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Edward Burnett Tylor correspondence in the Pitt Rivers Museum manuscript collections

2000 15 72000.15.7 Lorimer Fison, possibly the photograph sent to Tylor [see Fison letters 31 and 40]Transcription of Box 11a Tylor papers PRM ms collections Lorimer Fison correspondence:

Fison Part 3

These letters held at the Pitt Rivers Museum are of relevance to the development of museum anthropology at Oxford and also to anyone who is interested in the development of anthropology in Australia (and Fiji). Also see here for Part 1 of the Fison correspondence (letters 1-16) and Part 2 (letters 17 to 30). See here for similar transcriptions of letters between Howitt and Tylor: Howitt Part 1 Howitt Part 2. All notes were added by the transcriber and are not present in the original handwritten letters.

These letters give a clear idea of the topics which drove the correspondence, the help that Tylor gave both Fison and Howitt to get published and the relationship between the three men. Note that selections from Fison's (and Howitt's) correspondence with Lewis H. Morgan was given in 'Selections from the Letters of Lorimer Fison and A.W. Howitt to Lewis Henry Morgan' B.J. Stern [ed] American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Apr, 1930), pp. 257-279 and No. 3, Part 1 (Jul-Sep., 1930), pp. 419-453.

For a full catalogue of all Pitt Rivers Museum manuscript collections see here. For a full listing of all the Fison papers see here under Box 11a.

Letter from Augustus Lane Fox (Pitt-Rivers) to Tylor [which hs been ascribed the number Fison 1] is transcribed here. Please note that a letter from A.W. Howitt to Fison is included under the heading Fison 40 below.

Note that the photograph mentioned in letters 31 and 40 is very probably the one shown here, now part of the PRM's photographic collections. The photographer Grouzelle was at 69 & 71 Swanston Street between 1887 and 1891 and it seems that the portrait that Fison sent was sent by 1888, and was supposed to have a very benign appearance, as this portrait does.

This part covers Fison letters 31 to end (Fison 50)

Fison 31 1st page smallTylor papers PRM ms collections Fison letter 31 first pageFison 31

P.S. I have the completest unbelief in Baron Muklay's "cannibal experiences". [1] The condition he states is an impossible one, save as a temporary crisis in war. Fijian towns were frequently in that state at times; but either one was wiped out, or the hatchet was buried, & plantation work went on again. Travellers are apt to take as permanent conditions of society everything that comes under their notice. One might as well describe the habits of the French from the state of things during the siege of Paris.

P.S. I sent the Nanga Memoir. Also (separately) another watercolour sketch & Map. May I ask you to send the [insert] P.O. [end insert] stamps to Mrs Potts, Parker's Piece, Cambridge for a young niece of mine

Navuloa, Fiji. Aug 17. 83

My dear Sir

In my reply to your letter of April 6 I said that Sir H. Maine's [2] work, which you so kindly sent me, had not yet arrived. Since then I have received it, & have read it with great interest & admiration, as I read all the works of that author. From the time of his getting to the patriarchal family downwards I am glad to sit at his feet as his humble disciple. But as soon as he goes back into the past beyond that starting point, I rise to my feet & hearken to him no longer. He does not see things as the savage sees them, he does not think with the mind of the savage, nor feel with his heart. As to the Morgan & McLennan controversy I am committed to neither side as regards the beginning of things, & indeed am not interested in that beginning. But some things are certain, & cannot be denied or explained away. No one can deny the existence of the exogamous intermarrying divisions. It is certain that they regulate marriage. It is equally certain that the group relationships result logically from them. The Australian Piraura arrangement of "accessory husbands" found in certain tribes is a modern instance of regulated communism.[3] And the temporary relaxations of existing rules as an expiatory measure is established beyond doubt. These are ascertained facts, & it is useless to ignore them, or to speak of the class relationships as "a feeble attempt to grasp &c &c", with a reference to Dr. McFarlane's diagrams. The savage never reaches after such objects. It would never even occur to him to make the attempt. His relationships never give him any trouble. He has only to deal with them one at a time, & no one in all the Dr's list could give a moment's hesitation. All those relationships fall into well defined groups in his mind, & he can always tell where to look for anyone of them. To suppose that he formed the groups in order to classify the relationships is quite impossible to the observer who understands the working of his mind. Such a man feels the impossibility of the supposition. The relationships are logical, clear, & perfectly well known. Not one of them can be mistaken for another, any more than a soldier of the 10th foot in his uniform can be mistaken for a man of the 16th. Lancers. They were not pre-existing independent forms subsequently classified by arbitrary arrangements. They grew as grow the branches of a tree, & the savage always knows to which branch he belongs, & the stem from which the branch shot out, & the clump to which the parent tree belongs, & the [insert] part of the [end insert] forest in which that clump stands. Adoption is simply a grafting into the living tree, & the graft becomes a living part of the whole. Even its very scar is lost sight of in time.

Sir Henry Maine did not send me the privately circulated pamphlet. I should be very glad indeed to see a copy if possible.

