The first description of the diprotodont species was published by Paul Gervais and Jules Verreaux on 3 March 1842, referring to a specimen collected by Verreaux. The lectotype nominated for this species, held in the collection at National Museum of Natural History, France, was collected the Swan River Colony. A description of a second species Tarsipes spenserae, published five days later by John Edward Gray and current until the 1970s, was thought to have been published earlier by T. S. Palmer in 1904 and displaced the usage of T. rostratus. A review by Mahoney in 1984 again reduced T. spenserae to a synonym for the species, as was the emendation to its spelling as spencerae cited by William Ride (1970) and others.
Gray's specimen was provided by George Grey to the British Museum of Natural History, the skin of a male also collected at King George Sound.
The author was aware of the description prepared by Gervais, who after examining his specimen suggested it represented a second species.