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Wood-cut paper painting of a Japanese scene.

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How to build a collection

Networks of colonial science at Australia's first museum 1827-1880

New Guinea parrot, NHB.8011, Macleay Collections.

New Guinea parrot, NHB.8011, Macleay Collections.  

Online Lecture

Date and Time: Thursday 22 October, 6pm

Registration: Free, please register via Eventbrite

Building a museum collection has always involved more than just collecting. In its first decades the Australian Museum (founded in 1827) was mostly a clearing house for natural history specimens heading to European collections and institutions. But as the colony became more confident in building its own civic and scientific cultures, the museum changed too, although the Macleay family was a continuing feature of civic and museum governance. The quickest and most cost effective way to build a collection to keep and display in its new galleries was not through the uncertainties of field collecting, but by small local donations and a complex system of barter and exchange with museums and individuals around the world.

The New Guinea parrot pictured was part of a large collection sold through the Sydney merchant and importing company Mason Brothers from 1880. Mason Brothers specimens are found today in Paris, New York, London and Berlin as well as in the Australian Museum and Macleay Collections. Vanessa Finney unravels the complex networks of colonial science in the mid-19th century, including tracing the origins of the Chau Chak Wing Museum to the Macleay family.

Vanessa Finney is the author of Transformations and Capturing Nature, two books that investigate the role of illustration and scientific photography in colonial natural history. Her current focus is the nineteenth-century history museum-based natural history in Australia as a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney and Manager, World Cultures, Archives and Library at the Australian Museum. She is a partner investigator on the Sydney University-led ARC project Merchants and Museums.

Featured image (top): Visitor on Level 3 of the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Photo: Brett Boardman.