I daresay ere now you have met Mr. Codrington I have asked him to give you his statement to me about the Moto mothers. It is his fact, not mine; &, as you say, it is an important one.

I told you in my last letter about the New Hebrides flute which I sent you through the post. By last steamer I also posted a small bamboo box & three fish hooks from San Cristoval. The box is used for containing the lime which the natives use in betel nut chewing, & the small stick forks out the lime for them. The three hooks seemed to me to be of value as representing successive approaches towards the barb. Does it not seem curious that savages who barb their spears should not also barb their hooks? I suppose you are aware of the manner in which these hooks are used. The mother of pearl on their backs is the bait. The hook being towed by a long line in the wake of a swiftly moving canoe, the mother of pearl looks like a small fish, & is seized upon by larger ones.

I got the hooks & the box from Captain Martin of our Mission Schooner "John Hunt", & promised him that they should be presented to your Museum in his name. When you write next, please devote a small scrap of paper to an acknowledgment of receipt that I may hand it over to him as a bait to catch more specimens. We send the vessel once a year to New Britain, & he puts in at the Sol. Is. [Solomon Islands] & elsewhere on his way for wood, water &c. The gum with which the wooden stopper at the end of the bamboo is fastened is that used by the natives. [4]

I should have sent you the Nanga paper by last Mail, but our Chairman asked me to go on a cruise for him in our schooner, & I have only just returned. One of the Govt surveyors has drawn me a map showing approximately the Nanga country, which is very interesting. I have finished the Memoir all but a few concluding remarks, & hope to get it off by next steamer. But my yearly examination of our students begins three days hence  & I shall then have five times 87 papers to examine & value.  If I cannot get the Nanga out of hand before that avalanche comes upon me, there will be a further delay of at least a month.

This I fear will be the end of my work in that line. When I leave Fiji I shall have to work hard for a living at whatever turns up. Twenty years of mission work end with this result where a missionary has carried out his resolve to be a missionary & nothing else - that is not to be a trader or a land speculator. I do not consider scientific work as beyond a missionary's province. I am stirred up to repeat this to my friends in England because of certain statements which Sir Arthur Gordon has been good enough to make about us.

Believe me,

Yours very truly,

Lorimer Fison.

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D

P.S. I find that the boat by which I was going to send my letters is bound up the Rewa River * not to Suva as I supposed/ So I reopen your letter to add a postscript.

I shall send together with this letter the Nanga memoir, & the amended drawing of the Nanga with a map showing approximately the country of the tribes who practise the ceremonies. The drawing & the map are enclosed between two thin boards at Mr. Leslie J. Walker's request, who could not bear the thought of his drawing being rolled up, & thumped by the post office stampers. He is our Colonial Postmaster, & has therefore a vivid realisation of the rough usage to which mail matter is subjected.

Lest you should be unable to read the cramped note on my letter (for which I ought to apologise) I repeat my petition that you send the stamps -- the postage stamps I mean -- on letter, ms & package, to Mrs Potts, Parker's Piece, Cambridge for a grandniece of mine, whom I have never seen, but who is said to be one of the prettiest girls in Yorkshire, & who write to me begging for Fiji stamps. [5] On second thoughts it would save trouble if you would send them to her direct -- Miss Steinchen, Glenholme, Shipley, Leeds. I am ashamed to trouble you with this folly, but the girl's mother was my favourite niece, the most bewitching little fairy ever seen, & I have a soft place in my heart towards her daughter.

I hope to send you the Nanga trumpet by next mail. The note on the last page of the ms refers to the song I sent you

Ambitu ni si ko ra tamamundou

Era laki ndulu koto ki na vu ni mbou

I don't know whether the A.I. [Anthropological Institute] will be disposed to ingrave [sic] the drawings & maps. If not, please make the necessary alterations in the MS. Also abbreviate it, if necessary. I daresay my concluding remarks as to the manner in which I got the information are unnecessary. Please deal with the paper exactly as you think fit.

P.S. I quite forgot to thank you for your photograph which is highly prized by me. I shall send it on to my wife, & it will have an honoured place in our album where Morgan & Howitt appear. I will tell her to send you one of mine, if she has one left. Your carte is altogether different from the mental portrait which somehow or other had formed itself in my mind. I suppose one cannot even think of a fellow creature without a mental picture. You appeared to me as a tall man, of somewhat spare habit, cleanshaven face, mutton chop whiskers, dark brown hair, thin prominent nose, close set but "flexible" lips, & a habit of inclining your head to the left. Why your imago took that form, & acquired that habit, I cannot explain. ----- The Govt surveyor who is to draw the Nanga chart has just come in. I set him at the N.H. flute, & after some attempts he managed to make it speak. But, after putting it away for a while, he could not repeat his success. He is trying vainly, & can only get a note out occasionally. The flute is blown at the open end. He declares he can sound the nose flute. [6]


[1] Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay (1846-1888) Russian explorer and anthropologist.

[2] Henry James Sumner Maine (1822-1888), English jurist and historian. The work referred to might have been Dissertations on Early Law and Custom chiefly selected from lectures delivered at Oxford (1883). The later reference to a privately published pamphlet has not been matched.

