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Harald Kristian Dannevig (1871–1914)

by S. Murray-Smith

This article was published:

Harald Kristian Dannevig (1871-1914), applied scientist, was born on 2 February 1871 on the island of Hisoy, near Arendal, Norway, son of Gunder Mathisen Dannevig, master mariner, and his wife Elise Birgitte, née Smith. His father developed fish hatcheries and came to be regarded as the leading fisheries expert in Europe. From childhood Dannevig was deeply involved in practical fisheries work, netting, steam and sail trawling, and working in his father's hatcheries. He studied at the University of Christiania (Oslo) under Professor G. O. Sars, but in fact his formal educational qualifications were at secondary level. In 1894 Dannevig was selected by the Fishery Board for Scotland to supervise the completion of marine fish hatcheries at Dunbar, and here he met Annie Sanson, daughter of a local draper, and married her on 17 May 1897.

Transferred to the marine station at the Bay of Nigg, near Aberdeen, Dannevig designed new plant and a tidal spawning pond, acted as consultant to the Lancashire Fisheries Committee and in Italy, and spent much time at sea on trawlers. Following agitation about the cost of fish in New South Wales and the under-development of the local fishing industry, Dannevig was chosen by the New South Wales government as the most competent expert available in Europe and was appointed superintendent of fisheries investigations and fish hatcheries in May 1902.

Dannevig reached Sydney in August, in charge of what was said to be the most elaborate attempt to transport live fish ever made: some six hundred plaice, with a number of other species, were landed and placed in holding ponds at Port Hacking, where at Gunnamatta Bay he constructed a hatchery. Within a few weeks of his arrival he was working with D. G. Stead both on land-based experiments and on sea investigations. While his major acclimatization attempts failed, Dannevig and his helpers made headway in establishing the potentiality of fisheries development, and laid the basis for the later (and ill-fated) purchase of State trawlers by the New South Wales government. He was naturalized in 1905.

Dannevig's relations with the chairman of the Board of Fisheries, Frank Farnell, were not comfortable, and in July 1908 he became Commonwealth director of fisheries at a salary of £600 a year (reduced to £520 in 1911 for absence without leave and for over-indulgence in alcohol). His work now centred on the Fisheries' investigation ship Endeavour, a 331-ton (335 tonnes) trawler especially built for the purpose. Operating out of Melbourne, over the next six years Dannevig identified 6000 sq. miles (15,540 km²) of trawlable fishing grounds between Port Stephens in New South Wales and the south of Tasmania, and an extra 4000 sq. miles (10,360 km²) of excellent fishing grounds in the Great Australian Bight. He published a series of admirable reports and assiduously collected museum specimens of interest.

On the outbreak of World War I the Endeavour was ordered to Macquarie Island to relieve the meteorological station there. Dannevig accompanied the mission out of a sense of duty. The Endeavour left Macquarie Island on 3 December 1914 and was never seen again; she was presumed by a marine court of inquiry to have foundered in a heavy gale on 5 December. He was survived by his wife, son and daughter.

Dannevig carried out pioneering work of great scientific importance in a field still neglected in Australia, and long before the establishment of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. He was a devoted fieldworker, as well as being an amiable colleague and affectionate family man. Heavy, tall, fresh-faced and good-looking, with steady blue eyes, a large moustache and brown hair brushed up en brosse, he wanted to convince Australians that they had rich fisheries resources as yet untouched. He was an expert fly-fisherman and was interested in photography and yachting. Madame Dannevig, in her youth a singer of some note, was left almost penniless, but developed a career teaching in girls' schools; she died in 1940.

A shell from the Great Australian Bight and an island in the Glennie Group, off Wilson's Promontory, were named after Dannevig, as was a large trawler commissioned in 1946 by the Commonwealth Fisheries' school at Cronulla, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Department of Trade and Customs, Biological Results of the Fishing Experiments Carried on by the F.I.S. ‘Endeavour’, 1909-1914, vols 1-6 (Syd, 1911-1933)
  • British Australasian, 4 Mar 1915
  • naturalization file, A1 05/4620, and public service record (IS) SP515 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

S. Murray-Smith, 'Dannevig, Harald Kristian (1871–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 February, 1871
Arendal, Norway


5 December, 1914 (aged 43)
at sea

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