Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Henry Gatliff (1848–1935)

by Brian J. Smith

This article was published:

John Henry Gatliff (1848-1935), conchologist and naturalist, was born on 17 May 1848 at Leeds, Yorkshire, England, son of John Gatliff, broker, and his wife Eliza, née Beaumont. The family migrated to Victoria in 1857 and settled at Geelong. He is reported as having joined the Bank of Victoria in Ballarat at the age of 18, but no further details have been found of his early life. He joined the Commercial Bank of Australia in 1880 and was appointed manager in 1885, first at Heathcote, then at Collingwood (1889) and Carlton (1895). As inspector for the bank from 1910 until his retirement in 1912, he travelled widely in Australia. He had married 20-year-old Emma McLean at Christ Church, St Kilda, on 9 June 1879 and they had nine sons and two daughters.

Gatliff became interested in natural objects and natural history early in life. He joined the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria soon after its founding in 1880 and published his first scientific paper on 'The Pecten' in the Southern Science Record in 1883. From the start he was a serious shell collector and quickly developed an interest in Victorian marine molluscs, few species of which had previously been studied or recorded. He published a two-part list of marine molluscs of the Victorian coast in 1887 and 1888, and described his first new species of Victorian molluscs, Conus segravei, in 1891. This was the start of his lifelong scientific contribution of documenting the Victorian marine mollusc fauna, during which he published sixty-one papers, either alone or in collaboration, describing ninety-three new genera and species and recording many others from Victorian waters for the first time.

From 1898 to 1906 he published with G. B. Pritchard a Catalogue of the marine shells of Victoria (in nine parts) and a companion series of papers giving details of the new records, including descriptions of thirty-five new taxa. After the Catalogue was completed Pritchard returned to his work on fossils and Gatliff continued the work on the Victorian marine molluscs. He published additions to the Catalogue alone in 1907 and then began twenty-three years of collaboration with Charles Gabriel on additions and alterations to the Catalogue, again with a companion series of papers to describe the new species. Together Gatliff and Gabriel wrote twenty-seven papers and erected forty-five new taxa.

Gatliff also had an interest in Australian shells generally: he described a new species of volute, Voluta (Amoria) spenceriana, from North Queensland in 1908 and sent another species, to be described by J. B. Sowerby as Voluta (Amoria) gatliffi, from Port Keats, Northern Territory, in 1910.

Gatliff was appointed honorary conchologist to the National Museum of Victoria in 1933. Survived by his wife, six sons and a daughter, he died on 14 September 1935 at South Yarra and was cremated. His collection of marine molluscs, consisting of 35,000 specimens including forty Holotypes, was purchased for £200 from his estate by the museum and forms the basis for its reference collection of Victorian marine molluscs.

Select Bibliography

  • Victorian Naturalist, 52 (1935-36), p 117, 64 (1947-48), p 247
  • Malacological Society of Australia, Journal, 1 (1969), no 12, p 32.

Citation details

Brian J. Smith, 'Gatliff, John Henry (1848–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 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]


17 May, 1848
Leeds, Yorkshire, England


14 September, 1935 (aged 87)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.