Published 23 November 2014
Dr Jude Philp, member of the HfE Pacific Observatory and Head Curator at the Macleay Museum in The University of Sydney, was featured in the Sydney Morning Herald recently to highlight the museum’s newest exhibition ‘Stuffed, stitched and studied: 19th century taxidermy‘.
The article details some of the unexpected wonders of 19th century taxidermy that Jude Philp has uncovered.
“We noticed that the female animals tended to have better eyelashes than the male animals … so the taxidermist had started to invest them with almost cartoon-like properties to give them this sense of female or male.”
It’s not the only characteristic that 19th century taxidermists highlighted. The craftsman who brought back to life a male specimen of the yellow-footed Antechinus flavipes, a mouse-sized marsupial, took the time to make sure that that its most important anatomical feature, its testes, were suitably enlarged. The Antechinus are ferocious and promiscuous and the males of the species live fast and hard, surviving only one mating season, sometimes collapsing and dying after marathon 14-hour sex sessions.
Stuffed dead animals are a massive contemporary decorating trend – Ms Philp puts it down to the fashion for a gothic horror aesthetic – but the taxidermy pieces in the exhibition are not the mounted deer heads of ironically-decorated inner-city lounge rooms and bars.
The 99 exhibition pieces have been drawn from about 400,000 preserved items that members of the Macleay family collected in the 19th century for scientific purposes. The pieces include Australian native species and overseas species and represent all areas of zoology.