Robert Brough Smyth

Robert Brough Smyth (1830-1889) was born at Carville, Northumberland, the son of a mining engineer. He published books on mining and one book about Aboriginal peoples called The Aborigines of Victoria: with notes relating to the habits of the natives of other parts of Australia and Tasmania, compiled from various sources for the government of Victoria.

Smyth emigrated to Australia, arriving in Melbourne on 14 November 1852 and spent time in the goldfields. At the end of 1853 he returned to Melbourne and began work as a draughtsman for the Surveyor-General. As an able colonial public servant he was appointed Secretary for Mines in Victoria in 1861. His career was affected, however, by an inquiry into his overbearing treatment of staff and allegations of misappropriations and although exonerated of misappropriation, he resigned all his public offices on May 1876, remaining only on the Aborigines Protection Board.

In 1860 Smyth had become honorary secretary to the Board of Protection for Aborigines and in 1863 a voting member, retiring in 1878. As a Board member Smyth had collected much information on culture and languages of the Aboriginal peoples of Victoria. He had been assisted in this by “guardians” of the Aborigines, and like Curr, also sent out a questionnaire. On his resignation from the Department of Mines he set about finishing his book The Aborigines of Victoria.

In Volume II Smyth devotes some two hundred pages to Aboriginal languages. It is the word lists from these pagers which have been digitised for this online exhibition.

For more information on Smyth search Mura®, the AIATSIS online catalogue at


  1. Department of Primary Industries Victoria, Minerals and Petroleum Division, 'Hard Times'
  2. Hoare, M. E. ‘The half-mad bureaucrat’ Robert Brough Smyth (1830-1889) in ‘ Australian Academy of Science Records’, Vol. 2, No, 4, 1973, p. 25-40