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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ogilby, James Douglas (1853–1925)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

James Douglas Ogilby (1853-1925), ichthyologist, was born on 16 February 1853 at Belfast, Ireland, son of William Ogilby, zoologist, and his wife Adelaide, née Douglas. Educated in 1866-69 at Winchester College, England, and for a year in 1871-72 at Trinity College, Dublin, Douglas, as he was called, excelled at athletics. In 1874-76 he contributed notes on Irish fishes and birds to the Zoologist (London). He worked for the British Museum and spent some time in the United States of America; in 1883 he contributed an excellent catalogue of the birds of Navarro County, Texas, to the Scientific Transactions of the Royal Dublin Society. In 1884 Ogilby was appointed a scientific assistant (zoology) to the Australian Museum, Sydney, and on 24 November married Mary Jane Jameson (d.1894) at the parish church, Donagheady, County Tyrone.

Ogilby began work at the museum on 14 February 1885 at a salary of £250 and proved an enthusiastic and energetic worker, publishing numerous notes, papers and reports on reptiles and mammals as well as fishes. Next year he compiled the catalogue of fishes for the report of the Commissioners of Fisheries for New South Wales and in 1887 published Catalogue of Fishes and Other Exhibits at the Royal Aquarium, Bondi. That year he was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society of London.

Dismissed in 1890 after many warnings for drunkenness on the job, Ogilby continued his prodigious research activities outside the museum on a contract basis; he published a valuable Catalogue of Australian Mammals (1892) and Edible Fishes and Crustaceans of New South Wales (1893), prepared for the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago. Between 1885 and 1899 he published over eighty papers and notes (including twenty-two with E. P. Ramsay) in the Proceedings of the local Linnean Society.

About 1903 Ogilby moved to Brisbane; he was employed as an ichthyologist by the Queensland Museum where the specimens were happily preserved in formalin and not alcohol! In 1913-16 he published a series of papers on the edible fishes of Queensland in the Memoirs of the Queensland Museum. For a time he belonged to the Royal Society of Queensland.

Ogilby died without issue in the Diamantina Hospital on 11 August 1925 and was buried in the Church of England section of Toowong cemetery. For some years he had been honorary museum curator for the Amateur Fishermen's Association of Queensland, which set up and named in his memory the 'J. Douglas Ogilby Cottage' on Bribie Island for the use of its members.

Ogilby was primarily a taxonomist but his work had important commercial significance. His research, like that of his friend and collaborator A. R. McCulloch, was described by the noted American ichthyologist David Starr Jordan as of 'a very high order'.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Museum Magazine, 2, no 8, 1925, p 276
  • Australian Museum, Records, 15, no 2, 1926, p 149
  • Auk, 43, no 1, 1926, p 138
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Aug 1925.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Ogilby, James Douglas (1853–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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