William Burnet Poole, 1852-1926

by Brian Stevenson
last updated December, 2015

W.B. Poole was an amateur microscopist who lived his whole life in Adelaide, Australia. While his microscope slides are not especially well-known, he is included in this series as a reminder to collectors and historians that amateur (and professional) enthusiasm for microscopical investigations flourished throughout the world during the 1800s. The rare Poole slide that is shown in Figures 1 and 2 made its way from Australia to the UK by an unknown route, and to the USA via an internet auction. Perhaps our colleagues in Australia and elsewhere can investigate antique and junk shops, and share other finds with the rest of us?

Figure 1. An attractively prepared slide of diatoms from Adelaide tap water, mounted dry by William B. Poole.


Figure 2. A diatom from Adelaide tap water (see above). The other objects in the field of view are not known, Poole did not mention spicules or other items being present in his water sample.


Figure 3. William Burnet Poole, from the 1907 ‘Cyclopedia of South Australia’.


W.B. Poole was elected to membership in the Royal Society of South Australia in 1886. He served a Chairman of the Microscopical Committee during the early 1890s, and as a member of the Council for many years. All information located on Poole’s interest in microscopy and other sciences comes from the Transactions of that society:

The Annual Report of 1890-91 included, “Our Chairman, Mr. Poole, during his visit to Europe, took great pains in acquiring all the information he possibly could on microscopical matters, and we are glad to find that he was everywhere received with great kindness by fellow-workers with the microscope, and we trust that the experience gained by him will be of great service to us”.

During 1903, he presented talks on “The life history of the grain rusts”, and “Life history of fresh water polyzoa”. On September 28, 1909, the Society was treated to an “exhibition of Photo Micrographs by means of the Zeiss apparatus, by Mr. W.B. Poole”. The following August 23 featured a “paper by Mr. W.B. Poole upon ‘Nematode Worms’, dealing in particular with Tylenchus tritici. This parasite, the especial cause of the ‘peppercorn’ disease of wheat, was shown both living and mounted, and the address was further illustrated by excellent mounts and specimens of Nematoda in general”.

The following details are from his entry in the Cyclopedia of South Australia: “William Burnet Poole, Savings Bank of South Australia, was born in Adelaide (on June 19,) 1852, being the eldest son of the late Mr. Charles S. Poole, who came to South Australia in 1847, and who was for many years accountant in the Bank of Australasia, Adelaide. Mr. Poole acquired his scholastic education at Whinham College, North Adelaide, and upon its conclusion entered an accountant’s office, where he gained valuable experience, remaining there for two years. In March, 1869, he joined the staff of the Savings Bank of South Australia as a junior, and has been associated with the development and progress of this important institution ever since, having occupied every position in the Bank. Twenty years later he was promoted to the position of accountant, a post he retained until 1896, when he received the appointment of Manager. Mr. Poole for many years has been a member of the Royal Society, with the Council of which he is associated as a member, and takes a great interest in the microscopical section of this institution. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1902. Mr. Poole married, in 1902, Mary Eleanor, youngest daughter of Mr. John Jacob, a well-known pastoralist of the early days of South Australia. His residence is at Prospect”.

Poole died on January 15, 1926, in Adelaide.

Figure 4. W.B. Poole’s home at 93 Tynte Street, North Adelaide, built circa 1881. Adapted for educational, nonprofit purposes from https://www.flickr.com/photos/124930081@N08/16570400064.



Birth and death records of William B. Poole, accessed through ancestry.com

Cyclopedia of South Australia (1907) William Burnet Poole, edited by H.T. Burgess, Cyclopedia Co., Adelaide, page 334

Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia (1886) Election of W.B. Poole, Vol. 9, page 222

Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia (1887) “W.B. Poole was elected auditor of the accounts for the past year”, Vol. 10, page 308

Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia (1891) Annual report, Vol. 14, page 222

Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia (1904) Annual report, Vol. 29, page 325

Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia (1910) Annual report, Vol. 34, pages 307-309