Professor Tennant's fossils: a founding collection of the Western Australian Museum

Kenneth McNamara, Susan Radford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Early in 1897 the SS Cornwall arrived in Fremantle from England carrying a handsome mahogany cabinet that contained more than 8,000 fossils. Said to have been 'one of the most complete...collections of British fossils...which had ever been made', it had been the personal collection of King's College geologist and fossil and mineral dealer, James Tennant. It was acquired for the Western Australian Museum by the first director, Bernard Woodward. His aim had been for it to form the core of the museum's fledgling natural history collections and be a key part of the new displays. To Bernard Woodward the collection was very special. Not only was it recommended to him by his uncle Henry, then Keeper of Palaeontology at the British Museum, but it had largely been curated and organised in the 1840s by his father Samuel Pickworth Woodward. Despite requests to treat the collection with care, it was not adequately packed for its journey. Moreover, the lighter transferring it from the ship to Barrack Street jetty sprung a leak and much of the collection was soaked. And so began a century of restoration conservation. Containing specimens obtained from many of the leading British geologists of the early 19th century, such as William Buckland and Gideon Mantell, the Tennant Collection represents an important link between the emergent world of 19th century geology in Britain and the youthful colony of Western Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-127
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in Western Australian History
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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