Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

William Kershaw

William Kershaw's biggest project at the Museum was the preparation of a skeleton from a 28 metre long Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus, washed up at Jan Juc beach in August 1867. The skeleton was exhibited along the west transept of the National Museum building, in the University of Melbourne grounds.

While the whale provided an interesting challenge, Kershaw's life-long passion was for small, delicate insects.

Kershaw was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1820, and migrated to Australia in 1849. After a short time at Sandridge (Port Melbourne), he headed for the Ballarat goldfields in 1851 to try his luck. Returning to Melbourne, he invested in several city and bayside properties. However his spare time was devoted to more naturalist pursuits: collecting butterflies and moths.

During the 1850s he teamed up with Henry Edwards, a famous stage actor. The two travelled widely throughout the colony, enjoying the bush environment. A shared passion for entomology, particularly for Lepidoptera and Coleoptera (butterflies, moths and beetles), saw large collections expertly preserved and meticulously documented.

Kershaw's skills brought him to McCoy's attention, and in 1856 he was offered a temporary position as taxidermist at the National Museum. By 1860 he gained permanent employment as an assistant to McCoy, and in 1864 he was promoted to second taxidermist, ultimately retiring in 1891.

McCoy held Kershaw in high regard. In Decade 20 of the Prodromus the Australian Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa kershawi, was described by McCoy and dedicated to: 'my excellent friend, William Kershaw, the senior taxidermist at the Melbourne Museum, who made our singularly fine and extensive local collection of the Insects of Victoria, and whose unequalled knowledge of the habits and distribution of the habits and distribution of our Insects, and extraordinary zeal and devotion to his duties as my assistant in this branch of the Museum.'

Kershaw died at Prahran on 18 October 1899. This was the same year as McCoy's death, the Museum's relocation to the city site, and probably also when Kershaw's whale skeleton was removed from the University grounds.

Historical Voices:
Australian Painted Lady
William Kershaw, taxidermist of the National Museum of Victoria.
Australian Painted Lady, Pyrameis Kershawi, named in honour of William Kershaw.