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Herbert Ian Priestley Hogbin (1904–1989)

by Jeremy Beckett and Geoffrey Gray

This article was published:

Herbert Ian Priestley Hogbin (1904-1989), anthropologist, was born on 17 December 1904 at Serlby, Harworth, Nottinghamshire, England, and named Herbert William, son of Herbert Hogbin, landscape gardener, and his wife Edith Fanny, née Smart. After migrating to Australia with his parents, he attended a school at Penrith, New South Wales, and then Fort Street Boys’ High School, Sydney. He graduated with honours in English and geography at the University of Sydney (BA, 1926; Dip.Ed., 1927; MA, 1929). In 1929 he changed his name by deed poll to Herbert Ian Priestley Hogbin. His graduation had coincided with the arrival of Alfred Radcliffe-Brown to take up Australia’s first chair of anthropology. Having Rockefeller Foundation funds for research in Melanesia, in 1927 Radcliffe-Brown persuaded—as Hogbin remarked later—a scarcely prepared 22-year-old to join an expedition to Rennell Island and Ontong Java.

Two years later Hogbin went on a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London (Ph.D., 1931), where under Professor Bronislaw Malinowski he wrote his doctoral dissertation. It was published as Law and Order in Polynesia (1934). He returned to Sydney in 1931 to make this city his academic base for the rest of his career. Regular visits to London on sabbatical leave enabled him to develop his love for Italian Renaissance painting in the galleries of Europe.

In 1933 and 1934 Hogbin conducted a series of field studies in Melanesia, first in Guadal-canal and Malaita in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, and then in Wogeo in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. He was appointed to a permanent position in the anthropology department at the University of Sydney in 1936. His Malaita study was published as Experiments in Civilization (1939).

In 1942 Hogbin was appointed a member of the Australian government’s Committee on National Morale. Next year he travelled to the British Solomon Islands Protectorate to advise the administration on the rehabilitation of the people after the war. Commissioned in the Australian Military Forces on 3 January 1944, he served in the Directorate of Research (and Civil Affairs) as a temporary lieutenant colonel. Much of his service was in Papua and New Guinea, where his duties included studying the impact on village life of the army’s employment of local men as labourers, and making contact with villages on their liberation from the Japanese. He also lectured at the army’s School of Civil Affairs (later the Australian School of Pacific Administration), first in Canberra and then in Sydney. After his demobilisation in March 1946, he continued to advise the Australian government on policy towards the Territory of Papua-New Guinea.

Hogbin was awarded the Wellcome (1944) and Rivers (1946) medals of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. He returned to the University of Sydney in 1946 and was promoted to reader in 1948. In the mid-1940s he had begun his final field study, in the village of Busama, resulting in Transformation Scene (1951), which described the effects of World War II, and Kinship and Marriage in a New Guinea Village (1963). He again visited Wogeo, later writing The Island of Menstruating Men (1970), an exploration of religion and gender, and The Leaders and the Led (1978), on social control. At the University of Birmingham in 1953 he gave the Josiah Mason lectures, published as Social Change (1958).

Following his retirement from the University of Sydney in 1969, Hogbin lectured at Macquarie University for ten years and also served as an external examiner for the University of Papua New Guinea. He published nine books, several reports for governments and a steady flow of scholarly articles, mostly in the journal Oceania. Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown and Raymond Firth were the dominant influences on his work. His interests were ethnographic rather than theoretical, but he was among the first to write on the changes resulting from colonial government, missions and labour recruitment. While providing advice to colonial governments, he regarded these topics, particularly the development of native Christianity, as worthy of anthropological study.

Described as a memorable, somewhat flamboyant lecturer, Hogbin was generous with his time in reading the work of graduate students and younger colleagues. For their part, they had to accept his increasingly severe demands for simple style and clarity. His retirement was marked by a festschrift, Anthropology in Oceania (1971). An honorary fellow (1968) of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, he was awarded an honorary D.Litt. by the University of Sydney in 1983. Never married, he died on 2 August 1989 at Potts Point and his body was given to the University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Beckett, Conversations with Ian Hogbin (1989)
  • R. M. MacLeod (ed), Science and the Pacific War (2000)
  • J. Beckett, `Ian Hogbin’, American Ethnologist, vol 13, no 4, 1986, p 799
  • Oceania, vol 60, no 2, 1989, p 158
  • G. Gray, '“The Next Focus of Power to Fall Under the Spell of This Little Gang”', War & Society, vol 14, no 2, 1996, p 101
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Mar 1972, p 7
  • series B883, item NX202820 (National Archives of Australia)
  • A. McGrath, interview with I. Hogbin (transcript, 1983, National Library of Australia)
  • Hogbin papers (University of Sydney Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jeremy Beckett and Geoffrey Gray, 'Hogbin, Herbert Ian Priestley (1904–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 December, 1904
Serlby, Harworth, Nottinghamshire, England


2 August, 1989 (aged 84)
Potts Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.