Image: Gerard Krefft, Curator and Secretary, 1861-1874

Gerard Krefft, Curator and Secretary, 1861-1874

Image IRN: 1540077

© Australian Museum


Johann Ludwig Gerard (Louis) Krefft, 1830–1881

Ahead of his time in many respects, Gerard Krefft was one of the few Australian scientists to accept and propagate Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Krefft’s diverse contributions had considerable and far-reaching significance, and he was responsible for elevating the Australian Museum to its place in the international world of science.

Krefft was born in Brunswick, Germany. In 1850 he migrated to the United States, then onward to the Victorian goldfields in 1852. In 1857-58 he was the collector on Wilhelm Blandowski’s expedition to the lower Murray and Darling Rivers. He made over 500 drawings of specimens and Aborigines, and was subsequently employed at the National Museum, Melbourne, to catalogue the expedition’s collection.

On the recommendation of the Governor of New South Wales, Sir William Denison, Krefft was appointed Assistant Curator and Clerk at the Australian Museum in June 1860. After the death of Simon Pittard he was made Acting Curator, and then Curator in 1864.

Development of collections

He built up the museum’s collections, arguing that taxonomy must be supplemented by physiological and anatomical studies, and won international repute as a scientist. He published some 200 scientific articles and described many new species of snakes and marsupials, and in 1870 he gave the first scientific description of the Queensland lungfish, in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London.

In 1866 he explored the Wellington caves and described their fossils. His published works include The Snakes of Australia (1869); A Short Guide to the Australian Fossil Remains in the Australian Museum (1870); Mammals of Australia (1871); and A Catalogue of Minerals and Rocks in the Australian Museum (1873).

Krefft regarded many of the Museum’s Trustees as inefficient and corrupt, and following a protracted dispute was dismissed from his position. After barricading himself inside the museum he was dramatically removed from the premises in September 1874. A Trustee, Edward Smith Hill, obtained the services of two prize-fighters, who broke into Krefft’s living quarters and carried him ‘bareheaded from the place’, still seated in his chair. Krefft’s main supporters, William Clarke and George Bennett, both resigned from the Board in protest.

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