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Thomas Draper Campbell (1893–1967)

by Tasman Brown and Ruth Rogers

This article was published:

Thomas Draper Campbell (1893-1967), professor of dentistry and anthropologist, was born on 24 March 1893 at Millicent, South Australia, son of Walter Campbell, storekeeper, and his wife Lucy, née Walters. In 1907 the family moved to Adelaide where Draper attended Prince Alfred College. He qualified with the Dental Board of South Australia in 1917 and in November joined the Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve (Dental) as an honorary lieutenant. After studying at the Elder Conservatorium of Music in 1919, he entered the University of Adelaide (B.D.S., 1921; D.D.Sc., 1923). On 9 December 1927 at the Methodist Church, Archer Street, North Adelaide, he married an actress Elizabeth Jane Young; they were to remain childless. His play, The Moon Dream, written with librettist Trevor (Alex) Symons, was to be performed in 1932 at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide.

House surgeon at the Adelaide Hospital's dental department from 1921, Campbell became superintendent in 1926. He had taught dental anatomy at the university from 1925. Dean of the faculty of dentistry in 1938-58, he was director of dental studies from 1949 until 1954 when he was appointed foundation professor. Campbell was a competent clinician, and a skilful oral surgeon; he maintained a special interest in child dental health. Despite his gruff voice, he was a kindly, spirited and informed teacher who relished debate. He was a fellow of the Royal colleges of Surgeons, England (1948) and Edinburgh (1950), a member (1952) of the odontology section of the Royal Society of Medicine, London, and a fellow (1966) of the Australian College of Dental Surgeons.

With his colleague Frederic Wood Jones, Campbell had made two excursions to remote parts of South Australia in the early 1920s which developed his interest in physical and cultural anthropology. His doctoral research—published as Dentition and Palate of the Australian Aboriginal (1925)—noted the difference between the Aborigines' well-formed dentition and the 'ill-formed, disease-stricken' teeth common in Europeans. The book set new standards for the emerging discipline of dental anthropology.

Honorary curator (1924-40) and a board-member (1932-66) of the South Australian Museum, in 1926 Campbell helped to establish the Anthropological Society of South Australia (of which he was president, 1928-29 and 1944) and the university's Board for Anthropological Research (of which he was secretary). Between 1925 and 1939 fifteen expeditions travelled to outback South Australia and the Northern Territory; Campbell organized most of them and accompanied eight. Small teams of scientists from different disciplines contacted tribal Aborigines, often for the first time, and published their findings. Their cinematographic records of Aboriginal life and customs provided unique insights, and were later screened at universities in Europe and the United States of America. In 1939 Campbell was awarded a D.Sc. by the university for thirty-seven papers arising from his field-studies.

In 1951 he led a team of scientists to Yuendumu, an Aboriginal settlement north-west of Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Over the next decade he directed several ethnographic films about the crafts and skills of the Yuendumu people, whom he greatly admired. His significant studies of Aboriginal camp-sites and stone tools culminated in his 1963-65 investigation of archeological sites for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, of which he had been a founding member. Campbell's classification of stone tools became the typology used in Australia. Survived by his wife, he died on 8 December 1967 at his Tusmore home and was cremated. His portrait (1959) by (Sir) Ivor Hele is in the Adelaide Dental Hospital.

Select Bibliography

  • C. R. Twidale et al (eds), Ideas and Endeavours (Adel, 1986)
  • R. MacLeod (ed), The Commonwealth of Science (Melb, 1988)
  • Probe, 1958-59
  • Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Newsletter, 2, no 7, Apr 1968
  • International Association of Human Biologists, Occasional Papers, 1, no 2, 1985
  • South Australian Museum, Records, 20, 1987
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 12 Dec 1967
  • Australian Dental Association (South Australian Branch), minutes and papers (Goodwood, Adelaide)
  • University of Adelaide Archives.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Tasman Brown and Ruth Rogers, 'Campbell, Thomas Draper (1893–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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