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Amateur Scientists: Finding and preserving their contributions to the growth of scientific research in Australia

Shauna Hicks and Kathryn Frankland
In preparation for this paper, we asked ourselves the question: Are there any 'missing' scientists in the John Oxley Library? As it turned out, there are forgotten scientists, both amateur and professional, represented in the Library's holdings. There are personal papers and references to these people can be found in the records of amateur scientific societies such as the Brisbane Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of Queensland and the Anthropology Society of Queensland.

The story of how these three collections came to be in the Library provides an interesting insight into changing attitudes within Australia's scientific community. The records of the two Astronomical Societies came to us through their joint successor body, the Astronomical Association of Queensland. This is in stark contrast to the records of the Anthropology Society of Queensland which was virtually wound up in 1992 following the death of one of its long time members, Stan Colliver.

It is interesting to reflect on why the Anthropology Society has ceased to exist while other amateur scientific societies such as the astronomical societies continue to flourish. Unlike astronomy, the study of anthropology has been dramatically influenced by changing attitudes toward the study of people. In Australia, as in many other countries the investigation and observation of indigenous peoples has changed over time as indigenes assert their right to self determination. Anthropologists have been accused of playing an integral part in the suppression of indigenous people by using 'science' to give credence to theories of racial superiority based on skin colour, appearance and technological development. Over the last twenty years, the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology in Australia have moved in a direction where today no work is carried out without consultation with Aboriginal communities. Moreover, to work as an anthropologist or archaeologist in this country formal tertiary training is essential - the observations and work of amateurs are no longer acceptable despite the fact that so much of the ethnographic primary source material used by anthropologists and archaeologists today was collected by amateurs.

So who are these amateur scientists we are resurrecting from Queensland's scientific past? From the records of the Astronomical and Anthropology Societies we have identified a number of individuals whose contributions to their Society and scientific discipline are worthy of mention.

As with so many organisations, the work of maintaining a Society fell to a few dedicated people like the late Stan Colliver. In the Brisbane Astronomical Society that dedicated individual was Dudley Eglinton. Born in 1850, Eglinton was one of the founders of the Brisbane Astronomical Society which held its first meeting in 1896. With no formal training in astronomy, Eglinton contributed along with 76 other people to the purchase of a telescope to be used by the newly formed Society. Eventually a 6" Grubb Equatorial Refractor was bought to be used jointly for scientific and general purposes and to stimulate interest in astronomy. Unfortunately the telescope was used very little by society members over the years except for Eglinton and a few others. Eventually it was the telescope, the Society's prize possession, which led to the Brisbane Astronomical Society's downfall. After years of feuding between members over ownership and where the telescope should be located, one of the trustees 'surreptitiously' removed the object glass from the telescope and that was the end of the Society. It was not until 1927 that another astronomical society was formed.

Despite the stormy history of the Brisbane Astronomical Society, Eglinton's participation and contribution clearly stand out in the Society's records. To promote astronomy Eglinton worked tirelessly, giving lectures, writing papers and contributing articles to newspapers. He also used the telescope to give public demonstrations and raise money for the Belgian Relief Fund. Such was his dedication, he even offered to give demonstrations on Christmas Day. Although he actually denied that he was an astronomer, Eglinton's abilities were obviously held in high regard and he was appointed a Fellow of the English Royal Astronomical Society (FRAS) in 1912.

An interesting aspect of Eglinton's life was bought to our attention by another collection of records we uncovered in our search - a collection of papers received last year relating to the Eglinton family. To our delight this collection contained astronomical notes made by Eglinton and a record of his public lectures. Of equal interest, however, was a collection of newspaper cuttings of articles by well known geologist and botanist Sydney Skertchly who wrote a column called 'The Naturalist'. It soon became apparent to us that the two men were well acquainted with each other and that Eglinton had supplied Skertchly with information for his column. Within the cuttings we also found some original hand-written scientific poetry by Skertchly and a photograph with the following dedication - 'Dear Dudley Eglinton, who smileth at my `pars', while I sit spellbound while you show me stars!'

After the disintegration of the Brisbane Astronomical Society, Eglinton continued his enthusiastic promotion of astronomy. In 1919 he formed the Queensland Popular Science and Art Society and again sought to purchase a telescope. When the Astronomical Society formed in 1927 he was appointed vice-president even though he was in his late seventies and quite blind, and continued to write papers which his wife delivered on his behalf. He also managed to transfer the funds of the old Brisbane Astronomical Society to the new Society. In 1935 Eglinton was made an honorary life member of the Society. He died two years later in 1937.

It was interesting to note that as Eglinton's health began to fail, his wife gave his papers. The minutes of the Society reveal that Mrs Eglinton was far from ignorant on the subject of astronomy; indeed she and a number of other female members actively contributed by presenting papers and debating the latest theories on subjects such as comet behaviour. In the original Brisbane Astronomical Society constitution it was stated that 'Ladies shall be on the same footing as gentlemen'. It appears, judging by the records of the meetings, where the contributions of both sexes were duly noted, that this ruling was upheld. In 1929, for example, the minutes record that society member Mrs. Dafter had discovered a variable star in Centaurus.

