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Dictionary of Australian Biography

Dictionary of Australian Biography
AuthorPercival Serle (1871–1951)
SubjectBiographies of notable Australians who died before 1942
PublisherAngus and Robertson
Publication date

The Dictionary of Australian Biography, published in 1949, is a reference work by Percival Serle containing information on notable people associated with Australian history. With approximately a thousand entries, the book took more than twenty years to complete. Published by Angus and Robertson, the dictionary was compiled as two volumes, Volume 1: A–K; and Volume 2: L–Z.

The book contains 1,030 biographies of Australians, or people who were closely connected with Australia, who died before the end of 1942. According to Serle in his preface:[1]

"This date closed the first one hundred and fifty years of Australia's history, for although the first fleet arrived in January 1788, the first emigrant ship, the Bellona, did not come until January 1793. Until then Australia had been merely a dumping ground for convicts, but the arrival of free emigrants foreshadowed the founding of a nation."

— Percival Serle, 1949


The average length of the biographies is about 640 words. Serle classified them roughly into the following twelve groups:

Group No. of
No. Name
1 Army and navy 10
2 Artists, including architects, actors and musicians 130
3 Governors and administrators 50
4 Lawyers 69
5 Literary men and women 137
6 Notorieties 17
7 Pioneers, explorers, pastoralists, men of business 161
8 Politicians 174
9 Scholars, philosophers, clergy 76
10 Scientists, including physicians, surgeons and engineers 140
11 Social reformers, philanthropists, educationists 53
12 Sporting men (cricketers and athletes) 13

Of the above profiles, the number of women included was 42 or 4 percent of the biographies. Forty-seven percent of those included in the book were born in England, 27 percent in Australia, 12 percent Scotland, 8 percent Ireland, 1 percent Wales and remaining 5 percent were from the rest of the world which included twelve from the United States, nine from Germany, and six from New Zealand.

Other biographies

Prior to its publication similar Australian reference works included:

  • Heaton, John Henniker (1897). Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time.
  • Blair, David (1881). Blair's Cyclopaedia of Australasia.
  • Mennell, Philip (1892). The Dictionary of Australasian Biography from the Inauguration of Responsible Government.
  • Johns, Fred (1906). Johns's Notable Australians. Later editions were published as Who's Who in Australia.
  • Johns, Fred (1934). An Australian Biographical Dictionary.
  • The Australian Encyclopaedia. 1926.

Subsequently, other Australian biographical dictionaries have been released including the Australian Dictionary of Biography from 1966 and Who's Who in Australia.


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Dictionary of Australian Biography
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