Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Blackett, Cuthbert Robert (1831–1902)

by W. R. Jewell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Cuthbert Robert Blackett (1831-1902), pharmacist and chemist, was born on 9 October 1831 at Southminster, Essex, England, a twin son of Rev. Cuthbert Robert Blackett, Independent minister, and his wife Margaret, née Mordey. Educated at a Congregational school near London, he was apprenticed to a pharmacist in Norfolk. In January 1853 he arrived in Melbourne but went to Europe in 1868 to pursue further pharmaceutical and chemical studies at London and Heidelberg. He returned to Melbourne in 1871 and established a pharmacy at Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, where he remained until 1887. In 1857 his twin brother also had established a pharmacy at Williamstown.

Blackett's major interest was in pharmacy and pharmaceutical education and his public life is largely the history of pharmacy in Victoria in the second half of the nineteenth century. He was a founder of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and was its honorary librarian, editor of its journal, secretary for three years and president in 1878-81; in 1886 he was elected a life member. After the passing of the Pharmacy Act in 1876 he was appointed one of the original members of the Pharmacy Board and was elected president in 1883, a position he held until his death. He was a member of the Intercolonial Pharmacy Conference held in Melbourne in 1886 and he lectured for some years at the College of Pharmacy in chemistry, materia medica and botany. He acted as examiner in chemistry at that college and at the University of Melbourne. On the creation of the Central Board of Health he was appointed a member and was offered the position of president, which he declined. In 1887 he was made government analytical chemist, a post in the Crown Law Department at £600 a year, and resigned only a few days before his death. His laboratory was in the old County Court building, Swanston Street, later the College of Pharmacy. He also acted as analyst to the Customs Department. He appeared as an expert witness in many important criminal trials and was universally respected by both bench and Bar.

For some time Blackett was active in politics as a Conservative. In by-elections in 1879 and 1881 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly as member for Fitzroy but was defeated at the 1883 general election largely because of his pronounced free trade views; he failed again in 1886. In 1885-88 he was president of a royal commission, established in 1869 for promoting technical and industrial education, the terms of reference of which were 'to promote, by lectures and otherwise, technical and industrial education among the working classes of Victoria'. He served on the royal commission for the Great Exhibition and was a member of the Exhibition commission of 1888 and of a commission to inquire into the management of asylums for the insane. He was a member of the Royal Society of Victoria for many years, served on its council in 1883-87 and was honorary treasurer in 1891-99. He was a fellow of the Chemical Society, London, an honorary member of the Hungarian Pharmaceutical Society and of the British Medical Association, Victorian branch, and a justice of the peace. He contributed a number of papers, mainly of a popular type, to the technical press. With his high ideals, fine principles and wide interests, he did a vast amount of work for the public good. He died suddenly of a stroke at his home, Ingleby, Walsh Street, South Yarra, on 18 October 1902. He was twice married: first to Sarah Jane Hope, by whom he had three daughters; second, at Stokesby, Norfolk, in 1870 to Margaret Palmer, who bore him five sons and two daughters. He was survived by his second wife, a daughter of his first marriage, and of the second, three sons and a daughter who married W. Percy Wilkinson, his successor as government analyst.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Australasian Journal of Pharmacy, 17 (1902), 294
  • Australasian Chemist & Druggist, 17 (1902), 288, 312
  • Age (Melbourne), 20 Nov 1902
  • Argus (Melbourne), 20 Nov 1902
  • Australasian, 25 Nov 1902.

Citation details

W. R. Jewell, 'Blackett, Cuthbert Robert (1831–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blackett-cuthbert-robert-3006/text4397, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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