Good Reading : March 2008
46 goodreading ı MARCH 2008 collectors coffee table One of the greatest historical collections in Australia – our oldest and largest assemblage of natural history specimens – is housed in a tall purpose-built building on the campus of the University of Sydney.The Macleay Museum is named for the Macleay family, generations of whom were avid collectors of all things that crept, crawled, ran, swam or flew. Alexander Macleay arrived in Australia in 1826 to take up the post of Colonial Secretary for New South Wales. He had been secretary of the Linnean Society in London, and he brought with him his vast collec- tions of insects and birds. He built Elizabeth Bay House, where the collections were housed.William Sharp Macleay, his eldest son, and William John Macleay, his nephew, arrived in Sydney in March 1839. All three men agreed that Australia was a fine place for a naturalist.William John set up Australia’s first specifically scientific organisation, the Entomological Society of New South Wales, and funded the first international scientific expedition to set sail from Australia; he it was who in 1887 donated the Macleay collections (which by then consisted of more than 100,000 specimens) to the University of Sydney and founded the Macleay Museum.Today, the Macleay Museum’s collection of insects alone has more than half a million specimens. The museum suffered vagaries of fortune over the years, but painstaking detective work in the mid-twentieth century saw the identification of many ‘types’ (the original specimens used to name and classify a species) in the Macleay Museum collections. Among the more bizarre – and historically important – specimens are two lice plucked from an albatross during Captain Cook’s second voyage and a flea collected by Charles Darwin in Patagonia. Photographer Robyn Stacey has captured the poignant beauty of some of the museum’s specimens in a beautiful new book, Museum: the Macleays, their collections and the search for order. The book also includes a fascinating account of the lives of the three Macleay men written by Ashley Hay. the Parrots (including rosellas), lorikeets and cockatoos are scientifically classified in the family Psittacidae, and there are around 51 distinct species common to Australia. Their forms vary from the strong, large black cockatoo to the sleek scaly-headed lorikeet and this pale-headed rosella. This specimen of the magnificent horse lubber grasshopper — in immaculate condition despite its age — was collected by entomologist John Abbott in Georgia, USA in 1838. The brilliantly coloured Madagascan sunset moth, found only in Madagascar, was first described by entomologist Dru Drury, a friend of Alexander Macleay, in the 1770s.