History of Ichthyology

After a slow start, the Museum's collection of fishes has grown to provide a comprehensive resource for research scientists.

An Australian Lungfish from the Fish Collection

Carl Bento © Australian Museum

The Ichthyology (Fish) Department:

Until the 1860s the majority of natural history specimens collected in Australia were sent overseas. When Gerard Krefft was employed at the Museum, first as Sub-Curator then as Curator, he changed focus to Australia and considerable collections were built up during his time here. In 1862 he published the List of Australian Reptiles and Fresh Water Fishes in the Collection of the Australian Museum Sydney which noted 21 species of fish. Although fish were not his primary interest, the fish collection increased steadily during his tenure, and Krefft is particularly noted for his discovery and description of the Queensland lungfish in 1870.

Edward Ramsay, who succeeded Krefft as Museum Curator in 1874, continued to build the Fish Collection and helped to greatly raise its profile.  His main interest was ornithology but he wrote 30 papers on fish, many co-authored with James Ogilby who was the Museum’s first Curator of Fishes. Ramsay purchased the Francis Day collection of Indian Fishes, an important collection that had been built-up over a twenty year period. It was something of a coup for Ramsay to secure this collection for the Australian Museum.

After the departure of James Ogilby in 1890, the Fish section was amalgamated with Reptiles and Batrachians until the arrival of Edgar Waite, when Ichthyology became a separate area of study once more. It has remained so ever since, although the restructure of 2004 saw Ichthyology become part of the Science and Collections Division, later the Research and Collections Division. This division was sub-divided into three branches, with the former research scientists from Ichthyology moved to the Research Branch (Marine) and the collection to the Natural Science Collections Branch (Ichthyology).

Over the life of the Ichthyology collection, the Museum has employed scientists who have added substantially to their area of study, many of whom became Curators or Collection Managers (see table). In 1979 Jeff Leis began his association with the Australian Museum as a Queen Elizabeth II Fellow in Marine Science. He joined the permanent staff in 1987 as a Senior Research Scientist, and progressed from there to his current position of Senior Principal Research Scientist. The more than 130 research papers he published in the interim, the majority as senior author, have made a significant contribution to Ichthyology, particularly in the field of larval behaviour.

Fish Curators/Collection managers:

James Douglas Ogilby 1888 – 1890
 
vacant 1891
 
Thomas Whitelege  Head of Reptiles, Batrachians & Fishes
1892
 
Edgar Waite 1893 – 1906
 
Allan McCulloch 1906 – 1925
 
Gilbert Percy Whitley 1922 – 1964
 
Frank Talbot 1965
 
Vacant – overseen by Frank Talbot who was Museum Director 1966 – 1967
 
John Paxton 1968 – 1978
 
John Paxton & Douglass Hoese jointly 1978 – 1983
 
Vacant – overseen by Doug Hoese who was head of Vertebrate Zoology 1984 – 1987
 
Mark McGrouther 1987 –
 


 


The Collection:

The Australian Museum Ichthyology Collection is the result of years of collecting, purchases and exchanges. No collection registers exist from the earliest days of the Museum, however, Bennett’s: A Catalogue of the Specimens of Natural History and Miscellaneous Curiosities Deposited in the Australian Museum published in 1837, and Krefft’s: List of Australian Reptiles and Freshwater Fishes in the Collection of the Australian Museum, Sydney published in 1862, shed some light on the collection prior to the start of formal registration. Also the Annual Reports from 1858 until 1900 include lists of acquisitions and exchanges.

The collection registers listed in the following table detail the various registration systems that have been implemented over the years.

Palmer Register – general register
[Almost all entries have been re-registered, exchanged or destroyed]
1877   
‘A’ & ‘B’ register – general register ‘A’ or ‘B’ prefix 1884
 
First Fish Catalogue (two volumes) ‘I’ prefix 1886
 
Second Fish Catalogue (1st volume) ‘IA’ prefix 1920 
 
 Second Fish Catalogue (2nd volume) ‘IB’ prefix 1939 
 

Endeavour Register ‘E’ prefix - register of specimens, including fish, collected during expeditions carried out in the Endeavour, a Commonwealth Fishery Investigation Vessel
[Australian Museum staff assisted in the expedition]

1909 – 1914
Concurrently with first Fish Catalogue
 
Skeleton Register (including fish) ‘S’ prefix
 
1889 – 1963
Concurrently with other catalogues
 
a station and lot registration system commenced
 
1969
 
computer data sheet registrations commenced
           
1977
 



 By 1989 the computer registration of the whole fish collection was complete bringing together the diverse cataloguing systems that had complicated life for researchers in the 1960s.


 


Ms Prue Walker , Volunteer archivist
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