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Theodore Cleveland Roughley (1888–1961)

by Maree Murray and John Roach

This article was published:

Theodore Cleveland Roughley (1888-1961), zoologist and author, was born on 30 September 1888 at Ryde, Sydney, third son of native-born parents John Roughley, commission agent, and his wife Ann, née Small. Ted attended Sydney Boys' High School, passed the senior public examination and began to study medicine at the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1933). More interested in zoology than medicine, he joined the staff of the Technological Museum, Sydney, on 21 August 1911 and became 'an outstanding microscopist and photographer'. He played first-grade cricket for Petersham Cricket Club and baseball for the university, studied art under Julian Ashton and was known for his love of books. At St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 27 March 1915 he married Olive Lambert.

As the museum's economic zoologist, Roughley focused on the commercial use of 'natural resources', particularly fish and seafood. His Fishes of Australia and their Technology (1916), a work of both art and science, contained over 300 pages, 70 colour plates and 60 figures on edible fish. The governor-general Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson greatly admired 'the beauty of the engraving and plates'.

Roughley published more than fifty scholarly papers, and many other articles in magazines and newspapers. 'The Story of the Oyster' appeared in the Australian Museum Magazine in 1925. It was followed by further articles on the Sydney rock oyster that contributed to the growth of the oyster 'industry' in New South Wales. 'The Life History of the Australian Oyster (Ostrea commercialis)', published in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales in 1933, earned him a B.Sc., and his discovery that oysters change sex during their lives brought him international attention. In 1929 Roughley had mounted a major exhibition on commercial products obtainable from sharks in New South Wales waters. Four years later he published a book, The Cult of the Goldfish, which became popular. In the 1930s he was partly responsible for the development of the fish-canning industry. Roughley did not confine his fields of inquiry to one area, as indicated by his work with M. B. Welch on wood borers and his own writing on the pioneer Australian aviator Lawrence Hargrave.

President of the Microscopical (1926-27), the Royal Zoological (1934-36) and the Linnean (1938-39) societies of New South Wales, and of the Great Barrier Reef Game Fish Angling Club (1937), Roughley belonged to the Aquarium Society, Sydney, and several other sporting and angling associations. He had been elected a fellow (1931) of the R.Z.S.N.S.W. On 13 March 1939 he transferred to the fisheries branch of the Chief Secretary's Department as research officer. He was deputy-controller of fisheries (1943-47) and superintendent of fisheries (from 1947).

Roughley set high standards, and could be critical when they were not met. His observation that the specimens in one particular branch of the museum were 'badly arranged and the labelling dreadfully patchy' was characteristic. He helped to organize the annual cricket match between the staff of the Technological Museum and the Australian Museum, hoping it would foster co-operation and friendship between the organizations. In the first match in 1921 he led his team to an easy victory by scoring 115 not out and taking four wickets.

In cricket whites, Roughley appeared tall, elegant and long of limb. He was known as a witty raconteur whose tales were enhanced by his beautifully modulated voice. Following his retirement in September 1952, he continued to write and pursue various interests in fish and fishing. He was a member (1952-60) of the State committee of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. In 1956 he studied the oyster industry in the United States of America and Britain. His article on the Bounty descendants on Norfolk Island featured in the National Geographic Magazine in 1960. He lived at Vaucluse, collected books and paintings by Australian artists, and belonged to the Vaucluse Bowling and Blackheath Golf clubs. Survived by his wife, and their daughter and son, he died on 14 January 1961 at The Entrance and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • People (Sydney), 28 Mar 1951, p 28
  • Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 1960-64, p 39
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 86, 1961, p 295, and for publications
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 2 July 1949
  • J. L. Willis, From Palace to Powerhouse: The First One Hundred Years of the Sydney Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (typescript, 1982, Powerhouse Museum Archives, Sydney)
  • Roughley papers, MRS 311 (Powerhouse Museum Archives, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Maree Murray and John Roach, 'Roughley, Theodore Cleveland (1888–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 September, 1888
Ryde, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


14 January, 1961 (aged 72)
The Entrance, New South Wales, Australia

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.