ROTH, Walter Edmund (1861-1933)


ROTH, Walter Edmund (1861-1933)
anthropologist
was the son of Dr Mathias Roth, surgeon, and was born at London on 2 April 1861. He was educated at the College Mariette, Boulogne, at Paris, Darmstadt, University College, London, and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. with honours in biology in 1884. He then studied medicine and obtained the degrees of M.R.C.S. and L.R.C.P. He was for a time demonstrator to Sir Ray Lankester at St Thomas's hospital, and in 1888 went to South Australia as director of the government school of mines and industries. In 1894 he was appointed surgeon to the Bonlia, Cloncurry, and Normanton hospitals which gave him many opportunities of studying the language and customs of the local aborigines. His Ethnological Studies among the North-West-Central Queensland Aborigines was published at Brisbane in 1897, and in the same year he was appointed chief protector of aborigines in Queensland. In 1901 the first three of his Bulletins on North Queensland ethnography were published, and numbers 4 to 8 appeared at intervals between 1902 and 1906. In 1905 he was appointed a royal commissioner to inquire into the condition of the aborigines of Western Australia, and in 1906 he was made government medical officer, stipendiary magistrate, and protector of Indians in the Pomeroon district of British Guiana. The remainder of Roth's bulletins on North Queensland ethnology, began to appear in the Records of the Australian Museum at Sydney in 1905; and numbers 9 to 18 will be found in volumes VI to VIII. He was given charge of the Demerara River, Rupununi, and north-western districts in 1915. In 1924 his valuable An Introductory Study of the Arts, Crafts, and Customs of the Guiana Indians was published at the government printing office at Washington, U.S.A., appended to the Thirty-eighth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Though called an introductory study this is an elaborate work of well over 300,000 words with hundreds of illustrations. A volume of Additional Studies of the Arts, Crafts, and Customs of the Guiana Indians was published in 1929 as Bulletin No. 91 of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Roth retired from the government service in 1928, and became curator of the Georgetown museum of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society, and government archivist. Towards the end of his life he translated and edited Richard Schomburgh's Travels in British Guiana. He died on 5 April 1933. He married in 1893 Edith, daughter of surgeon-major Humpherson (Johns's Notable Australians, 1906).
Roth was widely recognized as an admirable anthropologist. He was an honorary fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and of the Anthropological Societies of Berlin and Florence. In 1902 he was president of the anthropological section of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science at the meeting held at Hobart, and was awarded the Clarke medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales. He was leader of three scientific expeditions in British Guiana. He showed immense industry and great accuracy of detail in all his works which have had world-wide recognition as valuable studies of primitive people.
(Roth's brother, H. L. Roth, is noticed separately.)
K. Roth, Man, November 1933, which also gives a list of some of his publications.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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