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Buddicom, Robert Arthur (1874–1951)

by M. R. Brett-Crowther

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Robert Arthur Buddicom (1874-1951), scientist and local entrepreneur, was born on 7 November 1874 at Ticklerton, Shropshire, England, son of William Squire Buddicom, landowner, and his wife Elizabeth Haughton, née Hornby. He was educated at Charterhouse and at Uppingham where he excelled in metal-work, composition of Greek and Latin verse and the construction of electrical apparatus. Advised against an engineering career by his great-uncle William Barber Buddicom, inventor of the Buddicom locomotive, he crammed in biology and chemistry, and in 1894 was a science scholar at Keble College, Oxford (B.A., 1897); he produced there the prototype of Buddicom's gas regulator, and made studies of muscle control and nervous excitability. He balanced his scientific gifts with interests in drawing, music and classics.

Oxford biological scholar in 1897-98 at the marine biological station, Naples, Italy, Buddicom consolidated his studies of the arts. In 1898 he gave a paper on the potential for life in all matter: an early Teilhardian view from a rationalist standpoint. In 1900-01 he was curator of the Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery, founded and edited the short-lived journal Life in 1902, and was a market-gardener at Shiplake, Oxfordshire. While a demonstrator and lecturer at London Hospital Medical College in 1906-14 he became pessimistic about the future of Britain, an attitude strengthened by his work as foundation secretary of the British Legion for Home Defence. After a court action in February 1915 when, as a director of the Stolz Electrophone Co. (1913) Ltd, he was found to have been involved in misrepresentation in a prospectus, he migrated to Australia under the name of Robert Bedford. He had acquired land at Turramurra, New South Wales, in the settlement on his divorce from Laura Lucie Finlay whom he had married in London on 17 January 1900. However, he took up 2000 acres (809 ha) at isolated Kyancutta, South Australia, and grew wheat. Ethel Hilda Lewis, his second wife, and two children had accompanied him from England.

In 1915-20 Bedford strove to provide for the basic needs of the small pioneering community: he served as physician and veterinary surgeon; harried the government to hasten construction of the water-pipeline from Port Lincoln; and worked as a chainman on the Kyancutta tank. He ran a cash store and in 1922 opened a cottage hospital with his wife as matron. He established the radio station 5RB in 1924, next year opened a railway refreshment-room, and subsequently took over the post office. With helpers he constructed an all-weather aerodrome and in 1929 formed Eyre Peninsula Airways, which closed in 1935. Meanwhile the accurate reports which he had been sending to Adelaide resulted in the recognition of Kyancutta as an official weather-station. During the 1930s Bedford founded the doomed Australian Country Library Association. He operated a flour-mill, a smithy and a mail-run, built a printing-press, and experimented with a phonetic system of English. A strong supporter of the South Australian Centre Party, he entered politics in 1928 as a founder of the Kyancutta branch of the South Australian Wheat-growers' Association; in 1933 he drafted a constitution for the Australian Wheatgrowers' Federation. He represented Kyancutta Ward on the district council of Le Hunte in 1934-35. In the face of general government neglect of the district, however, he advocated secession of the peninsula from South Australia as Eyralia.

Bedford continued always to probe into the nature of life. He compiled a list of Aboriginal words and in 1920 was a founder of the Adelaide Rationalist Society. The first of his notorious field-trips was made in 1927, to Nildottie and Swan Reach for Aboriginal fossils and to Ardrossan for archeocyathinae; next year he went to Lake Callabonna for Diprotodon bones and rock-carvings. He housed his collections, excellently arranged to demonstrate the evolution of man from primitive matter, in the remarkable Kyancutta Museum and Library which was opened in 1929.

In 1931-38 Bedford examined the meteorite craters at Henbury, Central Australia. He excavated large meteorite masses there, discovered the associated black silica glass and iron shale balls, and from an analysis of the surface condition of the irons demonstrated that the fall was more recent than originally supposed. He was responsible, too, for the location of the Lake Labyrinth stone; the preservation of the Kyancutta and Silverton meteorites; and the gathering of irons from Boxhole, Central Australia. He considered the Murnpeowie iron the finest meteorite in existence. His work on archeocyathinae and related fossils from 1933 resulted in the description of thirty-two new species and eight new genera, his researches being published as Memoirs of the Kyancutta Museum, 1-6 (Adelaide, 1934-39). The museum mounted a display on evolution in Adelaide in 1936 and another on archeocyathinae in Auckland, New Zealand, next year. In 1938 he published the philosophical conclusions to his researches as 'An outline of biosophy: part 1' (Memoirs…, 5).

Bedford's success in classifying fossils and in describing both meteorites and tektites drew some unfair criticism. The South Australian Museum opposed his admission to the Museum Association of Australia and New Zealand. The Adelaide Advertiser libelled Kyancutta Museum parties for their work at Henbury, but later publicly apologized.

During World War II Bedford acted as a volunteer air-observer, built models of inventions to aid the Allies, and urged the annexation of near-by Pacific islands. His last years were clouded by an obsessive desire to revive Kyancutta aerodrome. Survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters, he died at Kyancutta on 14 February 1951 and was buried as Robert Bedford in the local cemetery. The museum was subsequently closed and its holdings dispersed.

Select Bibliography

  • L. H. Daniel, Life as I See It (Adel, 1977)
  • Mineralogical Magazine, Mar 1932, Mar, Sept 1933, June 1934, Mar 1935, June 1936
  • South Australian Institutes Journal, 30 Apr 1951
  • M. Brett-Crowther, ‘Robert Buddicom: prophet and utopist’, Shropshire Magazine, Aug 1974
  • Times (London), 2 Feb 1915, p 3, 4 Feb 1915, p 3, 5 Feb 1915, p 3, 6 Feb 1915, p 3, 8 May 1915, p 3
  • Mail (Adelaide), 19 Nov 1932
  • R. F. I. Smith, ‘Organise or be Damned’: Australian Wheatgrowers' Organisations and Wheat Marketing, 1927-1948 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1969).

Citation details

M. R. Brett-Crowther, 'Buddicom, Robert Arthur (1874–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buddicom-robert-arthur-5417/text9185, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 February 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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