Life On The Job

Famous or Historic People

Jane Catharine Tost (1817 - 1889) - Taxidermist. Probably the first woman employed in a Museum in the Australian colonies.

Example of Taxidermy Exhibition
Example of
Taxidermy
exhibition
(Source: WebArchive
University of Sydney
- "Most Curious and Peculiar Women Taxidermists in Colonial Sydney)

Introduction

Jane Catharine Tost (c.1817-1889), and Ada Jane Rohu (1848-1928), taxidermists and shopkeepers, were mother and daughter.

Jane Catherine Tost, the daughter of a prominent English family of naturalists and taxidermists, was employed at the British Museum preparing specimens for some 15 years. Tost’s considerable expertise was acquired at the British Museum in the 1840’s preparing specimens for John Gould. Tost belonged to a prominent English family of taxidermists – she and her two brothers were trained by their parents Herbert and Catherine Ward, who had bred and stuffed birds for gentleman collectors in the early 1800’s. Brothers Edwin Henry (1812-1878)  and Frederick worked for Gould and Audubon and Tost’s nephew Rowland Ward later became internationally renowned for his big game taxidermy dioramas and “Wardian” animal furniture.

On 1 April 1839 at St Anne's Church, Westminster, Jane married Charles Gottleibe Tost, a Prussian-born pianoforte maker. They were to have six children. In the 1840s and 1850s Jane was employed at the British Museum, preparing specimens under John Gould's direction, and may have also worked in Belgium.

Jane's Work

She is first referred to as a taxidermist in two letters written by John Gould’s secretary, Edwin Prince (Lambourne and Jackson 1993). At this time she was working in Gould’s taxidermy shop in Broad Street, London, while Gould was travelling in Australia. On 5 July 1839, Prince wrote: “So much work that Jos[eph] Baker obliged to employ Johnson at over hours at Z[oological]. S[ociety]. and Miss Ward”.

Almost a year later, on 20 May 1839, Prince recorded that “The workroom is so full that we have been obliged to engage Mrs Tosh [sic] (late Jane Ward) to assist.”

Charles and Jane Tost and their children sailed from Liverpool in the Indian Queen and on 22 January 1856 reached Tasmania, where Jane took up a position stuffing and mounting specimens for the Royal Society of Tasmania at the Hobart Town Museum [now part of Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery]. They moved to Sydney in 1860, Jane offering her services as a naturalist from the family home in Bridge Street.

When her application to the more conservative Victorian Museum was rejected, she instead moved her growing family of six children to Sydney and began working at the Australian Museum.


1864

In 1864 the Museum [Australian Museum] employed its first professional female staff member - Jane Tost, taxidermist and business woman extraordinaire. After working at the Hobart Town Museum she came to Sydney and the Museum Trustees engaged her on the same terms as her colleague and husband Charles – at 10 pounds a month.

When her husband, Charles, also a taxidermist, applied for a position at the Museum the following year, the services of ‘Mrs Tost’ were already highly regarded by the Museum Trustees. Unhappy with
the badly mounted and insect-infested specimens produced by her colleague Adam Becker, they obviously considered Jane’s work to be superior: ‘The specimens thus repaired or newly mounted by Mrs Tost during the last ten months had never suffered in the least’. Becker was promptly dismissed and Charles joined his wife on an equal salary of ten pounds a month.

Tost and her husband worked together at the Australian Museum until 1869, when the curator, Gerard Krefft, accused Charles, then employed as a carpenter, of misappropriating building materials for his personal use. No criminal charges were laid but he was dismissed and according to family tradition he left Sydney and his family at that time [according to family tradition Charles returned to England]. Tost also ceased full-time employment after the incident, and although the museum refused her requests to be reinstated in the years that followed, it continued to purchase specimens from her during the 1870’s thus
beginning a commercial association that  would keep the institution well supplied with collection items for the next 50 years.

