SMYTH, Robert Brough (1830-1889)


SMYTH, Robert Brough (1830-1889)
geologist, mineralogist and writer on aborigines
son of Edward Smyth, mining engineer, was born at Carville, near Newcastle, England, in 1830. He was educated at a school at Whickam, afterwards studied geology, chemistry and natural science, and worked for five years at the Derwent iron works. He came to Victoria in 1852 and was for a short period on the goldfields before entering the Victorian survey department as a draughtsman. In 1854 he was placed in charge of the meteorological observations, and in 1860 became secretary for mines. He published in 1863 The Prospector's Handbook, and in 1869 a large volume, The Gold Fields and Mineral Districts of Victoria. He was also responsible for various pamphlets on the mining resources of the colony including Hints for the Guidance of Surveyors and Others Collecting Specimens of Rocks, which appeared in 1871. On 1 February 1876 several members of his staff sent a petition to the minister for mines asking that an inquiry should be held into the despotic conduct of Smyth towards his subordinates. Three members of parliament were appointed to inquire into the matter, and after a series of sittings held in February, March and April 1876, Smyth resigned from the service. He had been working for many years collecting materials for a book on the life of the aborigines, which was published in 1878 at the expense of the Victorian government in two large volumes, The Aborigines of Victoria: with notes relating to the habits of the Natives of Other Parts of Australia and Tasmania. Smyth visited India in 1879 and made a Report on the Gold Mines of the South-eastern Portion of the Wynaad and the Carcoor Ghat, which was published in 1880. He died at Melbourne on 9 October 1889.
Smyth was an able and hardworking man, constitutionally unfitted to be the head of a department. He is remembered for his book on the aborigines in connexion with which he had the assistance of many helpers. A large amount of material was collected but the value of his book is now limited, and it has been largely superseded by later work.
Men of the Time in Australia, 1878; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; The Age, 10 October 1889; The Argus, February-April 1876; Letter from R. H. Horne (q.v.) quoted in The Bulletin, 20 February 1929.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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