FLETCHER, Joseph James (1850-1926)


FLETCHER, Joseph James (1850-1926)
biologist
was born at Auckland, New Zealand, in 1850. His father, the Rev. Joseph Horner Fletcher (1823-1890), a Methodist clergyman, came to Australia early in 1861, and, after a term of four years in Queensland, went to Sydney to become principal of Newington College, from 1865 to 1887. From this school his son went to the university of Sydney and graduated B.A. in 1870 and M.A. in 1876. Between these years he was a master at Wesley College, Melbourne, under Professor M. H. Irving (q.v.), in 1876 resigned this position and went to London, where he studied biology at a very inspiring period and took his B.Sc. degree at London university in 1879. In 1881 he decided to return to Australia, and, before leaving England, prepared a Catalogue of Papers and Works relating to the Mammalian orders, Marsupialla and Monotremata, which was published in Sydney soon after his arrival in 1881. There were no openings for young scientists in Sydney at this period, so Fletcher joined the staff of Newington College where his father was still principal. He was four years at the school and was a successful teacher, encouraging his pupils to find out things for themselves instead of merely trying to remember what their teacher had told them. During this period he joined the Linnean Society of New South Wales, met Sir William Macleay (q.v.), and in 1885 was given the position of director and librarian of the society. This title was afterwards changed to secretary. He entered on his duties on 1 January 1886 and for over 33 years devoted his life to the service of the society. During this period he edited 33 volumes of Proceedings with the greatest care. He also published in 1892 a selection of Sermons, Addresses and Essays by his father, with a biographical sketch, and in 1893 edited The Macleay Memorial Volume, for which he wrote an excellent memoir of Macleay. He had done some very good research work in connexion with the embryology of the marsupials, and on Australian earthworms. Later he took up the amphibia, on which he eventually became an authority. In January 1900 he was president of the biology section at the meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, and chose for the subject of his address "The Rise and early Progress of our Knowledge of the Australian Fauna", a work of much value to all interested in the history of research in the natural history of Australia. In addition to being secretary of the Linnean Society and editor of its Proceedings, Fletcher was an executor of Macleay's will and he had much work in carrying out the provisions of it as financial and legal difficulties arose in connexion with the appointment of a bacteriologist and the foundation of the research fellowships. In later years he gave more and more time to botany, and did important work on acacias, grevilleas and Loranthaceae. On 31 March 1919 he resigned his position as secretary to the Linnean Society and was elected president in 1920 and 1921. His address on "The Society's Heritage from the Macleays", a very interesting record, occupies nearly 70 pages in volume XLV of the Proceedings. After an accident in 1922 he was much confined to his home for the remainder of his life. He overhauled and completed the arranging and labelling of his own zoological collection in 1923 before presenting it to the Australian museum, and died suddenly on 15 May 1926, leaving a widow. He was awarded the Clarke Memorial Medal by the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1921.
Sir W. Baldwin Spencer, The Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, vol. LII, p. XXXIII; ibid, p. V; The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 1926.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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