[3] Presumably a reference to the arrangements found among the Dieri of Australia. 

[4] These objects are 1885.8.1-3 [fish hooks], 1885.8.4 1-2 the lime box and stick. These objects were recorded in the Annual Report for the Oxford University Museum for 1883, 'Donations to the University Museum The following is a List of the Donations which have been made to the University Museum, Oxford, during the year 1883:- Anthropology ... [Bamboo lime-box and stick, from Ysabel, Solomon Islands,][1 of] three fish hooks from San Cristoval Captain Martin, Mission Ship “John Hunt” through Rev Lorimer Fison, Fiji.', the items were transferred from the University Museum to the Pitt Rivers Collection next door in 1886. The compiler of the accession book entries for the objects was not aware of the back-history of the artefacts and described them as:

1885.8.1-2 Captain Martin, Mission ship "John Hunt" per Rev. Lorimer Fison, Fiji 2 pearl shell fish hook lures, with turtle shell hook San Cristoval Solomon Ids date (?ca 1885)

1885.8.3 Captain Martin Mission ship "John Hunt" per Rev. Lorimer Fison, Fiji 1 turtle shell fish hook with pearl shell lure fastened on back with string San Cristoval

1885.8.4 This object was found unentered in 2003 (that is, until that point it had been recorded in the PRM accession books). Presumably it had been transferred from the University Museum to the PRM with the fish hooks in 1886 but details about it were not, for some reason, recorded in the accession book as they should have been. It was identified from the information written up it (as the hooks had also been marked) which said 'Lime stick and Lime box for betel chewing. Ysabel Solomon Is. Pres. Capt. Martin Mission Ship "John Hunt"'.

[5] It is true that all of the Fison envelopes to Tylor (which are stored with the letters) have the stamps missing so perhaps Tylor met with Fison's wishes.

[6] It is not known which photograph of Tylor Fison received. However, in the PRM photographic collections is a photograph of Lorimer Fison which might be the one that Mrs Fison sent to Tylor. The photographer was Louis Grouzelle of Melbourne, and it was a carte-de-visite, apparently donated by Henry Balfour. [2000.15.7]


Fison 32

P.S. I leave Fiji at the end of the year. My Melbourne address is

Wesleyan Book Depot Lonsdale St, Melbourne, Victoria

Navuloa Fiji 30 Aug 1883

Dear Sir,

By last Sydney steamer I sent you the Nanga memoir, together with amended sketch & map, which I hope will reach you in good order & condition as the Bills of Lading say.

The Nanga trumpet has made its appearance, but I am not pleased with it, & will not send it on. It makes a great & terrible blare, but the artist has done the graven ornamentation so clumsily--or rather he has "slummed" the work so shamefully--that I must get a better one made for you. I cannot get any sound out of it, though it roars you horribly under native lips. I observed that the blowers kept their cheeks fully distended, & pushed up [insert] compressed [end insert] their lips in blowing. Sometimes the air escaped "crepitante" [1] from their lips before the bellow came fully forth. This may help you in your endeavour to blow the better trumpet when it reaches you. If you are successful you will make a sensation at Oxford when "the mournful blast of the barbarous horn" makes itself heard. [2] I bought out a basin of water into my verandah & tried the effect of it on the trumpet. Wholly immersed as to the open end, no sound at all came out--mere bubblings & liquid upheavals. Half immersed, still no sound. A small portion of the mouth dipped in the water, & the trumpet held with a good slant so that the airblast came freely forth, produced a tremendous blare loud enough to call the Nanga spirits from the distant hills. 

Howitt writes that he is finishing his part of the Deme & the Horde for sending to England. I requested him, when I sent him my ms, to submit it to Dr. Hearn of the Melbourne University, [3] being resolved to burn the ms if Hearn condemned it. He sends me two letters from the Doctor, the first written in reply to his request for permission to send the ms, & the second written after reading the memoir. The first was warning & depreciating in its tone. "You place me in a great strait. x x I have much misgiving as to your subject. I think the Demes were in a different level from that of any black tribe. Besides you must remember that they were artificial, although no doubt they imitated nature. But there is always great risk in such parallels, & the danger is all the greater in proportion to the ingenuity & the enthusiasm of the worker."

The second runs as follows--"I have read your paper with deep interest. I am sorry that I availed myself of your kind offer to send it to me, for it has taken my mind from the perplexities of Real Property Law from which it ought not for many months to stray -- (The Dr. is codifying the law for Victoria) & brought it back to far more agreeable speculations. x x x Your subject is really the relation between the Kinsman & the Neighbour, & it well deserves all the treatment it can get. x x x Your treatment of the subject is delightfully fresh, & shows what may be made out of very old materials by when they are looked at by eyes that know how to see. x x x The propositions that the Mutterricht pass into aquation, [sic] & that this transition is at least facilitated by the influence of neighbourhood, will account, if they can be established, to a great discovery. I must confess that I am somewhat sceptical on the matter. x x x Indeed I must congratulate you & Mr Fison on your mastery of the details with which very few professed scholars have any acquaintance."

