Papers of the ethnologist and museum curator Henry Ling Roth. Most of the material in the collection relates to his research for the second edition of his best-known work The Aborigines of Tasmania . The book was first published in 1890 with a small print run of 200 copies; Roth compiled a much expanded second edition, which was published in 1899.
Roth's method was to analyse very closely available sources of information, summarise views on a particular subject, indicating their strengths and limitations, and then offer a judicious overview of the current state of knowledge. Consequently, The Aborigines of Tasmania consisted of extensive citation of other writers, as well as the views of experts Roth had consulted on specific matters. He mostly avoided theorising and speculative opinions. Overall, his approach to the Aboriginal Tasmanians was to study them as analogous in culture to Paleolithic Man, in line with prevailing ethnological views of the time.
As Roth never visited Tasmania, he was dependent on local correspondents for information and the supply of objects. Chief among these were James Backhouse Walker and James Beattie, both of whom were knowledgeable about aspects of Aboriginal Tasmanian history and culture. Correspondence from both men is present in the collection (Walker, HLR/1/1 and Beattie, HLR/1/2). Walker advised on the Tasmanian language and distribution of tribes, and offered his often trenchant opinion on previous writers on the subject. Beattie helped with the supply of artefacts (usually copies) and photographs (the second edition of The Aborigines of Tasmania included photographs). Also present are letters from the distinguished anthropologist E B Tylor (HLR/1/3), who wrote the prefaces to both editions of the book, and advised on the interpretation of aboriginal tools, and the anatomist Sir William Turner who advised on cranial analysis (HLR/1/4).
The collection includes some of Roth's notebooks (HLR/2) and draft illustrations and copies of photographs which were used in the second edition of the book (HLR/4). there are also cuttings relating to The Aborigines of Tasmania and The Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo (HLR/3).
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. Although most of the information supplied to Roth was reproduced in his book, these archival items may also include unpublished material. The content of his archive is testament to the thorough and imaginative nature of his research, which was recognised when the second edition of the book was published.