RICHARD ERNEST MINCHIN (1831-1893), ADELAIDE ZOOLOGICAL DIRECTOR
A cover posted to R.E. Minchin Esqr, Government Offices, Adelaide had a strip of three dull violet Two Pence Victoria Laureates with four copies of the Melbourne duplex, MELBOURNE/ 2 C/ DC 1/ 68 as well as a reception postmark an unframed G.P.O/ K/ DE 4/ 68/ ADELAIDE. The reverse, not seen had no postal markings (Figure 1).
Minchin was born in Tipperary Ireland on 5 March 1831, the thirteenth of nineteen children of William Minchin B.A., rector of Dunkerrin and his wife Mary Ann. Minchin was educated in Ireland and migrated to South Australia in the Stag in 1851. He worked on a station for a time, and moved to Victoria about 1854 where he married Ellen Rebecca daughter of a solicitor, Richard Ocock of Ballan, Victoria. Their first son Ernest William was born at Geelong in 1856.
Michin moved his wife and young family back to South Australia where he was appointed a third-class clerk in the civil service in Adelaide in 1857, and from 1859 for ten years he worked in the Land Titles Registration Department as a second draftsman. From 1870 to 1884 he was a contractor for the Department, taking charge of the section when the senior draftsman was absent. He became a prime mover in the S.A. Acclimatization Society, later known as the S.A. Zoological and Acclimatization Society, and he was appointed director of the newly formed Zoological Gardens in November 1882.
From his own collection in North Adelaide, Minchin transferred a large aviary and birds were acquired from the Botanical Gardens. The zoo was formally opened in May 1883, and it received donations of birds, fishes and large animals from private sources and other zoos. He made trips to South-East Asia and acquired rhinoceros, buffaloes, panther, leopards, tiger cats, alligators, monkeys and sundry ‘curious creatures ‘ from the Royal menagerie in Siam, and from Java. On his tour, he was elected as a corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London. In 1889 he was elected as an honorary life member of the Society, and he moved into the director’s new residence at the zoo.
Minchin had little training for his mammoth task, but his good judgment in collecting specimens was matched by the elegance of the buildings for his animals. In 1890 he was given leave and he went to Hong Kong where he caught a wasting disease. On his return he retired to his home at Mount Barker, S.A. and he died on 4 January 1893. He was survived by his second wife, two sons and tree daughters. His second son, Alfred Corker Minchin had acted as director in his father’s absence and served as director of the zoo for forty one years. The Director’s Dwelling (now Minchin House) was built in 1887 and was formerly the residence of the directors of the Adelaide Zoo until the 1970's and currently houses the Society administration. In 2004 it was renamed Minchin House to recognise the long association between the Michin family and the zoo. R.E. Michin was the first Director (1882-1893) and he was followed by his son and grandson, giving a total of over 61 years to 1946 (Royal Zoological Society of S.A.). A photo of Richard Ernest Minchin is shown in Figure 2.
The body of this paper is taken from the on-line edition of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.