This at least satisfies me that there is no outrageous blunder on the Greek side. I took a vast amount of trouble with it, & spent many days in the splendid public Library at Melbourne hunting up the various points in every book I could find. I ransacked Wachsmuth, Hermann, Müller, [insert] (Dorians, [end insert] & other worthies, [4] as well as Pollux, Harpocra, Isoeus & others. [5] Also I paid a drunken old Grecian to look up passages for me, as my time was short. However, you will see the ms before long, & I can but hope that Hearn is right in his estimate of it. But I would far rather burn it than make an ass & a spectacle of myself. Pray never have any hesitation in helping me against that exhibition. You could show me no greater kindness.

Yours very truly,

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor LL.D


[1] Presumably from 'crepitat' Latin for crackle, used as crepitate for 'breaking wind' or farting.

[2] Presumably a misquotation of Byron's '...And the mournful sound of the barbarous horn ... ' [Verse XXII 'The Siege and Conquest of Alhama']

[3] William Edward Hearn (1826-1888) political economist, jurist, politician and university teacher. First professor of modern history and literature, political economy and logic at Melbourne University from 1854 (later reduced to history and political economy). ADB says: 'In his last years he was engaged in drafting an immense code of Victorian law, based on a Benthamite-Austinian view of jurisprudence. It was introduced as a draft bill, provoked formal admiration and recommended for adoption by a committee to which it was referred. Regarded as too abstract by practising lawyers, it was quietly abandoned in favour of simple consolidation.'

[4] Kurt Wachsmuth (1837-1905)?, Johann Gottfried Jakob Hermann (1772-1848), Karl Otfried Müller (1797-1840).

[5] Julius Pollux (2nd century) Greek grammarian and sophist, unknown Harpocra, ?Isaeus, an Attic orator.


Fison 33

6 Taylor St, Essendon


18 Feb 1884

My dear Sir,

I have just received your letter of Dec 15 - at least I received it a few hours before I went on board the steamer under the influence of whose erratic movements I am now writing this scrawl on my return from Sydney to Melbourne. It is not easy to write decently while tossed to & fro & jarred by the vibrations of the abominable screw.

I am glad to hear that you are in personal communication with Mr. Codrington. I have not had the pleasure of seeing him in the flesh, but his correspondence with me has given me a very high opinion of him, & there can be no doubt that he is the best informed of all men as to the Melanesian tongues.

I sent you a second watercolour sketch of the Nanga enclosure, the first being incorrect, but I hear that my mail paquet was mysteriously delayed en route. However, as the rest of the epistles contained therein reached their destinations eventually, I may hope that the sketch was equally fortunate.

Did I not mention in my letter to you the name of the place where the betelnut box & the fish hooks were obtained? I got them from a Captain Martin who was de retour from New Britain & the Solomons - in fact I begged them from him specially for you. I do not remember now where he got them, but most likely Mr. Codrington is right in his opinion that they came from the Solomons, though I do not know of any à priori improbability that they might be found at New Britain also.

I am very glad that you are pleased with my friend Howitt's Initiation paper. [1] It seemed to be extremely interesting & valuable to me. I do not think there is any doubt that the idecent [? indecent] pantomimes are intended to be incentives to virtue. Howitt is attending another ceremony among the Kurnai. I hope to visit him soon, & to have some fine talks with him over his new materials. We have not foregathered yet since my return from Fiji. I have been very ill - suffering from nervous disorder, & have seen nobody, been no where, & written nothing.

I think I wrote to you from Fiji telling you that I had been called away suddenly by my wife's illness.

I am very sorry indeed that both the nose flutes were smashed. The second went by the hand of the Rev. F. Hutton who was to deliver it somewhere in London, so that it should have been delivered from the P.O. dangers. The sacred trumpet turned out to be of the wrong kind. The true trumpet is in two parts, one being a large bamboo joint filled with water, while the other is the trumpet, which is dipped into its water holding complement, the note being varied by a greater or lesser immersion. I had one in process of manufacture in the mountains when I left, & I gave our missionary at Rewa a pathetic charge to pack it carefully & send it to you as soon as it reached his hands. I hope he has been mindful of my charge to him, but I was not over sanguine.

We shall be very glad to hear your opinion on the Deme & the Horde. [2] I am not writing anything more - indeed my brain is in such a state that I can scarcely write even a letter, though I am much better than I was. I owe Mr. Codrington a letter, & hope to pay my debt soon, but my illness has brought upon me immense epistolary arrears which fill me with despair.

Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D


[1] Presumably 'On some Australian ceremonies of initiation', Journal of the Anthropological Institute vol 13 (1884) pp. 432-459

[2] 'On the Deme and the Horde', A.W. Howitt and Lorimer Fison, Journal of the Anthropological Institute ... vol 14 (1885) pp. 141-169.


