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Scott, Eric Oswald (1899–1986)

by Rhonda Hamilton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Eric Oswald Gale Scott (1899-1986), teacher, museum director, ichthyologist and pacifist, was born on 23 October 1899 at the Victoria Museum (later Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery), Launceston, Tasmania, elder child of Herbert Hedley Scott and his wife Frances Fanny, née Stearnes. His father was curator of the museum, where the family also resided. Eric was educated at Launceston State High School, the Philip Smith Training College and the University of Tasmania.

Between 1918 and 1923 Scott taught science at Launceston and Devonport High schools and acted as head teacher at Epping State School. He had completed two years of a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Tasmania when his health broke down. In 1924 he travelled to England and Europe, visiting leading museums. On his return to Launceston in 1925 he was appointed science and maths master at Scotch College, and also acted as sports master.

On 27 August 1927 at Ulverstone, Tasmania, he married with Methodist forms Freda Hazel Lloyd, a schoolteacher. By late 1928 they were living at Plooranaloona, their newly built Launceston home, which was to be their lifelong residence.

Scott resigned from Scotch College to complete his science degree in 1929, and was appointed assistant-curator at the QVMAG in the following year. He obtained his B.Sc., specialising in biology, in 1933. From 1930 to 1938 he worked alongside his father, helping with many of the routine museum tasks. Together they wrote weekly newspaper articles and Eric presented classes on biology and English poetry for the Workers’ Educational Association. His first research paper in a long series, ‘Observations on some Tasmanian fishes’, was published in the Royal Society of Tasmania Papers and Proceedings in 1934.

In 1938 Scott received a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to study museum and art gallery methods and developments in the United States of America, England and Europe. Accompanied by his wife, he had been absent only one week when he learned of his father’s death. He continued his travels, visiting around two hundred institutions in twenty countries over seven months. In November 1938 he was appointed director of the QVMAG, a position he held for four years. Wartime restrictions limited progress at the museum, but he was able to adapt ideas from his overseas tour, including the establishment of the Records of the Queen Victoria Museum and the appointment of an education officer.

Scott resigned from the museum in August 1942 following his imprisonment for one month for refusing to submit to a medical examination after being denied the opportunity to register as a conscientious objector. His failure to report for a medical examination in November 1943 led to his being gaoled for a further three months. In May 1945 he was imprisoned for one month after refusing to comply with manpower directives. In his defence Scott claimed that he was following Christian principles: ‘I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and I am doing what I am doing because I believe in His teachings’.

With the exception of the Royal Society of Tasmania, for which he served as honorary secretary (1931-37 and 1939-43), Scott did not participate in the activities of other organisations. From 1949 to 1964 he taught language and science in private schools in Launceston.

Scott’s appointment in 1965 as honorary associate in ichthyology at the QVMAG formalised again the connection he retained with the institution. For more than half a century he dedicated himself to the study of fishes, publishing over fifty research papers and other works. Fishes of Tasmania, a book he co-wrote with Peter Last and Frank Talbot, was published in 1983.

By his own admission, Scott was not a practical man. He was eccentric and strong willed, but generous and caring in his friendships. Devoted to his wife Freda, he lived a simple family life with her. When he and Freda were summoned to appear in court in 1971 to answer charges for failing to undertake a compulsory chest X-ray (under the Tuberculosis Act) Scott was described as ‘looking very fit with a full head of hair and tanned complexion’. His enduring love of language is reflected in a little-known, but extensive, collection of more than 11 000 quatorzains (14-lined, un-rhyming poems) written daily from the mid-1950s until his death.

Survived by his wife and their son and two daughters, Scott died on 24 June 1986 at Launceston after being hit by a car. In 1987 the Royal Society of Tasmania posthumously awarded him its medal for his distinguished research in zoology.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Thorne, Taking Queen Victoria to Inveresk (1997)
  • R. Hamilton, ‘H.H. and E.O.G. Scott’, Papers and Proceedings (Launceston Historical Society), vol 17, 2005, p 22
  • Mercury (Hobart), 15 Jan 1930, p 5, 15 Nov 1938, p 8, 20 Aug 1942, p 2, 27 Nov 1943, p 4, 19 May 1945, p 5
  • Eric Oswald Gale Scott (Curator 1938-42) administrative records (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Rhonda Hamilton, 'Scott, Eric Oswald (1899–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/scott-eric-oswald-15908/text27109, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 22 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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