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James Andrew Kershaw (1866–1946)

by R. T. M. Pescott

This article was published:

James Andrew Kershaw (1866-1946), scientist, was born on 13 April 1866 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, son of William Kershaw, taxidermist, and his second wife Elizabeth, née Boyde, both from the north of England. He was educated at Alma Road State School, St Kilda, and later at East St Kilda Grammar School.

On 1 October 1883 Kershaw was appointed to the National Museum as assistant taxidermist, helping his father who for many years had been in charge of preserving and mounting the museum's 'unstuffed collection' of insects, skeletons, fossils and shells. The director, (Sir) Frederick McCoy, later made James his first assistant, giving him technical training in general zoology and museum administration.

Kershaw's training took place during an exciting new era of taxonomic zoology centrally linked with the museum. Under the leadership of McCoy, Sir Ferdinand Mueller and Alfred Howitt, he worked with enthusiastic naturalists such as Charles Gabriel, Charles French, T. S. Hall, (Sir) Baldwin Spencer, George Lyell and O. A. Sayce. With the help of French and Lyell he branched out into the broader fields of entomology, a subject in which he continued to specialize.

In July 1890 James Kershaw was promoted to taxidermist; his father retired a year later. On McCoy's death in 1899 the museum was transferred to the Public Library site and Professor Spencer was appointed honorary director. Kershaw was made curator of the zoological collection. He succeeded Spencer as director in 1929 and on retirement in 1931 was appointed first honorary curator of zoology.

Kershaw travelled widely on collecting trips for the museum, accompanying the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union to Bass Strait in 1908. He visited the Bass Strait islands again in 1909, accompanied Dr W. Macgillivray to the Barrier Reef in Queensland in 1913, undertook a special investigation into the habits of the platypus in the Hopkins River, Victoria, in 1911, and in 1921 visited Ooldea in Western Australia, collecting ethnological and zoological material.

With others, Kershaw was responsible in 1908 for the reservation of Wilson's Promontory as a national park and sanctuary for native fauna and flora; he was honorary secretary to the park's committee of management in 1908-46. He became a member of the Royal Society of Victoria in 1900, a councillor in 1902, president in 1918, honorary secretary in 1920-23, honorary librarian in 1924-25 and trustee in 1922. He was also a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society of London and a corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London. An active member of the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria from 1888 and later president, he published extensively in the Victorian Naturalist, including ten papers on entomology.

On 23 April 1889 at Windsor he had married Elsie Charlotte Brown with Church of Christ forms. He died on 16 February 1946 at his home in Windsor, predeceased by his wife and survived by three sons. He was buried in Brighton cemetery. Kindly and sincere, he was always encouraging to young people, with whom he was very popular. However, when necessary he could be firm and forceful.

Kershaw's most outstanding contributions to the National Museum were the acquisition by donation of the H. L. White collection of Australian birds and eggs in 1927, and the George Lyell collection of Australian Lepidoptera in 1931.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Musgrave, Bibliography of Australian Entomology 1775-1930 (Syd, 1932)
  • R. T. M. Pescott, Collections of a Century (Melb, 1954)
  • Victorian Naturalist, 62 (1945-46), p 243.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. T. M. Pescott, 'Kershaw, James Andrew (1866–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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