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Charles Hedley was born in Masham, Yorkshire, on the 27th February, 1862. He was initially educated at Eastbourne College, but due to poor health he had to leave school and continue his education at home. Around the time he left the school his parents took Charles and his brother Cyril to live in France.
Hedley moved to New Zealand in 1881 in the hope that the climate there would alleviate the symptoms of his chronic asthma. However his health did not improve, so he moved to Sydney in 1882 and from there to Hay in inland New South Wales. Again the climate did not help reduce his asthma symptoms, so he tried Queensland where he discovered he was most healthy when living close to the sea.
Some years later, his arm was permanently damaged as a result of an accident so that he could no longer continue his life as a fruit-grower, and in 1888 he moved to Brisbane where he worked at the Queensland Museum as a volunteer. The following year he was employed by the Queensland Museum.
In 1890, Sir William McGregor, Administrator of British New Guinea, offered Hedley the chance to return to Port Moresby with him. Hedley jumped at the chance and made a considerable collection of land shells in Milne Bay before he caught malaria and had to return to Australia.
On arrival in Brisbane he set about studying his new collection but, feeling that he would have better facilities in Sydney he moved there in late 1890. He was appointed Assistant to the Conchologist at the Australian Museum on the 1st April 1891, and became Conchologist when John William Brazier resigned in 1896.
He seemed set fair for an illustrious career at the Museum when he was appointed Assistant Curator in 1908, and then Acting Director in January 1920, after the death of Robert Etheridge Junior. Unfortunately Hedley had clashed with a very influential trustee, the auditor-general Frederick Albert Coglan, over a proposed superannuation scheme. Coglan ensured that Hedley did not become Director of the Museum but was pushed sideways to become Principal Keeper of Collections. Hedley held that position for three years before resigning in March 1924 to become Scientific Director of the Great Barrier Reef Committee.
His scientific achievements were many and varied:
- He took part in the Royal Society of London’s 1896 expedition to Funafuti
- He served on the council of the Linnean Society of NSW for over 20 years, was elected president in 1909 and held that office until 1911.
- He was President of the Biology Section of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in 1909
- He was a member of the Royal Society of NSW and was its president in 1914
- He was a Fellow of the Malacological Society of London and became a vice-president in 1923
- He was awarded the David Syme prize for Scientific Research in 1916
- He was awarded the Clarke medal in 1925 ‘for meritorious contributions to Geology, Mineralogy and Natural History of Australasia’.
His writings, although largely on the subject of conchology, also covered ethnology and zoo-geography, and were published in a wide range of scientific journals in America, Great Britain and New Zealand, as well as all states of Australia. As well as his scientific publications, he produced a book called ‘Wild Animals of the World: being a popular guide to Taronga Zoological Park’ at the behest of the zoo’s Trustees. The book received an enthusiastic review which claimed it provided ‘…a scientifically correct, yet interesting, description of each creature’.
Although his work kept him very busy, he regularly took long walks, usually with congenial companions, and he always found time to provide encouragement and advice to younger colleagues.
In September 1926, when he was preparing to visit Japan for the Pan-Pacific Science Congress, he caught a cold and died at his home in Sydney. The staff at the Museum ‘many of whom had been associated with Mr. Hedley for a long period and had experienced many kindnesses at his hands’ were very saddened by the news of his death and he was greatly missed by a wide circle of friends and colleagues.
For further information:
- Hedley, Charles (1862-1926) by Denis Fairfax published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983
- Hedley, Charles (1862-1926) published in Dictionary of Australian Biography by Perceval Searle (Gutenberg)
- Obituary published in Australian Museum Magazine vol 11, no 12 Oct-Dec 1926 p403
- Charles Hedley (1862-1926) (Memorial Series No.5) published in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales v61, 1936
- "The Book of the Zoo." The Farmer and Settler (Sydney, NSW : 1906 - 1957) 28 Jan 1920: 8. Web. 30 Oct 2014 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123308456.