In keeping with the tradition started by Eglinton, Society member William Newell, Queensland's State Government Astronomical Observer between 1947 and 1957, ran classes in astronomy and telescope-making at adult education centres, which attracted many new members to the Society. A collection of photographs donated with the Society's records show examples of home made telescopes and Society members lining up to view the night sky. Today in Queensland there are a number of amateur astronomical associations, with branches throughout the state, which continue to promote the study of astronomy in Australia.

The Anthropology Society of Queensland was founded in 1948 by Professor H.J. Wilkinson and Dr L.P. Winterbotham, to promote the study of anthropology. While the Society never maintained a large membership, its work did generate public interest. The work of Winterbotham in his capacity as honorary curator of the Anthropology Museum at the University of Queensland provides a fascinating insight into how ethnographic collections were assembled. As a result of Winterbotham's connection with the Anthropology Society the records of the Anthropology Museum have been preserved within the official records of the Society. As a doctor of medicine, Winterbotham had no formal anthropological training, yet he devoted most of his life to the study of anthropology and was himself an enthusiastic collector of artefacts. His personal collection of artefacts formed the initial museum collection when he donated it to the University in 1948. Winterbotham was also influential in introducing the study of anthropology into the university curriculum.

Two series of inward and outward correspondence document Winterbotham's attempts to purchase artefacts for the Museum and to gather information on Australian Aborigines. An advertising leaflet issued by the Anthropology Museum, found amongst the correspondence, illustrates the way in which material was obtained. The collection of artefacts, particularly secret/sacred objects, was encouraged as these items were highly prized by museums for display purposes. The feelings of Aborigines in regard to the collection of this material were not considered. No doubt Winterbotham and other members of the Anthropology Society had the best intentions in collecting the material culture of a people they believed were dying out. As noted in the leaflet, the Museum sought assistance from the public to acquire relics while they were still available and before they disappeared. A number of Winterbotham's contacts procured artefacts for the Museum on a regular basis and included quite detailed descriptions of the objects in regards to their provenance and their use. The importance of this type of documentation has more recently been brought to our attention through liaison with the Anthropology Museum. It appears that donor registers were not always kept, and information about many of the Museum's artefacts is documented only in Winterbotham's correspondence.

Winterbotham had many informants from all over Australia, some of whom were members of the Society. One such informant was Alice Duncan-Kemp, well known author of books such as Where Strange Paths Go Down and Our Channel Country. Brought up in far south-west Queensland, Duncan-Kemp (born in 1901) was in close contact with local Aborigines for much of her life. While claiming to be more of a naturalist than an anthropologist, Duncan-Kemp was a keen observer of Aboriginal culture and recorded a wealth of information about different indigenous groups from the Channel country in her books. She corresponded regularly with Winterbotham who appears to have bombarded her with questions relating to Aborigines.

Most of the people Winterbotham corresponded with were not trained anthropologists or archaeologists, yet like Alice Duncan-Kemp they provided him with a significant amount of detail based on their own observations, or on recounting information related to them by others. Many of his informants supplied detailed linguistic information; others described archaeological sites, giving their locations and often the contents of the sites.

Society members contributed to this body of knowledge in a number of ways. One major project undertaken by members of the Anthropology Society was the recording of Bora grounds. Many of the Bora rings around south-east Queensland were mapped and photographed by Society members. A number of stone arrangements were also documented. While the manner in which these sites were recorded may be questioned by archaeologists today, the fact that some documentation exists revealing the nature of these sites as they were 40 to 50 years ago is invaluable.

Names of people found in these collections led us ever deeper into the Library's holdings. An example from Reginald Hurd's cutting books demonstrates how many of our collections interrelate with each other. One page in Book No. 6 has the following newspaper cuttings - Clement Wragge describing 'Astronomical Phenomena', Archibald Meston writing about the 'Talgai Skull' and Sir Edgeworth David's commenting on 'Fossils in Queensland'. Hurd's principal interest was conchology but, as his cutting books demonstrate, his interests were wide ranging and should not be overlooked by researchers.

This paper has demonstrated that the personal records of enthusiastic amateur scientists such as Eglinton, Winterbotham and Duncan-Kemp can contribute to the overall body of scientific knowledge. In most instances they did not work in isolation but were members of amateur societies and regularly corresponded with each other.

It is vital that archivists seek out the records of these societies and to try to recover the personal papers of prominent individual members. We believe that much of Australia's scientific history and knowledge remains hidden in these types of collections. Our own experience at John Oxley Library has revealed a number of individuals worthy of a place in the next edition of the Guide to the Archives of Science In Australia: Records of Individuals.

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