Blog

Desirable Specimens

By: Rose Docker, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 22 Aug 2012

Recent work on the papers of William Henry Hargaves conducted by the Museum’s Rapid Digitisation Project volunteers – has highlighted the intriguing life and times of William Henry Hargraves.

Museum trustee and passionate shell collector, he was born in 1839 – son of Edward Hammond Hargraves the famed discoverer of gold in Australia.


Working in the Equity Office by day, Hargraves spent his other waking hours amassing a spectacular shell collection. Through collecting, purchase, exchange and personal persuasion the passionate conchologist stopped at nothing in pursuit of the next desirable specimen.


“Only on one occasion did I strike trouble… When looking through the open door of a house in Kent St I saw on the mantle shelf a fine Voluta marmorata… I ventured inside to have a better look at it when a woman who had evidently just left the wash bib appeared… I took the shell from the shelf and said, “Will you sell it?” She looked me straight in the face and said, “It’s not shell’s you’re after young man – if you don’t clear out of here at once I’ll call my husband.”


When the famous British exploring ship the “Challenger” came into Port Jackson in 1874 Hargraves made sure he was one of a number who got invited aboard for a dredging trip outside the Heads. The Evening News reported the occasion, “As soon as the donkey winch commenced to heave away, an anxious crowd gathered on the bridge… the eager throng held their breath in expectation… There stood the scientists, like bloodhounds on the leash… Hargraves and Brazier, the possessors of every known shell on our coasts, wore a look of painful anxiety … First appeared the shackles and chain, then the arms of the dredge, and then the object of their hopes itself – empty and bare: not a specimen was visible. “


But amongst the occasional disappointments, Hargraves shell collecting pursuits were mainly very successful and the Australian Museum was a happy beneficiary. In 1877 he sold his magnificent collection to the Museum for 800 pounds – a lot of money then but reputedly only half of what he might have got for it on the open market.


Hargraves was a trustee of the Museum from 1901 until his death in 1925.