The ichthyologist James Douglas Ogilby first came to my attention in 2009 when two of his diaries were transferred to the Australian Museum Archive from the South Australian Museum.

James Douglas Ogilby (1853-1925) Curator of Fishes (1884-1890)
James Douglas Ogilby (1853-1925) Curator of Fishes (1884-1890) Image: Australian Museum
© Australian Museum

One was a collecting diary, and as I am totally ignorant of the finer points of fish taxonomy, that didn’t mean much to me, but the other diary…. It contained a day by day account of his life in Sydney with Ada, who was probably the ‘loving sister Ada’ who sent a wreath to his funeral.

His diary covers the period October 1895 to April 1896 and is incredibly detailed, often including the times he got up in the morning and went to bed at night, the people he met, the items he bought and how much they cost, the trains he caught, and the food he ate.

He included a great deal about his squabbles with Ada, which happened regularly despite his obvious affection for her, but he always came back to his passion, which the work he was doing in ichthyology.

The diary is a wonderful window not only on Ogilby’s life, but on the Sydney of the 1890s which is surprisingly similar to Sydney today.

Ogilby was was hired as Assistant Zoologist by the Museum in 1884 and started work here in early 1885, but he was dismissed from his position in 1890. As well as outside work on contract he continued his association with the Museum until 1903 when he moved to Brisbane.

He was subsequently employed as ichthyologist at the Queensland Museum and became the honorary curator of the museum set up by the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of Queensland.

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, he was ‘an enthusiastic and energetic worker’ and he published numerous books and papers on fishes, as well as writing on mammals and crustaceans.

Ogilby died in 1925 and on the 29th of November of that year, the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of Queensland opened the ‘J. Douglas Ogilby’ cottage on Bribie Island, named in his memory.