Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture 10

Walter Edmund Roth: Ethnographic collector and Aboriginal Protector

McGregor, R. & Fuary, M.

Published online: December 2016


McGregor, R. & Fuary, M.


McGregor, R. & Fuary, M. 2016. Walter Edmund Roth: Ethnographic collector and Aboriginal Protector. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture 10: 43-58. Brisbane. ISSN 2205-3220

Date published

December 2016



Walter Roth, ethnographic collecting, Aboriginal protection, North Queensland, Aboriginal artefacts, Australian anthropology


Walter Roth ranks among the most prolific collectors of Aboriginal artefacts from North Queensland, including the Wet Tropics, as well as being one of the leading ethnographers in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Australia. He was also one of Queensland’s first official Protectors of Aboriginals, appointed immediately after that colony introduced its now-infamous Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897. This paper explores Roth’s twin careers as ethnographic collector and Aboriginal Protector, teasing out the connections and commonalities between the two. It was for his achievements in ethnography and collecting, as well as his medical expertise, that he was appointed to the Protectorship. He carried out both his anthropological work and his administrative duties with determination and dedication. Yet his continuing activities as an ethnographer and collector contributed substantially to his downfall as a senior figure in Aboriginal administration. The paper also positions Roth in the historical context of an evolving Australian anthropology, with particular pertinence to North Queensland.

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