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King, Herbert John (1892–1973)

by Margaret Tassell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Herbert John King (1892-1973), photographer and field naturalist, was born on 31 May 1892 in Hobart, third son of John King, cycle manufacturer, and his wife Susannah, née Robinson. In 1900 the Kings moved to Launceston where Herbert attended the Commercial College. Thereafter he was employed in the family business which manufactured and imported bicycles and motorcycles. He enjoyed riding motorbikes, both in competitive events and as a means of exploring Tasmania; in particular, he came to love the remote wilderness areas. His companion in these travels was his wife Lucy Minna, née Large, whom he had married at the registrar's office, Hobart, on 23 December 1918. Like her husband, she was a devout Christadelphian. In 1922 King was a member of the first party to use motorcycles to reach Gustav Weindorfer's Waldheim resort at Cradle Mountain. From 1932 until his retirement in 1951 King managed the family firm, but, at heart, work simply gave him the resources to support his outside interests.

Having taken up photography as a boy, King joined the Northern Tasmanian Camera Club in 1912. That year he won awards for his published photographs. These were the first of his many pictorial black-and-white compositions to win prizes or to be exhibited in Australia and abroad. A self-taught amateur, technically innovative and painstaking, King experimented with a range of colour processes (for slides and 16-mm movies) and with specialized techniques, including panorama, infra-red, aerial and time-lapse photography. During the years of World War II he produced a series of colour-movies on natural history for the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, where he was to be honorary photographer (1958-62). In 1947 he helped to establish the Launceston Cine Society.

King's interest in Tasmania's natural history developed into a passion that came to dominate his photography and his life. He was a member (1942-63) of the Royal Society of Tasmania, and a founding member (1949), president (1950-64) and life member (1955) of the Launceston Field Naturalists' Club. His photographs illustrated several books, in his lifetime and after it. King's pioneering efforts in listing, collecting and photographing Tasmania's flora prompted Lord Talbot de Malahide to finance and publish in six parts The Endemic Flora of Tasmania (London, 1967-78). Part IV (1973) was dedicated to King.

Widely known as 'H.J.', King suffered as a youth from a stammer which he later overcame. He gave numerous illustrated lectures—some as community fund-raisers—largely on photography, Tasmanian landscapes and natural history. Of average build, with a fair complexion, an upright brush of hair, a long face and a rather serious expression, he was reserved by nature but held strong views, a combination which sometimes resulted in an abruptness of manner. Yet he was generous and patient when sharing his passions and expertise, especially with the young and the disabled. Survived by his wife and two daughters, King died on 18 February 1973 at Launceston and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • H. J. King, Tasmania Remembered, eds G. W. Cox and E. V. Ratcliff (Launc, Tas, 1974)
  • R. A. Ferrall, Tasmanians All (Launc, 1982)
  • J. G. Branagan and M. Woodroffe, Tasmania Revisited (Launc, 1990)
  • C. Long, Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940, ed G. Winter (Hob, 1995)
  • Launceston Naturalist, 6, no 5, Mar 1973, p 1
  • Sunday Examiner-Express, 17 June 1972
  • King papers (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston)
  • family papers and collections (privately held).

Citation details

Margaret Tassell, 'King, Herbert John (1892–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/king-herbert-john-10742/text19039, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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