M'Coy, Sir Frederick (1823–1899), palaeontologist and academic, was born in Dublin in 1823 (some authorities give the less likely date 1817), second son of Simon M'Coy (1795–1875), medical doctor, and Bridget M'Coy (1799–1876). His father taught anatomy in Dublin from the 1820s onwards, and later became the first professor of materia medica in QCG (1849–73). From an early age he had an aptitude for natural history and in 1838 published his first scientific paper, on the sternum of birds. In 1841 he was appointed curator of the Geological Society of Dublin, published a catalogue of its museum, which was situated in the Custom House, but left after disagreement with its council. He was then engaged to monograph the palaeozoic fossils in the collection of Richard Griffith (qv), which had been assembled during the rateable valuation of Ireland, and published two large volumes (1844, 1846), which contained descriptions of over 500 fossil species, which remain in frequent use today. He joined the geological survey of Ireland in 1845 and hoped to be appointed as palaeontologist, but was in fact directed to fieldwork, at which he was not particularly skilful; he resigned in 1846 and moved to Cambridge, where he worked with the English geologist Adam Sedgwick, and published on the fossils contained in the Woodwardian Museum (1851–5).
In 1849 he was appointed professor of geology and mineralogy at QCB, and later professor of natural history at Melbourne University, Australia (1854). Additionally in Australia he founded the National Museum of Victoria and the botanic gardens in Sydney, served as palaeontologist to the geological survey of Victoria, and published the widely acclaimed Prodromus of palaeontology of Victoria and Prodromus of zoology of Victoria, as well as many shorter scientific communications. He received many honours, including D.Sc. (Cambridge and Dublin), MA (Edinburgh), the Murchison medal of the Geological Society of London (1879), and the emperor of Austria's great gold medal for the arts and sciences. He was elected FRS (1880), and created chevalier of the Order of the Crown of Italy; for his scientific work in Australia he was made a CMG in 1886 and promoted to KCMG in 1891. M'Coy died at his residence, ‘Maritima’, Brighton Beach, Melbourne, Australia, 13 May 1899, and was buried at Brighton cemetery.
He married (1843) Anna Maria Harrison, daughter of a Dublin solicitor; they had one son, Frederick Henry (1844–87), who became a solicitor and barrister in New Zealand, and a daughter, Emily (1845–61). The bulk of the Griffith collection of fossils is in the National Museum of Ireland, with lesser collections at TCD and Cambridge; his Australian fossils are in Melbourne. Letters and documents relating to administration of the National Museum of Victoria are in the museum. A portrait is at QUB.