In March 2015, I hosted in our collections a very special visitor, Louise Minutillo. What brought us together is common, although of unequal interest. Louise is passionate and well-informed about her great grandfather Reuter Emerich Roth(1858–1924) and I recently “discovered” that he was not only the most prominent Australian Museum person serving in WW1, but a remarkable man in all other fields of his active life.
The Museum connection has two strands. Reuter Roth was a Trustee of the Australian Museum from 1906 to 1921. He also donated to the Museum over 250 artefacts from over 20 countries in Europe, Africa, Middle East, India, China, Southeast Asia, Papua and the Pacific islands.
Louise and I browsed through part of Reuter Roth’s collection, examining metal and bead ornaments from Transvall in South Africa collected during the Boer War, sword used in the Boxer’s uprising in China, Javanese and Balinese palm leaf manuscripts and a coffee-making cup from Turkey – donated just a year before the Gallipoli campaign.
100 years ago Roth landed in Gallipoli in command of the 5th Field Ambulance Australian Army Medical Corps. Later he served in Egypt and in France, where he was deeply traumatised in the Battle of Fromelles in 1916, and consequently sent home, back to Australia.
He was equally busy between the wars. For years Roth promoted public education and public health, individual hygiene, use of toilet paper at schools, physical fitness, swimming and lifesaving. He wanted girls to take up swimming, dancing and fencing. He was a founder of the St John Ambulance in Sydney (1890) and the Royal Life Saving Society (1904) as well as a member of the British Red Cross Society and the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science.
Roth was medical doctor and military officer, honorary Brigadier General (1921) and awarded the C.M.G. (The Order of St Michael and St George). He travelled extensively, propagating science and his remarkably progressive social ideas.
This year, Louise will travel to take part in commemoration of WW1 in Fromelles (France), where she was invited by the Mayor of Fromelles, Jean-Gabriel Masson, to present a commemorative plaque on the site of the battle.
Louise generously shared with me stories from the life of her great grandfather and his large, active, mobile and wonderfully gifted family. She also lent me some books with fascinating family history, but of course, I hardly scratched the surface. I hope to see, in the near future, a larger “delegation” of Roth relatives who may visit his collection and be inspired to delve into the history of their outstanding ancestor.
Reuter E Roth was a brother of Dr Walter Roth – also medical doctor and the first Protector of Aborigines in Queensland (1898-1904) who assembled our largest iconic, well documented collection of Aboriginal material culture of over 2000 artefacts from north Queensland.