Fison 34

6 Taylor St, Moonee Ponds

Melbourne 17 May 82

E.B. Tylor Esq LL.D

Dear Sir,

The postman has just brought your letter of April 8, which gives me much pleasure. I will forward the acknowledgement of receipt of the fishhooks &c to Captain Martin, who will doubtless show it to his brother tars with considerable pride.

I am very glad to read your emphatic verdict with regard to Codrington's papers. Though fully convinced myself that he is right, I expected his conclusions would not be readily accepted in England.

Many thanks for the trouble you have taken with the Nanga paper.[1] The second sketch in which the side walls of the enclosure are merely single stones -- not walls -- is the correct one, or at all events the more correct of the two. It will always be a regret to me that I could not personally witness & engage in the ceremony of the Nanga, doing for it what Howitt has done for the Kurinjal. I have paid him two visits lately, & was delighted with his account of the Kurnai Jeraeil, the last that will ever be held. He is to send you an abbreviated account of it for the A.I. [2]

I shall send him by this post a copy of what you say about the Deme & the Horde, with which he will be highly pleased. I wished his friend in England to submit the ms to you first, because I was afraid of having made some ridiculous mistake or other in the classical part, & it is a great relief to my mind that the memoir has stood the test. [3] I am more than ever convinced that much light is to be thrown upon the institutions of the old civilizations by what we see nowadays in savagery. If I were fit for the work I would have a grand hunt through the shelves of our splendid Public Library [4] during the next twelve months, but I am compelled to abstain altogether from study & literary work of every kind.

Your Dutchman I daresay states a fact when he tells of the visiting husband in the Sumatra highlands, but there must be other facts connected with it in order to complete it. He gives us a father, mother & children -- a family living in a house together. The husbands of the daughters are mere visitors who retire to their own families, & the daughters take care of the consequences of those visits. But there must be a time when the husband takes his wife away to a house of his own. Otherwise how could we get the housefather at the head of the line? From one or two things I have seen here & there with reference to the Hilltribes in Sumatra, I suspect Wilkin's account to be incomplete. Does he say that each girl has a special husband to visit her? And that no other man has a similar right?

I have heard nothing from Fiji about the promised Nanga trumpet. When I had to take my hurried departure I arranged for the transmission of the real article (which was to be made for me) to our missionary at Rewa, & he engaged to forward it to you. I told you in a former letter that the trumpet I had myself received turned out not to be the real thing. The Nanga trumpet is in two parts -- one for holding the water & the other, open at both ends, for blowing. The mouth hole is near one end -- or rather about one third of the length from the end. The other end is immersed in the water, & the note varied by raising or depressing it. Also the Mr. Turner who promised to send you the small one stringed musical bow with its scrapers of nutleaf ribs has not written to me as he said he would. It is not princes only who are undeserving of faith. [5]

My general health is greatly improved, but I never get dreamless sleep. My brain will not rest, & consequently it won't do any useful work. With renewed thanks

Yours very sincerely

Lorimer Fison.


[1]  'The Nanga, or sacred stone enclosure, of Wainimala, Fiji', Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 14, (1885), pp. 14-31

[2]  'The Jeraeil, or initiation ceremonies of the Kurnai tribe', Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 14, (1885), pp. 301-325

[3] A.W. Howitt and Lorimer Fison, 1885, 'On the Deme and the Horde', Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 14, (1885), pp. 141-169

[4] See here

[5] There is no object of this description in the PRM, and no musical instrument connected to a 'Mr. Turner'.


Fison 35

A Jun 11 85 [EBT's handwriting]



28 Feb 85

My dear Sir

By the SS. Iberia Howitt & I have received parcels of our papers on Deme & the Horde, Initiation, & Nanga. The last two show the usual marks of your kind correction of printer's proofs, but the first has evidently fallen into somebody else's hands. At Howitt's suggestion I send you a corrected copy. He thinks it may be possible that a list of errata could be inserted in your annual copy of Transactions but I am not hopeful about it.

I am very grateful to you for your revision of the MS. & am only sorry that your absence deprived us of your kind help in correcting the printed proofs & rebuking the madness of the printer, who has made me say "So old Jerobaum" instead of "So also Jerobaum".

Printers have much to answer for. I remember, when Howitt went after Burke & Wills, a man started a magic lantern lecture about his expedition, & had handbills printed. The last scene was the burial of Burke by Howitt, & the handbill contained a quotation from H's report -- "We buried the remains of this brave man under a noble eucalyptus, on the bark of which we cut the following inscription

"R.M. Abbott & Co, Cheap Printers, Little Bourke St East"

Howitt's inscription [Drawing] for Robert O'Hara Burke, together with the concluding "rule" --------------, had dropped out of the type, & the printers imprint read as the inscription. [1]

I have just bid good bye to the Rev. W.G. Lawes, the New Guinea missionary. [2] We went over his Motu grammar in ms. & I can testify to the accuracy of Mr. Codrington's statement that the Motu is not a Polynesian language. It is distinctly Melanesian, & more archaic than the Fijian.

