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Charles Henry Bertie (1875–1952)

by John M. Ward

This article was published:

Charles Henry Bertie (1875-1952), by unknown photographer

Charles Henry Bertie (1875-1952), by unknown photographer

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/161

Charles Henry Bertie (1875-1952), librarian and historian, was born at Lionsville, Clarence River, New South Wales, on 18 July 1875, son of Robert Alexander Bertie, goldminer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Smith. At an early age he went with his family to Sydney. He attended evening lectures at the University of Sydney as an unmatriculated student and trained as a metallurgical chemist at Sydney Technical College. He was a vice-chairman of the Sydney Technical College Association and contributed to the Australian Technical Journal. About 1899 he joined the Sydney Municipal Council as a junior under the city surveyor and rose to be chief clerk.

From about 1904 Bertie's interests took an increasingly literary bent and he contributed articles on literature to Sydney newspapers. In 1909 he was appointed first librarian of the new Sydney Municipal Library, constructed out of the moribund lending branch of the Public Library of New South Wales. He supported the children's library movement and in 1918 established within the Municipal Library the first public lending library for children in Australia. He visited the United States of America and recorded his impressions in a Report on the Public Libraries of the United States (1923). Bertie modestly assessed his formidable problems and his achievements in an address delivered in 1928 to the Australian Library Conference on 'Organization of a lending library', later published in its Proceedings.

Long before retirement for health reasons in 1939, Bertie had become a notable collector of Australiana, as the catalogue of his collections in the Mitchell Library shows. A member of the (Royal) Australian Historical Society from 1909, he was a member of council in 1912-52, president in 1914, honorary secretary in 1921 and honorary research secretary from 1933. He worked in the 1940s with (Sir) John Ferguson, the noted bibliographer, to reorganize the society's library. Elected an 'original fellow' in 1916, Bertie contributed extensively to its Journal and Proceedings and other periodicals, and was well known as a lecturer on early Sydney. After a visit to England in 1913 he worked to have historic sites identified and marked. His many publications included The Early History of the Sydney Municipal Council … (1911), Story of Old George Street (1920) and Old Colonial By-Ways (1928). In 1912 he had been appointed editor of a proposed historical and biographical record of Australia, an enterprise never completed, but which became the starting point of the first edition of The Australian Encyclopaedia (1925-26). On seeing the manuscript of Ralph Rashleigh, the now-famous story of convict life, Bertie arranged its first publication as Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh, a Penal Exile in Australia 1825-1844 (London, 1929).

Bertie died of cerebral haemorrhage on 19 July 1952 at Cremorne and was cremated. He was survived by his wife Nellie, née Hutchinson, whom he had married at Toxteth Church, Glebe Point, on 27 September 1905, and by a daughter and two sons. His estate was valued for probate at £3650. He belonged to the Sydney group of zealots who gave initial impetus to the systematic study of Australian history and the collection of Australiana.

Select Bibliography

  • C. H. Bertie memorial issue, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 38, part 5, 1952.

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Citation details

John M. Ward, 'Bertie, Charles Henry (1875–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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