Dictionary of Australian Biography

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Dictionary of Australian Biography
Author Percival Serle (1871-1951)
Country Australia
Language English
Subject Biographies of notable Australians who died before 1942
Genre Encyclopedia
Publisher Angus 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.

Percival Serle Australian writer

Percival Serle was an Australian biographer and bibliographer.


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."
Pervical 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:

John Henniker Heaton British politician

Sir John Henniker Heaton, 1st Baronet was a United Kingdom Member of Parliament and a postal reformer and journalist in Australia.

David Blair was an Irish Australian politician, journalist and encyclopedist.

Philip Dearman Mennell, was an English-born encyclopedist, journalist and newspaper owner, active in Australia, author of the Dictionary of Australasian Biography (1892).

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

<i>Australian Dictionary of Biography</i> biographical dictionary

The Australian Dictionary of Biography is a national co-operative enterprise founded and maintained by the Australian National University (ANU) to produce authoritative biographical articles on eminent people in Australia's history. Initially published in a series of twelve hard-copy volumes between 1966 and 2005, the dictionary has been published online since 2006.

The Who's Who in Australia is an Australian biographical reference first published by Fred Johns in 1906 as Johns's Notable Australians. It has been used by academics as a resource that identifies Australia's leading individuals, and as a research tool by journalists and historians. The Who's Who reference publication is currently published by Australian Associated Press (AAP).

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  1. Serle, Percival (1949). Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia.

Project Gutenberg Australia, abbreviated as PGA, is an Internet site which was founded in 2001 by Colin Choat. It is a sister site of Project Gutenberg, though there is no formal relationship between the two organizations. The site hosts free ebooks or e-texts which are in the public domain in Australia. Volunteers have prepared and submitted the ebooks.