Hermann Krefft was born in 1879, the youngest child of Gerard Krefft, brilliant naturalist and controversial curator of the Australian Museum. Following disputes with the trustees, Krefft senior had been turfed out of the Museum in 1874, while still seated in his armchair. You can read about it HERE.
Gerard Krefft died in 1881, and young Hermann grew up only really knowing his father through diaries and papers the naturalist had left behind, and the books he wrote.
I find it endearing that as a small boy Hermann drew pictures on blank pages of the diaries. It could not have been an easy childhood. His mother made a disastrous second marriage and in 1886 she took her estranged husband, Robert McIntosh, to court over maintenance payments for Hermann.
Growing up, he too developed a strong interest in natural history, and made notes on interesting finds. There is something so poignant about the way he experimented with his signature, identifying himself as the naturalist he hoped to become;
Sydney’s Mitchell Library holds several interesting draft letters written by Hermann seeking work in the field. The example below was to the Curator of the Queensland Museum in 1896;
Whether Hermann received a response is unknown, although it could not have been positive, because the young man remained in Sydney. Reptiles were his greatest passion, but unfortunately he was not able to make a career in museums or in writing and research as his father had done. Instead, he found part-time work as a ‘snake charmer’, working with ‘Professor’ Fox, who ran a popular snake show at La Perouse.
There were also periods of unemployment. In 1902 Mr J.W.R. Clarke, a friend and admirer of the late Gerard Krefft, wrote to Freeman’s Journal suggesting that the public might assist his frail mother;
‘The lady has defective sight and is unable to do much for herself; besides she has a son to keep, who himself has been unable to obtain employment.’
Hermann Krefft was a strong advocate for moving Sydney’s zoo to a more suitable, larger location. At the time it was in Moore Park, and being compared unfavourably with the Melbourne Zoo.
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph in May 1906 he shared his views on the subject;
‘……Your correspondent also says that the Melbourne Zoo is far ahead of the Sydney. There is no doubt they are, but I can inform him that we could have one of the largest Zoo’s this side of the Equator if it was placed on a better foundation and removed to a more suitable place than the one which it now occupies. I think it is the Government’s place to give the council sufficient ground to place their animals on, so that they can make a Zoo which would be a credit to this country, and also to show that the Australians are as up-to-date as any other country on the globe in that branch of science. I think it is time that something was done in this question for the benefit of the public and also for those who make studies of this branch of science. Yours, etc……H. KREFFT, 152 Jersey Road, Paddington.
The Zoo was moved to its harbour front site on the city’s North Shore in 1916. Sadly, Hermann Krefft did not live to see beautiful Taronga Park take shape.
On May 20, 1910 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that he had been bitten at his Paddington home by a black snake and he was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital for emergency treatment. He recovered, but the following year he injured himself in a fall while involved in manual work and died aged just 31.
On October 20 1911, The Sydney Morning Herald reported his death. I was pleased that he was acknowledged as a naturalist;
Hermann Gerrard Krefft, a naturalist, living at Jersey Road, Paddington, and lately employed as a labourer, died in Sydney Hospital on Thursday morning. On Wednesday it was noticed that deceased was ill, and on being questioned he stated he had fallen while at his work, and had hurt his head. He took a fit later in the day and was taken to Sydney Hospital, where he died. The cause of death is not known. Deceased was an expert in many branches of natural history, and was especially skilled in snake catching.
FOR THE STORY OF GERARD KREFFT, CLICK HERE.