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Herbert James Carter (1858–1940)

by G. T. Franki

This article was published:

Herbert James Carter (1858-1940), schoolmaster and entomologist, was born on 23 April 1858 at Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, son of James Carter, farmer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Freeman. Educated at Aldenham Grammar School, Hertfordshire, and Jesus College, Cambridge (B.A., 1881), he was a keen cricketer and, like his father who bred hunters, loved horses, the open air and music. In 1882 he migrated to Australia, arriving in Sydney in the Potosi on 19 February, and was appointed assistant mathematics master at Sydney Grammar School. On 21 December 1882 at St Andrew's Cathedral he married Antoinette Charlotte Moore, of Haskerton Manor, Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Helped by his wife, Carter had charge of various houses used as hostels for some of the boys and became senior mathematics master. In 1902 he fulfilled a Utopian dream of running an enlightened girls' school when he bought Ascham, Darling Point, from its founder Miss Marie Wallis, and became its principal. That year he leased the mansion, Mount Adelaide, with its lovely grounds, for the school, and in 1908 bought Glenrock. In the curriculum he emphasized mathematics, singing and natural history, and established a matriculation class. He was a council-member of the Teachers' Association of New South Wales and of Barker College, and worked on the Teachers' Central Registry. In 1914 Carter retired as principal and sold Ascham to Margaret Bailey.

During World War I Carter was a founding member of the executive committee of the Australian branch of the British Red Cross Society and in 1916 joined the general committee of the Universal Service League. His three sons enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and one daughter Ursula served overseas with the Australian Army Nursing Service: his second son Edward died of wounds in 1915. Carter was active later in the Big Brother Movement.

His friend Dr Charles Dagnall Clark had aroused his interest in entomology, especially in the Coleoptera (beetles and weevils), and he began collecting with his schoolboy sons from his cottage at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains. His early friendship with Commander J. J. Walker, R. N., later president of the Entomological Society, London, gave him contacts with English scientists and the British Museum. An energetic collector, Carter made numerous field-trips throughout New South Wales and other States; of particular interest were his visits to areas of comparative isolation: Mount Kosciusko in 1898, 1900 and 1905 and Barrington Tops, New South Wales, in 1916 and 1925-27. He recorded many of his field experiences in his book Gulliver in the Bush (Sydney, 1933); companions included (Sir) Edgeworth David, Launcelot Harrison, Joseph Maiden and G. A. Waterhouse; in bad weather he gave them detective stories to read.

Carter became particularly interested in the families Tenebrionidae, Buprestidae, Cistelidae and Dryopidae as well as certain groups of the Cerambycidae and Colydiidae. His work has formed the basis of all future studies on these sections of the Australian fauna. He described some 44 new genera and 1167 new species in his papers, as well as another 11 genera and 67 species with E. H. Zeck. He published 65 papers, 7 with Zeck, in learned journals, and was a meticulous worker whose descriptions of new species were usually accompanied by revisionary work on the various families and genera, often by keys to assist other workers in determinations.

Carter was a council-member of the Australian Naturalists' Society of New South Wales in 1905-07 (vice-president 1907-09) and the local Linnean Society in 1920-39 (president 1925-26); he was also a fellow of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales from 1931 and of the Entomological Society, London, and honorary entomologist to the Australian Museum, Sydney. With A. W. Jose he was joint editor of The Australian Encyclopaedia (Sydney, 1925-26). He used his entomological knowledge to control pests in his garden.

Predeceased by his wife, Carter died on 16 April 1940 at his home at Wahroonga and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by two daughters and two sons, one of whom was Herbert Gordon. He had donated a collection of Coleoptera to the National Museum, Melbourne; after his death another collection was given to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Canberra. Portraits by his sister Rosa Carter are held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Musgrave, Bibliography of Australian Entomology, 1775-1930, and 1931-1958 (Syd, 1932)
  • M. Flower (ed), The Story of Ascham School (Syd, 1952)
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 68 (1943)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Apr 1940
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. T. Franki, 'Carter, Herbert James (1858–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 April, 1858
Marlborough, Wiltshire, England


16 April, 1940 (aged 81)
Wahroonga, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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