The Victorian Acclimatisation Society

Many Europeans at first felt uneasy in their new land. They spoke of ‘the savage silence, or worse’ of the bush. They introduced plants and animals to make the alien environment feel more like home, to beautify their gardens, provide sport for hunters and ‘aggrandise’ the colony. But above all, they wanted to make the land economically productive.

Cashmere goats at the zoo in Royal Park

Cashmere goats at the zoo in Royal Park, Australian News for Home Readers, 1863
Source: State Library of Victoria

The Victorian Acclimatisation Society was founded in 1861 by Edward Wilson, a private collector whose motto was ‘if it lives, we want it’. The Melbourne Zoo was established by the Acclimatisation Society to house imported animals prior to their release. At the same time, government botanist Ferdinand von Mueller focused on the introduction of plant species from other parts of Australia and elsewhere in the world. Some, like blackberries, initially proved productive, but became noxious weeds or pests.

Many of the specimens collected or acquired by the Acclimatization Society later became part of Museum Victoria’s collection.

Acclimatization Society medals, 1868

Acclimatization Society medals, 1868
Photographer: JS & AB Wynon (mint), Source: Museum Victoria

Visitor Information

Several of the original specimens collected or introduced by the Acclimatisation Society can be seen in The Melbourne Story exhibition, now showing at Melbourne Museum.

Further Reading

Gillbank, L., ‘The Origins of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria: Practical Science in the Wake of the Gold Rush’. Historical Records of Australian Science, vol.6, no.3, December 1986, pp. 359-374.

Annual reports of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, from 1862.

The Rules and Objects of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, 1861. William Goodhugh & Co., Melbourne.

Comments (17)

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James Lerk 12 July, 2014 10:43
When was the pomelo tree first introduced into Victoria? Was it earlier than the 1880s?
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Discovery Centre 12 July, 2014 14:07
Hi James - botany and botanical history is not one of our research areas. I'd suggest you perhaps ask the Royal Botanic Gardens?
Peter Gillies 30 January, 2014 22:32
Hi, I was reading an article in the Argus (19 Oct 1864) about a meeting of the Acclimatisation society which mentioned the Chairman's name was Mr. Judd. As a descendant of the Judd's in Melbourne, I was wondering if the first name of Mr. Judd is known and anything else about him?
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Discovery Centre 2 February, 2014 11:21
Hi Peter, the president of the Acclimatisation Society at this time was Thomas Black, who replaced Edward Wilson when he resigned in 1864 (see The Argus, 24 September 1864). We couldn't find any reference to a Mr Judd as part of the Acclimatisation Society. The Public Record Office of Victoria also holds no records containing Judd in conjunction with the Acclimatisation Society.
Discovery Centre 8 December, 2012 13:15

Hi Harry,

Yes, the Acclimatisation Society listed in the Museum Victoria information sheets is the same Acclimatisation Society that you are looking for and was set up in Victoria, in 1861.  Chronicles of a Modern Victorian Naturalist provides a biography of Frank Buckland’s work and life. The Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria succeeded the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria in 1872. In 1910 the Society was granted royal charter, becoming the Royal Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria which existed from 1910 to 1957. Each state seems to have had its own branch of the society as did New Zealand.

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Harry Winfield 25 November, 2012 02:19
Hi I was wondering if this acclimation society is the same one that Frank BUckland was part of as I am struggling to find the society where exotic animals where imported to act as an alternate food source? Many thanks
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Discovery Centre 8 September, 2012 12:42
Hi Christine, have you accessed the records of the Acclimatisation Society at the State Library of Victoria? This might give you an idea about the rabbits. With regard to the manifest, often the cargo can be found in the newspapers but, after searching, I can only find one or two brief references to HMS Victoria returning to Melbourne from the Auckland Islands, not going there and neither has a manifest. Further records on the ship might be found and a good place to start for this is a series of books called Log of Logs that gives details of archival documents relating to shipping in Australia and New Zealand.
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Christine Lyon 6 September, 2012 21:43
I have searched for the last two years to find out what rabbits were gifted to the Acclimisation Society Victoria by Lady Jane Franklin about the time of it starting up. Also can you please point me in the right direction for the manufest of goods on the HMS Victoria which sailed to the Auckland Islands in 1865.I cant find any info on what rabbits were taken down there. Any help would be just great.
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Discovery Centre 2 August, 2012 10:17

Hi Paul, our collection manager has searched our database looking for any reference to this particular specimen and unfortunately not come up with any results. He has said that as far as he can see we did not register any Thylacine specimen in this period. During those years the animal was still occurring in the wild and it could be that while it was given to us it may not have stayed here as other world institutions were seeking curios like that. Our Director at the time, Sir Frederick McCoy, tended to exchange items such as these for specimens of interest offered from elsewhere. He is not saying that he did that in this instance but it is something that may have occurred. 

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Paul McMaster 1 August, 2012 08:35
I have recently found an article from 1874 describing a Tasmanian Tiger that was killied and gifted to the Melbourne Acclimatization Society. Are you able to advise if this animal is still held there?
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Jacqueline Thatcher 4 January, 2012 01:09
Dear Sally I live in South Africa, please find me on Face Book I would love to chat.
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Sally Marshall 24 September, 2011 06:00
Hi Jaqueline, I am Manning Thatcher's great,great,great,great grand-daughter. My Granddad's mum was Constance Thatcher (Manning Thantchers Grand-daughter) where do you live? how are you related, would be great to find out! (PS shame the legacy isn't a better one!)
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Jacqueline Thatcher 22 September, 2010 19:28
Hi my great great grandfather was Manning Thatcher and he was awarded the a bronz medal for bringing rabbits to Australia, would you have any documentation to this effect?
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Discovery Centre 14 December, 2009 15:30

Hi Ian,

This object information sheet for an Acclimatisation Society medal has the following information: "The Acclimatization Society of Victoria folded about 1872, as the implications of its actions began to be realised."

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Ian Menkins 13 December, 2009 15:50
When did the Acclimatization Society cease to be? i.e. when was their final meeting? Thanks, Ian
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Discovery Centre 23 April, 2009 15:31
Hello, Stephen. You can forward your enquiry to Museum Victoria's Discovery Centre via this online form.
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Stephen Jackson 23 April, 2009 13:38
Dear Sir/Madam Can you please contact me regarding the Bulletin of the Society for Acclimatisation as I have a query.Many thanks. Steve
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