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John William Brazier (1842–1930)

by D. F. McMichael

This article was published:

John William Brazier (1842-1930), by unknown engraver, 1875

John William Brazier (1842-1930), by unknown engraver, 1875

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, A/S12/06/75/44 [detail]

John William Brazier (1842-1930), conchologist, was born on 23 September 1842 in Sydney, son of John Brazier, master mariner and farmer, and his wife Mary, née McMillan. His father, who collected shells as a hobby, was captain of a whaler which visited many islands of the southern Pacific in the 1850s. Brazier junior, who apparently never used his middle name, accompanied his father on one of those cruises about 1855 and acquired an interest in natural history, especially shell collecting. He collected around Sydney with George and Richard, sons of Captain Thomas Rossiter who as master of the French whaler Mississippi in 1841 had saved Edward John Eyre from starvation on his epic overland trip from Adelaide to King George Sound. Brazier's reputation as a collector grew and in 1865 he was invited to accompany Julius Brenchley on the cruise of H.M.S. Curacoa to Norfolk Island, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the New Hebrides, the Solomons and New Caledonia. Brazier collected wherever possible, even while under attack by natives at Eromanga, New Hebrides. In 1866 he again visited New Caledonia where Richard Rossiter was living. In 1871 he accompanied an expedition of Australian scientists to the Claremont Islands in the Great Barrier Reef to view an eclipse of the sun on 12 December, the so-called 'Eclipse' expedition. In 1872 he accompanied H.M.S. Blanche on a cruise to the Solomon Islands, New Guinea and the Marshall Islands. In 1873 he again visited Noumea, New Caledonia, and in 1874 undertook a dredging cruise in the ketch Pea Hen along the coast of New South Wales, collecting on behalf of Sir William Macleay for whom he had worked before. In 1875 he was a member of Macleay's expedition in the Chevert to New Guinea via the Great Barrier Reef, and extensive collections were made from many localities; most of the specimens are now in the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney. Brazier's later collecting activities were largely along the New South Wales coast. In 1880 he was employed by the Australian Museum to assist in cataloguing the shell collection, and one of his first tasks was to take part in an expedition to Port Stephens where large collections were made. Brazier was soon given the official position of conchologist and also placed in charge of the ethnological, historical and numismatic collections. By 1891 the shell collections had grown so large that Brazier was relieved of other duties to concentrate on marine shells alone, while Charles Hedley joined the staff and was given responsibility for land and freshwater shells. In the financial depression of 1893 Brazier was retrenched.

Brazier was prominent in scientific circles in the 1870s and 1880s. He was a member of Macleay's small group of naturalists who founded the Linnean Society of New South Wales in October 1874, and his paper describing new species of shells was the first to be published in the society's Proceedings. Between 1869 and 1905 he published over 150 scientific papers and notes, mostly on shells. After his connexion with the museum was severed, he continued writing and as late as 1905 exhibited specimens at the Linnean Society meetings, but his interest in science seemed to wane. He lived in Sydney, sometimes visiting the Australian Museum. He sold shells from his private collection to Charles Hedley who succeeded him as conchologist; they were given to the museum by Hedley and now form a substantial part of its shell collection. Brazier's scientific writings were listed in 1958 by Tom Iredale, who also published an index to his new scientific names. Brazier corresponded regularly with a large number of prominent conchologists and made exchanges so widely that shells collected by him are now in many natural history museums of the world. In the 1870s he sent many specimens to England for description by George French Angas who named many species after him.

In 1872 Brazier married Sophia Sarah Jane, sister of George and Richard Rossiter. She shared his interest in conchology and he named several species of shells after her. Aged 38 she died in 1882, survived by three daughters. In 1884 Brazier married Eliza Emma Heinze; of their eight children, five sons and two daughters were living when Brazier died on 20 August 1930 at the Lidcombe Hospital. An old age pensioner, he was buried in the Church of England section of Rookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Museum, Annual Report (Syd, 1880-93)
  • T. Iredale, ‘John Brazier: Conchologist’, Australian Museum Magazine, vol 4, no 4, Oct-Dec 1930, pp 142-43
  • T. Iredale, ‘John Brazier 1842-1930’, Nautilus, 44 (1931)
  • T. Iredale, ‘Obituary Notice: John Brazier’, Journal of Conchology, 19 (1931)
  • T. Iredale, ‘John (William) Brazier’, Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, 1956-57, pp 105-18
  • Select Committee on Sydney Museum, Evidence, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1873-74, 5, 903
  • Brazier letters and papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. F. McMichael, 'Brazier, John William (1842–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John William Brazier (1842-1930), by unknown engraver, 1875

John William Brazier (1842-1930), by unknown engraver, 1875

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, A/S12/06/75/44 [detail]

Life Summary [details]


23 September, 1842
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


20 August, 1930 (aged 87)
Lidcombe, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.