Background and details of the GCC quest.


Following the retracing of the footsteps of my grandfather F W Champion and my great uncle H G Champion in India in 2006, the next part of the jigsaw was to retrace the journeys of their father, George Charles Champion, in Central America.



G C Champion was born in Walworth, South London in 1851, the eldest son of George Champion, a watch-maker and Fuchsia specialist. There is evidence of GCC becoming interested in insects at least as early as 1862.  J J Walker, his brother-in-law, records in an obituary notice ‘Encouraged by his friend the late Mr. J. Platt Barrett, as well as by the award of a small insect cabinet as a school prize, he began, as is so often the case, by collecting moths and butterflies; but his attention was soon engrossed by the Order to which his life-work was devoted, and the splendid collection of British Coleoptera which he amassed in after years was commenced by him when a youth of not more than sixteen … It was during this early period of his work that a chance meeting on the sea-wall near Sheerness, one sunny June morning in 1870 – a day marked by the addition of  Baris scolopacea to the British Beetle fauna – initiated a friendship which was cemented fifteen years later by a happy marriage into the writer’s family, and has endured unbroken and unclouded for upwards of fifty-seven years’.

That friendship, started on the sea-wall in 1870 and prompted by the discovery of a minute weevil, led ultimately to my existence, as G C Champion later married J J Walker’s sister, Adelaide, who became my great grandmother.

Specimens of Baris scolopacea, collected by G C Champion in 1870

Champion’s initial work was mainly in the Home Counties of England, where he discovered many rare and interesting species, including numerous additions to the British list. The turning point in his entomological studies came in 1878, however, when he gave up being a businessman to accept a post as collector for F. Ducane Godman and Osbert Salvin, two eminent naturalists who had just commenced their monumental Biologia Centrali-America.

F D Godman, one of GCC's employers

Osbert Salvin, GCC's other employer


G C Champion left England early in February 1879 for Guatemala, where he arrived on 16 March. Then commenced four years of journeys and intensive collecting which are described in a series of articles, and in the introductory volume of the Biologia. GCC describes first the equipment he used for collecting. He had taken out a lot but soon found that more than half of it was useless because there were insufficient mules, horses, or Indian backs to carry so much weight. ‘My usual plan was to stay a few days here and there, at various places on the road, till I came to what appeared a likely place, then I would remain longer and, if necessary, send to my nearest headquarters for more boxes, etc.; in this way I travelled over a large part of Guatemala, and of the northern part of the Colombian state of Panama.’ His beating tray he quickly abandoned ‘finding that I could manage much better with a large balloon-shaped, jointed cane, butterfly net: a net of this kind will answer very well for all Orders of insects, it can be turned over to beat on to, and at the same time, you have a net ready to catch anything on the wing…’. Protecting his specimens was a constant problem: ‘While mounting beetles, etc. indoors, the ants have often carried off my captures under my very nose’; and ‘often I have come in wet or tired… and put my boxes down for a short time only to find on opening them … that hundreds of ants had already commenced devouring my captures.’

But the forests were so rich that he could afford a few losses. He learned to look for new clearings in particular ‘…almost before the trees are down, beetles begin to appear – longhorns (I have taken perhaps 100 species in one clearing, by constant hunting day after day for a fortnight), Elateridae, Anthribidae…’. But many less desirable species abounded too: ‘minute ticks are a great pest… frequently swarming all over one… and mosquitoes and other Diptera are sometimes very troublesome, though fortunately, there are no land-leeches’. Snakes, however, ‘are only too common…and … I have beaten them onto my net several times’.


So successful was Champion as a collector that he managed to return from Central America having taken not less than 15,000 species of insect. He at once found employment as Secretary and chief assistant to Godman and Salvin, and in that capacity he saw through the press the 52 volumes of the Biologia. Champion himself specialised in preparing the coleopterous material for publication and in writing the volumes and parts covering the Heteromera, the Elateridae and Dascillidae, the Cassididae, and by far the greater part of the Curculionidae. In these groups alone he described more than 4,000 species new to science.

While pursuing this work, Champion also found time to collect extensively in Britain, particularly around Woking, where he settled in 1892, and on the Continent where he often took his summer holidays. Many of these captures subsequently formed the subject of notes to the contemporary journals. In the Entomologists’ Monthly Magazine, of which he was one of the editors, alone, he published 426 articles.

George Charles Champion remained in the employment of Godman and Salvin, eventually becoming Chief Editor of the Biologia Centrali-Americana, as well as personal assistant to F DuCane Godman.  He authored some of the volumes himself; others were written by colleagues and friends such as well-known naturalist Henry Walter Bates.

Two volumes of the Biologia, one authored by GCC

George Charles Champion died in 1927 and is buried at Horsell cemetery, near Woking. His British collections passed to his eldest son H G Champion, and subsequently to the Natural History Museum where they joined the 150,000 continental and other foreign beetles which he had bequeathed to the Museum. Another 5,200 beetles selected from his collection was presented to the Hope Department, Oxford, by his son H.G. Champion in 1936. There are also specimens collected by him in a number of other institutions including the Manchester Museum (Blatch, Britten, Taylor, and Spaeth collections); Bolton Museum (Mason collection); and the RSM (Waterhouse collection). There are specimens collected by Champion in the Isle of Wight and Hampshire in the C.G. Hall collection at Oldham Museum, and there are specimens from Panama in the Rippon Collection at Cardiff.

H W Bates, colleague and friend of GCC


Champion’s contract with Godman and Salvin, and scientific convention, stipulated that any new species he described were not to take his name, but rather would be credited to Godman and Salvin.

However, in recognition of his tireless work, a particularly fine species of Satyrid butterfly was named Drucina championi in his honour. Originally found by GCC while he was staying at the Finca Las Nubes, on the slopes of the Cerro Zunil, a volcano near Quetzaltenango in Guatemala, GCC only found the male of this species.  I hope to find the female.

Drucina championi, as illustrated in the Biologia


The main objective of my research were to locate the precise position of a selection of GCC’s collecting localities in both Guatemala and Panama.  More specifically, the aims of the research were to:

  1. identify and geo-reference a number of key sites, using GPS, and to cross-reference each site with the specimens obtained there by GCC;
  2. photograph and compile a modern description of the habitat type and condition in each locality.  This was compared with the information contained in GCC’s records from 140 years ago in order to assess what changes have taken place in the intervening years;
  3. sample Lepidoptera and Coleoptera species occurring today using similar techniques to those employed by GCC in order to establish whether some key species recorded by GCC are still present today;
  4. add locality data to the current work being conducted on the Cassidinae by Sekerka and Windsor at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. 


A comprehensive list of Lepidoptera and Coleoptera species collected by GCC, with localities and, where possible, dates was compiled from the species accounts in the “Biologia”;

  1. From the species accounts in the “Biologia” and specimen labels in the NHM in London, a selection of GCC’s key collecting sites was identified, and a selection of indicator species obtained by him in each was made;
  2. By using a combination of published and unpublished material including diary and letter references, these sites were identified and located on, where possible, contemporary maps;
  3. These sites were, where identifiable or accessible, located on modern maps;
  4. The sites were be visited, the tentative location ‘ground-truthed’, geo-referenced, and photographed with a view to recording current land-use/habitat type and condition;
  5. Using methods similar to those employed by GCC, a search for some previously identified indicator species was made; where possible, an assessment of land cover changes was made.

Mill at Las Nubes, photographed by Eadweard Muybridge in 1875