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Harry Burrell

Henry James Burrell (1873-1945) was born at Rushcutters Bay in Sydney. After basic schooling, Burrell led a wandering life, including spending time as a comedian in a vaudeville act.

He developed an interest in natural history after he settled in Manila, northern NSW with his wife Susan Emily Naegueli in 1901. As a naturalist, Burrell is most famous for being the first person to successfully keep and breed platypuses in captivity. To do this he invented the ‘platypusary’, a storage tank which enabled him to both study and exhibit live platypuses. The platypusary was used for the first time in 1910 to show live platypuses at the Moore Park Zoo in Sydney. In 1922, Burrell, his platypusary and Henry the platypus travelled to the Bronx Zoo in New York, the first time a living platypus had been seen outside Australia.

Burrell studied the platypus over many years, collecting specimens and taking photographs, and in 1927 published the highly regarded early study The Platypus, its Discovery, Zoological Position Form and Characteristics, Habits, Life History, etc.

The large collection of platypus specimens he donated to the Commonwealth Institute of Anatomy are now held at the National Museum, Canberra.


Thylacinus cynocephalus
Controversial photograph of the last living Thylacine. Image: Harry Burrell
© Australian Museum

The Harry Burrell Glass Plate Negative Collection

The Harry Burrell collection consists of 450 glass plates and covers a range of animal life from Australia, Papua New Guinea and Tasmania, dating from 1914-1918. Apart from his special interest in monotremes, the collection highlights Burrell’s passion for Australian native fauna and his developing interest in amateur photography. Many of the photos are used in Burrell’s published works including The Wild Animals of Australasia (1926) (in collaboration with AS Le Souef ) and The Platypus (1927).

The most famous images in the collection are those that Burrell took of the last living Thylacine at Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo. These images have sparked academic controversy with Carol Freeman contending that the image of the thylacine with the chicken in its mouth is a stock specimen, not a live thylacine.


Sea life Collection

These prints are from negatives created c1880. Many of the photographs are by Henry Barnes Snr.

The Trust Minutes from March 6,1879 record that the Curator was directed to obtain 'scrap books' in which to mount the photographs taken at the Museum, 'the photos to be scientifically arranged.' It is assumed that this album of fish, sponges and other sea life, along with albums depicting fossils and subjects from palaeontology and ethnography, is the result of that 1879 directive. Photo album AMS421/1.