1872

The Tosts' third child Jane Catherine (known as Ada Jane) had been born on 16 March 1848 in London. After a career on the stage of the Queen Victoria Theatre in Sydney, on 8 October 1868 at Woolloomooloo she married with Wesleyan forms James Richardson Coates, a dealer in earthenware, glass and china. They had three children. In 1872 Ada's husband and brother, Charles, were killed fighting a fire at the Prince of Wales Theatre. With money from a benefit fund, Jane and Ada had to take on the responsibility of providing for their families, so they founded the fancy work shop and taxidermy enterprise of 'Tost & Coates Berlin Wool Depot and Taxidermists' at 60 William Street, catering to a growing middle-class taste for fancy work and stuffed animals in interior decoration, as well as to scientific collectors and museums.

Jane and Ada also offered lessons in taxidermy and fancy work. Women’s diaries and ladies’ art manuals show that taxidermy was a leisure activity for some middle and upper-class women in the 19th century.

1878

Following Ada's marriage on 12 September 1878 at St Peter's Church of England, Woolloomooloo, to Henry Stewart Boventure Rohu, a Scottish-born upholsterer and curio collector, the firm became Tost & Rohu. Ada and Henry had six children, and the shop supported a large extended family. The business grew, selling an eclectic mix of furs, stuffed animals, and Aboriginal and Islander artefacts.

Newspaper ad

Advertising as articulators and taxidermists, fancy work and glass dome suppliers, and dealers in furs and curios, Tost and Rohu became famous for their extraordinary collections, and travelers were urged to visit their “Museum” to view the weird and wonderful collections and purchase souvenirs.
(Source: Untold Stories)

 

"The two women were so industrious that while running and marketing the family business and bringing up Ada’s children (nine in total), they also won at least 20 medals between them for their meticulous craftsmanship at international trade exhibitions."
(Source: Australian Museum)

1891

When the Chicago World Fair Committee reported in 1891 that ‘a good deal of bird and animal stuffing, done in Sydney, is performed by females’, it was definitely including the dynamic mother and daughter team of Jane Catherine Tost and Ada Jane Tost [later Rohu].

Tost & Rohu – taxidermists, tanners, furriers and curio dealers – was widely advertised. Visitors to Sydney were enticed to visit the shop boasting ‘the largest stock in Australia of genuine native implements and curiosities, carved emu eggs and other beautiful souvenirs, skins of foreign and Australasian birds, beasts and reptiles, live snakes (non-venomous), entomological specimens & requisites, birds and animals mounted in life-like style, fancywork goods and glass domes.' There was something there for everyone. The taxidermists won at least 20 medals for their meticulous craftsmanship at international trade exhibitions.

1870s - 1920s

 

Bill of Sale
Bill of sale of artefact to Australian Museum 1904
(Source: Rohu History)

 

Between the 1870s and 1920s the Australian Museum kept a watchful eye on goods being offered at ‘the queerest shop in Australia’, as it came to be known, acquiring about 130 ethnographic items from them as well as other, natural history specimens. Tost and Rohu artefacts can be found today in museums in Australia, New Zealand, England and Ireland. 

 



Did You Know?

Sydney Morning Herald 31 December 1886

SMH

This newspaper article gives us some idea about the range of items, artifacts and animals that made the Tost and Rohu Museum 'the queerest place in Australia'. Exhibits included an electrical machine, a working model circus, mechanical figures and a galvanic battery. The museum had live snakes and reptiles, including a snake 14 feet in length!
(Source: Tost-Rohu-Museum)

Award-Winning Creations


For thirty years Jane Tost and her daughter Ada Rohu were the most successful New South Wales exhibitors at international shows, winning over 20 medals. Their exhibits, ranging from a stuffed black swan to a wallaby fur muff, were prized not only for the skill displayed, but also for the ingenious adaptation of the taxidermist's art to Australia's fauna. They promoted their business by exhibiting examples of their work (often of Australian native animals), in London (1862 and 1886), Paris (1867), Sydney’s Garden Palace (1879), Calcutta (1883), Melbourne (1888), Launceston (1891-2), and the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893). The Women’s Work committee for the Chicago exposition made a special effort to include examples by female taxidermists in their display, and Ada Rohu was the most successful Australian exhibitor, receiving ten medals.

 

 

Did You Know?

Women Taxidermists in Colonial Sydney

From 1872 to the 1930’s, Jane and her daughter Ada (c. 1845-1928), a performer and married to Naturalist and artefact collector Henry Rohu, founded Tost & Coates, later becoming Tost & Rohu, a Fancy Work Depot and Taxidermy Studio.

As well as taxidermy, items sold included Berlin wool, feather flowers and glass domes. Tost and Rohu also ran lessons in taxidermy and fancy work, and exhibited their work, winning numerous awards. It was during the late nineteenth century that the company focused on selling furs and ethnographic material. From the 1890’s the company claimed to stock the largest collection of Pacific Islander and Australian material in the country. During the early 1900’s, a museum was created above the shop, and during the 1930’s Tost & Rohu, Taxidermists, Furriers and Curiosity Shop was known as “The Queerest Shop in Australia”.

(Source: Research Data Australia)

Ada Jane Coates
Ada Jane Coates
Ada Jane Coates, a former actress and widow with 3 children, was a taxidermist who with her mother Jane Tost had opened Tost and Coates, a Fancy Work Depot and Taxidermy Studio in Sydney. The business was renamed Tost and Rohu after she married Henry Stewart Rohu.

Henry and Ada had seven children, Alver, Sylvester, Elsie May, Ada, Ruby, Millicent and Jane. Henry deserted Ada in April 1890 and Ada petitioned for divorce in November of that year.

Family photo
~ 1916
This Family photograph was probably taken in 1916 before Sil [Sylvester] embarked for the Great War - WWI.
Back: Alver, Ada (McCann), Millicent. Middle: Sil, Elsie May, Ella McCann, Ada Jane. Front: unknown man. The two little girls are Millicent's daughters Ada and Sylvia Robey.

(Source: Rohu History)

Although Jane Tost died in 1889 and Ada Rohu’s husband, Henry, left her in 1895, the family business continued until the 1930’s, and during that period sold many items to the Australian Museum. The business was sold to James Tyrrel in the 1920s.

Death

Jane Tost died on 24 April 1889, and was buried in the Church of England section of Rookwood cemetery. Two sons and a daughter survived her.

Ada carried on their remarkable shop, which in 1896 moved to larger premises at 10 Moore Street (Martin Place). An advertisement in the 1910s revealed an astonishing assemblage, much like that later described by the bookseller James Tyrrell—'armour, spears, boomerangs, teapots, native dresses, ancient muskets, tiger skins, birds' feathers [and] stuffed animals'.

When Jane Tost died in 1889, Ada and family carried on her mother’s life work until the bookseller James Tyrell bought out the business in 1923. With news of a ‘sale’ in that year of ‘many desirable
pieces’ from the collection, the Australian Museum quickly sent buyers to acquire what they could of the remaining pieces before competitors arriving in Sydney for the Pan-Pacific Science Congress swooped on the stock.

Ada Rohu died on 28 July 1928 at Newtown and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. Two sons and one daughter of her first marriage, and four daughters and a son of her second, survived her. Tyrrell purchased the business in the 1920s, delighting in the fact that it was known as 'the queerest shop in Sydney'. An exhibition about the work of Tost and Rohu was held at the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney, in 1996.

Irrawaddy Squirrel
The one confirmed example of Jane Tost's work, a squirrel, is in the collection of the Australian Museum, Sydney.


Remarkable for
her taxidermy skills, industry and business
acumen, Jane Tost blazed a path for many
working women to come.
(Source: Australian Museum)

 

Links

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Australian Dictionary of Biography

ADB

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Untold Stories: Jane Tost and Ada Rohu:
A Remarkable Mother Daughter Taxidermy Team

Untold Stories

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Australian Museum

AM


bullet.gif (981 bytes)Rohu Family

Rohu Family


Activities


bullet.gif (981 bytes)Provenance & Respect

MiddleMiddle High SchoolSecondary

Literacy Australian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Critical & Creative ThinkingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical & Creative Thinking

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding

PhilosophyPhilosophy

 

1. Here is an image of an Account for goods purchased by Percy Grainger, 30 March 1909 from Tost & Rohu (Sydney, 1872 - 1923). Reading

Account of goods purchased by Percy Grainger
Tost & Rohu (Sydney, 1872–1923)
Account for goods purchased by Percy Grainger, 30 March 1909
printer’s ink and manuscript on paper
33.6 x 21.2 cm
Grainger Museum
University of Melbourne
01.3119.2

This Account is held at the Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne. As stated from this museum

"The favourite shop in Sydney of the Australian musician Percy Grainger (1882–1961) was Tost & Rohu, owned and operated by Jane Tost and her daughter Ada Rohu. Tost was a taxidermist par
excellence
and may also have been the first woman in Australia to work professionally in a museum. She left the Australian Museum to open the business with her daughter, a former actress turned
taxidermist. Visitors to Sydney were enticed to visit the shop, which boasted in its advertising ‘the largest stock in Australia of genuine native implements and curiosities … entomological specimens &
requisites, birds and animals mounted in life-like style, fancywork goods and glass domes’.


Grainger collected ethnographic material principally for its aesthetic and design appeal, which inspired his own creative projects; he had little interest in the provenance of the objects. This account records his purchase of a skirt from Oceania, made of string and coconut fibre. Grainger’s label on the garment notes that it was to hang on the mantelpiece of his music room. He was also
photographed wearing the skirt, which he chose to accessorise with beadwork (a necklace he made himself). The account sheds light on the way in which Grainger acquired objects for his museum, his
interaction with them and how he determined their display."
(Source: Grainger Museum)



Investigation

Look up the meaning of

  • ethnographic material
  • provenance

2. In The Conversation 1 December 2014, Stolen cultural objects: what's the role of Australian galleries? [Museums], the author Professor Lyndel Prott, questions how museum and art galleries have obtained artefacts in the past and the ethics of keeping these objects. Reading

The Conversation

Stated from this article, under "The provence trail

Directors and curators of museums and art galleries see their function as providing the best examples of cultural resources.

It is evident that the old colonial states such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, even smaller states such as Sweden (through war booty) and other European countries (Spain, with material from Latin America; Italy with booty from north Africa) were in a position to accumulate brilliant collections of cultural heritage from around the world.

It has been more difficult for “younger” countries, such as Australia, to put together an outstanding collection. It is also difficult for countries who feel that their own cultural achievements are held elsewhere and are unable to retrieve them to use them for their own purposes, including the education of their own artists and future generations.

This conundrum has led many museums directors not to pursue the trail of provenance too thoroughly. The result can be very unfortunate – the return of the Shiva to India exemplifies this only too well.

Efforts to see that the 1986 Act is being complied with have been much more active under some federal governments than others. The present government [2014] left the National Cultural Heritage Committee without a chairman and with some vacant seats for many months, so it was effectively inoperative.

In 2009 there was a public consultation about the working of the Act.

Recommendations were made but no further action has been taken on them. The United Kingdom has been working on guidance for museums and art galleries on many difficult issues such as the treatment and return of human remains, and the return of spoliated goods.

Recently Australia produced the Australian Best Practice Guide to Collecting Cultural Material. In June this year a draft was circulated for further comment. But the final version of the guide is less compelling than the original draft.

Current museum directors in Australia now have two challenges: to verify a good provenance of objects already acquired and to negotiate with culturally rich countries for loans (long-term and short) to broaden appreciation of exotic cultures in return for support for their museums and culture."

 

Discussion

3. With a partner, discuss the issues involved.

4. As a class, discuss and debate

"Should any museum objects taken without permission from their cultural owners be returned or kept at the museum?

Are there any special circumstances?

What has the term "Respect" got to do with this topic?"

 

5. Want to read more about provence?

Try the following:

The Conversation: The 'Gurlitt case': how a routine customs check uncovered a sensational Nazi-era art hoard

Friday essay: small histories - how a road trip reveals local museums stuck in a rut

 

 

 

Materials sourced from

Australian Dictionary of Biography
Research Data Australia

Untold Stories
Rohu History [PDF; Tost-Rohu-Museum;]
Australian Museum [Blog; Media; ]
Trove
EU Publishing

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