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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Scott, Herbert Hedley (1866–1938)

by N. J. B. Plomley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Herbert Hedley Scott (1866-1938), museum curator, was born on 15 August 1866 in London, second son of Peter Dewar Scott, accountant, and his wife Mary Susan, née Gale. By February 1871 the family was living in the United States of America but, after her husband's death in 1877, Mary returned to England with her children and apprenticed Herbert to a cabinetmaker at Taunton, Somerset, where, having developed a taste for natural history in Pennsylvania and New York, he began serious studies in geology and plant and animal morphology under the guidance of local naturalists. In October 1887 Scott migrated to New Zealand for his health and after two years in business there settled at Launceston, Tasmania. He was a steward at the Launceston Club from March 1890 until he succeeded Alexander Morton as curator of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in May 1897.

On arrival at Launceston Scott interested himself in Tasmanian natural history and was soon friendly with William Petterd, Frank Littler, F. E. Burbury and W. H. Twelvetrees. He wrote for local newspapers and in the mid-1890s helped to form a microscopical club. Through church activities Scott met Frances Fannie Stearnes whom he married at Launceston with Congregational forms on 25 January 1893.

The Queen Victoria Museum, which had languished under Morton's necessarily part-time direction, prospered under Scott. Not only did he nurture the welfare of the institution but, believing that a local museum must educate people about their environment, he encouraged a high standard of teaching and scientific research as part of its activities. It was very much a one-man show: Scott did most of the work, from cleaning and supervision to the preparation of exhibits and research. He also directed the microscopical club into holding natural history classes, continued into the 1930s, at the museum.

Scott was hampered by lack of storage space at the museum, which meant not only that all valuable specimens had to be exhibited but that reserve collections were hardly formed. In 1909 a 'vertebrate gallery' of about 3600 sq. feet (334 m²) was added, enabling the separation of the geological from the zoological collections; but Scott had to arrange the displays almost single handed. In 1928 an adjacent building was acquired to house the Beattie Historical Collection; once again Scott organized the displays himself, work completed in 1934. In 1930 the appointment of his son Eric as assistant curator relieved him of much administrative routine, but the museum was still H. H. Scott's and it was he who set up the displays for the large new gallery opened in 1937 for the display of invertebrate zoology.

With such demands on his time, Scott completed a surprising amount of research. In 1905-07 he published a series of palaeontological brochures including important work on the skeleton of Nototherium tasmanicum (Tasmanian Geological Survey Record, no.4, 1915). From 1919 he published in the Royal Society of Tasmania's Papers and Proceedings, often in collaboration with Clive Lord: mostly palaeontological, some studies dealt with seals and whales of the Tasmanian coasts and a few with fossil botany.

Herbert Scott died at Launceston on 1 March 1938. Survived by his wife, daughter and his son, who succeeded him as museum director, he was buried in Carr Villa cemetery. By transforming a collection of curiosities into an eloquent display of the Tasmanian environment at the Queen Victoria Museum, he had given people a fresh awareness of their surroundings and heritage.

Select Bibliography

  • N. J. B. Plomley, The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery 1891-1950 (to be published).

Citation details

N. J. B. Plomley, 'Scott, Herbert Hedley (1866–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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