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Francis Alexander McNeill was born on the 2nd June 1896, and joined the Museum straight from school. He studied zoology at Sydney Technical College, where his lecturer was Edward Alfred Briggs, who had previously worked as a zoologist at the Museum.
His long association with the Australian Museum began in May of 1914, when he was couple of weeks short of his 18th birthday. This association lasted until his death in 1969, at the age of 72.
He first appeared in the Annual Report as a Library Clerk, but by the end of the year had become a Zoologist’s Clerk. He progressed from that position to become a 2nd Class Assistant, and then in 1918, he was promoted to Zoologist in charge of Crustacea and the Spirit House.
When Rex Bretnall retired due to ill health in 1921, Frank became Zoologist in charge of Lower Invertebrates, a position he held until the Department of Worms and Echinoderms was split off in 1957, with Elizabeth Pope as curator.
Frank retained his position as curator of the remainder of the Department until his retirement in 1961. But that was not the end of his association with the Museum. He became an Honorary Zoologist and continued to perform important scientific work.
Frank was one of the Museum scientists who accompanied the members of the British Great Barrier Reef Expedition of 1928. Museum staff collected specimens for their own research as well as providing assistance to the expedition members.
It was on this expedition that Frank carried out the research which formed the basis of his report on Crustacea, Decapoda & Stomatopoda, published in Volume VII of the Scientific Reports of the Great Barrier Reef Expedition, 1928-29. He finally completed this several years after his retirement from the Museum and it was published in 1968.
He was also part of the team that made extensive studies into the destruction of maritime timberwork for both the Sydney Harbour Trust and the Queensland Forest Service. In the early 1950s, the Maritime Services Board reported that the results of this research had saved them in excess of £250,000 over the years since 1927, when the work began.
He was an active member of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales from the time he joined in 1925. He served as Chairman of the Marine Zoological Section in 1934, and in 1960 he was elected a Fellow of the Society.
In 1945 Frank became a member of the Great Barrier Reef Committee which was set up in 1922 as part of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, although it subsequently became a completely independent entity. Frank spent a great deal of his working life collecting and reporting on the Reef.
In early 1950, Frank visited the Great Barrier Reef with Dr Patrick Murray of Sydney University. They were both horrified to witness the huge numbers of breeding females that were regularly being taken from the green turtle population, as well as the inhumane treatment of them after capture.
On returning to Sydney, they sent reports to the R.S.P.C.A and the Great Barrier Reef Committee, and Frank publicised his outrage in the newspapers. The resulting reports to the Queensland Government presented an irrefutable case for the protection of the green turtle, and some months later this passed into law.
From the 1920s Frank was one of the Museum scientists who gave lectures to school children on a variety of topics relating to natural history. He also delivered popular science lectures at the Museum and presented talks broadcast on the ABC.
He took over the position of naturalist on the ABC children’s session, the Argonauts, when “Jock the Naturalist” (Alan John Marshall) was posted to New Guinea in 1943. Frank threw himself wholeheartedly into the 3½ years he spent broadcasting as “Sandy the Naturalist”, covering not only his own field of marine zoology, but many diverse areas of natural history. He was always impressed by the acute observations of his young listeners.
He was a regular contributor to Australian Museum publications as well as writing articles published by the Linnean Society of NSW, the Royal Entomological Society London, the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, the Maritime Services Board of New South Wales, the Sydney Harbour Trust, the Queensland Forest Service, the Dock and Harbour Authority (London), the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, in the Medical Journal of Australia and in several volumes of the Australian Encyclopaedia.
And he didn’t limit his writing to these and no doubt, other eminent publications. Frank was passionate about marine zoology and also published popular articles in Bank Notes (a monthly, later quarterly magazine of the staff of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia), and in various newspapers and travel magazines. He did his best to bring his subject to as many people as he could.
For more information:
Obituary and Bibiliography, Whitley, G. P., Australian Zoologist, 15(2), 1969
Reef Turtles In Danger, Says Museum Official. (1950, February 28). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18144775
No More Soup From Queensland Turtles. (1950, September 15). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18174355
[No heading]. (1943, October 21). Kilmore Free Press (Kilmore, Vic. : 1870 - 1954), p. 4. Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page5912633