Thomas Wall (d. 1848)
Last journey in the service of science and the Australian Museum’s collections
Thomas Wall arrived in Sydney with his brother William Sheridan in 1840. Both men worked at the Australian Museum as naturalists and William was appointed Curator in 1845, succeeding former Secretary and Curator W B Clarke. William held this position through to the 1850s. Via this connection, as well as experience and skills in natural history, Thomas was frequently contracted as a collector of specimens for the Museum.
In 1847 he joined explorer Edmund Kennedy on his journey to, what is now south-west Queensland, to determine the course of Victoria River, encountered by Surveyor General Thomas Mitchell on his previous exploration of this area. Kennedy established that Victoria River was a tributary of Cooper Creek and renamed it Barcoo River. On this expedition Thomas Wall made a sizable collection of specimens for the Australian Museum, predominantly birds and insects. He also collected thirteen artefacts from the Aborigines of the Barcoo River. This small collection of artefacts was probably destroyed in the fire in 1882, which annihilated large parts of the Australian Museum’s collections. However, it is probably the third well documented collection of Aboriginal artefacts acquired by the Museum, on its 20th anniversary. Like Mitchell’s collection of 1835 and the Commander Morgan Lewis and Phillip Parker King collection of 1836, Wall’s collection provides a list of collected objects, brief descriptions as well as their geographical and cultural origin. Such documentation did not appear in the Museum’s records until 1859, and even then it was frequently less specific. The Wall collection from Barcoo River included a rope and a net made from kangaroo sinew, two head bands and a necklace, five head ornaments made from emu and other feathers, a spear head, a boomerang and a throwing stick.
Thomas Wall died tragically while accompanying Edmund Kennedy on the expedition to Cape York in 1848. He was probably one of the five men of the advance party who traversed a large portion of the 1000 kilometre distance from Rockingham Bay towards the tip of Cape York. His remains were subsequently buried on Albany Island – a northern most destination, reached only by the young Jackey Jackey, the Aboriginal member of the expedition and the only witness to Kennedy’s death.
In 1879 the Australian Museum displayed its collections in the Sydney International Exhibition building called the Garden Palace in the Royal Botanic Gardens. After the exhibition ended in 1880 the collections were temporarily housed in the Palace. On 22 September 1882 the building was engulfed in fire and its contents were destroyed.
Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager