SCOTT, Sir Ernest (1867-1939)


SCOTT, Sir Ernest (1867-1939)
historian
was born at Northampton, England, on 21 June 1867. He was educated at St Katherine's Church of England school, Northampton, in which later he was a pupil teacher. He then became a journalist, worked on the London Globe, and coming to Melbourne in 1892, worked on the Herald. From 1895 to 1901 he was a member of the Victorian Hansard staff, and from 1901 to 1914 was on the Commonwealth Hansard staff. In 1910 he published Terre Napoléon, and in 1912 Lapérouse. Students of history in Australia quickly realised that a new historian was among them willing to go to an infinity of trouble in preparing his work. One evidence of this was the bibliography appended to Terre Napoléon which contained over a hundred items. In 1913 the university of Melbourne called for applications for the professorship of history, and two applicants were recommended by the English selection committee. There was, however, some doubt whether either was the ideal man for the position and it was decided to call for fresh applications in Australia. It was suggested to Scott that he should apply, and he eventually was appointed. The university council took a bold step for Scott had never attended a university, but he had shown ability both in research and as a lecturer, and the experiment proved a great success. In 1914 Scott's admirable Life of Matthew Flinders appeared, and a Short History of Australia came out in 1916. In 1920 was published Men and Thought in Modern History, which the writer stated "grew out of a practical need for a series of short explanations of some typical modes of thought illustrating . . . the background of modern history". Twenty-four writers and politicians were selected, ranging from Rousseau to H. G. Wells, to each was given a chapter, and bibliographical notes are appended. In History and Historical Problems published in 1925 Scott gave his views on the value, study, and writing of history; chapter II on "Historical Method" may be commended to all who purpose taking up the last of these. The book was based on lectures given to audiences largely of teachers of history, and still retains its value. His Australian Discovery, in two volumes, largely a compilation, was published in 1929, and in 1933 appeared volume VII of The Cambridge History of the British Empire, edited and partly written by Scott. Two years later he edited Lord Robert Cecil's Gold Fields Diary with an introductory chapter. This is a record of an enormous amount of work having been done by a man carrying on heavy professorial duties, and taking his full share in the life of his university. He was dean of the faculty of arts from 1914 to 1924 and president of the professorial board from 1927 to 1930. At the end of 1932 he was granted two years' leave of absence to carry out historical research in Europe, and in December 1936 he resigned, and was appointed emeritus professor. His Australia During the War, being volume XI of The Official History of Australia in the War, appeared in that year. The privately issued Historical Memoir of the Melbourne Club, and A History of the University of Melbourne, were also both published in 1936. Living in retirement at Vermont a few miles out of Melbourne, Scott devoted himself to his garden and his books. In January 1939 as president of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science which met at Canberra, he chose as the subject of his address, "The History of Australian Science", and in February he was appointed a trustee of the public library, museums and national gallery of Victoria. He died at Melbourne after a short illness on 6 December 1939. He was knighted in June 1939. He married (1) a daughter of Mrs Annie Besant, and (2) Emily Dyason who survived him. There was a daughter by the first marriage who died in 1924.
Scott was above medium height, bluff and open in manner, sincere and kindly in character. He was much interested in music, the drama and poetry, in which he had read widely. He had a sound knowledge of his own subject, and was an industrious and fast worker. He did much to bring Australian history to life. He did not always carry out his urgent advice to his students that they should "verify their references" and consequently errors will be found in some of his books. Generally, however, they are in comparatively unessential things and were caused by trusting to a usually reliable memory. As a rule his work is excellent and was always based on conscientious research. As a teacher he was interesting, vivid and inspiring, exacting hard work from his students and insisting on the value of original documents, while also pointing out that even they cannot be blindly accepted. He had a human interest in his students and no trouble was too great for him if it would help them in their work. Among his students were Professors W. K. Hancock of Oxford, S. H. Roberts of Sydney and A. G. B. Fisher of Dunedin.
The Herald, Melbourne, 7 December 1939; The Argus, Melbourne, 7 December 1939; The Times, 8 December 1939; S. H. Roberts, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XXVI; personal knowledge and private information.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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