Tom Iredale

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Tom Iredale

Tom Iredale (March 24, 1880 - April 12, 1972) was an English ornithologist and malacologist.

Iredale was born in Stainburn, North Yorkshire. He became an apprentice to a pharmacist (1899-1901). He then came to the Antipodes as a sickly youth, suffering from TB. He became a clerk in an New Zealand company at Christchurch (1902-1907).

He was an autodidact and never went to university, thus lacking the formal university training. This would show up in his later work. He never revised his manuscripts, never even used a typewriter.

In 1908 he lived for ten months on the remote Kermadec Islands, northeast of New Zealand. He studied birds and became an bird expert, by the simple fact of living with thousands of them. He survived by shooting and eating the objects of his study. A far cry from today’s freeze-dried survival kits! While collecting molluscan species on the island, he became more and more interested in the study of molluscs. This would be a new starting point in his career. But in those times, as a keen naturalist, he had to possess a broad interest in nature.

In 1909 he visited Queensland, Australia, collecting about 300 species of chitons and other molluscs. His reputation among his peers was growing, even if he had no university degree.

He returned to Britain to become a freelance worker at the British Museum of Natural History in London (1909-1910). There he worked as the assistant of Gregory Mathews on the book Birds of Australia (1911-1923). He wrote much of the text, but the work was credited to Mathews.

He married Lilian Marguerite Medland (1880-1955) on 8 June 1923. She would illustrate several of his books and would become one of Australia’s finest bird artists.

He continued his work in natural history under the patronage of other wealthy naturalists, such as Charles Rothschild. Under his patronage, he travelled to Hungary to collect fleas from birds.

Iredale returned to Australia in 1923 and soon after took up a position as a conchologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney (1924-1944). He worked tirelessly on publications on shells, birds, ecology and zoogeography. He lectured frequently and wrote many popular scientific articles in newspapers. Due to his efforts (and later curators), the Mollusc Section at the Australian Museum maintains now the largest research collection of molluscs in the Southern Hemisphere with over 6,000 specimens.

On retirement in 1944, he became a Honorary Associate till his death.

Many species in conchology, ichthyology and ornithology were named after him, as well as several genera, such as

  • Cryptoplax iredalei E. Ashby, 1923

He was a Fellow, Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales 1931; W.B. Clarke medal; Royal Society of New South Wales 1959; President, Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales 1937-38.

Selected Works

  • Iredale, T., 'Solander as an Ornithologist' Ibis, 1913, pp. 127-135
  • Iredale, T., 'John Brazier 1842-1930', Nautilus, vol. 44, 1931
  • Iredale, T., 'J. R. and G. Forster, Naturalists', Emu, vol. 37, 1937, pp. 95-99
  • Iredale, T. 1940. Book review. The fishes of Australia. Part I by G. P. Whitley. Proceedings of the RZS of NSW 1939-40: 41.
  • Iredale, T. 1941. Book review. The molluscs of South Australia. Part II by B. C. Cotton & F. K. Godfrey. Proceedings of the RZS of NSW 1940-41: 35.
  • Iredale, T. 1942. Book review. Australian Insects. An introductory handbook by Keith C. McKeown. Proceedings of the RZS of NSW 1941-42: 33-34.
  • Iredale, T. 1947. Book review. Gliders of the gum trees. The most beautiful and enchanting Australian marsupials by David Fleay. Proceedings of the RZS of NSW 1947-47: 5.
  • Iredale, T. 1951. Book review. Australian shells by Joyce Allan. Proceedings of the RZS of NSW 1949-50: 73-74.
  • Iredale, T. 1958. Book review. Cowry Shells of World Seas by Joyce Allan. Proceedings of the RZS of NSW 1956-57: 95-96.
  • Birds of Paradise and Bower Birds (1950)
  • Birds of New Guinea, 1956 (Vol.1, 2), Illustrated with 35 plates in colour figuring 347 birds by Lilian Medland
  • Iredale, T., 'John (William) Brazier', Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, 1956, p. 105
  • Iredale, T., 'Broinowski's Birds and Mammals of Australia', Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, 1956
  • Iredale, T., 'Scientific Societies in Australia. The Sydney University Chemical Society', The Royal Australian Chemical Institute Proceedings, vol. 27, 1960, pp. 216-217
  • Iredale, T. and Whitley, G.P., 'Sir William Dennison as a Conchologist', Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, 1964, pp. 27-30
  • Iredale, T., 'Charles Hedley', Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, vol. 88, 1967, pp. 26-31


  • McMichael, D. F. & Whitley, G. P. 1956. The published writing of Tom Iredale with an index of his new scientific names. Australian Zoologist 12: 211-250.
  • W. F. PONDER and G. P. WHITLEY. Tom Iredale (1880–1972) [an obituary]: 60–62 The Nautilus 68, December 1972fr:Tom Iredale

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