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Dr George Bennett, 1804–1893

At 15-years-of-age George Bennett undertook the first of many sea voyages, to Ceylon and Mauritius. He returned to England in 1821 to study medicine and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1828, followed by extensive travels through the Asia-Pacific from 1828 to 1835. His numerous papers on natural history earned his election as a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and he was a corresponding member of the Zoological Society.

Dr George Bennett, Secretary and Curator, 1835-1841
Dr George Bennett, Secretary and Curator, 1835-1841 Born in Plymouth, England, Bennett was a distinguished naturalist and medical doctor. Image IRN: 1540058 Image: G. Millen
© Australian Museum

Bennett first visited Australian in 1829 and on his second visit in 1832, remarked on ‘the beauties of the Kingdom of Flora which are lavished so profusely in this colony’. That year he was awarded the Honorary Gold Medal by the Royal College of Surgeons for his discovery of the Pearly Nautilus and for works on the development of the kangaroo and platypus.

He settled in Australia in 1836, and petitioned for the newly-created position of curator of the Australian Museum. With the assistance of friends in London, including the influential anatomist and palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen, Bennett was appointed to the position.

First catalogue of specimens

Bennett was responsible for publishing the first catalogue of the Museum’s specimens, some of which had not yet been classified. The Catalogue of Specimens of Natural History and Miscellaneous Curiosities Deposited in the Australian Museum (1837) listed 36 Australian mammal species, including one ‘new and undescribed marsupial animal of singular form’ (probably the Pig-footed Bandicoot), collected during the 1836 expedition of Surveyor-General Major Thomas Livingstone Mitchell. The collection also included 317 species of Australian birds and 25 exotic species, five reptiles, six fishes, 211 insects, 25 shells, numerous fossils, and ethnographic artefacts from Australia and Melanesia.

From June 1836 the Museum was located on the ground floor of the building formerly occupied by the Chief Justice, in Macquarie Place. The Public Subscription Library was housed on the upper floor. In 1840, the Museum was relocated to St. James Parsonage, on Macquarie Street.

Bennett resigned from his position as secretary and curator in July 1841. He continued his medical practice and undertook further voyages, publishing his Gatherings of a Naturalist in Australasia in 1860. He was a Trustee of the Museum until 1874, and was also instrumental in the establishment of the Acclimatisation Society of New South Wales.