Major Arthur 'Bertie' Gay (1896 - 1959)
Arthur ‘Bertie’ Gay was born in 1896 to Major General Sir Arthur William Gay of Lapford, and was a curator at the Museum for over 20 years. It is thanks to him that we have the extensive, well organised, and stunningly attractive collection of butterflies that we do today.
War-time service – a distinguished career
During the First World War, Gay served with the Royal Artillery in the Balkans and Mediterranean. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in action. He also served with the Royal Artillery during the Second World War and was awarded the M.B.E. for staff services and the Territorial Decoration for long service.
Bertie the sportsman
Whilst at school in Bristol Gay became the Public School Rackets Champion of 1911. After the First World War he played rugby for Crediton, and for Devon between 1923 and 1924.
Arthur and RAMM
Gay was a keen natural historian, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of butterflies and birds from all over the world earned him a position here at RAMM. After volunteering for four years he was employed as an assistant curator in 1936.
He specialised in Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), particularly the micro-Lepidoptera of which his knowledge was ‘unsurpassed in the West Country’.
He purchased many rare and valuable insects for the Museum which he paid for himself. He also purchased 14 cabinets, each with 30 drawers, in which to store the butterfly collections. In addition to forming his own collections, Gay was responsible for obtaining specimens and collections from many other naturalists, including the trustees of the British Museum. Much of Gay’s time was spent creating and organising the consolidated collection of tropical and British Lepidoptera.
RAMM remembered in his will
Major Gay died at the age of 63 on 17 March 1959 at The Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. He had no living relatives, and the money left to the Museum in his will was used to purchase further cabinets to house the consolidated collection.
It came to the attention of Anthony Adams, one of Gay’s Museum colleagues, that his grave did not have a headstone. Upset by this neglect of such a worthy man, Adams paid for Major Gay’s headstone out of his own pocket.