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Frederick McCoy and his Prodromus


Frederick McCoy (c. 1823–99) joined the University of Melbourne as Professor of Natural Science in 1855 and became the director of the museum in 1858. McCoy made many contributions to science in the new colony, especially in the fields of zoology, stratigraphy and palaeontology.

In 1874, McCoy began publication of his Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria and Prodromus of the Palaeontology of Victoria. The two volumes of 200 zoological plates and one volume of 70 palaeontological plates set out to be ‘systematic publications . . . as might be useful and interesting to the general public and contribute to the advancement of science’. Publication of the plates in sets of 10, called ‘decades’, continued until 1890 but were never reissued in systematic order as had been intended.

Each plate is a lithograph made from drawings by the artists Ludwig Becker, Edward Gilkes, Arthur Bartholomew, James Ripper and John Wild. Initially, the lithographs for the zoological Prodromus were printed in black and white and were then hand-coloured, but later editions were printed in colour.

McCoy made a special effort in the case of the living species to have the drawings done from fresh specimens so that the colours and appearance were as natural as possible. Many of the specimens from which the drawings were made remain in the museum’s collection today.

The Giant Gippsland Earthworm is larger than most other species of earthworm and could be the longest in the world. These gigantic worms were discovered by surveyors in the Brandy Creek region of Gippsland, Victoria, and sent to McCoy, who recognised them as a new species. The specimen illustrated in Arthur Bartholomew’s lithograph might no longer exist; the actual worm studied and described by McCoy in 1879 exists in fragments in the museum collection.

Giant Gippsland Earthworm (Megascolides australis)
 Giant Gippsland Earthworm (Megascolides australis)

 Lithograph of the Giant Gippsland Earthworm

 Sir Frederick McCoy (c. 1823–99)


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Giant Gippsland Earthworm (Megascolides australis)
Registration No. F.40140
Image source: Museum Victoria

© Museum Victoria Australia