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Catherine Mabel Joyce Allan (1896–1966)

by D. F. McMichael

This article was published:

Catherine Mabel Joyce Allan (1896-1966), conchologist and museum curator, was born on 8 April 1896 at Balmain, Sydney, eighth of nine children of Joseph Stuart Allan, an artist from New Zealand, and his English wife Florence Fountain, née Hesketh. Educated privately and at Fort Street Girls' High School, Joyce intended to study medicine, but in February 1917 became temporary assistant to Charles Hedley, conchologist at the Australian Museum, Sydney; she helped to sort collections, drew shells to illustrate his scientific writings and was appointed permanently to the museum staff in 1920. She signed her drawings and scientific articles as 'Joyce K. Allan'. When Hedley resigned in 1924, she had temporary charge of the conchology section before working under Tom Iredale; she was appointed scientific assistant in 1931.

Her principal talent was as an artist: she worked in oils, water-colour, pen-and-ink and lamp-black wash, producing some excellent drawings and paintings of molluscs, but she could be careless when rushed. Art was Miss Allan's profession and her hobby, and she exhibited paintings with the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.

While working with Iredale, she began to publish popular articles on molluscs and soon progressed to writing scientific papers, especially about the colourful, soft-bodied molluscs of the sub-class Opisthobranchia. She produced some twenty papers that added to scientific knowledge, wrote articles in the Australian Museum Magazine and contributed to the Australian Encyclopaedia (1925-26, 1958). Seconded to the Department of National Emergency Services in 1942 as assistant to the superintendent of air-raid precautions, she lectured and showed films on training, and was in charge of the information bureau at Air Force House, Sydney.

The first woman to be elected a fellow (1943) of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Allan succeeded Iredale in 1944 and on 1 February 1949 was appointed curator (of shells, later molluscs). She attended meetings of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, the Pacific Science Congress in New Zealand (1949) and the International Congress of Zoology in Copenhagen (1953). Her most notable collecting trips were to Lord Howe Island and to the mouth of the Clarence River in northern New South Wales where opisthobranch molluscs abounded. She belonged to the Linnean Society of New South Wales, the (Royal) Over-Seas League and the Society of Women Writers of New South Wales, and was patroness of the Malacological Club of Victoria (Society of Australia from 1956).

Allan's major achievement was her monumental book on Australian molluscs, Australian Shells (Melbourne, 1950, revised 1959, reprinted 1962), the first, comprehensive work to attempt to describe the bulk of the Australian molluscan fauna and to illustrate in line, half-tone and colour a substantial proportion of them. Despite some poor illustrations, and an inadequate index to the scientific and popular names of the shells, the book remains invaluable to collectors.

Dark haired and attractive, Joyce enjoyed an active social life and played at Manly Golf Club. On 18 May 1949 at St Clement's Anglican Church, Mosman, she married a close friend Hector Walker Kirkpatrick, a retired cable officer. Accompanied by her husband, in 1953 she visited Europe and, to her satisfaction as a royalist, reached England at the time of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation celebrations.

Having studied shell collections in overseas museums, Joyce returned to Sydney, but began to suffer ill health and retired in June 1956. Appointed an honorary zoologist, she continued to work with the museum collections until 1962 and produced two more books, Cowry Shells of World Seas (Melbourne, 1956) and The Sea-Horse and its Relatives (with Gilbert Whitley, Melbourne, 1958). Survived by her husband, she died of cerebrovascular disease on 31 August 1966 at Mosman and was cremated. Three shells, a fish and an insect were named after her.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Prince, The First One Hundred Years of the Royal Zoological Society of N.S.W., 1879-1979 (Syd, 1979)
  • People (Sydney), 10 Sept 1952
  • Malacological Society of Australia, Journal, 11, Mar 1968, p 50
  • Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, Feb 1967, p 12
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Dec 1950
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney),16 June 1956, 'Saturday Magazine' .

Citation details

D. F. McMichael, 'Allan, Catherine Mabel Joyce (1896–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kirkpatrick, Catherine

8 April, 1896
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


31 August, 1966 (aged 70)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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