Royal Reels: Gambling


The cover was sent from the Leland StanfordJunior University, Stanford University, California to Mr. Edgar E.(sic) Waite, Australian Museum, Sydney , N.S.W., Australia and it was franked with a single carmine 2c Washington stamp (Scott 319) which was postmarked with a duplex STANFORD UNIVERSIRY/ JUN/ 27/ 8 AM/ 1904, CAL. The cover had two taxing handstamps, a black 15/ CTMS/ Tas well as a black 3D. The cover was a front only, so the arrival date is unknown (Figure 1).

Edgar Ravenswood Waite, zoologist and museum director, was born on 5 May 1866 at Leeds, Yorkshire, England, second son of John Waite, bankers clerk, and his wife Jane. Edgar left the Leeds Parish Church Middle Class School for the borough accountant’s office; his enthusiasm for natural science led him to read biology at Owens College, Manchester. In 1888 he was appointed assistant curator, and in 1891 curator, of the museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society where he distinguished himself by cataloguing the collections, staging live exhibits, encouraging research and providing informative services. On 7 April 1892 he married Rose Edith Green at St Matthew’s parish church, Leeds.

In 1893-1905 Waite was assistant curator in charge of vertebrates at the Australian Museum, Sydney. In 1906 he was appointed curator of the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand. His many improvements included the introduction of exhibits and new display techniques, and the establishment (1907) and editing of the Records of the Canterbury Museum. Apart from his faunal work, the extensive studies he undertook of New Zealand and Antarctic fishes established him as a leading ichthyologist.

Waite frequently participated in major land and sea expeditions, among them Sir Douglas Mawson’s first subantarctic cruise in 1912. Early in 1914 he was appointed director of the South Australian Museum, a position he held until 1928. He established and edited the museum’s Records. After leading the museum’s expedition to Strzelecki and Cooper creeks (1916), he published the results in 1917 in the Transactions of the Royal Society, South Australia. In 1918 he made collecting trips to New Guinea, New Britain and New Ireland, and in 1926 inspected museums in the United States of America and Europe.

Waite published prolifically, mostly on vertebrate taxonomy, particularly fishes, reptiles and mammals: his important and well-known work on The Fishes of South Australia was published by the British Science Guild (Adelaide, 1923), as was The Reptiles and Amphibians of South Australia. A fellow (1890) of the Linnean Society and a corresponding member of the Zoological Society, London, he was senior vice-president of the Royal Society of South Australia and councillor of the South Australian Zoological and Acclimatization Society. He was also an editor of the South Australian handbooks committee of the British Science Guild, a member of the Flora and Fauna Board of South Australia and of the Linnean Society of New South Wales.

His early research on Australian vertebrate fauna had been highly regarded. Before Waite moved to New Zealand, he was already a leading ichthyologist and herpetologist; he later rose to be a world authority on the fishes of the Australasian-Antarctic region. An exceptionally capable and innovative museum administrator, by the mid-1920s he was at the zenith of his professional standing. Versatile, thorough, meticulous and highly productive, he had formidable accomplishments and greatly influenced the development of natural science in South Australia.

Tall, Waite was bespectacled, with a domed forehead, symmetrical face, aquiline nose and an Edwardian beard. Imposing but gentle, with a dry sense of humour, he was held in affection and esteem by all who knew him well. Though reserved and of a retiring disposition, he possessed extraordinary enthusiasm and energy which extended to hobbies as varied as motor cycling, drawing, painting, photography, aquarium-keeping, philately and playing the flute. A photo of Edgar Waite is seen in Figure 2.

Plagued with recurring ill health after having contracted malaria in New Guinea in 1918, Waite became gravely ill early in 1928 before leaving Adelaide to attend a meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in Tasmania. He died of enteric fever (typhoid) on 19 January 1928 in Highbury Hospital, Hobart, and was survived by his wife and son.

This paper was abstracted from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

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