I read the other day Bonney's paper on the Darling tribes in vol xiii A.I. Trans. [Transactions] [3] It is very good. But Bonney has not get below the surface of things -- e.g. where he notes that children are named after animals &c. He does not know the difference between a totem & a personal name. His statement that the neophytes sound the bullroarer "to let their mothers know where they are" is evidently a native "cram". Doubtless one of his black friends gave him that explanation.

I saw a copy of your Montreal address at Howitt's the other day, but had only time to glance over it. I was delighted to note that you support Codrington.

I am sorry to say that the missionary who promised to forward me the Nanga trumpet -- or, I think, he was to send it direct to you -- has not fulfilled his promise. At all events the trumpet has not come to me.

My address after April 1st will be "Flemington". 

Believe me 

Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison

E.B. Tylor Esq LL.D

P.S. I observe that Howitt & I are elected corresponding members of the A.I. but we have received no official communication announcing the honour done to us. I do not know what is the proper thing to do under the circumstances; & I trust my ignorance will be accepted as my excuse if I ought to have written a letter of thankful acknowledgement. Will you kindly tell me what should be done, & in the meanwhile present my apology if I am against etiquette by delay? What is a corresponding member expected to do apart from the acknowledgement of his election? If he be expected to send forth a perennial stream of new papers, I fear I shall be found wanting. I have to take ministerial work here in April next, & shall have little time for anything beyond it. But if the honour be conferred in recognition of work done in the past, without demands on the future, my grateful appreciation will be relieved of any misgivings which are now mingled with it.

I was glad to see Palmer's paper in vol. xiii. I saw it in ms, after it had been returned by the NSW savants as inferior to Fraser's astounding production. It is very good, & thoroughly trustworthy. [4]


[1] See here for more information about Burke's grave, to find out more about Howitt's role in the relief expedition, see here.

[2] William George Lawes (1839-1907), missionary with the London Missionary Society. See here for more information. See here for correspondence between George Rolleston of the Oxford University Museum and Lawes.

[3] Frederic Bonney, 'On Some Customs of the Aborigines of the River Darling, New South Wales', The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 13 (1884), pp. 122-137

[4] Edward Palmer, 'Notes on some Australian tribes', The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 13 (1884), pp. 276-347


Fison 36

Flemington, Melbourne

Victoria, 4 Dec '86

My dear Sir,

It is a very long time since I wrote to you, for I have had nothing to write about. The state of my health is such that I can scarcely get through my everyday work, & anything outside of it has been out of the question for many a long day.

Howitt told me some time ago you wanted Fiji weapons, instruments &c & asked me if I could send you some. There are none to be had now. Govt officials, & others, have cleared them all off, & the natives have taken to making inferior imitations for sale. At Rotuma I once saw a native making an "ancient stone adze" by the help of an English grindstone.

My reason for writing now is this. One of our missionaries, the Rev. Benjamin Danks, has recently come back from New Britain, where he spent eight years. In talking with him I was greatly interested in the effect produced upon the people by their possession & use of the shell money. So marked is this that I saw clearly the necessity of making a completely new study of savage society as it presents itself under this influence. As far as I know, shell money elsewhere, though no use, does not seem to have so great an effect upon society. It is quite new to me - commercial savagery, instead of what we usually find. I have asked Danks to send you a paper for the A.I. on the subject, & I will stir him up until he does what I want him to do. [1] This is all I am good for - to get others to work; & I lay the flattering unction to my soul that in this secondary way I have been of considerable use. Anthropologists may thank me for Codrington's Melanesian Languages, & for Howitt's Australian work.

I was much struck, among other things, by the powerful effect of the N.B. money system in preserving some sort of social order. If you do a man an injury, you must pay for it, & this is a restraint upon evil doers. But the methods of adjustment are queer. Take this case given me by Danks:- A boy in fun drew a heated iron ramrod across the naked back of another boy & burned him. The burnt boy was vexed, & cut down somebody else's crotons [2] to show his anger. The owner of the crotons broke somebody else's canoe; & the owner of the canoe burnt somebody else's house. Each of these acts seems to be a sort of appeal to the Universe to step in & avenge a wrong. No one of them was retaliation on the wrongdoer. In every case the sufferer had had nothing to do with the wrong for which he suffered. When the house was burnt, the community seems to have thought the mischief had gone far enough, & that it was time a settlement should be arrived at. I am not clear as to the court, or council, by which the fines were inflicted; but I will see that Danks makes the necessary points clear. The sentence was as follows:-

1. The boy who burnt the other boy was [insert] thereby [end insert] the cause of the crotons being cut down. So he must pay for the crotons.

2. The boy who cut down the crotons (ie the burnt boy) was the cause of the canoe being broken. So he must pay for the canoe

3. The owner of the crotons [insert] by breaking the canoe [end insert] was the cause of the house being burnt. So he must pay for the house.

Thus the man who burnt the house had nothing to pay; & the amusing part is that the boy who was injured in the first place got nothing. There was no one to pay him. And if the series had gone on for ever he would have been in the same predicament. It is like "the house that Jack built". Something was done to every one in the series, but the loss of the malt was a dead loss to Jack after all.

