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William Saville-Kent, pioneer of nineteenth-century Australian marine baselines

During the inaugural address to the International Fisheries Exhibition of 1883 in London a minor organizer of the event, William Saville-Kent, had occasion to listen to his mentor, Royal Society President T. H. Huxley, utter one of his typically punchy pronouncements. This famous marine zoologist, whose intellect and oratory had made Charles Darwin feel 'infantile', told the assembled experts that all attempts to regulate fisheries were both useless and unnecessary. 'Nothing we can do seriously affects the number of fish', he thundered, and the findings of two Royal Commissions proved it. The fishing stocks of the world's oceans were simply inexhaustible.

Saville-Kent had every reason to agree. Despite strenuous efforts to impress Huxley, he was little more than a minnow in the great man's vast net of protégés and disciples. And nobody needed Huxley's help more urgently. Behind Saville-Kent lay the secret of a terrible childhood crime, a patchy scientific training and a trail of failed or squandered scientific positions. In front of him beckoned the possibility of exposure and life imprisonment or escape through obtaining a scientific position outside of Britain.

Thankfully Huxley delivered. July the following year saw William Saville-Kent arrive in Hobart to take up the position of Superintendent of Tasmanian Fisheries, the beginning of a career that was eventually to bring him international fame as Australia's first Great Barrier Reef marine scientist. In this paper I will explain how and why Saville-Kent defied his revered mentor Huxley to become a pioneer of Australian fisheries data collections and sustainable management and culturing practices.