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Hermann Krefft – Boy Naturalist

By: Elizabeth McKinnon, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 12 Dec 2014

From the Mitchell Library collection is a fascinating insight into Museum Curator Gerard Krefft and the family he left behind.

Gerard Krefft Diary Extract

Gerard Krefft Diary Extract
Photographer: Mitchell Library © Unknown

Sir
I am trying to obtain employment in some Museum of Natural History and I humbly beg to take the liberty to address you to ask if you required a junior assistant in your Museum. I am sixteen years of age the youngest son of the late Gerard Krefft who was for many years Curator of the Australian Museum here. I am passionately fond of Natural history and its studies and if given employment will do my utmost to give satisfaction.

To be written I remain Sir yours obediently
Hermann Krefft

Annie Krefft was left with two sons after the death of her husband in early 1881 from congestion of the lungs. The couple had grieved the loss of their children Archibald and William, leaving 10 year old Rudolf and two year old Hermann to endure much hardship in their early years of life. Gerard Krefft had been dismissed as Curator of the Australian Museum in 1874 leading him and his family into great financial distress. With Gerard’s passing, and great mistrust of the Museum’s Trustees, Annie decided not to donate her husband’s personal papers to the Museum. The papers made their way into book collector David Scott Mitchell’s collection and were bequeathed to the Mitchell Library in 1907.

A part of this collection includes personal manuscripts owned by Gerard Krefft in which he kept notes of museum accounts. What is extremely touching about these documents is the reuse of its pages by young Hermann to draw pictures of boats and interesting portraits of his teachers, and to write down fascinating facts and figures about the world. Hermann was barely two when his father passed away, and these manuscripts tell a moving yet tragic story of a boy longing for his father.

Hermann repeatedly refers to himself as a Naturalist in the pages of the manuscripts and has several letters that he practiced writing to potential employers, such as the letter to Queensland Museum Curator C.W. De Vis in 1896 transcribed above. Gerard Krefft was a talented illustrator of scientific specimens, and it is evident that Hermann has tried to follow in his father’s footsteps, labelling his drawings of reptiles and spiders.

Hermann would take note of rare and curious articles from Sydney newspapers and utilised the manuscripts until at least 1904. Not only did Hermann aspire to be like his father in writing and illustrating Natural History, but has several entries noting his various days out collecting, an example at age 24 he writes, “I went to Long Bay on the 15 of November 1903 all day collecting I got a black snake 2ft 6in long.”

Hermann did not have long to establish a career in Natural History as he died at the very young age of 31. Annie mourned her son until her death in 1926, leaving their eldest son Rudolph who lived for a further 25 years at age 82.