The notion seems to be that some lawless act must be done to set the law in motion. The man by doing it publishes his sense of wrong. I remember one similar case in Fiji. A number of men, who had been grievously oppressed by their chief, brought a charge against him before one of Sir Arthur Gordon's pet native magistrates. The magistrate fined them for such disrespectful treatment of their chief. They returned to their village, mad with rage, desperate & reckless. Throwing off their waistcloths, they [insert] two of them [end insert] rushed naked into a house, & dragged an unoffending woman out by the heels. She was not akin to the chief. It was no act of retaliation on an offender, such as is common enough - e.g. to go into his house, or into that of one of his near kin, & break the cooking pots - or do some other act of damage.

The dragging of the woman by the two men aforesaid was precisely similar to the New Britain method. It was a proclamation of wrong, & the woman's kinfolk were not aggrieved by it - at least they were not aggrieved against the two men. They held the chief responsible as the actual wrongdoer & were bitterly resentful.

Another illustration of this custom is afforded by the money lending of New Britain. A chief, to use Dank's term, though there are no chiefs in the Fijian sense, will have large coils of shell money in his house. A man has lent money to his neighbour at the usual interest, 10 per cent. The neighbour does not pay. The lender goes to the chief's house, & takes away a coil of money. The chief makes no objection, but send by & bye to enquire why the money was taken. "So & so won't pay his debt." Thereupon the chief brings the debtor up, makes him refund, & then gets back his coil.

Husband & wife even trade with one another. Neither will give a smoke of tobacco to the other without payment. Everything has a fixed price, well known to all.

Labour - at all events help in plantation work - is not paid for in money. The hired man gets his day's food, that is all. If the hirer give [sic] him an inch or two of money in addition, this is reckoned as of free grace, & extolled as princely generosity.

These labourers, Danks says, are "lazy fellows", who have no plantations of their own.

There does not appear to be the tribal tenure of land which we have in Fiji. A family may own a plot of land, but each male has his own bit of it, & may stand out against the united wish of his mates as to its disposal. The people do not live in villages as in Fiji. Each family has its own little cluster of huts, & these clusters are scattered here & there. The chiefs (so called) have little or no personal authority, & yet they are able to bring public opinion to bear upon offenders. Fines thus inflicted must be paid. The whole system wants careful & minute study. It is quite new to me. I will set Danks to work at once. Yours very truly Lorimer Fison

P.S. I forgot to note two or three points with reference to the shell money.

1. There is actually a sort of banking among the N.B. natives. A "strong man"--that is, a man who has plenty of brothers who will stand by him--has a "safe house". People who are "weak" bring their money to his house for safety, & draw it as they require it, paying something for the accommodation.

2. The borrower is literally servant to the lender. Many young men are unable to "buy" their wives, or to pay their initiation fees to the Dukduk (secret society = the Nanga of Fiji, & the Bora, Israeit, Kuruigal &c of Australia) without borrowing. It may be years before they can pay off the loan, & in the meanwhile they must do the bidding of their creditor. If they object, Pancks himself was not more energetic with his "Pay up". [3]

3. A rich man, who has many "coils" of money, can extort more from his people by threats of moving to another district. The people don't like the notion of so much wealth being taken away. They would lose caste if it went. So they bring presents to avert the calamity (N.B. the "coils" are as big, & as thick, as the wheel of a brewer's lorry.)

4. Danks could never find out where the money was made. He went to the place where it was said to be made--far up the coast--but the natives there pointed to a mountain range, & declared it came from beyond it. The secret must be well kept, or he would not have been eight years trying to find it out.

Inheritance is through the mother--that is, the estate goes to the mother's kin.

N.B. these notes are for your own use. I don't want to forestall Danks

May I trouble you to send the note written on the other leaf to the Editors of the "Academy". I have not a copy of the paper, & omitted to note the address. [Insert] Could you send me a copy of the "Academy" with my letter in it if they print it? I wd [would] be much obliged [end insert]

Codrington sends me the following extract from a Maewo legend. [4] It relates to the finding of twin foundlings by Zat (N.B. q=kpw:) -- So they three went into the village to Motari, Zat's wife. And, when Motari, Zat's wife, saw those two children good-looking & with white hair, she liked them, & asked Zat concerning them, "Are these my children, or my husbands?" And Zat said, "Indeed they are your husbands"--because they two were his sister's sons.-- The special value of this lies in the fact that the words I have underlined are a bit of spontaneous & unsuggested native reasoning. Codrington was not making special inquiry as to the laws of marriage & descent, but was simply collecting legends, & this came to him from a native as a Maewo story. He remarks--"Being Zat's sister's sons, they were of the same veve (marriage division) with him, & therefore husbands to her [insert] i.e. to Zat's wife [end insert]. If on the other side (of the other division) being of a later generation, they would have been her children--i.e. her nephews, near or far off."

