Charles J. Gabriel, 1879-1963

By David Heppell

Extracted from Journal of Conchology, Volume 26, pp.75–76
Charles Gabriel
With the death of Charles John Gabriel, on 19 June 1963, Malacology lost one of that select band of amateur naturalists whose writings have added so much to our knowledge of local faunas and whose collecting activities have enriched the world’s museums of natural history. Gabriel's energies were devoted to collecting, cataloguing and describing the molluscs of his native Victoria – a task on which he was working right up to the time of his death – and, especially in his early years, he undertook extensive dredging in Western Port and Port Phillip Bay. For twenty-six years he collaborated with J. H. Gatliff in adding to and revising the 'Catalogue of the marine Shells of Victoria' which had been published by Gatliff and J. W. Prichard between 1898 and 1906. After Gatliff's death, in 1934, the job of keeping the catalogue up to date was carried on by Gabriel. A year before Gabriel's death, the information previously scattered throughout many publications was united in a single work, the 475-page Molluscs of Victoria, written in co-authorship with J. Hope Macpherson, in which all the marine shells of that state are listed, the more common ones described, and their distribution in and beyond Victoria discussed.

Gabriel's life-long interest in natural history had its beginnings in his earliest years. He was born at Abbotsford, Victoria, on 28 May 1879, the eldest son of Joseph and Elizabeth Lovatt Gabriel. His father, a pharmacist, was a keen member of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria and an honorary collector for the National Museum of Victoria. It was at his father’s instigation that the young Charles, then only nine years old, entered an exhibition of sea shells in the Field Naturalists Club Show of i888 and thereby won his first natural history award. He was proposed for membership of the Club in 1900 and his first paper appeared in that Club’s publication, Victorian Naturalist, in July 1908. Altogether he published nearly fifty scientific papers on both marine and non-marine Mollusca, many of them in collaboration with Gatliff or other authors, and a complete bibliography of these is given by J. Hope Macpherson in J. malac. Soc. Aust. 7: 4–6 (1963).

Gabriel was one of the oldest Members of the Conchological Society, having been elected in October 1907 and becoming a Life Member the following year. When the practice of giving eminent local workers the status and privileges of honorary association with the curatorial staff was introduced at the National Museum of Victoria in 1933, Charles Gabriel was appointed honorary curator of shells – a title changed a little later to honorary associate in conchology. He presented all the type-specimens in his collection to the museum and, thereafter, handed over all type-material and representatives of new records on the completion of each paper. In all, five new genera and about a hundred and twenty new species were described in his papers. In 1958 he was awarded the Australian Natural History Medallion for his contribution to the spread of interest in natural history – he was always ready to help and encourage the beginner and for many years instructed and exhibited at the monthly meetings of the Field Naturalists Club and at their annual nature show. On his death his entire collection and valuable conchological library were willed to the National Museum and will thus be available to future generations of conchologists.

I am indebted to Mrs J. H. Black (née Macpherson) for providing a copy of the only photograph of Gabriel taken in recent years, and for the information on which the above account is based.