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Jackson, Sidney William (1873–1946)

by Guy B. Gresford

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Sidney William Jackson (1873-1946), naturalist, was born on 12 June 1873 in Brisbane, son of Irish parents Francis Daniel Jackson, draper, and his wife Frances, née Martin. He was educated at Toowoomba Grammar School and at Grafton, New South Wales, where his father was in business. As a boy he was interested in bird-watching and egg-collecting. On leaving school he worked as a clerk at Grafton and began recreational study of natural history, particularly of birds.

By 1907 Jackson had amassed a unique collection of Australian birds' eggs, which he described in Egg Collecting and Bird Life of Australia: Catalogue and Data of the "Jacksonian Oological Collection" (1907) and illustrated with his own photographs. He sold the collection that year to the prominent collector H. L. White, a pastoralist of Scone. (This constitutes a major part of the H. L. White egg collection now in the National Museum of Victoria.) In 1907-27 Jackson was employed by White as curator of his collection and one of his chief field-workers.

Jackson carefully recorded his field expeditions to different parts of Australia in diaries. Before modern transport and camping equipment, these journeys were lengthy and arduous, involving hard living in the bush. Although described as portly or corpulent he more than held his own with experienced bushmen. With his brother Frank he developed techniques for climbing trees, involving the use of leg-spikes and rope-ladders, and often reached nests 100 feet (30 m) above the ground. One of his major ornithological achievements was to obtain a specimen of the female Rufous Scrub-bird in Queensland in 1919 'after four weeks of most constant and diligent searching' in thick bush.

A meticulous observer, Jackson had a penchant for minute detail. He sketched well, his handwriting was of copperplate neatness, and he had considerable skill as a photographer, going to endless trouble to secure negatives of the highest quality and detail. He was also an expert taxidermist. A member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union he reported most of his serious ornithological work in its journal, Emu. He was also an authority on land mollusca and collected much valuable botanical material. Entirely self-trained he achieved distinction and recognition as a versatile and highly competent field naturalist before professional interest in this field became widely established. After White's death in 1927 Jackson lived in Sydney and wrote newspaper and magazine articles.

Devoted and generous to his parents and family, Jackson was 'full of idiosyncrasies and odd little vanities' and given to melancholy and hypochondria. He could however be amusing and light hearted. He delighted in practical jokes and was something of a ventriloquist, a skill he used as an amateur entertainer and, in the field, as a mimic of bird-calls. About 1912 he married, but by 1916 he had parted from his wife.

Jackson died in hospital at Neutral Bay on 30 September 1946 and was buried in the Church of England section of Northern Suburbs cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. White, The White Family of Belltrees (Syd, 1981)
  • Wild Life (Melbourne), 6 (May 1944), no 5, p 147, 8 (Dec 1946), no 12, p 426
  • Emu, 46 (Jan 1947), pt 4, p 315, 58 (May 1958), pt 2, p 101
  • Sidney Jackson papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Guy B. Gresford, 'Jackson, Sidney William (1873–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jackson-sidney-william-6815/text11793, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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