Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

McCoy's Lab Staff

Arthur Bartholomew was Frederick McCoy's Lecture Room Assistant and the laboratory was his realm.

From the first day of Spring 1859 Bartholomew worked under McCoy's vigilant direction for 40 years, preparing specimens for the Professors lectures, purchasing materials, maintaining equipment and tending the lab's live animals. His hitherto unacknowledged legacy of more than 700 fine illustrations and subsequent lithographs are a testament to his focus and dedication.

On 24 May 1858 John Leadbeater commenced as taxidermist at the museum. He set to preparing local specimens, as well as 'relaxing' and mounting some of the first consignment of bird skins sent by London naturalist John Gould earlier that year1.

Leadbeater had learnt his trade from both his father, John senior, and his grandfather Benjamin Leadbeater, a renowned London naturalist and taxidermist who dealt in natural history material from across the British Empire. McCoy was so impressed with the work of the younger Leadbeater that he named two species of newly-discovered birds and a possum after him.

By the time of his appointment as Assistant in 1864 William Kershaw was already a regular contributor to the Museum. Kershaw's first passion was insects and his methodical annotations on Bartholomew's illustrations of each insect species reflect a sustained and deferential relationship between the men. Each appear to have been absorbed with their respective tasks and respectful of the other's considerable expertise.

The legacy of the laboratory's hierarchy, with McCoy indisputably at its apex, has rendered figures such as Arthur Bartholomew previously invisible in the historical record; this despite his centrality to the lab's work and the illustration of a constant flow of specimens that passed through its doors.

Melbourne University cloisters. The window on the right was McCoy's original lab and preparatory room.


1RTM Pescott, Collections of a Century: the history of the first hundred years of the National Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, National Museum of Victoria, 1954, p. 42.