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Henry Ling Roth Papers

Date range: 1881-1920

Medium: Archive

Henry Ling Roth (1855-1925) was an ethnologist, who wrote important studies of the indigenous peoples of Borneo and Tasmania.

Roth spent his early life working abroad in business, but in 1888 he moved to Halifax, Yorkshire, where he became involved in running the Bankfield Museum. During this period, Roth wrote several important ethnological works including: The Aborigines of Tasmania (1890, 1899), The Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo (1896), and Great Benin: its Customs, Art and Horrors (1903). Although Roth's studies were very thoroughly researched, they were not the result of field observations, but instead Roth relied information and objects supplied by others.

This small collection of Roth's papers deals almost exclusively with his research for the second edition of The Aborigines of Tasmania (1899), which substantially revised the first edition. Roth's book was considered the most comprehensive study of the culture, language and history of the aboriginal peoples of Tasmania, and was for a long period the standard work on the subject.

His papers include letters from his main Tasmanian correspondents, James Backhouse Walker and James Beattie, who supplied him with information, images and objects, as well as some letters from distinguished anthropologist E. B. Tylor, who advised Roth. Also present are some of Roth's notebooks, draft illustrations and copies of photographs, and cuttings of reviews of The Aborigines of Tasmania.

Although small, the collection is an important source of information about the study of Aboriginal Tasmanians, and about the methods by which ethnological research was undertaken in the late Victorian period.

Further information:

  • Catalogue available online via ELGAR.
  • Russell McDougall and Iain Davidson. (eds.), The Roth Family, Anthropology, and Colonial Administration (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press 2008).


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