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Gregory Macalister Mathews (1876–1949)

Gregory Mathews will never again add a word to the millions that he has written about the birds of Australasia.

His death in England, at the age of 72, was reported from London yesterday.

Though he lived for many years in the United Kingdom, Mathews was a native of the little settlement of Biamble, on the north coast of New South Wales, and he went to The King's School, Parramatta.

Gregory Macalister Mathews, C.B.E., was an intellectual giant in the scientific knowledge of birds. In Australian ornithology, he was a leader among such notable names as Gould, Lewin, and North. His outstanding gift to science—a work of love—was his colossal work, The Birds of Australia.

This work comprises 16 huge volumes. It contains about 7,000 pages and almost 600 coloured plates.

It is a literary rarity, and quite beyond the average "pocket."

Mathews was not, strictly, a professional scientist; yet he worked with and originally under the guidance of Government experts. He was a man of private means, and devoted most of his life to ornithology.

He first acquired a love for the Australian bush, and particularly birds, from his father, Robert Hamilton Mathews, who was one of Sydney's pioneer surveyors. Gregory Mathews spent some years on cattle stations in Queensland.

In the early 1900's, Mathews went to England and became associated with the greatest ornithologist of his day, Dr. Bowdler Sharpe, of the British Museum, at whose suggestion and under whose guidance he began preparing the world's first standard guide to Australian birds. The work took 16 years. In some of those years he worked up to 16 hours a day.

One of his chief collaborators was Mr. Tom Iredale, of Manly, who retired in recent times from the science staff of the Australian Museum, Sydney. Mr. Iredale is an Englishman, and worked with Mathews in London.

Mathews was also the author of a number of other volumes on our birds. He was a member of several ornithological societies in England, Australia, and other countries. In 1939, the King conferred upon him the Order of Commander of the British Empire in honour of his notable contribution to science.

His enormous collection of bird material was acquired by the New York Museum of Natural History, but he himself presented his vast ornithological library to the Australian Commonwealth in 1940.

Valued at something like £20,000, it is now housed in Canberra's National Library. Mathews visited Canberra in 1940-45, to sort and catalogue his library.

His brother, Mr. H. B. Mathews, of Sydney, was formerly Surveyor General for New South Wales. He is now president of the board of trustees of the Australian Museum.

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'Mathews, Gregory Macalister (1876–1949)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

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