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William Sheridan Wall, 1815–1876
William Sheridan Wall was engaged as ‘Collector and Preserver of Specimens’ at the Australian Museum in August 1840, succeeding John Roach.
Wall had performed the functions of a curator since the resignation of George Bennett in 1841. He was responsible for the Museum’s day-to-day management, guiding visitors around the exhibits, articulating skeletons, and collecting specimens. The date of his official sanctioning as curator is unknown, but in 1846 the Committee granted Wall a salary increase to £150 annually in acknowledgement of his indispensible services.
In 1844 Wall made a collecting expedition along the Murrumbidgee under the direction of George Macleay, enduring an encounter with a bushranger, extreme weather conditions, sick and dying animals, penury, starvation, and lack of collecting equipment. Despite these privations he managed to collect 138 birds, 16 mammals, and several other specimens. At Gundagai, where Wall stayed for some time collecting and classing ornithology specimens, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that he ‘gleaned its curiosities with untiring exertion.’
In 1847 Wall, along with zoologist and former curator George Bennett and explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, reconstructed a Diprotodon skeleton. The ‘Gigantic Fossil Bones’ were exhibited in the ‘drawing-room of Mr. Edward’s Refreshment Rooms’ in King Street. In 1849 Wall prepared and mounted the skeleton of a sperm whale, which was then displayed in the grounds outside the new Museum building in William Street. This was the subject of the first Memoir published by the Museum in 1851, and written by Wall. Wall’s duties included care of a small menagerie in Hyde Park, joined in 1851 by ‘a mountain goat from the Sierra Nevada’ donated by Benjamin Boyd, with ‘the appalling name of Satan’.
In 1853 the newly-created Board of Trustees appoint George French Angas as Secretary, effectively decreasing Wall’s status and duties. Rising tensions between the two men, coupled with Wall’s poor health, led to Wall’s retirement in 1858.