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Frederick George Waterhouse (1815–1898)

by Darrell N. Kraehenbuehl

This article was published:

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Frederick George Waterhouse (1815-1898), by Stump & Co.

Frederick George Waterhouse (1815-1898), by Stump & Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 3623

Frederick George Waterhouse (1815-1898), naturalist and museum curator, was born on 25 August 1815 near London, son of James Edward Waterhouse, a notary public, and his wife Mary, née Newman. He worked at the British Museum with his elder brother George, an eminent entomologist and zoologist. On 7 July 1852 he married Fanny Shepherd Abbott (d.1875) of London and soon sailed for South Australia in the Sydney. He made an unsuccessful visit to the Victorian goldfields and worked with C. T. Hargrave surveying the Adelaide hills. In October 1860 he became curator of the South Australian Institute Museum which opened in January 1862.

On 5 December 1861 Waterhouse accompanied John McDouall Stuart on his expedition across the continent. His enthusiasm and scientific zeal irritated Stuart but other members of the group found him congenial and praised his unselfishness. Several of his instruments and best specimens were lost or destroyed, but he returned to Adelaide on 21 January 1863 with a fine series of bird and mammal skins, insects and plants, including the first collection of the rare Princess Alexandra Parrot, Polytelis alexandrae. He received a government bonus of £100 and reported his observations to the commissioner of crown lands.

Waterhouse was a corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London. From 1859 a member of the Adelaide Philosophical (Royal) Society, he was its vice-president in 1869 and read two papers to it, 'On a remarkable insect Stylops' and 'Observations on the Palaeontology of Australia'; his article 'Entomology' is in the society's 1866-67 annual report. He contributed the fifteen-page 'Fauna of South Australia' for William Harcus's South Australia: Its History, Resources, and Productions. About 1872, with his friend Albert Molineaux, he found forty species of fish previously unknown in South Australian waters, later described by François Laporte in Melbourne.

Waterhouse was one of the foremost naturalists of his era; he gained much repute for his 'labour of love' in building up the early collections at the South Australian Museum. He has been criticized for exchanging a great variety of material with overseas museums, and the loss of many valuable Australian collections must be regretted; but in the nineteenth century exotic material was normal in museums. In 1874 a commission inquiring into the institute and museum praised his zeal and ability despite 'a very low salary [£220] and insufficient space'.

In February 1882 Waterhouse resigned and took eight months leave in England; he returned to live at Wandeen, Burnside, until 1897 when he moved to Jamestown to live with a son Edward George. He died of senile decay at Mannahill on 7 September 1898 and was buried in St George's Anglican cemetery, Magill. His family included five sons and one daughter and his estate was sworn for probate at £346. His name is commemorated by a river in the Northern Territory and several natural history species.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Whittell, The Literature of Australian Birds (Perth, 1954)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1863 (125), 1874, 2 (23)
  • R. Tate, ‘Anniversary address’, Royal Society of South Australia, Transactions, 1877-78, 1882-83
  • J. H. Maiden, Presidential address Section D, Report 11th Meeting, Australasian Assn for the Advancement of Science, vol 2 (Adel, 1907)
  • SA Museum, Records, 12 (1956)
  • Register (Adelaide), 24, 25 Feb 1863, 15 Apr 1872, 12 Aug 1875, 9 Sept 1898
  • Evening Journal (London), 25 June 1898
  • Observer (Adelaide), 16 July, 10 Sept, 1898
  • L. A. Gilbert, A Naturalist and diaries, relating to F. G. Waterhouse, MS 41/2, and Australian botanists, biography and bibliographic files (Australian Academy of Science Library).

Citation details

Darrell N. Kraehenbuehl, 'Waterhouse, Frederick George (1815–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederick George Waterhouse (1815-1898), by Stump & Co.

Frederick George Waterhouse (1815-1898), by Stump & Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 3623

Life Summary [details]


25 August, 1815
London, Middlesex, England


7 September, 1898 (aged 83)
Manna Hill, South Australia, Australia

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