When I mentioned that I was researching the life and career of Nancy Adams, the inevitable response was: “Who’s that?”

I wasn’t particularly surprised as that has been my response when I first saw her photo among a pile of random photos that had been passed on to the Archive. I very much admired her style, but I had little information other than her name, so I kept Nancy in the back of my mind until two pieces of information caught my eye.

Firstly, the Annual Report for 1928-29 stated that ‘Miss N. B. Adams [was appointed] assistant in Entomology.’ And then the Australian Museum Magazine of June 15, 1955 included an article about her death. She started working for the Museum straight from school, so these two articles neatly bracketed Nancy's entire working life.

She was born and brought up in Fiji, and at the age of 14 moved to Sydney with her family.

Her school was the Chatswood Church of England Girls’ School. She spent 4½ years there until 1928, when she was one of only two pupils from her school to matriculate.

Nancy Bannatyne Adams
Nancy Bannatyne Adams was an assistant in the Entomology Department of the Australian Museum from the time she left school until her death in 1955, at the age of 44. Image: unknown
© Australian Museum

Nancy won prizes for essay writing both at school and in state-wide competitions. In 1927, she came third in an essay competition on the topic of the League of Nations, and in 1928, she gained second prize in the essay competition on "Australian Social and Political Ideals, their Origin and Application".

At school, she was involved in gardening and music and art and tennis, as well as shining academically.

When she had completed her leaving certificate (today’s HSC), she applied for a job at the Australian Museum and was accepted as a temporary General Assistant. Although it was more than 19 years before she was promoted to a Museum Assistant, it didn’t take nearly as long for the temporary position to become permanent.

But Nancy was afflicted with colon cancer, which metastasised before it could be treated. She died on 28th January, 1955, aged just 44.