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Biographical entry Kubary, John Stanislaw (1846 - 1896)

13 November 1846
Warsaw, Poland
9 October 1896
Manila, Philippines
Naturalist and Ethnographer


John Kubary was a self-trained naturalist and ethnographer who spent twenty-seven years working in the Pacific Islands. He developed a close relationship with the natives of Western Pacific and learnt many of their languages. Kubary made great contributions in the areas of natural history, ethnography, anthropology, cartography and linguistics: he discovered at least four sub-species of birds, compiled a dictionary of dialect for the Ebon Group of islands, studied the classifications of Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian languages, established numerous, varied collections, and produced over twenty-four publications. Mount Kubari (Kubary) in the Finisterre Ranges of New Guinea is named after him.


Although born in Warsaw, Poland, Kubary spent much of his early life in Germany where he fled to escape civil unrest and persecution. In May 1863, Kubary worked for the Chief Administrator's office in Cracow Province, Austria. He then later worked as a tax collector for the Commissioner for the underground National Government. Within a year Kubary had quit his job and moved to Dresden, then back to Warsaw where he was arrested for his part in the Polish uprising. He was eventually released and fled back to Germany.

While in Hamburg, John Kubary met the founder of the Godeffroy Museum (which specialised in natural history and ethnography of the South Seas) and was offered a five year contract to collect specimens for the museum. Kubary's first trip was to Apia, Samoa in 1869 where he stayed for about six months. During this time he made trips to Fiji and Tonga, became interested in ornithology, learnt to speak Samoan and sent off his first collection of marine creatures and native mask casts to the Godeffroy Museum. In 1870 he sailed to the Ellice, Gilbert and Marshall Islands where he complied a dictionary of the vocabulary and grammar of the Ebon Islands dialect. He also produced his first publication which listed his exploration findings and included his hand-drawn maps and sketches. For the next four years Kubary went on collecting expeditions to many other islands including Yap, Palau, Ponape and Melanesia.

In 1875 Kubary arrived in Sydney, Australia on board the Mikado and immediately applied for naturalization, which he promptly received. Little is known about his work in Australia. Ten days after arriving, John Kubary sailed back to Germany and his contract with the Godeffroy Museum was extended for a further five years. He then returned to Mpomp, Ponape, where he built a permanent residence and established a plantation. From this island base he travelled to many more islands including Mortlock and Truk to continue his collections. But this soon stopped when the Godeffroy Museum ran out of money and had to terminate Kubary's contract.

With little income and no employment, John Kubary moved to Japan in 1882. For four months he worked at the Museums of Yokohama and Tokyo. Kubary returned to Ponape and continued topographical, geographical and geological surveys of the islands. In 1885 he was employed as an interpreter in Oceanic languages by the visiting German warship Albatross and later took charge of the German consul's plantation on the island of Matupi in New Britain. Eighteen months later Kubary was working as the manager of a trading station and plantation in New Guinea. He remained in New Guinea for much of his remaining life. A monument was erected in Ponape in his honour by German scientists in c1901.


January 1863
Life event - Joined the Polish insurgence against Russia (January)
Life event - Fled to Germany (February)
May 1863
Career position - Assistant to the Chief Administrator in the Cracow Province of the Austrian Empire
June 1864
Life event - Returned to Warsaw, via Dresden, and was arrested
March 1868
Life event - Escaped to Berlin
c. 1869 - c. 1878
Career position - Collector for the Godeffroy Museum in Berlin
6 February 1875
Life event - Arrived in Australia (Sydney)

Published resources

Book Sections

  • Paszkowski, L. K., 'Kubary, John Stanislaw (1846-1896), naturalist and ethnographer' in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Douglas Pike, ed., vol. 5 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1974), pp. 45-46. Details
  • Stocking, George W., 'Maclay, Kubary, Malinowski: Archetypes from the Dreamtime of Anthropology' in Colonial Situations: Essays on the Contextualization of Ethnographic Knowledge, George W. Stocking Jr., ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), pp. 9-74. Details

Journal Articles

  • Paszkowski, L., 'John Stanislaw Kubary - naturalist and ethnographer of the Pacific Islands [includes bibliography]', Australian Zoologist, 16 (2) (1971), 43-70. Details


Annette Alafaci