History of the Mammal Department

The Mammalogy department was formed in 1890 under the direction of Edward Pierson Ramsay, the first Australian-born curator for the museum.

Hare-wallaby specimen

Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

The Department


In 1893 Edgar Waite was appointed the head of the Mammalogy department and remained in his position for a further 27 years, renaming the division Mammals & Skeletons. Waite’s successor, Ellis Le G. Troughton became the head of department in 1920. Prior to this he served in the 4th Field Ambulance in France during WWI. Troughton would serve again during WWII as a scientific liaison, and lead the mammal department until 1958.

The section continued to change names over time from Mammalogy in 1965 to The Division of Vertebrate Zoology in the 1980s. In 2005 the department of Science & Collections absorbed Terrestrial Zoology and Mammology, under the direction of Dr. Sandy Ingleby. The division has seen many dedicated staff over the years, such as Basil Marlow who introduced modern museum practices to mammal exhibitions in the 1960s. Marlow was quoted in 1962, that “at last the antiquated type of museum, with its dull exhibits and unimaginative display techniques, is being replaced by the modern museum with its bright and attractive exhibition halls”.

The Collection


The Australian Museum mammal department houses one of the most extensive collections of Australasian specimens in the world. This collection has a fascinating history of early colonial exploration and scientific expedition from enigmatic explorers such as Ludwig Leichhardt, John Gilbert and Edmund Kennedy.

John Gilbert, a field collector for John Gould, travelled on a lethal expedition with explorer Ludwig Leichhardt in 1844-1845. On this journey Gilbert collected hare-wallaby specimens, Lagorchestes leichardti named after the expedition’s leader. Gilbert was fatally speared in the neck in Northern Queensland. Now known as the spectacled hare-wallaby, it is one of the last remaining specimens from Gilbert’s collection left in the country. Despite the dangers, early contributions to the Mammalogy department were made by seasoned explorer Edmund Kennedy who had been second in command to Thomas Mitchell. Kennedy’s 1848 expedition was a fatal failure in which all but 1 of the 13 participants died. Kennedy was speared at the end of his expedition, and only his Aboriginal companion Jackey Jackey would return. From this tragic journey, the Leggadina mouse was one of the only specimen’s that was saved.


Timeline of the department


• 1890 – Edward Pierson Ramsay appointed the head of the new mammalogy department created under the name Mammals
• 1893 – Edgar R. Waite appointed the head of Mammals
• 1920-21 – Newly appointed head of department Ellis Le G. Troughton renamed the division Mammals & Skeletons
• 1957-58 – Basil Marlow, head of department returns the name to Mammals
• 1965 – Department renamed Mammalogy
• 1980 – Linda Gibson takes over Mammalogy
• 1983-84 – New formation of the Division of Vertebrate Zoology including Mammalogy which is headed by Doug Hoese. Gibson becomes collection manager and Tim Flannery becomes scientific officer
• 2000-01 – Dr. Doug Hoese became the head of Science Division and Dr. Sandy Ingleby the head of Terrestrial Zoology and Mammalogy
• 2004-05 – Science Division transforms into Science & Collections, including Terrestrial Zoology and Mammalogy
• 2005-06 – Science & Collections was separated out with Dr. Penny Berents as its head. Mammalogy continued to be directed by Dr. Ingleby.
• 2013 – Mammals becomes part of the Terrestrial Vertebrates Division
 


Elizabeth McKinnon
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