William Holmes, Zoologist 1829-1831

William Holmes was appointed as the Museum’s first custodian in June 1829 on a salary of £130 a year.

Expenditure account 1829

 © Australian Museum

William Holmes was baptised on 7th July, 1797 at Ormskirk, Lancashire, England and died 24th August, 1831

His brief tenure at the Museum lasted a little over two years, as he died on a collecting trip when he was ‘shot by accidental discharge of his gun while at Moreton Bay, Queensland, collecting Birds and other Curiosities’.

Holmes was an English carpenter and joiner who had settled in Sydney in 1827. The reasons for his appointment by Governor Darling are unclear, however, his carpentry skills would have benefited the construction of display cabinets, necessary for the Museum’s already-growing collection.

Museum in a shed

The Museum’s location of the time of Holmes’ appointment is unknown, but was possibly a room in the Colonial Secretary’s office. By early 1830 the museum was in a shed attached to the ‘Judge-Advocate’s Old Office’, formerly the post office, in Macquarie Place. A newspaper report at the time mentioned Holmes’ role as custodian:

The public are not generally aware that a beautiful Collection of Australian curiosities, the property of Government, is deposited in the Old Post-office. This Museum is under the Superintendence of Mr Holmes, who between the hours of ten and three, politely shows the same to any respectable individuals who may think fit to call. It is well worthy [sic] inspection.
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser,
31 August 1830

After William Holmes' death, care of the Museum's collections was added to the duties of William Galvin until the appointment of George Bennett. Galvin had been transported to NSW in 1826 and conditionally pardoned in 1832, where he continued working as a parliamentary messenger. Galvin was assisted at the Museum by the convict John Roach, a trained taxidermist, employed as 'Collector and Preserver' of specimens and 'Collector and bird-stuffer' from 1836 to 1840.


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