State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 4 October 1969


Sir John Ferguson, 1881–1969

With the death of Sir John Ferguson last May, Australia has lost unquestionably her greatest bibliographer and a man to whom Australian librarians and scholars remain deeply in debt. Men with such blazing zeal for scholarship have been rare in this country.
Born in New Zealand in 1881, son of a Presbyterian minister who moved to Sydney in 1894, Ferguson was educated at the William Street Superior Public School and took Arts and Law degrees at the University of Sydney. He practised at the bar in all jurisdictions from 1905, appeared before the High Court and Privy Council, and from 1936 to 1953 was a judge of the Industrial Commission of New South Wales.
He early became a collector of Australiana and published his first major work, Bibliography of the New Hebrides and a History of the mission press in 1917. In the 1930s he began his monumental task of listing every book, pamphlet, broadside, newspaper, magazine and government paper, published in or about Australia. The four volumes of the Bibliography of Australia covering the period to 1850 appeared between 1941 and 1955. Three further volumes carrying on the work, with certain limitations, to 1900, were then added. Ferguson completed work on the final volume but was not spared to see its publication late this year.
The La Trobe Library holds many examples of his letters (notably in the Moir Collection), some of which have been on display in recent months.