Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert John Miller Clucas (1871–1930)

by Ira D. Raymond

This article was published:

Robert John Miller Clucas (1871-1930), librarian, was born on 22 December 1871 on the Isle of Man, eldest son of John Clucas, schoolmaster, and his wife. In 1882 the family migrated to Adelaide. Robert was a pupil-teacher in 1886-90. After studying at the Training College, he taught for eight years, mostly at Parkside Public School. He married Alice Mabel Wallace on 22 December 1897. Their only child, a daughter, died in infancy.

In 1900 Clucas became the first full-time librarian of the University of Adelaide. He had no staff and no experience or training in librarianship, and had made but a slow beginning in his arts course (B.A., 1908). Yet he had the enthusiasm and intelligence to develop professional competence and efficiency. He built up the library's holdings from about 10,000 volumes to about 80,000. In 1927 a new building was planned, and he opposed the architect W. H. Bagot's visit to Europe, believing that 'It is to America we have to look for guidance in library planning'. Nevertheless Clucas co-operated in designing the building, which was unfinished when he died.

In 1901-24 he was responsible, on behalf of the university, for public examinations in South Australia, Broken Hill, and Western Australia: eventually one-third of his staff's time was taken up by the work. A lecturer in economic geography in 1904-28, Clucas believed that geography fostered 'a keen power of observation, a high standard of logical fitting of cause and effect, and the development of a disciplined individuality'. In 1929 he published a revised and enlarged edition of J. A. Haslam's The Commonwealth Geography …. Clucas had a strong interest in cartography and surveying, working in his leisure for many years on a contour map of the Adelaide hills, and each year introducing surveying to the university's engineering students.

A foundation member of the Library Association of South Australia, he was also a council-member of the State Branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia and a member of the Royal Society of South Australia whose transactions he had indexed in 1907. He admired Theocritus as 'the true artist who draws the essential lines with the fewest possible strokes', and translated his Idyll XV; his friend G. F. Hassell published it as an elegant booklet, The Feast of Adonis (1910), claiming it as the first Greek text with parallel translation to be published in Australia.

A reticent, retiring man, a Methodist, Clucas was upright, punctilious and kindly, with a whimsical sense of humour. Survived by his wife (d.1952) he died of cancer after a long illness on 7 September 1930 and was buried in West Terrace cemetery. He bequeathed 1300 volumes from his collection to the university.

Select Bibliography

  • The Hassell Press, 1885-1935 (Adel, 1935)
  • W. G. K. Duncan and R. A. Leonard, The University of Adelaide, 1874-1974 (Adel, 1973)
  • Adelaide University Magazine, 6 (1930)
  • Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch), 31 (1930)
  • South Australian Institutes' Journal, 31 Dec 1930
  • News (Adelaide), 2 Jan 1924
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), and Register (Adelaide), 9 Sept 1930
  • records (University of Adelaide)
  • Education Dept, Teachers' history (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Ira D. Raymond, 'Clucas, Robert John Miller (1871–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 December, 1871
Isle of Man, England


7 September, 1930 (aged 58)
South Australia, Australia

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