Elizabeth Carrington Pope

A lifetime at the Australian Museum

Elizabeth Pope

A nursing sister of the N.T. Medical Service © Australian Museum

Elizabeth Carrington Pope was born on 4th November, 1912 in Nelson, New Zealand. Late the following year the family migrated to Australia. They lived at Scots College, Bellevue Hill where her father was a House Master.
She was initially educated at a small school in Bellevue Hill, before completing her education at SCEGGS in Darlinghurst. From SCEGGS she went up to the University of Sydney, and in 1935 she graduated with a BSc with First Class Honours in Zoology.


She joined the Australian Museum on 15th September 1939 as a Scientific Assistant (second class) at a salary of £193. The position was advertised with a salary of £350, but as a woman she was not eligible for a full salary. She worked on probation in the Crustaceans and Lower Invertebrates department under the Curator Frank McNeill and became a permanent employee on the 14th March 1940.


She received an MSc from University of Sydney in 1940 and much of this and her subsequent researches were used in the classic text ‘Australian Seashores’ by Professor W. J. Dakin who died in 1950. This book was first published in 1952, due in no small part to the efforts of Elizabeth Pope and Isobel Bennett.


As well as undertaking research and maintaining the collections, Museum scientists at the time were expected to give popular lectures including a yearly talk to a school group. Elizabeth was also associated with ABC radio, giving talks on the long-running children’s program, the ‘Argonauts’.


In the early 1940s she undertook field work in northern New South Wales, beginning a lifelong working association with Professors Tony O’Farrell and Alex Stock. Throughout the 1940s she built up the Museum’s collection and her knowledge during her many field trips in the Sydney region. She was promoted to Assistant Curator in 1949.


She had some difficulties with field work at the Museum which she felt the administrative staff regarded ‘as a glorified picnic’, exacerbated by the fact that there was only one vehicle available and as a woman she was not allowed to drive it until the 1960s.


She took six months leave from the Museum in 1954 to go on a study tour of European collections. This was necessitated by the slowness of the postal services and the reluctance of most museums to lend material, and was the first of many such trips.


Her collecting trips during the 1950s included Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia and in 1965 she extended her fieldwork to the Northern Territory.


In 1957 a new department called Worms and Echinoderms was created with Elizabeth as the Curator. She became Deputy Director as well as Curator in August 1971, and held this position until her retirement on 3rd November 1972 at the age of 60, when she was made an Honorary Associate of the Australian Museum.


During her career Elizabeth published many articles in the Australian Museum Magazine; she was a Fellow of the Royal Zoological Society, a Corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London and for a time, President of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. She died 18th September 1993.
 


Ms Prue Walker , Volunteer archivist
Last Updated: