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William Thompson Bednall (1838–1915)

from Register

The death occurred in Adelaide yesterday afternoon of Mr. William Thompson Bednall, in his seventy-seventh year. Mr. Bednall had been in ill health for a number of years. Born at Leicester in August 1838, he was educated at the Philological School, London (now united with King's College). He left school at 14 years of age to fill an appointment in the Museum of Practical Geology, Jermyn street, provided by the then Director (Sir H. T. De la Beche). He arrived in Adelaide with his mother in the barque Ann Holzberg, in August, 1853, and three months later obtained employment in the offices of The Register, in Hindley street. Later he was apprenticed to Mr. W. Kyffin Thomas to learn the business of a printer. On completion of his indentures he travelled in South Australia and Victoria, and afterwards was engaged in the Government Printing Office at Adelaide for 12 years. In 1874 he accepted the management of The Northern Territory Times at Darwin, and edited that paper after the departure of Mr. Wells, in the ill-fated steamer Gothenburg. He returned to Adelaide in 1876, and soon became one of the sub-editors of The Register. In June, 1881, he was transferred to the management of The Register general printing department, a position which he relinquished in 1908. Two years later he retired from active business.

Mr. Bednall was a man of eminently lovable disposition, and highly respected by all who came into contact with him. His bent was essentially in a scientific direction. He was deeply interested in geology, paleontology, conchology, and heraldry, and in the three last-mentioned subjects was one of the high authorities— if not, indeed, the highest authority— in Australia. At various times he published articles on conchology, and he was the hon. curator in that branch of science to the South Australian Museum, which institution he served until recently. During an appointment in his young manhood at Darwin he had excellent opportunities to obtain rare and exquisite specimens of shells, and gathered together then, and subsequently, an exceedingly valuable collection. Two specimens which he found in the Northern Territory proved to be unique —a Voluca and a Murex, and they were named the Bednalli and M. Bednalli respectively. The first one remained a solitary specimen for 20 years, and at the present time not a dozen are known to be in existence. Both shells have been illustrated in most of the important conchological catalogues of the world. Mr. Bednall took great pride in the discoveries, and the shells were afterwards depicted on the bookplate which adorned his treasured volumes. In heraldic knowledge Mr. Bednall had hardly a peer in the Commonwealth. Among the uses to which his information on this ancient science was put was the designing of coats-of-arms for various gentlemen in the Commonwealth. The deceased was an enthusiastic collector of curious typographical works, pamphlets, and engravings. Among his valuable collection of bookplates—the result of constant correspondence with the leading authorities in the United Kingdom and the United States—was the bookplate of Queen Victoria and other examples of exceeding rarity. Mr. Bednall was for many years a lay reader in the Church of England, and an enthusiastic upholder of its creeds and traditions. Mrs. Bednall predeceased her husband. The surviving members of the family are one daughter (Mrs. J. Warren, of Burnside) and three sons, Messrs. W. K. Bednall (Riverton), E. B. Bednall (Balaklava), and G. N. Bednall (New Parkside), manager of the general printing department of The Register.

"Yumbeena" wrote to The Register recently:—"Although his name is unfamiliar to most of the rising generation, there are many, particularly in the scientific world, who hold in the highest regard Mr. William Tompson Bednall, an estimable gentleman, now spending his declining years at Knightsbridge. Mr. Bednall is in his seventy-seventh year, and until his retirement from active work in 1910 he had been engaged for many years as manager of the general printing department of The Register. But Mr. Bednall is best known for his scientific interests. For a great many years he has had a kindred spirit in Mr. E. H. Matthews, post and telegraph master at Norwood, whom he visited every annual leave while his scientific friend was stationed on Yorke's Peninsula. The two men have been together on many a shell collecting expedition in different parts of the State. Mr. Bednall's first appointment was in the Paleontological Section in Jermyn street, London, under Professors Forbes, Sedgewick, and others. Shortly after his arrival in South Australia Mr. Bednall began his scientific work in Australia. Disappointed when investigating in our hills at not finding fossils, he turned his attention to the living mollusca, and in this branch he soon became known throughout Australia as a leader. I understand he had a good deal to do with interesting Dr. J. C. Verco, the distinguished Adelaide physician, in conchological work, on which subject the doctor is an authority. One can imagine Mr. Bednall's delight when he discovered a valve of a living trigonia, a genus of shells hitherto only known to him as a fossil. The specimen was subsequently named after him. In the early seventies he was at Darwin, and there, amid new forms of life, he ardently pursued his conchological researches, and collected many valuable and new forms, several of which were named in his honour. On his return to Adelaide he published a list of the South Australian marine shells. Subsequently he was appointed honorary curator of the mollusca section at the Adelaide National Museum. In this position all his labours were for the love of science, and he was the means of widely extending the knowledge of South Australian conchology, naming and determining specimens sent to him from time to time. And so in the course of years he was instrumental in interesting and imparting some of his love for the science to many persons who have proved ardent workers and writers on the subject. In addition to his papers on the marine forms, several of those descriptive of many of our land and freshwater shells are published in the proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia. His chief work, for which he deserves the gratitude of all Australian conchologists, was his masterly treatment of a long-neglected group of chitons. His papers on this genus, published in the journal of the Malaeological Society of London, prepared the way for future workers in the group, and, as a scientist has asserted, they will remain for all time as emblems of zealous, painstaking labour. Though illness accompanying advanced years prevented his undertaking collecting trips, Mr. Bednall's interest in his science is just as keen as ever, and all enquirers are helped as readily as in the olden time."

Original publication

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Citation details

'Bednall, William Thompson (1838–1915)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

William Bednall, 1898

William Bednall, 1898

State Library of South Australia, 14104/​8A

Life Summary [details]


17 August, 1838
Leicester, Leicestershire, England


24 July, 1915 (aged 76)
Knightsbridge, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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