Robert Cushman Murphy Collection
Manuscript Collection 216

Collection Description

Papers, circa. 1895-1965.
3.35 cubic ft.
Naturalist, scientist and environmentalist.
Correspondence, typescripts, photographs, negatives, notebooks, journals, book reviews and slides concerning the worldwide travels and natural history studies of the Long Island (N.Y.) naturalist.

Biography
Collection Note
Scope and Content
Series Outline
Container Listing

Biography

Robert Cushman Murphy (29 Apr. 1887-20 Mar. 1973), ornithologist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Thomas D. Murphy, a secondary-school official, and Augusta Cushman. In his early years the family moved to a rural part of Long Island, Mount Sinai, New York, to a home adjacent to Mount Sinai Harbor, where the boy, encouraged by his parents, took an interest in the local wildlife. He enjoyed going out with a local fisherman for bluefish, and he identified local birds. In 1906 he met Frank Chapman, curator of birds at the American Museum of Natural History, who hired him for a short time to proofread the galleys of his own book on warblers.

Murphy attended Brown University, where he received a Ph.B. in 1911. Earlier he had become acquainted with Frederic Augustus Lucas, then curator of the museums of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. Lucas appointed Murphy curator of birds and mammals at the institute in 1911 and arranged for him to sail, in 1912, as naturalist on a New Bedford whaling ship, Daisy, to the subantarctic. Murphy married Grace Emeline Barstow shortly before that one-year trip; the couple had three children.

The whaling trip gave Murphy an opportunity to observe and collect oceanic birds. During its stop of almost four months for elephant seals on South Georgia Island, he obtained specimens of penguins, other birds, marine mammals, and plants, which were all to be deposited in the American Museum of Natural History.

On his return Murphy continued at the Brooklyn Institute, where he became head of the Department of Natural History in 1917. That year he also received an M.A. in zoology from Columbia University. In 1919-1920 he visited Peru for several months to observe the guano-producing birds of the offshore islands.

In 1921 Murphy became associate curator at the American Museum of Natural History, advanced to curator of oceanic birds in 1926, in 1942 became chairman of the Department of Birds, and in 1949 was named Lamont Curator of Birds. His first book was Bird Islands of Peru (1925). He organized an expedition to collect oceanic and coastal birds under the leadership of Rollo H. Beck. Murphy's next scientific book was on these large collections, The Oceanic Birds of South America (2 vols., 1936), which his biographer Dean Amadon calls "noteworthy for its remarkably readable style." The scholarly treatise included the effects of climate, currents, and land masses on the distribution of oceanic birds, as well as general natural history and a detailed account of each bird species and its habits, illustrated with photographs, color plates, and maps. The book was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for excellence in natural history writing and the Brewster Medal of the American Ornithologists Union.

In 1932 Murphy, assisted by his wife, cataloged and shipped to the United States the very large collection of birds (280,000 specimens) accumulated by Lionel Walter Rothschild in England; it had been sold to the American Museum of Natural History in 1931. Many details about the collection were known only by Rothschild, so compiling the 740-page catalog and the packing took the couple four months. Murphy was general manager of the Whitney South Sea Expedition that operated for about a decade from 1935 on the schooner France, although he was never able to join it himself. He was under pressure at the museum to study the new collections quickly, and he was much aided in this by biologist Ernst Mayr, a scientist destined for great eminence.

The family of philanthropist Harry Payne Whitney donated funds for a new wing of the museum for the growing collections of birds. Murphy was extensively involved with the supervision and construction of the Whitney Memorial Hall of Oceanic Birds. He often helped create other exhibits for the museum and as a popular lecturer there contributed to a rising interest in conservation. In addition he traveled extensively: to Baja California, Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador three times, the western Mediterranean, the archipelago of Las Perlas off Panama, New Zealand, and the subantarctic region three times, and the Caribbean area several times. He obtained many new specimens and considerable scientific information on habits and habitats of birds. According to Mayr, "With iron self-discipline, no matter how strenuous the day, he recorded his daily experiences in considerable detail in a diary, an extraordinarily valuable record considering the drastic changes all of these places have experienced since then."

After retiring from the American Museum of Natural History in 1955, Murphy maintained an office there for some years in an emeritus capacity. In 1960 he was representative of the National Science Foundation and biologist on the icebreaker Glacier in the Antarctic, and in 1970 he revisited South Georgia Island, which he had last seen in 1912.

