Chapter 2: 1918 – 1968 (50 Years) A museum that is developing | QMN History

Read chapter 1: 1862 – 1918 (56 Years) A Fledgling Natural History Museum

Following the retirement of Ronald Hamlyn Harris in 1917, the Assistant Curator at the time, Heber Longman was appointed as Director.

Known for his gentlemanly demeanour, Longman fostered staff and encouraged loyalty to the institution. Staff morale was high and he grew staff interest in Natural Sciences, leading to an increase in popularity in local and visiting naturalists and encouraging overseas scientists to work at the museum.

During his career, Longman made a significant contribution to science including gaining international recognition for vertebrate palaeontology.  He was one of Australia’s strongest exponents of vertebrate palaeontology and evolutionary theory between the wars. 

A year that will be remembered well in museum history is 1919, when the now iconic A7V Sturmpanzerwagen tank, Mephisto was towed into the museum grounds by two Brisbane City Council steam rollers. Mephisto would remain in the grounds of what is the old museum until being moved to the current museum at South Brisbane in 1986.

Despite being closed for two months due to the Spanish flu epidemic that same year, there was still 68,119 visitors to the museum.

The Spanish Flu and the arrival of Mephisto was not the only memorable moment during this period. Another event involved the theft of gold nuggets from a museum display by two youths, which resulted in a pursuit from employee Michael Beirne, who finally caught them on Leichardt Street after a chase through Victoria Park.

Michael Beirne was one of a small team of just nine staff at the museum during Longman’s tenure including four attendants, two preparators, a librarian, a stenographer and a part time entomologists. Although there was several honoraries in entomology, palaeontology and conchology.

From 1923-25, Queensland Museum became a base for the British Museum expedition to Tropical Australia.

After 27 years in office, Longman retired in 1945 and was replaced by George Mack as Director, who had a different management style to Longman, causing a high turnover of staff due to him being an exacting taskmaster.

Mack who had a background in museums in Scotland had worked at National Museum of Victoria as an ornithologist, before moving to Queensland to work as Senior Scientific Assistant to the Director (Longman).

During his tenure, Mack improved the storage and care of collections and promoted the educational role of the museum by instituting school programs and improving the educational quality of the displays. He closed the galleries each Monday for cleaning.

In 1946, Don Vernon was appointed and was involved in design and production of displays, he also brought skills in modern taxidermy and sculpture. 

In the following years there was major reorganisation of gallery spaces and new displays and in 1948, the galleries were lit with electricity for the first time.

During this time the number of staff increased from 10 to 26 with additional staff appointed as artists, preparators, library assistants, a photographer and assistants in zoology, entomology, molluscs and ornithology.

George Mack died in October 1963 and Jack Woods was appointed Director and had the title of the first Australian born and educated Director of the Museum.

In another first, he was the first member of museum staff to be sent overseas by the government to visit the Museums of Europe and North America. Under his directorship, he was responsible for appointing curators to anthropology, zoology, ichthyology and reptiles, as well as a curator to history and technology.

Woods marked the beginning of a modern period in the museum’s development. He left the role in 1968.

Pre 1920 photograph of Mephisto on display and the Queensland Museum, still with the artwork on it’s side from when it was captured.
Museum staff in the 1920’s. Standing L to R: A. Fenwick, Librarian; William Baillie, attendant; Thomas C. Marshall, assistant preparator; A. Gorman, attendant; R. V. Smith, attendant. Seated: Eileen Murphy, stenographer; Heber A. Longman, director; Henry Hacker, entomologist. Absent: E.Varey, attendant.
The staff of the Queensland Museum, 1912. Standing L to R: ‘Chips’ Greensill, attendant/carpenter; William Baillie, attendant; Henry Hacker, entomologist; Eileen Murphy, stenographer; Clarice Sinnamon, librarian; Anthony Alder, taxidermist; Benjamin Harrison, chief attendant; E. Varey, attendant. Seated L to R: Heber A. Longman, assistant scientist; Ronald Hamlyn-Harris, director; James Douglas Ogilby, ichtyologist. Reclining: Tom Marshall, cadet.
Inside Queensland Museum
Mephisto arriving at Queensland Museum on 23 August 1919.