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Ellis Le Geyt Troughton was one of a cohort of cadets who started work at the Australian Museum in 1908; a time when ‘…working conditions were poor, like the pay’.
He was fifteen years old when he arrived at the Museum, and initially he was classed as a general assistant. This meant that he helped out in a variety of departments, while studying zoology in his spare time.
He studied at both Sydney Technical College and the University of Sydney, and completed his courses in 1910, but he was not classified as a permanent employee until 1st January 1913, when he became a Second Class Assistant.
Troughton enlisted for service in the First World War in July 1916, and spent two years in France, working as a stretcher-bearer with the Fourth Australian Field Ambulance.
After his return to Australia, he ‘was entrusted with the care of the mammalia, as well as the vertebrate skeletons’. Despite this vote of confidence in his abilities, it was more than a year before he was finally attained the position of Zoologist.
He served again in the Second World War. This time in New Guinea, and this time using his scientific expertise to investigate the animals that carry the mites responsible for the spread of scrub typhus.
‘An argumentative old bushman … once scornfully referred to Troughton as a "Pitt and George Street naturalist".’ This was particularly inaccurate, as he spent a great deal of his working life on field trips, many of which are listed here:
- 1912 Capricorn Group, Queensland, with A. R. McCulloch and Professor Thomas Harvey Johnston
- December 1919 - April 1920 South Australia (Farina, Eyre's Peninsula and Kangaroo Island) with C. M. Hoy, a representative of the United States National Museum, Washington
- 1920 and 1921 Myall Lakes, Blue Mountains and the Nepean River, New South Wales, as well as one of his many trips to Lord Howe Island.
- October-December 1921 Troughton and his assistant J. H. Wright, collected at several stations along the Trans-Australian Railway, across the Nullarbor Plain to south-western Australia
- 1926 Bat collecting at Hunter's Hill, near Sydney July-August
- 1926 Vanikoro and other islands of the Santa Cruz Group with A. A. Livingstone
- 1931 The National Park and Minnamurra, New South Wales, with A. J. Marshall
- 1934 Remote parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory with H. O. Fletcher
- 1945 New Guinea and environs
- 1946 Mount Kosciusko region, New South Wales
- 1950-1951 Mount Irvine, New South Wales
- 1954 Papua New Guinea with Norman Camps on the Australian Museum Expedition
As well as his work as Curator of Mammals, he was the author of a large number of articles for both popular and scientific journals, and the latest of the 14 editions of his book ‘Furred Animals of Australia’, is currently available online.
The Museum’s public lectures were well-established when he delivered a lecture entitled “Aquatic Mammals" in 1922; this was the first of his many lectures to both adults and school children. He was also involved in the school broadcasts from their inception in 1924.
Troughton was an acknowledged expert in his field, and as such he was called upon by a wide range of government bodies to provide reports, identification and opinion.
Ellis Le Geyt Troughton was born in Sydney on 29 April 1893. He grew up in Cooma, where a 1931 newspaper report featured him as the local boy who had ‘made good’, although they spelled his name incorrectly.
He was affectionately known to his friends as "Troughtie", and despite his slender build, he played tennis, swam at the Bondi Diggers' Club, and worked out at the gym. Whenever the opportunities offered on his field trips, he rode horses and went rock-climbing.
His love of the theatre led him to take part in productions with ‘Gregan McMahon's Sydney Repertory Theatre Society … and … Miss Doris Fitton's Independent Theatre, North Sydney.’ He also loved the ballet and counted Sir Robert Helpmann among his friends.
He was a Research Associate of the Museum when he had a heart attack, and he subsequently died on 30th November, 1974.
Troughton was an active member of a variety of scientific associations.
- 1920 Joined the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales
- 1921 Elected a member of the Linnean Society of New South Wales; he became a life member
- 1925 Elected a Councillor of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales
- 1928 Served as a member of the Australian National Research Council
- 1931-1932 Served as President of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales
- 1932 Served as Secretary of Section D (Zoology) of ANZAAS
- 1936 Given the honorary status of Corresponding Member of the Zoological Society of London (C.M.Z.S.).
- 1937 Served as Secretary of the Biological Survey Committee of ANZAAS at the Auckland Congress
- 1939-1972 Served on the Council of the Linnean Society of New South Wales
- 1940 Became a Fellow of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales
- 1943-1944 Served as President of the Linnean Society of New South Wales
- 1944-1947 Served as Vice-President of the Linnean Society of New South Wales
- 1949 Served as the Australian delegate to the International Technical Conference for the Protection of Nature, under the auspices of UNESCO and the International Union for the Protection of Nature.
- 1949-1963 Served as a member of the Fauna Protection panel of New South Wales Became an Honorary Fellow of the Museums Association of Australia
He was a foundation member of the Australian Mammal Society and its first Honourary Life Member. To honour his achievements in the field, the Society offers the Ellis Troughton Memorial Award to a member ‘in recognition of [their] significant contribution … to Australian mammalogy’. The first recipient of the award was Ruth Rofe, in 1978.
In the course of his wide-ranging field work he discovered many new species, some of which carry the name ‘troughtoni’.
The quotes and much of the information came from:
Memorial Notice and Bibliography written by the late Gilbert P. Whitley, published in Australian Zoologist 18(3), August 1975