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Biographical entry Basedow, Herbert (1881 - 1933)

27 October 1881
Kent Town, South Australia, Australia
4 June 1933
Kent Town, South Australia, Australia
Explorer, Geologist, Medical doctor and Anthropologist


Herbert Basedow was Assistant Government Geologist of South Australia 1910 and then Chief Protector of Aborigines and Chief Medical Officer of the Northern Territory 1911. He took part in many expeditions, including the Leichhardt search party, Barcoo District. He is said to have coined the name 'didgeridoo' in 1926 on the basis of the sound made by the instrument.


Born Kent Town, Adelaide, 27 October 1881. Died Kent Town, 4 June 1933. Educated University of Adelaide 1898-1902 (BSc 1910) and South Australian School of Mines and Industries, Breslau University 1907-09 (PhD 1908), Heidelberg 1909 and G├Âttingen 1909-10 (MD, ChD). Member, South Australian Government North-West Prospecting Expedition 1903; assistant to the government geologist 1905-06; assistant government geologist of South Australia and government medical officer for remote districts 1910-11; chief protector and chief medical inspector of Aboriginals at Darwin 1911; private medical and geological practice, Adelaide 1911-33; leader of a search for munition minerals in the northern Kimberleys of Western Australia 1916; medical relief expedition, funded by the South Australian and Commonwealth governments, to examine and report on the prevalence of disease among Central Australian Aboriginals 1920; led a search for the remains of Ludwig Leichhardt (q.v.), early 1920s; led the First [ Donald] Mackay (q.v.) Exploration Expedition on a geographical and scientific investigation of the south-west of the Northern Territory 1926; led the Second Mackay Exploration expedition towards the Gulf of Carpentaria and into the heart of Arnhem land 1928. President, Australian Petroleum Association, chairman, Aborigines' Protection League. Many insects and plants and a mollusc he discovered were named after him. Made anthropological studies of the Australian aborigines and was an early conservationist who wanted sanctuaries and national parks to preserve rare inland flora and fauna.


Taxonomy event - Eucalyptus coolabah Blakely & Jacobs var. arida Blakely (= Eucalyptus microtheca F.Muell. (1859). Basedow collected the type

Archival resources

Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales

  • Angus & Robertson - Records, 1824 - 1933, ML MSS 314; Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales. Details
  • Herbert Basedow - Records, 1911 - 1928, A 2492; Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales. Details
  • Ralph Tate - Records, 1856 - 1941, ML MSS 161; Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales. Details

National Archives of Australia, National Office

  • Herbert Basedow - Records, 1911 - 1931, CRS A1 12/2149; National Archives of Australia, National Office. Details

South Australian Museum Archives

  • Herbert Basedow - Records, 1910 - 1934, A.D. 35; South Australian Museum Archives. Details

State Library of South Australia, Mortlock Library of South Australiana

  • Herbert Basedow - Records, 1925, D 5304; State Library of South Australia, Mortlock Library of South Australiana. Details
  • Herbert Basedow - Records, 1894 - 1934, PRG 324; State Library of South Australia, Mortlock Library of South Australiana. Details

Published resources

Encyclopedia of Australian Science Exhibitions


  • Basedow, Herbert, Diseases of the Australian Aborigines (1932), 32 pp. Details
  • Basedow, Herbert, Knights of the boomerang : episodes from a life spent among the native tribes of Australia (Sydney: Endeavor Press, 1935), 239 pp. Details
  • Basedow, Herbert, Narrative of an Expedition of Exploration in North-western Australia (Carlisle (W.A.): Hesperian Press, 2009), 248 pp. Details
  • Basedow, Herbert; Rainbow, W.J.; Etheridge, R. & Musgrave, Anthony, Narrative of an expedition of exploration in north-western Australia (Adelaide: W.K. Thomase & Co., Printers, 1918), 295 pp. Details
  • Glover, John with Bevan, Jenny, The Forgotten Explorers: Pioneer geologists of Western Australia, 1826-1926 (Victoria Park, W.A.: Hesperian Press, 2010), 246 pp. Details
  • Kaus, David, A different time : the exhibition photographs of Herbert Basedow 1903-1928 (Canberra: National Museum of Australia, 2008), 218 pp. Details
  • Wrigley, J. and Fagg, M., Eucalypts: A Celebration (Crows Nest Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2010), 344 pp. Details

Book Sections

  • Harmstorf, Ian, 'Basedow, Herbert (1881-1933), anthropologist, geologist, explorer and medical practitioner' in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Bede Nairn and Geoffrey Serle, eds, vol. 7 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1979), pp. 202-203. Details
  • Kaus, David, 'Professionals and Amateurs: Different Histories of Collecting in the National Ethnographic Collection' in The Makers and Making of Indigenous Australian Museum Collections, Peterson, Nicolas, Allen, Lindy and Hamby, Louise, eds (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2008), pp. 281-308. Details
  • Kaus, David, 'Herbert Basedow (1881 - 1933): surgeon, geologist, naturalist and anthropologist' in German ethnography in Australia, Peterson, Nicolas and Kenny, Anna, eds (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2017), pp. 301-28. Details

Journal Articles

  • Basedow, Herbert, 'Notes on the natives of Bathurst Island, North Australia', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 43 (1913), 291-323. Details
  • Kaus, David, 'It is a Treat at Any Time to Study Nature: an Introduction to the Collections of Herbert Basedow', Australian Systematic Botany Society Newsletter, 138 (2009), 7-18 . Details
  • Pearn, John H., 'Dr. Herbert Basedow (1881-1933), a social, scientific and expeditionary pioneer', Medical Journal of Australia, 160 (1994), 213. Details


McCarthy, G.J. & Walsh, N.