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.

Alfred Keith Minchin (1899–1963)

by Joyce Gibberd

This article was published:

Alfred Keith Minchin is a minor entry in this article

Alfred Corker Minchin (1857-1934), zoo director, was born on 24 September 1857 in Victoria, son of Richard Ernest Minchin and his wife Ellen Rebecca, née Ocock. Educated at North Adelaide Grammar School, he worked for land agents G. W. Cotton and Green & Co. before running his own agency in 1883-93. He gained zoological knowledge at the Melbourne zoo and was twice honorary director of the South Australian Zoological and Acclimatization Society. He became honorary assistant director in 1891 and, succeeding his father, director of the Adelaide Zoological Gardens from 1893 until his death. The society's council was a powerful body whose members collected during their overseas trips; but it depended on an annual government grant and benefactions. Minchin added new buildings and stock to the zoo; but by its silver jubilee in 1903 the annual report reflected hard times: the replacement of the hippopotamus, the purchase of giraffes and polar bears 'and other ideals of the energetic director, Mr Minchin, must remain unrealized unless the Society is more liberally supported'.

There was progress in 1908-14; grants facilitated reconstructive work, new animals drew crowds. The council found Minchin 'a most competent authority' who 'has made a paradise of the gardens'. In 1911 he was elected to the Zoological Society of London. The 1915 drought and further slashing of grants meant that the zoo deteriorated, not recovering fully until 1925.

He had married Florence Euphemia Scammell on 9 October 1888. They lived happily with their daughter and two sons in the stately director's residence. A tall, imposing man, Minchin 'held court' on Sunday mornings at the zoo where the lemurs were his favourites. He was a member of the Adelaide Club. He died on 20 September 1934 and was buried in North Road cemetery.

His second son Ronald Richard Luther (1904-1940) was born on 26 February 1904 at the zoo and was educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter. In 1923 he joined the zoo's staff. In 1929, as assistant director, he bought new species from Java and Singapore, and from New Zealand in 1933. He was director from 1935. Ron, whose hobby was bird watching, was an aviculturist, specializing in Australian parrots and breeding rare types, particularly seven members of the genus Neophema. New aviaries were built, attendances increased, and in 1938 the society became the Royal Zoological Society of South Australia.

Ron had married Elizabeth Margaret Ashwin on 21 October 1936; they had one son. Quiet and unobtrusively efficient, he had a distinctive sense of humour. He died of cancer on 4 February 1940. His wife scattered his ashes before the parrots' cages.

Alfred Keith (1899-1963), Alfred Minchin's elder son, was born on 24 May 1899 at the zoo and was also educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter. In South Africa and Britain in 1924-25 he collected animals for the Adelaide zoo. He opened a snake park in the north parklands in 1929 with about 200 species. Two years later he was crippled by poliomyelitis, having to use crutches and, later, a wheel-chair. But in 1936 he expanded, and introduced koala bears; his notes, 'Weaning of young koalas', were published in 1937. He released surplus koalas onto his land on Kangaroo Island. His Koala Farm closed in 1960; council inspections had criticized the stables and enclosures. He also ran an aquarium off the Glenelg jetty, 'the best bob's worth on or off the beach'. By 1942, however, the Glenelg Council deplored the aquarium's disgraceful state; it was destroyed in 1948.

Keith was controversial: some found him dominating, argumentative and over-fond of publicity; to others he was jovial, one of Adelaide's characters. Despite his disability he was an adventurous photographer. Although vice-president of the zoological society from 1935, he rarely attended meetings. Unmarried, he died on 1 August 1963 and was buried near his father.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. Rix, Royal Zoological Society of South Australia, 1878-1978 (Adel, 1978)
  • South Australian Zoological and Acclimatization Society, Annual Report, 1883-1936
  • Royal Zoological Society of South Australia, Annual Report, 1936-63
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 21 Sept 1934, 3 Aug 1963
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 15 Feb 1940
  • Adelaide City Council Archives
  • South Australian Harbours Board Archives
  • private information

Citation details

Joyce Gibberd, 'Minchin, Alfred Keith (1899–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 May, 1899
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


1 August, 1963 (aged 64)