Thursday 15 July 2010

Large monogrammed butterfly/moth cabinet.

Large butterfly cabinet with open doors and drawers.

Butterfly cabinet (one of three this size)

Cabinet drawers were opened using a dental implement inserted into a perforated coin.

Beetle cabinets.


Butterflies - usually brightly coloured with clubbed antennae.

Moths - with pointed antennae - sometimes 'feathery'.

Tuesday 15 June 2010


Author's medical web site and contacts:

Butterfly Collection of Harald Schrader, dentist of Bexley, New South Wales.

Over Sunday brunch my father John Justinian Byrne, now aged 83, described with clarity the remarkable story whereby he came to own perhaps Australia’s most beautiful amateur collection of butterflies and beetles. They were contained in a series of nine extraordinary and varied inlaid cabinets, all the work of Sydney dentist Harald Schrader in the early 20th century.

My father had a call from a regular patient, a Miss Waugh from Rocky Point Road, Sans Souci. Her family was concerned about their elderly uncle, retired dentist Harald Schrader who was very ill in bed at home in Carlton, an adjacent suburb. They sought a second opinion and so my father promptly drove to the house in Willison Rd, as he recalls on the corner of Bruce Street. He was ushered into the living room while the old man was prepared to receive the doctor. The house was noted to be very dusty if not actually dirty. Under some of this cloying dust, my father noted numerous interesting cabinets of inlaid wood with Australian flora and fauna motifs.

After a medical examination, Mr Schrader’s response to my father’s compliments on the cabinets were the only words my father ever recalls the old man saying: “So, you like them, boy?”

Mr Schrader, by then aged about 85, was a widower of ten years or more. They had no children. He appeared to have neglected himself and become housebound. The doctor diagnosed dehydration and malnutrition and had him admitted to a nearby private hospital. Here he improved over the next few weeks with a wholesome diet and some vitamins - at which the family were delighted. However, after about six weeks - and despite everyone’s best endeavours - Mr Schrader had a sudden heart attack and died while going to the bathroom.

Harald Schrader’s sister, Mrs Waugh still lived in Rocky Point Road at that stage. Another brother had been a well-loved sports master at Sydney Boys’ High School in Cleveland Street. Mr C. P. (Pop) Schrader was known to a generation of boys from 1928 to 1940. He ran summer camps for the boys at Sussex Inlet where he subsequently retired. Mr Schrader was extremely popular with the boys and fellow staff members.

It was said that the dentist and collector Harald Schrader had an avaricious tendency and kept coins in tins around the house. There was also a story about a Belgian colleague, also an insect collector, who helped with overseas contacts for obtaining specimens for the collection from exotic locations.

Several months after Mr Schrader’s death, Dr Byrne received a phone call from Mrs Waugh saying that the family would be pleased if he would accept the mirrored sideboard which he had so admired as a gift of appreciation. He said he would be delighted … and he enquired after the rest of the collection. On being told that it was literally on the truck to go to Lawson’s Auctions, my father offered five hundred pounds to buy the other eight cabinets. After a few moments and in the same phone call it was agreed and the cabinets arrived the following morning at our house which was attached to the surgery my grandfather had built in the 1930s (he had died a couple of years earlier).

Thus the collection was to remain intact - and to adorn our family home. One part of the collection, however, was missing. A glass case filled with stuffed birds had already been gifted to a neighbour and, although John recalled seeing it before the old man died, we have no photograph of it. There may have been a bird of paradise and several smaller specimens inside. The glass case was set into the longest (~2.5m) and perhaps narrowest cabinet which now had a large cavity for a top. Since it was also the only cabinet which was a useful height for a serving table or ‘bench top’ it was covered ‘temporarily’ with wood-grained Laminex. In this way it has been used every day for 40 years. Nevertheless, at some stage it should be restored with a proper timber surface. Or on the distant chance that the birds could be re-located it could be returned to the way Mr Schrader designed it.

This collection consists of nine beautiful cabinets which we tended to take for granted in our house near Sydney's Botany Bay. All but one of the cabinets contained drawers for display of insects. Only the mirrored sideboard was ‘insect-free’. Each drawer had a glass slide on top of the display section with one or two diagonal ‘nests’ for naphthalene balls to prevent moth attack (sic!). We learned that butterflies are largely daytime fliers and that their antennae usually have a hooked or clubbed terminal. Moths on the other hand mainly fly at night and have hairy or ‘feathered’ antennae. They are usually more muted colours as well compared to butterflies.

Thus while we kept the collection together for 25 years, with five growing children in the family, John agreed to sell six of the cabinets containing butterflies and beetles to ‘The Butterfly Farm' at Wilberforce on the Hawkesbury River in the 1980s. Numerous enquiries have yielded only distant stories and rumours about their re-sale since. By some chance my sister Jennifer from Perth contacted the Queensland Museum whose staff were aware of the collection. Some of the cabinets had found their way into private collections in New South Wales and Queensland.

Most of these photos were taken by Ron Falson, long time Sydney trumpet player and close friend of the family … and to whose memory this site is dedicated.

Written by Andrew Byrne (age 56), eldest son of John Byrne (age 83).

August 2010