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Not Happy, Mr Etheridge

By: Ms Prue Walker, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 29 May 2014

Why was Charles Hedley ordered to stop work on his paper?

Charopidae bischoffensis, Beddome

 © Australian Museum

Inside an ordinary buff-coloured envelope I came across this sketch, accompanied amongst other things, by this resentful little note:
‘The enclosed drawings were executed by C. Hedley at intervals between Feb 11th & 30th 1892 when the work was discontinued by order of the Curator.’

The envelope was in a large box of drawings and photographs used as illustrations for some of the many papers published by Charles Hedley, and the note was written in Hedley’s distinctive handwriting.

Hedley was a self-taught conchologist who, at an ‘early age already knew considerably more about shells than anyone else in Australia’ according to his obituary in the Cairns Post. He worked as a farmer in Queensland, but after an injury he turned to science, working first for the Queensland Museum, and subsequently for the Australian Museum in Sydney.

Although shells were always his primary interest and area of research, he also published papers on anthropology and zoogeography*.

His scientific achievements were many and varied:
• He took part in the Royal Society of London’s 1896 expedition to Funafuti
• He served on the council of the Linnean Society of NSW for over 20 years, was elected president in 1909 and held that office until 1911.
• He was a member of the Royal Society of NSW and was its president in 1914
• He was awarded the David Syme prize for Scientific Research in 1916
• He was awarded the Clarke medal in 1925 ‘for meritorious contributions to Geology, Mineralogy and Natural History of Australasia’.
• He rose to the position of Deputy Director of the Museum and then Keeper of Collections
• On his retirement from the Australian Museum in 1924, he became Scientific Director of the Great Barrier Reef Committee, a position he held until his death in 1926.

All of this makes it clear that Charles Hedley was a well-respected and knowledgeable scientist, and the Museum history by Ronald Strahan makes it equally clear that Hedley was also a very nice person: ‘… other scientific staff found him to be a source of knowledge and inspiration and, … an approachable, warm-hearted man with whom they could discuss their troubles’.

So I was very pleased to discover that those sketches didn’t go to waste. The completed drawings were used to illustrate a paper which was published in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of NSW in September 1892. In the same issue of that journal was another paper by Australian Museum staff, this one written by the Curator Robert Etheridge Jnr, and illustrated by Charles Hedley.

Was Charles Hedley taken away from work on his own illustrations to complete those of Mr Etheridge? If so, I’m not surprised that he wasn’t happy.

*Some of Charles Hedley's work on zooogeography:

The Submarine Slope of New South Wales', Presidential Addresses to the Linnean Society of NSW, 1910

‘A Study of Marginal Drainage', Presidential Addresses to the Linnean Society of NSW, 1911.