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If Twitter was around in the 1800s: the Waite diaries

By: Anna Namuren, Category: Science, Date: 01 Aug 2014

We summarise a diary of Edgar Waite, zoologist and Museum curator, in 17 tweets.

May 5, 1893: 'My 27th birthday - getting on in life.' A typically droll entry from one of the 66 personal and scientific diaries written by the energetic and accomplished zoologist Edgar Ravenswood Waite.

Earlier this year the family of Edgar Waite kindly released his diaries to the Museum’s Archives and Records unit to copy and preserve. Our in-house experts, the DigiVol team, digitised and transcribed them.

66 personal and scientific diaries

The diaries span from 1874 when Edgar Waite was eight years old to 1927. In his adult life, Edgar Waite made a significant contribution to museums as a zoologist and director in the UK, New Zealand and Australia - he was Assistant in Zoology and Curator of Fishes at the Australian Museum 1892-1906 and was later appointed director of the South Australian Museum.

Waite’s diaries are full of perceptive and witty observations about all the things that he was interested in and passionate about, from collecting red-back spiders, playing the flute, illustrating nature and enjoying the companionship of his wife, Rose.

We have released the first batch of diaries with more to come in the next few months.

Diary 33 - (approximately) 140 characters at a time

The following is a summary of Diary 33 which details Edgar Waite’s arrival in Australia and his first weeks at the Australian Museum. We hope you’ll enjoy flicking through the diaries as much as we have (with apologies to Twitter for a little tweaking below)...

Apr 10 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
Landed in Sydney. At 8.30am we neared the Circular Quay… we waved our hands to 2 ladies who from their likeness to Mrs Bleechmore & Mrs Upton of Melbourne we knew must be Mrs Down & Miss Roebuck their sisters.

Apr 10 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
In England it is quite usual to have perfect stillness in the night, but here such a thing is unknown, the Cicadas sing unceasingly & sometimes there is quite a chorus of them and sounds like the tinkling of bells.

Apr 11 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
My predecessor, J D Ogilby had charge of the Mammals, Reptiles & Fishes and is now engaged in writing catalogues but is not on the Staff. He is an excellent man at his work but had to be discharged on account of drunkenness.

Apr 13 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
After breakfast we again went house-hunting this time in Paddington. Saw several houses, one especially took our fancy. The house is large, but £60 a year in Glen View Street.

Apr 14 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
There were plenty of spiders and ants, some of the former were very large and I obtained one of the harmful species with the red spot on the under & upper surface of the abdomen

Apr 15 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
We left by the 10.15pm Steamer amid much rain and beautiful lightning the effect of its reflection in the water producing a very magnificent & striking spectacle In walking from the Quay to Clareinnis we got sadly wetted which was probably the cause which gave Rose Rheumatism

Apr 18 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
Dr. Ramsay never sent for me, he appears to take but little notice of & small interest in any of the staff & I am told that I must not expect to receive any instructions from him but shall have to shape out my own course for myself

Apr 18 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
I am told that I am at present one of the luckiest fellows in the Museum. Had the appointment not been made last year - the post would not have been filled up for in consequence of the great retrenchment by the government, the Museum grant has been reduced

Apr 19 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
Commenced work in the Spirit room my first business being to preserve a Death Adder (Acanthophsis antarcticus) which had just come in I made a water colour sketch of it.

Apr 23 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
We returned to the camping place overshadowed by the high rocks & made tea in the 'Billy' my first introduction to the famous Australian Institution.

Apr 24 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
Made a water-colour sketch of Tetrodon hamiltoni. Brazier promised to take me to the meeting of the Linnean Society of N.S.W on Wednesday next

Apr 29 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
Took a Mantis from the branches of a Eucalyptus. Took hold of a Lepidopterous Cocoon covered with short black spikes which entered my finger in large numbers causing great irritation.

May 02 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
Even educated people have a perceptible 'twang' something (say) between the Cockney and the Yankee but very slight. The servants and tradespeople are not nearly so deferential as in England and talk to you on terms of equality, they seem to consider themselves quite as good as their employers

May 05 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
My 27th birthday – getting on in life

Jun 01 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
To day a Black Rat, (Mus rattus) was brought in, it is the first example in the flesh I think I have seen unless I saw the one alive in the Leeds Museum. This species is not uncommon about Sydney. it is the only one yet found running in the Museum.

Jun 03 Edgar Waite @ERWaite
I caught a small Leather Jacket (Monacanthus and 3 Centropogon australis, these latter were very lively one of them drove its spike into my finger causing a painful wound succeeded by numbness. Made pencil outlines of both species in the evening.

Jun 11 Sunday Times @the1893sundaytimes
Against the principle of this admirable institution we have nothing to urge, but we must complain that like other branches of the Civil Service, more public money is expended upon it than necessity calls for.

The Edgar Waite diaries

Gallery: 19th century notebooks and sketches