Through the years he published nearly 600 articles in scientific journals and in popular magazines, including Natural History, National Geographic, and Scientific Monthly. In 1947 he published an account of his 1912 whaling voyage as Logbook for Grace, derived from his original diary and letters to his wife. Well written, it primarily represents Murphy's acceptance of the already declining whaling industry and his own enthusiasm for gathering information on subantarctic birds and mammals. In A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat (1967) he presented photographs of whaling that he had taken and developed during the 1912 trip.

Murphy was an early conservationist who concentrated his continuing efforts on Long Island, New York, where he and his family lived for many years. He was the first president of the Long Island chapter of the Nature Conservancy, which obtained natural habitat locally for preservation, and he was an adviser on the Fire Island National Seashore. His book on the region, Fish Shape Paumanok: Nature and Man on Long Island, was published in 1964. Having become well aware of the decline in whale populations through the years, he also participated in efforts to save them.

Murphy received the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1943 and other scientific honors. He died on Long Island in 1973.

Source: American National Biography.

Collection Note

The Robert Cushman Murphy Collection was donated to Stony Brook University by Dr. Murphy's daughter, Alison Connor, in 1975. It was processed by Alison Huftalen, Jason Torre, and Kristen Nyitray in August 2004.

Scope and Content

The collection contains approximately 4 cubic feet of material, consisting of correspondence, typescripts, photographs, negatives, notebooks, journals, book reviews and slides and is arranged according to format. Items housed in acidic or metal housings have been removed from these housings for preservation reasons. These materials have been placed in acid free folders and containers. All metal clips have been removed and replaced, in accordance with accepted archival standards of preservation.

Series Outline

Series I. - Slides
Series II. - Glass Plate Negatives
Series III. - Photographs and Negatives
Series IV. - Manuscripts and Letters
Series V. - Audio Recordings
Series VI. - Miscellaneous

Container Listing

SERIES I. SLIDES (Boxes 1-21)

Box 1
Bermuda
Venezuela
Bahamas
Bahamas-Inagua 1956
Bahamas-Nassau 1956
Bahamas-Nassau 1958
Bahamas-1958

Box 2
Bahamas-Long Island 1958
Bahamas-Long Island 1959
Australia 1971
Australia/Tahiti/Fiji 1971
Barro Colorado 1956
Busbane/Pacific
Canton Island
Fiji
New Zealand
Tahiti

Box 3
Tristan da Cunha
Chile
Chascomus
Ecuador
Falkland Islands
Guaymas etc. 1956
Malpelo Island/Choco Coast
Mexico-Guadalajara
Mexico-La Jolla
Peru-Tacna Anca 1954?
Xochi Milco, 1956?

Box 4
Peru
Peru 1954?
Peru & Chile 1954?
Peru 1956
Peru/Bermuda

Box 5
Peru-Architecture
Peru-Architectural Ruins 1954
Peru-Wall Painting
Peru-Boats and sea
Peru-People

Box 6
Peru-Birds

Box 7
Peru-Birds cont.
Peru-Birds 1959
Peru-landscape
Peru-Landscape, Aerial view
Peru-1959?

Box 8
Cambodia
Hong Kong
India
India-Taj Mahal

Box 9
Malaya
Japan
Japan-Tokyo 1956, New Years etc.
Singapore
Taiwan
Thailand

Box 10
Philippines

Box 11
Africa
Africa-Animals

Box 12
Stranger Cruise 1956
Stranger Cruise-Cocos Island
Stranger Cruise-Cedros Island, 1956
Internal Yacht Race 1959
Penguins
Guano Birds 1954

Box 13
France-Lascaux 1962
Greece
Italy-Anzio
Italy-Florence
Italy-Siena
Italy-Venice
Lapland, 1956
England-Tring 1962
England-Tring & Slimbridge? 1972

Box 14
Antarctic 1959-62?
Antarctic 1960
Deep Freeze/Glacier Cruise 1960

Box 15
Family/Friends
Family-1952
Family 1956-9
Family-Summer 1957
Family-Dierdre Murphy 1958
Family-Barnacle Bay 1950
Family-May 1958
Augusta Cushman Murphy 1945
GEBM Honorary Degree, Brown U. 1972
GEBM, San Juan Capistrano
Mathews Family-New Haven?
Mathews Family-Tucson
Mathews Family-Olympia Wash.

