Aurelian is an archaic word for lepidopterist, one who is interested in butterflies. The term is derived from aurelia, meaning chrysalis, and relates to the golden color it may attain just before the butterfly emerges; the Latin word for gold is aurum.
The Society of Aurelians in London, England, was one of the oldest organized bodies of specialists in any branch of zoology and was probably founded by Joseph Dandridge and a few others. They collected and documented insects from the 1690s, and these collections were made available to the naturalist John Ray. The history of the society is known only from the works of Benjamin Wilkes in his book The English Moths and Butterflies (1748-9). The society flourished for a time but came to an abrupt end in March 1748. While members of the society were in a meeting in Swan Tavern in Exchange Alley, a great fire broke out in Cornhill and enveloped them. All the members escaped, but their entire collection, library, and records were destroyed. This event was documented by Moses Harris in The Aurelian; or, Natural History of English Insects (1765). The loss disheartened the group so much that they never managed to regroup again.
Aurelian societies were formed several times in Britain, but each time they collapsed. Edward Newman in his Grammar of Entomology (1835) notes:
The Aurelian Society was established in the year 1762; it arose, phoenix-like, out of the ashes of the old ; four years afterwards this society was in existence, as appears from the fact, that in 1766, Moses Harris dedicated to it his work entitled the "Aurelian."
The Aurelian Society was established in the year 1801 ; it was proposed and managed by the late Mr. Haworth, the author of "Lepidoptera Britannica." The collection was Mr. Haworth's own property, and was to be given up to the society as soon as it should consist of twenty members, which number it never reached.
- Allen, David Elliston (1976) The naturalist in Britain: a social history. Princeton University Press. 1994 edition. ISBN 0-691-03628-4