ROTH, Henry Ling (1855-1925)


ROTH, Henry Ling (1855-1925)
anthropologist
was the son of Dr Mathias Roth, surgeon of London, and was born on 3 February 1855. He was educated at University College school, London, and studied natural science and philosophy in Germany. In the spring of 1876 he visited Russia and remained there until December 1877. Shortly afterwards his Notes on the Agriculture and Peasantry of Eastern Russia was published at London. In 1878 he went to Australia, settled at Mackay in northern Queensland, and published in 1880 A Report on the Sugar Industry in Queensland. Papers on "The Climate of Mackay" and "On the Roots of the Sugar Cane" appeared in the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1881 and 1883. He had an article in the Brisbane Courier for 1 April 1884, subsequently returned to England, and in 1888 was established in business at Halifax. In 1890 he published The Aborigines of Tasmania, a careful and able gathering together of the available information relating to a vanished race. A second edition appeared in 1899. In 1896 Roth brought out another important book, The Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo, largely based on the manuscript of Hugh Brooke Low. He spent much time in a wide range of ethnological studies and many of his papers were published in scientific journals. In June 1900 he was appointed honorary curator of the Bankside museum, Halifax, then in a very neglected condition. Roth soon changed this, and in 1912 was appointed half-time keeper and later on he gave full time to the museum. He published in 1903 his Great Benin. Its Customs, Art and Horrors, and in 1906, The Yorkshire Coiners, 1767-1783, and Notes on Old and Prehistoric Halifax. That Roth still retained his interest in Australia is indicated by his book on The Discovery and Settlement of Port Mackay, Queensland, which was published in 1908. His Oriental Silverwork, Malay and Chinese, appeared in 1910. About this time he began publishing a long series of Bankfield museum notes, of which 23 numbers eventually appeared. In 1916 Sketches and Reminiscences from Queensland, Russia and Elsewhere, was privately printed. His health was not robust and in August 1924 he resigned from the museum, but continued to help in its work when his health permitted. He died on 12 May 1925 and was survived by his wife and two sons.
Roth was a modest, unassuming man of endless industry. His work in anthropology was very largely based on the fieldwork of other men, but he had a talent for collating information and records, and his volumes on the Tasmanian aborigines and the natives of Sarawak and North Borneo remain standard books. His work as a whole has scarcely been fully appreciated; a list of his publications will be found in Man for July 1925. His brother, W. E. Roth, is noticed separately. Another brother, Brig.-general Reuter Emerich Roth, C.M.G., D.S.O., M.R.C.S. (1858-1924), had a distinguished career at Sydney, where he was the first medical inspector of schools. He was a medical officer during the Boer war and did remarkable work during the 1914-18 war at Gallipoli and in France.
H. L. Roth, Sketches and Reminiscences from Queensland, Russia and Elsewhere, pp. 16, 28. A. C. Haddon, Man, July 1925; The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September 1924.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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