Elizabeth Coxen: pioneer naturalist and the Queensland Museum’s first woman curator


Elizabeth Coxen: pioneer naturalist and the Queensland Museum’s first woman curator (12929 KB) pdf document icon


McKay, J. & Healy, J.M.


McKay, J. & Healy, J.M. 2017. Elizabeth Coxen: pioneer naturalist and the Queensland Museum’s first woman curator. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum–Nature 60: 139-160. https://dx.doi.org/10.17082/j.2204-1478.60.2017.2017-05

Accepted 10 May 2017
Published online 31 August 2017.
Peer reviewed:




Keywords Elizabeth Coxen, Queensland Museum, curators, molluscs, Charles Coxen


Elizabeth Coxen (1825–1906) was a remarkable woman of her time. The wife of naturalist, politician and public servant Charles Coxen (1809–1876), best known as founder of the Queensland
Museum, Elizabeth shared her husband’s extensive scientific interests. Not only a devoted and knowledgeable companion, she achieved notability in her own right: as a conchologist, meteorologist
and horticulturist. More remarkably, in 1877, in middle age, she effectively became the Queensland Museum’s first woman curator (molluscs) and the first person to be paid to oversee any part of
the museum’s invertebrate collections. Probably she was the first woman curator of any natural history museum in Australia. Widely respected within the local scientific community, in 1886 she
became the first woman to be elected as a member of a scientific organisation in Queensland. This paper documents Elizabeth Coxen’s life, which has not been investigated in detail before,
and records her various contributions to science and public life in nineteenth-century Queensland. Special focus is placed on her contribution to the establishment, recording and growth of the
original molluscan collection of the Queensland Museum and her links with the research world of molluscs both within Australia and overseas.