Charles Anderson, Director 1921-1940

Charles Anderson introduced dioramas and increased public lectures in order to make scientific collection and research popular.

Charles Anderson, Director

 © Australian Museum

(1876–1944)

Director of the Australian Museum for close to 20 years, Charles Anderson developed an international reputation in both mineralogy and palaeontology.

A native of the Orkney Islands in Scotland, Anderson did not have a privileged childhood. With great tenacity and assisted by a series of bursaries, scholarships and prizes, he graduated from Edinburgh University with medals in six science subjects and distinctions in Latin, English Literature and Mathematics. His first appointment was director of Ben Nevis observatory, a position he vacated to join the staff of the Australian Museum.

The chemistry of minerals

Anderson was awarded a doctorate in 1908 for his work on morphological crystallography and the chemistry of minerals in Australia. His findings were mainly published in the Records of the Australian Museum and the Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales.

In 1916 he published a valuable Bibliography of Australian Minerals. Anderson soon switched his research interests to vertebrate palaeontology. Perhaps his most significant achievement was the reclassification of Meiolania (the extinct horned turtle) based on studies of specimens from Lord Howe Island.

Developing the Museum's expertise

Anderson was appointed director in February 1921. Charles Hedley, who had been acting curator since the death of Robert Etheridge in December 1919, was made Principal Keeper of the Collections. Most of Anderson’s departmental heads had started at the Museum as cadets, and were consequently young, but very experienced in the collecting, preserving and curating of specimens.

The first woman on the scientific staff, Joyce Allan, was appointed permanently in Conchology in 1920. Another notable feature of Anderson’s curatorship was the Board’s decision in 1931 that all scientific staff must be graduates in science.

Keen to popularise the Museum and modernise its displays, Anderson was responsible for introducing the large habitat groups and dioramas. The number and frequency of public lectures increased and The Australian Museum Magazine (later Australian Natural History and now Explore) began in 1921. In 1938 Anderson published a Guide to the Australian Museum and its Contents.

Anderson was a member of several scientific societies in Australia and overseas, and was president of the Anthropological (1930-31), Linnean (1932) and Geographical (1941-2) societies of New South Wales. Anderson retired in 1940.


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