Unexpected Acquisitions

Andrew Hosie's blog | Created 3 years ago

Unexpected acquisitions

The Museum’s natural history collections are filled with specimens from across the state and beyond. Most of these have been collected through research projects at the Museum and also universities, environmental consultants and other research institutions. A much smaller percentage comes from donations by private individuals. These usually come as a single specimen picked up by chance. However, recently we were contacted by the daughters of Florencio Da Luz Silva about a collection of specimens that Florencio had taxidermied during his career as a fisherman and net maker in Fremantle.

We visited the family to assess the specimens and to determine their value for the Museum collections. What we found left us speechless and thrilled to have had the opportunity to view the collection. From albatross to turtles, cowries to crabs, there was an entire room devoted to taxidermied animals, all of which had been intricately arranged, and some even had lights!

As you can see from the images this was a unique collection that needed to be preserved. The Museum has accessioned many of the items into the collections and many will be used for education and outreach programs, but sadly we could not take all the pieces. Below is the story of Florencio written by his daughter Rosette Strandberg, who is now living in Santa Barbara, California.

Florencio Da Luz Silva

Florencio was born on the 7th of November 1921 in a small fishing village, Paul Do Mar, in Madeira Island. He learned the art of fishing at a very young age and became a fisherman to earn his living for most of his life.  At the age of 27 in 1949, like many other fisherman at the time, Florencio decided to seek a fishing career opportunity in another country. He immigrated to Santo, Brazil. There he worked on a prawn trawler for 18 months and eventually moved to Panama City, Panama in 1950.

In the early 1950s, with his home base being in Panama, Florencio worked on a tuna fishing boat based in San Diego California. He would be at sea for months at a time before returning to his home base in Panama City. After tuna fishing for several years, Florencio bought his own prawn fishing boat the “Flamenco” and commenced his own successful business in Panama and Costa Rica.  His financial success allowed him to live the high life in Panama in the mid-1950s. During this time he owned a restaurant and nightclub, and was often seen smoking cigars, wearing his impeccable white suits and dark glasses. Florencio was eccentric, charismatic, creative and loved to have fun with his many friends. People loved to be around him for his uncanny sense of humour and his elaborate story telling.

Florencio in Central America during the 1950s.

Florencio in Central America during the 1950s.

Whilst in Panama, Florencio became very interested in sea life taxidermy. He learnt this art from a close friend who was a curator at a museum in Panama City. It was during this time that Florencio was inspired to create his own museum paying homage to his profession and the wonders of the ocean. However, it wasn’t until later in his life that he had the opportunity to fulfill this dream.

In the late 1950s, after his boat sunk in an accident, and consequently losing his fortune, Florencio moved to Buenaventura in Colombia to fish. Florencio was well known for his prawn fishing expertise and he was also a prawn net technician. In the early 1960s, fishermen in Fremantle who knew of his skill set and expertise, asked him to come to Fremantle to partake in the fishing opportunities in the young port. Florencio arrived in Fremantle in 1962.

Florencio and his museum in the late 1980s.

Florencio and his museum in the late 1980s.

Based in Fremantle, Florencio worked on lobster boats and prawn trawlers most of his career in Western Australia. He worked on a variety of boats owned by Portuguese, Italian and Croatian fishermen. With the dream of creating his own small museum, he began collecting lobsters, bugs, prawns, seahorses, crabs, shells, fish, and numerous other ocean treasures, all of which he caught himself. When Florencio was not at sea, he was making and repairing prawn nets, and working on preserving his collected ocean specimens with the skills he was taught in Panama.  As he taxidermied each ocean specimen with precise injections of formalin, he would mount it on his living room wall, one at a time. Eventually all walls were covered with lobsters, bugs, sea snakes, prawns, shells, crabs, a turtle, tortoise, and two albatrosses.  In 1975, after many years of work and dedication, he completed his main art piece – a shell-lined cabinet containing his 3 most prized lobster, and various sea creatures.  

A collection of items from Florencio's art, including an Albatross, the toothed

A collection of items from Florencio's art, including an Albatross, the toothed rostra from sawfish, various crabs and a sea snake hung on the walls and a model boat the "Flamenco" named after his fishing boat in Panama
Image copyright WA Museum

Over the years, he shared his museum (in his house on High Street in Fremantle) with anyone who wished to see it. For 37 years people from Perth, Fremantle and overseas visited his “museum” all from word of mouth.  He profoundly loved and respected the ocean. His art was his tribute to the ocean, to his roots, and to his life. Florencio passed away in June 2012 at the age of 90. One of his final wishes was for his wife and two daughters to share his art and passion for the sea with others, forever.

Florencio's prized cabinet. The walls are covered in shells with a lar

Florencio's prized cabinet. The walls are covered in shells with a large lobster on each shelf.
Image copyright WA Museum