Archibald Meston Papers 1867-1960: treasure collection of the John Oxley Library

Archibald Meston (1851-1924) was a journalist, politician, explorer, newspaper editor, showman and amateur ethnologist with a lifetime interest in Australian Aboriginal culture and languages.  He is best known for his role as Chief Protector of Aborigines Southern Queensland from 1897 to 1904.  He authored the Report on the Aboriginals of Queensland (1904) which formed the basis of the Queensland Aborigines Protection Act of 1897.

Archibald Meston at an Aboriginal camp during his Bellenden Ker expedition in North Queensland. The women in the foreground carry botanical specimens, 1904, Negative number 33262, API-3 Archibald Meston Photograph Album, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

The Archibald Meston Papers comprise newspaper reports, correspondence, and typescripts on various topics of Queensland history. The most significant items are the word lists and notebooks containing vocabularies of Queensland Aboriginal people. In his role as Protector, Meston visited many Aboriginal communities and camps across Queensland and as an amateur ethnologist and linguist he documented Aboriginal culture and language. Meston collected words and wordlists from sites across Queensland which were later collated into various notebooks and cuttings.  Of particular interest to community language workers and language researchers is a series of vocabulary notebooks compiled by Meston during the period 1898-1903. Four of these notebooks have been digitised and are available through the catalogue One Search.

A small notebook kept by Archibald Meston during his time as Chief Protector of Aborigines, Queensland, OM64-17-3v006r007, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Meston’s language research included the areas of Cape York, Cooktown, Townsville, Rockhampton and Central Queensland, Blackall, Hughenden, Beaudesert, Ipswich, Warwick, Glasshouse Mountain, and the Brisbane region. A word list exists for Terrick Terrick Station at Blackall and a listing of the meaning of various station names.  The collection also includes some vocabularies from New South Wales.

Archibald Meston with group of men and boys, Daintree River, ca. 1895. Negative number 22150, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

As well as Meston's own material, the notebooks drew on other sources he collated for further study. Vocabulary Notebook 7 included a list of 250 words that were later published in James Devaney's The Vanished Tribes. Meston added wordlists compiled by Thomas Petrie originating in the Brisbane area during the 1800s and in some instances, added comments and notes in the margins of these wordlists for personal reference and follow-up. He also referred to placenames with Aboriginal origins, contributing articles in various newspapers that were published at the time.

Lynn Meyers, Specialist Librarian, State Library of Queensland

Collection: OM64-17 Archibald Meston Papers 1867-1960

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Commitment statement

This material contains Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander content, and has been made available in accordance with State Library of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collections Commitments.

Cultural Care statement (disclaimer)

Users are advised that this Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander material may contain culturally sensitive imagery and descriptions which may not normally be used in certain public or community contexts. Annotation and terminology which reflects the creator's attitude or that of the era in which the item was created may be considered inappropriate today. This material may also contain images, voices or names of deceased persons.

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