The Internal Anatomy
of the Thylacine - A Historical Perspective
James Peter Hill (1873-1954), was an eminent embryologist who specialised
in the study of monotremes and marsupials. Born and educated in Scotland,
he became a demonstrator of biology at the University of Sydney in 1892,
and Lecturer on Embryology in 1904. Hill went on to become Professor
of Embryology at University College in London from 1921 to 1938.
A biographical summary of Hill's career published in the Journal of Anatomy
(Anon. 1948) states:
"It may be asserted
without danger of exaggeration that J. P. Hill has not only laid the foundations
of our knowledge of the development of Monotremes and Marsupials, but that
he has, by his own researches and those which he has stimulated others
to undertake, erected thereon a lasting monument of exact knowledge which
constitutes a contribution to science of permanent and inestimable value".
Hill dissected the reproductive
tract of a female thylacine sent to him by Alexander Morton, the curator
of the Royal Society of Tasmania's Museum, on the 5th August 1902.
Although no publication resulted from this endeavour, Hill's working notebook,
together with his dissection,
survives in the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde (Humboldt
University) in Berlin. Hill's other legacy, also within the museum's
collection, is a series of stained slides of the reproductive anatomy of
the female thylacine, which number some 200 in total. The slides
detail the right and left ovaries, utero-tubal junction, infundibulum of
the fallopian tube, os uterus and cervix (Source: ITSD 5th Revision 2013).
Reproductive tract of
female thylacine (Specimen MA 840). Museum für Naturkunde (Humboldt
University), Berlin. Source: ITSD 5th Revision 2013.
| Sir Colin MacKenzie
(1877-1938) was an eminent, Melbourne-based orthopaedic surgeon who devoted
much of his life to the study of Australian fauna. In 1919, he formed
and financed the Australian Institute of Anatomical Research, and began
building a collection of preserved specimens of Australian wildlife.
This work intensified in the 1920s when the Victorian government granted
him permission to establish a field research station at Healesville that
enabled him to breed and collect native animals for use as anatomical specimens.
Entrance gates to Sir
Colin MacKenzie Sanctuary at Healesville (Victoria). Courtesy: State
Library of Victoria.
| In the course of his
work, MacKenzie accumulated the largest single collection of thylacine
organ specimens in existence (Source: ITSD 5th Revision 2013). In
the Age newspaper of the 13th August 1925 (p. 13), MacKenzie wrote:
animals are fast disappearing, and, in less than twenty years it is computed,
will, in the absence of rigid protective measures, be all extinct".
photo taken in 1938 of the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra,
where the vast collection of anatomical specimens (including those of the
thylacine) accumulated by Sir Colin MacKenzie were once housed. Amongst
the institute's functions were serving as a natural history museum and
conducting nutritional research.
MacKenzie generously donated his entire collection of marsupial specimens,
including those of the thylacine, to the Australian nation and in 1924
the government responded by creating the National Museum of Australian
Zoology to house them, appointing him as its first director. In 1931,
the museum became known as the Australian Institute of Anatomy to coincide
with the opening of its Canberra home. The Australian Institute of
Anatomy closed in December 1985 and the MacKenzie collection transferred
to its current home at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.
MacKenzie's focus on
the anatomical attributes of his specimens reduced their value from a zoological
perspective as he failed to keep detailed records for each specimen, only
labelling them with a brief description of the organ preserved and the
common name of the animal (Source: ITSD 5th Revision 2013). Although
MacKenzie did not contribute directly to our knowledge of the internal
anatomy of the thylacine, his legacy was the foresight to collect and preserve
all of its organ systems for future generations of scientists to study.