In 1864 the Museum employed its first professional female staff member - Jane Tost, taxidermist and business woman extraordinaire.

Our First Female Employee

The daughter of a prominent English family of naturalists and taxidermists Jane had emigrated with her family to Tasmania in 1856. After working at the Hobart Town Museum she came to Sydney and the Museum Trustees engaged her on the same terms as her colleague and husband Charles – at 10 pounds a month. They remained with the Museum until a falling out in 1869.

Letter Tost & Rohu 1913
Image: Australian Museum Photography Department
© Australian Museum

But that was just the start of her remarkable career. After Charles died, she and her actress daughter Ada expanded the highly successful family taxidermy business and when Ada married Henry Rohu in 1878, the firm ‘Tost and Rohu’ was born.

The Queerest Shop in Australia’

Articulators and taxidermists, fancy work suppliers and dealers in furs and ethnographic objects, they became famous all over Sydney for their extraordinary array of curios. Advertisements of the day implored that ‘Visitors to Sydney should not leave without calling upon Tost & Rohu – All kinds of Taxidermical Work executed in First-class style’.

Dealing particularly in Australian and Pacific Island material they also continued to provide a steady supply of artefacts and specimens to the Australian Museum - many of which are still in the collections today. The Mammals department for instance holds specimens purchased from the business including an American Squirrel stuffed and mounted by the Tost women.

When the Chicago World Fair Committee was gathering examples of the work of women in NSW in 1891 they reported that ‘a good deal of bird and animal stuffing, done in Sydney, is performed by females’. Jane and Ada were the most prominent of these ‘females’ and when the bookseller James Tyrell finally purchased the business in 1923 it had become known as the ‘queerest shop in Australia’ - famous for its weird and wonderful stuffed inhabitants.