Alexander Marshall, a taxidermist, was one of a number of naturalists active in Port Elizabeth during the late nineteenth century. At a conversazione of the Eastern Province Naturalists' Society in December 1884 he exhibited a fresh-water aquarium, as well as a number of mounted birds and other animals. However, his most important role in the advancement of science was as the first Curator of the Port Elizabeth Museum.
The Port Elizabeth Museum originated as the natural history collection of the Port Elizabeth Athenaeum, and was largely developed by members of the Port Elizabeth Naturalists' Society (established in 1882, reconstituted in 1884 as the Eastern Province Naturalists' Society). When the Athenaeum became defunct in 1885 the museum was taken over by the town council, which appointed a committee to manage it. In 1887 Marshall was appointed as its first curator. His salary was 200 pounds per annum, but initially he had to pay his assistant out of this, and buy spirits and other materials with which to preserve specimens. During the eighteen years of his curatorship the museum developed substantially. Electric light was introduced as early as 1889. In 1895 the available space was increased by the addition of a large room and a workplace for the taxidermist. In that year too the museum was officially named the Port Elizabeth Museum and a constitution drafted. The number of specimens increased steadily over the years, mainly through the contributions of amateur collectors and collaborators such as Col. J.H. Bowker*, J.M. Leslie*, S.D. Bairstow*, J.L. Drege*, J. Crawford*, D.D. Fraser*, J. Farquhar*, and many others.
In 1904 James Crawford was appointed Director of the museum, without affecting Marshall's position as curator. During the following year the colonial secretary, on a visit to Port Elizabeth, inspected the museum (which received a government subsidy) and found its condition and general management unsatisfactory. As a result Both Marshall and Crawford were dismissed. F.W. FitzSimons* was appointed as Director in 1906.