Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Claude Marshall (1896–1976)

by Noel M. Haysom

This article was published:

Thomas Claude Marshall (1896-1976), ichthyologist and museum preparator, was born on 2 January 1896 at Red Hill, Brisbane, son of Joseph Walter Marshall, a clerk who came from London, and his Queensland-born wife Rosalie, née Brigg. Educated at Petrie Terrace State School, Tom joined the Queensland Museum on 10 January 1912 and trained as a cadet-preparator. He became a protégé of the ichthyologist J. D. Ogilby who instilled in him a lifelong interest in fish taxonomy.

In 1915-17 Marshall served full time in the Militia, working at the 13th Australian General Hospital, Enoggera. Returning to the museum, he was promoted artificer in 1919. At Christ Church, Milton, on 29 March 1922 he married with Anglican rites Dorothy Agnes O'Donnell, a 21-year-old shop-assistant. To hone his skills as a preparator, he studied modelling under L. J. Harvey at the Central Technical College. In the 1920s and 1930s he produced an excellent series of dioramas, displays, and models and casts in the field of natural history. He made two documentary films, Enchanted Regions of the Great Barrier Reef (1939) and Roving Coral Seas (1940), which featured Queensland's maritime natural history and scenic attractions.

Seconded (1942) to the Queensland Department of Harbours and Marine, Marshall was appointed assistant chief inspector of fisheries in 1943. His principal task was to supervise wartime manpower regulations in relation to the fishing industry. From 1946 he held the post of ichthyologist. With the aim of developing a small scientific section within the department, he collected many specimens of the State's large and varied fish fauna. He began a journal, Ichthyological Notes. Using his connexions with museums, he obtained additional material for the library which became one of the most comprehensive of its kind in Australia and was named after him.

Despite his lack of academic training, Marshall was a careful and exact taxonomist, if somewhat conservative. He had a remarkable memory for taxonomic references. His methods of classification were at odds with those of his old friend and colleague Gilbert Whitley of the Australian Museum, Sydney. In their correspondence, they nicknamed each other 'Lumper' and 'Splitter', but without animus. Although he was a keen collector and breeder of fish for aquariums, Marshall opposed the release of exotic species into Australian waters. He particularly fought against the use of Gambusia and Poecilia for controlling mosquitoes.

For Marshall, the publication of his monograph, Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coastal Waters of Queensland (Sydney, 1964), marked the pinnacle of his career as a scientist. Others, however, saw his main contribution as establishing the scientific section in his department, the forerunner of the Queensland government's comprehensive fisheries research services. Marshall retired in June 1962. Survived by his wife, son and three daughters, he died on 30 June 1976 in Brisbane and was cremated with Methodist forms. A pen-and-ink portrait by Percy Eagles is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Mather et al, A Time for a Museum (Brisb, 1986)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 1 July 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

Noel M. Haysom, 'Marshall, Thomas Claude (1896–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 January, 1896
Red Hill, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


30 June, 1976 (aged 80)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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