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.

Anthony Musgrave (1895–1959)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Anthony Musgrave (1895-1959), entomologist, was born on 9 July 1895 at Cooktown, Queensland, son of Anthony Musgrave, Antigua-born deputy commissioner and government secretary of British New Guinea, and his Queensland-born wife Elizabeth Anne, née Colles; he was a great-nephew of Sir Anthony Musgrave. Educated at Hayfield Preparatory School, Homebush, and at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore), he joined the Australian Museum, Sydney, as a cadet in February 1910. After a year in the library he was appointed assistant to the entomologist W. J. Rainbow and began his life's work with an insect survey of Sydney's (Royal) Botanic Gardens and an expedition in 1916 to the Barrington Tops, New South Wales.

He studied art with Julian Ashton, passed examinations in zoology at the Sydney Technical College and the University of Sydney (though he did not take a degree), and on Rainbow's death was appointed entomologist at the museum on 1 June 1920. The appointment was later altered to curator of entomology.

Musgrave developed a profound knowledge of insects and arachnida but chose to specialize in Hemiptera and Diptera (notably Nycteribiidae), venomous spiders and ticks. He carried out extensive field-work in every State (except Western Australia), New Guinea, the Great Barrier Reef and Lord Howe Island. He contributed almost two hundred notes and papers (many early ones illustrated by his own drawings) to scientific journals including the Australian Museum Magazine, but is perhaps best remembered for his monumental and meticulous Bibliography of Australian Entomology, 1775-1930; with Biographical Notes on Authors and Collectors, published by the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales in 1932 and subsequently kept up to date on cards. For about twenty years he compiled all the zoological entries for Australian Science Abstracts until they ceased publication in 1957.

In 1920 he joined the Linnean Society of New South Wales and became a member of its subcommittee on phenological observations. He was a council-member of the Zoological Society, 1920-35, president 1929-30, and fellow (1933). He was also a fellow of the Entomological Society, London. In July 1934 he represented the museum at the Museums' Association conference at Bristol, England, and visited Ireland and the Continent.

Musgrave also contributed material to the first two editions of the Australian Encyclopaedia. He joined the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1950 (councillor 1956-57); in 1954 he published a history of his native Cooktown in its Journal and Proceedings of which he and others in 1958 published a comprehensive index. Unmarried, he died suddenly of heart disease in Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, on 4 June 1959 and was cremated with Anglican rites.

An excellent lecturer and photographer, illustrating many of his talks with slides of great technical excellence and beauty, Musgrave was of a retiring nature and disliked publicity. He always found time to identify thousands of specimens brought by a continuous stream of museum visitors. A 'natural gentleman', he enjoyed music, theatre and literature, especially of travel and philosophy, and golf was his favourite weekend relaxation. Punch and the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan appealed to his rich sense of humour; he told his friend and colleague G. P. Whitley that Talbot Mundy's Om (Indianapolis, 1924) was the novel that most influenced him.

In his presidential address to the Zoological Society in 1930 Musgrave had divided the history of Australian entomological research from 1770-1929 into three periods: the Fabrician to 1830, the Westwoodian to 1861 and the Macleayan to 1929. According to Whitley, posterity might well regard Musgrave's great systematic work on the subject from 1930 to 1959 as the Musgravian period.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Strahan (ed), Rare and Curious Specimens (Syd, 1979)
  • Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 1958-59
  • Australian Museum Magazine, 13, no 3, Sept 1959
  • Journal of Society for Bibliography of Natural History, 3, no 7, 1960, p 380
  • Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 45, Jan 1960, p 281
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 86, pt 1, 1961, p 11.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Musgrave, Anthony (1895–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 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]


9 July, 1895
Cooktown, Queensland, Australia


4 June, 1959 (aged 63)
St Leonards, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.