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Bladen, Frank Murcott (1858–1912)

by B. H. Fletcher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Frank Murcott Bladen (1858-1912), librarian and historian, was born on 22 December 1858 at Hanley, Staffordshire, England, son of Thomas Bladen, boiler plate roller, and his wife Amy, née Murcott. The family reached New South Wales in 1863 and settled at Mittagong. Educated at the local public school, in 1876 Frank won an essay competition at the Sydney Juvenile Exhibition. His interest in astronomy had led to his appointment on 8 March 1875 to the Sydney Observatory where he became a map compiler in 1878. In 1881 he matriculated at the University of Sydney and, exempted from lectures, enrolled in arts. He won a gold medal for English verse in 1882 and the Rosebery medal (1885) for an essay on Anglo-Australian relations (published in 1886), but did not graduate. In 1886 he was appointed clerk in the Government Printing Office. Having read law, he was called to the Bar on 6 June 1891.

Bladen's literary knowledge and skill in composition had prompted Charles Potter, the government printer, to enlist his services in revising the Official History of New South Wales for the 1888 centenary celebrations. Bladen's hopes of becoming editor were dashed by the successive appointment of journalists G. B. Barton and Alexander Britton. When the latter died in 1892, Bladen assumed duties on what had become a multi-volumed History of New South Wales from the Records. The plan was abandoned after volume two and he was then made editor of the Historical Records of New South Wales. Transferred in 1896 to the Public Library of New South Wales, he worked on the Records until 1899 when he took charge of the library's lending branch. After seven volumes appeared, the Records project ceased in 1902 for financial reasons.

On 25 August 1897 at St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, Bladen had married with Anglican rites Sydney-born Madeline Schiller Fitz Stubbs, from a family of musicians. They were to have no children. From 1 January 1907 Bladen was appointed principal librarian at the public library. A lifetime of overwork affected his health, however, producing habits of drinking that resulted in slipshod administration. He served from 1905 as chairman of the New South Wales Geographical Board and was a member of the Commonwealth Literary Fund board from 1907.

A founder of the (Royal) Australian Historical Society in 1901, Bladen became a fellow of the Royal Historical and of the Royal Geographical societies, London. In 1902 he was delegated by the Commonwealth government to attend the Congress on Historical Sciences in Rome and to enquire into the possibility of establishing a Commonwealth archive. His report (published 1903) surveyed overseas developments and recommended a plan for Australia. One of the earliest Australians to appreciate the need for an empirical approach to history, he believed that access to original documents was essential if history was to rest on a scientific basis. Several of his writings were published, but all were overshadowed by the Historical Records, which made possible original research on the colony's early years.

Bladen retired from the library in January 1912 because of ill health and died of nephritis on 20 September at his home at Mosman. He was buried with Congregational forms in Gore Hill cemetery. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. H. Fletcher, The 1888 Centenary Celebrations and New Developments in the Writing of Australian History (Syd, 1988)
  • B. H. Fletcher, Australian History in New South Wales 1888 to 1938 (Syd, 1993)
  • Town and Country Journal, 25 Sept 1912, p 29
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Sept 1912, p 18
  • D. J. Jones, W. H. Ifould and the Development of Library Services in New South Wales 1912-1942 (Ph.D. thesis, University of New South Wales, 1993)
  • items 1/34-5, 2/1264, 20/13002.2 (State Records New South Wales)
  • Bladen papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

B. H. Fletcher, 'Bladen, Frank Murcott (1858–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bladen-frank-murcott-12801/text23103, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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