Alexander Hugh Chisholm

Alexander Hugh Chisholm (28 March 1890 — 10 July 1977) also known as Alec Chisholm, was a noted Australian naturalist, journalist, newspaper editor, author and ornithologist. He was a member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union (RAOU), President of the RAOU 1939-1940, and editor of its journal the Emu from 1926 to 1928. In 1941 he was elected a Fellow of the RAOU in 1941 and the previous year he had been the first recipient of the Australian Natural History Medallion for his work in ornithology and popularising natural history. Chisholm was a prolific and popular writer of articles and books, mainly on birds and nature but also on history, literature and biography.[1][2]

Early Life

Alec Chisholm was born in Maryborough, Victoria, on 28 March 1890, the seventh of eight children born to Colin and Charlotte Chisholm (nee Kennedy). He attended Maryborough Primary School but left at the age of twelve. After next nine years of varied employment, he settled into a career as a journalist at the age of twenty-one.[3]


By the time he began work as a journalist, Chisholm already had a name as a conservationist. His first conservationist campaign, in 1908, was against the killing of egrets for their plumes and through that campaign became acquainted with the poet Mary Gilmore, who became a life-long friend. He continued to campaign for the conservation of Australia’s birds, animals and plants for the rest of his life.[4]

Personal Life

On 8 November 1923 Chisholm married Olive May Haseler in Brisbane.[5] They had one daughter, Deirdre, who was born on 26 December 1924. From 1964, Olive Chisholm’s health deteriorated seriously. Alec cared for her as best he could until late 1968, when she was committed to Balmoral Hill Convalescent Home, where she died in 1970. By this time, his own health was in serious decline, although he continued living alone in a small flat in Sydney’s Cremorne Point until his death in 1977.[6]

Journalist and Editor

Chisholm worked  as a journalist in Queensland from 1915 to 1922, then moved to Sydney  where he became news editor of the Daily Telegraph and later editor of the Sunday Pictorial. After moving to Melbourne in 1933, he was for many years editor of the Australasian, before being appointed editor of The Argus in June 1937.[7][8] He spent ten years, from 1948 to 1958, editing the ten-volume Australian Encyclopaedia, for which he was awarded the Order of the British Empire.


Visiting England in 1938, Chisholm discovered a large number of documents relating to the nineteenth-century ornithologist John Gould. They included the diary kept by Gould’s principal collector, John Gilbert, during his participation in Ludwig Leichhardt’s 1844-45 expedition to Port Essington. This diary became the foundation of Chisholm’s 1941 book, Strange New World. He published several later works of history, but none achieved the popularity or notoriety of his Gilbert and Leichhardt book.[9]

Chisholm's books

  • (1922). Mateship with Birds. Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd: Melbourne.
  • (1929). Birds and Green Places. A book of Australian nature gossip. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd: London.
  • (1932). Nature Fantasy in Australia. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd: London.
  • (1934). Bird Wonders of Australia. Angus & Robertson: Sydney. This book went though six editions, the last being issued in 1969.
  • (1941). Strange New World. The adventures of John Gilbert and Ludwig Leichhardt. Angus & Robertson: Sydney. A second edition was published in 1955 and a revised edition was issued in 1973 under the title Strange Journey.
  • (1944). The Incredible Year. An Australian sees Europe in Adolf Hitler Weather. Angus & Robertson: Sydney.
  • (1944). The Story of Elizabeth Gould. Hawthorne Press: Melbourne.
  • (1945). An Explorer and His Birds. John Gilbert's discoveries in 1844-45. Brown, Prior, Anderson: Mebourne.
  • (1946). The Making of a Sentimental Bloke : A sketch of the remarkable career of C.J. Dennis, Georgian house: Melbourne.
  • (1948). Fairy Wrens. F.W. Cheshire Pty Ltd: Melbourne.
  • (1948). News from Nature. A selection of seasonal gossip. Georgian House: Melbourne.
  • (1950). Scots Wha Hae : History of the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne, Angus & Robertson: Sydney.
  • (1960). The Romance of the Lyrebird. Angus & Robertson Pty Ltd: Sydney.
  • (1969). The Joy of the Earth. Collins: Sydney.


  1. MCGREGOR, RUSSELL. (2019). IDLING IN GREEN PLACES : a life of alec chisholm. AUSTRALIAN SCHOLARLY PUB. ISBN 1925801993. OCLC 1119561712.
  2. "Mateship with Birds: An Australian Plea for Conservation | Environment & Society Portal". Retrieved 23 November 2019.
  3. Kloot, Tess, "Chisholm, Alexander Hugh (Alec) (1890–1977)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 13 November 2019
  4. Robin, Libby, 1956- (2001). The flight of the emu : a hundred years of Australian ornithology, 1901-2001. Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0522849873. OCLC 49001691.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. "PRE-WEDDING DINNER". The Brisbane Courier (20, 528). Queensland, Australia. 7 November 1923. p. 18. Retrieved 6 March 2018 via National Library of Australia.
  6. McGill, A. R. (1 October 1977). "Alexander Hugh Chisholm". Emu - Austral Ornithology. 77 (4): 232–235. doi:10.1071/MU9770232. ISSN 0158-4197.
  7. "Editor Of Melbourne "Argus" Retires". The Advertiser (Adelaide). South Australia. 30 June 1937. p. 22. Retrieved 6 March 2018 via National Library of Australia.
  8. ""ARGUS" CHANGES". The Mercury. CXLVI (20, 780). Tasmania, Australia. 30 June 1937. p. 9. Retrieved 6 March 2018 via National Library of Australia.
  9. MCGREGOR, RUSSELL. (2019). IDLING IN GREEN PLACES : a life of alec chisholm. AUSTRALIAN SCHOLARLY PUB. ISBN 1925801993. OCLC 1119561712.
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