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Roth, Reuter Emerich (1858–1924)

by D. R. Walker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Reuter Emerich Roth (1858-1924), physician, was born on 20 March 1858 at Brighton, England, son of Mathias Roth, Hungarian patriot and physician, and his English wife Anna Maria, née Collins. Like his brothers Henry Ling and Walter Edmund he was educated in London at University College School, then from 1874 studied medicine at University College and Hospital (M.R.C.S., 1881). After postgraduate work he migrated to Sydney and was registered to practise on 10 January 1883. He married Lily May Hart with Congregational rites on 28 July.

As a schoolboy Roth had joined the City of London Rifle Brigade Cadet Corps and in 1874 joined the Artists' Rifles, a London volunteer unit, as a private. In 1894 he was commissioned captain, Medical Staff Corps, Military Forces of New South Wales. He served with the first New South Wales contingent in South Africa where he was promoted major, serving as principal medical officer, 2nd Mounted Infantry Brigade, and as officer commanding a bearer company, in operations in the Cape Colony and Orange Free State to May 1900, including Paardeberg. He saw action at Poplar Grove, Driefontein, and near Johannesburg, Pretoria and Diamond Hill in the Transvaal through May and June. Later operations took him to Elands River and Bethlehem. He was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Returning to Sydney on 6 April 1901, Roth became principal medical officer of Commonwealth forces in New South Wales and was promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1909.

In the 1880s Roth had lectured on health and exercise to the technical education branch of the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts and continued under the Board of Technical Education. He admired Peter Henry Ling (1766-1839), the creator of Swedish gymnastics, agreeing with him that anatomy and physiology were essential disciplines in the study and practice of gymnastics. What attracted him more was the breadth of Ling's patriotism, which encompassed the moral and physical development of his countrymen. While continuing private practice, in 1890 Roth also became principal medical officer to the Public Schools Cadet Force and in the mid-1890s was an assistant master at Sydney Grammar School. From 1896 he lectured part time on anatomy, physiology and hygiene at Fort Street Training School, Hurlstone Training College and Sydney Technical College. In July 1909 he became medical inspector and lecturer in the Department of Public Instruction.

Addressing the 1911 meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, Roth emphasized the need for proper construction of schools, and repeated an earlier recommendation, pooh-poohed as extravagant by his critics, that all schools be supplied with sanitary paper. He introduced medical gymnastics and massage and helped to establish the medical gymnastics department (later the physiotherapy department) at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital where he acted as honorary medical officer until 1918. In 1907 he represented the Commonwealth at the International Congress of Hygiene and Demography in Berlin. A founder (1890) and chairman (1903-09) of the Sydney centre of the St John Ambulance Association, Roth was medical officer in chief of the St John Ambulance Brigade from 1901, and was appointed a knight of grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. He was also a founder of the Royal Life Saving Society (1904) and a member of the foundation and executive committees of the State division of the British Red Cross Society (1914). He lost no opportunity to promote swimming, boxing and football for boys and swimming, dancing and fencing for girls. No prude, he vigorously supported mixed bathing.

In March 1915 Roth became lieutenant-colonel in command of the 5th Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps. He landed at Gallipoli on 20 August 1915 where he remained until 17 December. Serving in Egypt, he was promoted colonel on 6 February 1916 and appointed deputy director of medical services, 1st Anzac Corps. In June he left for France as D.D.M.S., 2nd Anzac Corps. Wounded in the battle of Fromelles, Roth was invalided to Australia in November. Although a demanding officer, he was energetic, efficient and respected for his ability to delegate and consult. In May 1917 he was appointed president of the Permanent Medical Referee Board. He was transferred to the retired list in January 1921 as honorary brigadier-general. He was twice mentioned in dispatches and appointed C.M.G. in 1917.

Roth died in Noumea, New Caledonia, on 2 September 1924, survived by his wife and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France (Syd, 1929)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War 1914-18, vol 2 (Canb, 1940)
  • I. Howie-Willis, A Century for Australia (Canb, 1983)
  • Australasian Nurses Journal, 15 June 1907
  • Australian National Review, 24 Sept 1921
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Sept 1924
  • Sydney Mail, 10 Sept 1924.

Citation details

D. R. Walker, 'Roth, Reuter Emerich (1858–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/roth-reuter-emerich-8279/text14507, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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