, he became a lecturer in entomology at the University of Colorado.  In 1910, Wilmatte discovered a mutant red sunflower near the Cockerell home in Boulder.  This mutant was studied and bred further; they sold the Red Sunflower to an English firm which marketed it throughout the world.4 


Cockerell continued to teach at the University of Colorado in various subjects such as comparative anatomy, evolution, and zoology until 1934 when he retired and received the title Professor Emeritus.  During the summers after 1911, the Cockerells took many field trips around the world to collect bees, insects, and to study the floras and faunas of the various regions. 

Although T.D.A. Cockerell never attended college or received an earned degree, he provided an early example of a research scholar at a time when the University of Colorado scarcely encouraged such activities. Despite his lack of formal education, his research propelled him to the heights of his field of entomology, making him a world authority on bees.5


After retiring, the Cockerells spent their winters in California.  In 1941 they volunteered to be the curators of the Desert Museum in Palm Springs California.  Due to the war they received only lodging until 1945.  In 1946 the Cockerells began a new adventure working at Escuela Agricola Panamericana in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  T.D.A. Cockerell died in San Diego, California at the age of 81 and was interred at Columbia Cemetery in Boulder, Colorado.  Wilmatte followed in 1957, and is buried next to her lifelong companion.6


The 60 linear feet of the Theodore Dru Alison Cockerell Papers contain a wealth of academic correspondence, general writings, research, and publications on his various research fields of biology, entomology, paleontology and humanism, during the time when those subjects were professionalizing from the general field of “naturalism” to specific academic specialties. Also included are personal and family papers, as well as audio/visual materials. Eminent University of Colorado botanist and Professor Emeritus, William A. Weber, saved this collection of papers for the Archives, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. Likewise, he has made every effort to spread the legacy of his predecessor by researching and publishing on Cockerell’s life and scholarship.


1 Bios, the Secretary’s Page, Professor T.D.A. Cockerell, Mount Vernon, Iowa, Vol. XIX. No 1. (March 1948): 41-43; Sources include both spellings for Al(l)ison, I use the spelling from his last Will and Testament, July 12 1948. T.D.A. Cockerell Collection, 85-9, Archives, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. 


2 Herbert F. Schwarz, “Theodore D.A. Cockerell,” Entomological News. Vol. LIX. No.4. (April 1948): 84-89.


3 Theodore D. A. Cockerell, Valley of the Second Sons. 567 pp., Santa Fe: Pilgrims Process, 2004.


4 The source for much of the Cockerell chronology came from William A. Weber, “Theodore Dru Alison Cockerell, 1866-1948”,  University of Colorado Studies, Series in Bibliography, xxi-xxii. 1965. 


5 William A. Weber, F.F.S., ed., The American Cockerell : A Naturalist's Life, 1866-1948. (Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado, c2000) 1.


6 Weber, “Theodore Dru Alison Cockerell, 1866-1948”, xxiii.