Carte, Alexander (1805–81), natural historian, was born 11 August 1805 at Newcastle, Co. Limerick, one of two sons of Edward Carte, JP, agent for the Devon estates in Co. Limerick, and Margaret Carte (née Elliot), of Killocrin, Co. Kerry. After an early education at Mr O'Brien's Academy, Limerick, he entered the RCSI in 1823. Shortly afterwards he matriculated in TCD, and graduated BA (1830), followed by MA (1833), MB (1840), and MD (1860). In 1833 he also obtained the licence of the RCSI after an extended period studying anatomy and in 1844 was admitted a fellow. He was not keen on general practice, and the only medical appointment he held was that of assistant surgeon to the South-Eastern Dispensary.
In 1846 he was elected curator of the RCSI museum, where anatomical specimens featured prominently in the collection, and where he instigated many improvements. Five years later (1851) he was appointed to the more lucrative position of curator of the natural history museum of the RDS, lodged in a few rooms in Leinster House. Later, under the Dublin Science and Art Museum Act, 1877, the museum collections were transferred to state ownership. Carte continued as museum director, working until a few days before his death.
Under his direction the museum underwent a period of expansion, with the acquisition of important material from local and international sources. The museum collection had originally been a haphazard mixture of curiosities of zoological, geological, and ethnological interest donated by the public. Carte catalogued and overhauled the entire collection, naming and allocating all exhibits into organised groupings. Geological and zoological specimens and collections were acquired from well-known naturalists. To encourage donations he published lists of donors and acquisitions in the Journal of the Royal Dublin Society. An important contributor of the time was Adm. Leopold McClintock (qv), who presented material from his voyages to the Arctic, Barbados, and Jamaica. Carte was largely responsible for the plan of the new Natural History Museum building beside Leinster House. Frederick Villiers Clarendon (qv) was the architect. The museum was inaugurated in 1857 with the delivery of a lecture by Dr Livingstone on his discoveries in central Africa.
Serving for many years on the council of the RCSI, Carte was also a member of several societies at home and abroad: the RIA (1855), the Linnean Society, and the Imperial Botanical and Zoological Society, Vienna. He was particularly interested in fossil mammals and investigated many cave systems in Ireland. His papers on comparative anatomy and fossil remains were published in the Royal Dublin Society Journal and the Geological Society of Dublin Journal; one was on the probable former existence of the polar bear in Ireland. Andrew Leith Adams, surgeon and naturalist, named the fossilised giant dormouse of Malta, Myoxus cartei adams, after him (1863). On the medical side, his invention of an elastic India-rubber compressor for aneurism was recognised as medically important at the time.
He married (c.1829) Ellen, daughter of Thomas Dickson, and they lived at 14 Northbrook Road, Leeson Park, Dublin; they had no children. He died 25 September 1881 and was interred in the family vault at Mount Jerome cemetery. Alexander Goodman More (qv) succeeded him as director. The Natural History Museum, the oldest purpose-built museum building in Ireland, continues to be used as originally intended and retains a particular atmosphere of times past. A portrait photograph by Mansfield of Dublin is in O'Riordan (1983), with original plates held by the museum.