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History of the Collections

The Beginnings

The collections held by the Zoology Museum date back to the 1920s. Before The University of the West Indies (UWI) existed the St. Augustine campus was home to the West Indies Agricultural College which in 1924 became the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA).  The early collection was basically a repository for researchers investigating animal species of agricultural importance and as a resource for teaching. Insects formed the bulk of the specimens and consisted of pest and beneficial species associated with the various crops under study – cocoa, maize, coffee, cotton, tobacco, citrus, pineapple and banana to name a few. Many of these were collected by the Professor of Entomology and Commissioner of Agriculture Henry Arthur Ballou, a prolific author on many aspects of entomology throughout the Caribbean and beyond.


            H.A. Ballou     Professor Martin Adamson      Professor A.M. Kirkpatrick

                        Prof. H.A. Ballou                Prof. Martin Adamson               Prof. T.W. Kirkpatrick        


In 1933 Martin Adamson was appointed Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Entomology, he started to collect a wider range of animals including marine invertebrates such as echinoderms and crustaceans and also terrestrial animals such as beetles and amphibians. He had earned his undergraduate degree at The University of St. Andrew in his home country of Scotland and during his time at ICTA he gained his PhD from the University of California, he was with ICTA until his death in 1945.

His successor Professor T.W.. Kirkpatrick, Head of Department from 1946 to 1959, expanded the reference collections further with a wider variety of insects. Around the same time his colleague Michael Emsley added in more non-pest insects as well as establishing a snake collection, some of the information from which he used to write his 1977 publication “Snakes and Trinidad and Tobago”. Unfortunately his original specimens have either disappeared or over time the labels have become disassociated from them as during a recent cataloguing of the reptiles none were recorded as being collected by Emsley.

From 1960 to 1964 the reptile collections were increased further due to the work of Professor Garth Underwood. He was a keen herpetologist who started his career at the University College of the West Indies in Jamaica before moving to Trinidad to become the Head of Department. He collected and studied reptiles from all over the Caribbean during his time at UWI, many of which are deposited in the collection. In recognition of his work the lizard Gymnophthalmus underwoodi was named after him. He presided over the department at a time when Zoology began to be taught separately from Agriculture and so a wider ranging teaching collection was required.  


      Professor Garth Underwood      Professor Julian Kenny       Professor Peter Bacon

            Prof. Garth Underwood                 Prof.  Julian Kenny                       Prof. Peter Bacon  


Professor Julian S. Kenny, who served as Head of Department from 1970 to 1990, collected widely but was particularly keen on amphibians and fish. He was author of “The Amphibia of Trinidad” in 1969 and went on to write many books and articles on all aspects of Trinidad and Tobago’s wildlife.

His successor, Professor Peter Bacon, also added a variety of specimens ranging from barnacles and molluscs, to turtles and plankton. Bacon had gained the first Zoology PhD from St. Augustine in 1969 and went on to conduct studies of Trinidad’s wetlands and the threatened leatherback turtle populations.

Over the years many collectors have contributed to the museum, some have bequeathed items in their wills and some were collected as part of Masters or Doctoral studies. Examples include the shell collection of Sybil Atteck, one of Trinidad’s most famous and influential artists; the P. Thompson mollusc collection; freshwater decapods from Wayne Rostant and Dawn Phillip; marine decapods from Jan Stonley; fossils from Robert Kennedy; freshwater insect larvae and fossils from Mary Alkins-Koo; social insects from Dr. Christopher K. Starr and Alan W. Hook, freshwater fish from J. L. Price, J. Webster-King, J. Kenny and D. Phillip; marine fish from R.W. Bruce; bats from F.M. Clarke; octocorals from D. Ramsaroop; marine invertebrates from staff aboard the Research Vessels Oregon II and Discoverer and the Texaco collection of marine molluscs to name but a few.

One of the most colourful collections, both literally and in terms of the life and death of the donor, was the Sir Norman Lamont collection of Lepidoptera. Lamont was a Scottish Baronet with an estate in Trinidad who had served as a Governor of ICTA and was a prolific writer on many subjects. At the age of 79 he was gored by a bull and died of his wounds, his collection of local butterflies and moths was split between ICTA and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. His collection changed the sparse butterfly specimens into a beautiful and extensive display which rivals the famous Malcolm Barcant collection on display in the Angoustura Museum.

The Present Day

It was decided that a full time zoology curator was required and the position was filled in 2010 by Mike G. Rutherford. Since he started the museum has been undergoing a major cataloguing exercise with every specimen being given a new accession number and having its details recorded in an electronic database. As there are close to 25,000 specimens this will be a long process but with the help of staff, students and volunteers it will provide a valuable resource for future research and study.


Key Collections

This list highlights the main collections in the museum:

1.              Adamson insect collection

2.              Alkins-Koo collections of aquatic hemiptera, trichoptera and other invertebrates

3.              Bacon collections of cirripedes, molluscs, plankton, turtles

4.              Kennedy collection of Trinidad fossils

5.              Kenny collection of scleractinian corals, freshwater fishes

6.              MV Oregon collections of marine fish and invertebrates

7.              MV Discoverer collections of marine invertebrates.

8.              Norman Lamont collection of butterflies and moths

9.              Stonley collection of brachyuran crabs

10.           Stradling and Bennett collection of sphingid moths

11.           Price/Kenny/King-Webster collection of freshwater fishes

12.           Ramsaroop collection of octocorals

13.           Texaco collection of marine molluscs

14.           Underwood collection of Caribbean reptiles

15.           The Banwari skeleton specimen

16.           W. Rostant collection of freshwater decapod crustaceans

17.           D. Phillip Freshwater fish collection


Natural History Collecting in Trinidad and Tobago


For more information on the history of collecting in Trinidad and Tobago in general please read this comprehensive article by Elisha Tikasingh - The History of Zoological Collections in Trinidad and Tobago