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Charles John Gabriel (1879–1963)

by Brian J. Smith

This article was published:

Charles John Gabriel (1879-1963), conchologist and naturalist, was born on 28 May 1879 at Collingwood, Melbourne, son of Joseph Gabriel, from Wales, and his wife Elizabeth Lovatt, née Baker, from Worcester, England. His father, a pharmacist, was a very early member and office-bearer of the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria and an honorary collector for the National Museum of Victoria; his reports on marine expeditions to the Bass Strait islands were a major part of the twenty-one papers he published in the Victorian Naturalist.

Charles Gabriel was registered as a pharmacist in February 1902, and had a retail shop in Victoria Street, Collingwood. He married Laura Violet Marian Vale, daughter of a pharmaceutical chemist, at Holy Trinity Church, Kensington, on 20 April 1910; they had two sons.

From an early age Charles was a keen shell collector and, under the influence of his father, he arranged and classified that collection in a scientific manner. In 1900 he became a member of the Field Naturalists' Club and in 1908 published his first paper, 'Marine molluscs found near Stony Point, April 1908', in the Victorian Naturalist. At that time Gabriel began a twenty-three-year collaboration with John Gatliff on additions and alterations to the latter's Catalogue of the Marine Shells of Victoria. In all they wrote twenty-seven joint papers in which they proposed forty-five new taxa and recorded many species for the first time for Victoria. After Gatliff's death in 1935, Gabriel continued this work alone. In 1936 he published a handbook on Victorian Sea Shells and in 1962 with J. H. Macpherson, the definitive Marine Molluscs of Victoria.

Gabriel was the first Victorian conchologist seriously to study and describe the land and freshwater molluscs of the State. James Cox and Charles Hedley in 1911 had published a preliminary paper on the land snails of Victoria but Gabriel devoted much time to documenting the fauna in a series of nine papers including a twenty-six-page Catalogue of the Land Snails of Victoria in 1930, a paper on The Freshwater Mollusca of Victoria in 1939 and additions to his Catalogue in 1947. These still form the basis for the study of non-marine molluscs in Victoria. He described twenty-three new non-marine taxa and made many new records and observations on the fauna. Altogether Gabriel published fifty papers on molluscs in which were erected 110 new taxa.

Gabriel was appointed honorary curator of shells at the National Museum of Victoria in 1903 and later honorary associate in conchology. He was awarded the Australian Natural History medallion in 1958 for his outstanding contribution to Australian malacology. Survived by his sons, he died on 19 June 1963 at his Toorak home and was cremated. Gabriel's estate was valued for probate at £28,961. His very extensive shell collection and library were bequeathed to the National Museum of Victoria. The collection, housed in four magnificent glass-fronted cabinets, contains items of incalculable value because it includes many secondary types obtained on exchange from such early workers as Sir Joseph Verco, William May, Hedley, Tom Iredale and many others.

Select Bibliography

  • Victorian Naturalist, 80 (1963-64), p 227
  • Malacological Society of Australia, Journal, 1 (1969), no 12, p 32.

Citation details

Brian J. Smith, 'Gabriel, Charles John (1879–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 June 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]


28 May, 1879
Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


19 June, 1963 (aged 84)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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