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Biographical entry Macdonald, James David (1908 - 2002)

Born
3 October 1908
Foyers, Inverness, Scotland
Died
17 September 2002
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Occupation
Ornithologist

Summary

James Macdonald was in charge of the Bird Room in the British Museum of Natural History in London from the 1930s until his retirement in 1968. In 1963 he led the first 'Harold Hall [bird collecting] Expedition' to Australia.

Details

James David Macdonald was in charge of the Bird Room in the British Museum of Natural History in London from the 1930s until his retirement in 1968. His academic qualifications from Aberdeen University were in Marine Biology, and he learned his birds through his work at the museum. In 1949 he led an important expedition in South West Africa, with the support of his wife, Dr Betty Macdonald, who was the expedition's doctor and cook. She also collected plants for the Kew Gardens. Mrs Pat Hall, an associate of the Bird Room, also accompanied the African expedition as mechanic. (She had trained as a mechanic during the war, and had joined the Bird Room soon after as a volunteer. She had private means, so was never a formal employee). Through Macdonald's African connections, he learned of an Australian philanthropist, Harold Hall (no relation to Pat Hall), who was interested in supporting research in natural history. Hall had made considerable money through the Mt Morgan gold fields. In the early 1960s, Macdonald approached him and secured sponsorship of £25,000 (£5,000 p.a. for 5 years) to undertake the 'Harold Hall Expeditions' of the British Museum. The collecting expeditions were designed to rebuild the Australian bird collections, which had been lost because of the sale of the Mathews and Rothschild collections to America.

J D Macdonald led the first of these in 1963, and Betty Macdonald was cook, doctor and plant collector. The Australian party comprised Allan McEvey and Bill Middleton (qqv), and Dom Serventy (qv) was a great supporter of all five expeditions. The other expeditions were led by other Bird Room staff, including one by Mrs Pat Hall (who subsequently edited the book on the findings of all five expeditions). Shane Parker (qv) had his first taste of Australia through the second Hall Expedition in 1964.

In accordance with his promise to Harold Hall, Macdonald retired to Australia in 1968 to write a book, Birds of Australia: A Summary of Information, which was published in 1973 and dedicated to Harold Hall. The Macdonalds live in Brisbane. Along with Jiro Kikkawa (qv) and others, they were actively involved in the establishment of the Queensland Ornithological Society in 1970, and J D Macdonald was its first President.

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Ailie Smith