Box 16
Briarlea 1956
Briarlea and Home scenes

Box 17
Briarlea and Home scenes
Briarlea-Family
Briarlea-Winter
Briarlea-Flowers
Briarlea-Wild Gardens
Briarlea-1958
France and Briarlea
Local Long Island 1953-55
Briarlea/Fire Island/Florida/Family
Fire Island/Briarlea
Mt. Sinai
Riverdale NYC 1944
Riverhead?
Block Island, RI 1953

Box 18
Bull’s Island, 1952
Connecticut-Bethany
Connecticut-New Haven Oct. 12, 1965
Delaware-Ducks & Geese
Elk Hill, PA - 1960
Elk Hill, PA – Nov. 14, 1965
Fisher’s Island
Fisher’s Island/Block Island 1953?
Florida & Waverly 1959
Florida-Marineland, Preserve near Palm Beach
Florida-Sanctuary, 1957
Hawk Mountain, 1954

Box 19
Idaho
Martha’s Vineyard
Tucson, AZ and vicinity
Tucson, AZ 1968
Tucson, AZ ? 1969
Vancouver, BC

Box 20
Washington-Olympia, Elk Hill, Briarlea
Washington-Mt. Ranier
Washington-Olympia with Alison Murphy Conner
Washington-Olympic National Park
Washington-Seattle, Lake Washington 1944
Washington-Tacoma
Washington-vegetation, 1944
Wood’s Hole Cruise
Wyoming
9th Inning, Spring 1972
Unidentified
Unidentified 1944-5

SERIES II. GLASS PLATE NEGATIVES (Box 22)

SERIES III. PHOTOGRAPHS & NEGATIVES (Boxes 23-26)

Box 23
Total Envelopes: 36
(number of envelopes per subject in parenthesis)
Snares Penguins (3)
Snares Island, NZ
Aerial Photo, NZ
Milford Sound, NZ, 1948 (8)
Macaroni Penguins
Penguins (3)
Trip to England, 1927 (12)
Pyramid Valley
Olympic National Park (5)
Argentine Icebreaker

Box 24
Total Envelopes: 19
Askoy Expedition (11)
Family & Friends (5)
Museum
Unidentified (2)

Box 25
Total Envelopes: 27
1 Framed Photo
Trip on Pee Dee R.
Choco Indians (2)
Cuna Indians
Maori Prints & Negatives (3)
Gannets
Trip to S. Georgia Is.
Trip to India
Bird Island of Peru, 1920 (9)
Framed Photo – VII th International Congress of Zoology, August 27, 1907
Unidentified Boat Voyage (2)
Birds (2)
Landscape/Vegetation
Animals
Murphy at Congress
“Brig Daisy”

Box 26
Negatives and Contact Sheets
Total Envelopes: 22
Acropolis, Athens – Aegean Voyage
Angkor, Cambodia
India & Thailand
Karimoja, Uganda
Karimojong, Uganda & Masai, Kenya
Nairobi & Amboseli, Kenya
Thailand – chiefly Bangkok
Thailand – Gulf of Thailand & Bangkok Canals
Venice, Italy
Family (2)
Family – Beach
Alison Barstow Murphy, Dec. 1929
Bob, Alison & Dorothea Dreier 1929/ Bob & Alison – Scotland 1926
Clouds/Sky
Unidentified (7)

SERIES IV. MANUSCRIPTS & LETTERS (Boxes 27-28)

Box 27
Total Envelopes: 7
1 Binder

Research Notes regarding effects of DDT
Visit to the Philippines
Migrant Cruise, June-July 1933 (original and a copy)
Miscellaneous
Coast to Coast
Focus etc.
Letters
Masters Thesis, James C. Murphy (binder)

Box 28
Tring 1932
Florida and the Gulf Stream 1937

SERIES V. AUDIO RECORDING

Box 29

1 Record, 78 rpm
Mrs. Grace Murphy: “A Trip to Snares"
Digitized Version (2 CDs)

SERIES VI. MISCELLANEOUS

Box 30
Wooden slide box
Index Cards