Do you know anything of a Dr. Carroll who is making investigation about the S. Sea Islanders? [5] He has kept me writing to him till I am utterly weary of him--& this because he seems to me to be a mere theorist. He says that he can trace the Polynesians, Melanesians &c in the early records of India & China; but, if his connections there are no sounder than those he makes out of material with which I am acquainted, they are not worth much. There is also a man in New Zealand, Tregear by name, who proves the Maoris to be Aryans in a wonderful way. [6] He wrote me several letters, but when I told him that Kau (Hawaii for canoe) is the common word for tree & wood, & that it has nothing to do with "cow" [insert] with wh. [which] he maintained it was identical [end insert] he renounced me & all my works. 


[1] 'On the Shell-Money of New Britain' Benjamin DanksThe Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 17, (1888), pp. 305-317

[2] Crotons: Plant  genus of the family Euphorbiaceae

[3] Pancks is a character in Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit, in chapter 25 he says to Mr Baptist, 'Now, old chap,' said Mr Pancks, 'pay up!'

[4] Maewo (or Maéwo; formerly Aurora Island) is an island in Vanuatu (New Britain).

[5] Alan Carroll, of Sydney (c. 1823-1911) see here.

[6] Edward Robert Tregear (1846-1931) New Zealand public servant and scholar. See NZDB entry here and wikipedia entry here


Fison 37

I send you part of a letter of Tregear's that you may learn to have compassion upon him I do not want it again.



Victoria 25 Mar 1887

My dear Sir,

Your welcome letter of Feb 15 has just come in, & I think you for your kind words. We shall be glad to see Mr Spencer, & I am sure he will be delighted with Howitt.' [1]

Danks' paper, I expect, has reached you by this time. I think it is a very good one. I had the first rough draft submitted to me, & gave him a lot of questions on various points, from his answers to which I wrote out further particulars, which I suggested as additions. I have not seen his clean copy, nor have I heard from him again; but I suppose he has made the additions suggested.

Brown is a first rate fellow, & has no end of information which I expect will die with him. He has been going to write a book on New Britain ever since he returned to Australia, but he has not made a beginning yet. He has a fine collection of weapons &c which would strain the tenth commandment if you could see them. [2]

Codrington is "in a great state" about the living. When he left England there seemed no likelihood of its falling in so soon. He does not look forward to the change as altogether pleasant even to the flesh. It is a great pity. There are so few men in the islands who work. I have come to believe that the qualification for that kind of work [insert] I mean only for getting at what is in the mind of the natives [end insert] is a sort of instinct which some men have, & some men have not -- just as some have a musical ear while others are unblest. This has been brought home to me of late very strongly in connection with the Tonga troubles. I have been predicting them & warning our folks ever since 1874, but I could get nobody to believe me; & now men who ought to know far more about the Tongans than I know -- men who have lived all their [insert] mission [end insert] lives among them -- are talking & writing about the affair just as if the Tongans were Englishmen, & they angrily refuse to believe that "sixty years of missionary teaching" has not effected a radical change in the Tongan brain.[3]

I will write to Fiji for the things you want; but I am not hopeful. As to the tabu signs, they differ very widely. All sorts of things are employed. By the way, I don't think I ever noted in any of my letters what Brown told me about the tabu in N. [New] Britain. When the people [insert] have [end insert] set up the signs, they immediately take to flight, & hide themselves in the bush. What is the meaning of this? May it not be a possible solution that primarily the tabu is a prohibition of a communal right, & that the natives are afraid, or feign to be afraid, of ancestral wrath? This, of course, is only the suggestion of a bare possibility.

There will be no need to send any money for the purchase of those Fijian articles. If I can get them at all, I can get them for nothing. There is only one place in Fiji (as far as I know) where the surfboard is used. Samoa is the place for it. [insert] The only difficulty here is to get an intermediary agent to trouble himself [end insert] 

My friends tell me that Codrington living is no great catch financially, because Wadham takes all the Great Tithes, & the clergyman is only the vicar.

I have not seen the Anth. Journal for a long time past.

Yours very truly, 

Lorimer Fison

I have no photo of myself, & am too mindful of what I was to get myself taken as I am. But my wife says I have to get it done, so I suppose it will have to be done sooner or later. She will dig at me till I obey.


[1] This is Walter Baldwin Spencer who had arrived in Australia after helping Tylor and Moseley transfer the Pitt-Rivers founding collection from London to Oxford. Howitt and Fison's Australian work later influenced Spencer and Gillen's own anthropological endeavours, and Howitt in particular was a great hero of theirs.

[2] George Brown (1835-1917) Methodist missionary, there are items from New Britain from him in the PRM collections, some came via Tylor, see 1886.16.1 and 1977.4.1 (found unentered), and 1914.33.1, other items came via the Bowes and Cranmore Museums; some are weapons.

[3] This must be a reference to Shirley Waldemar Baker (1836-1907) missionary and Prime Minister of Tonga who was shot (but unhurt) in 1887. Six Tongans were executed in punishment, and in 1888 George Brown [qv] visited Tonga to try and heal the breach between Baker's church, 'The Free Church of Tonga' and the Wesleyan. 


Fison 38

Flemington Victoria

3 Nov 1887

My dear Sir,

I have been looking over a paper of Danks' on Marriage Customs. It is a useful statement of facts, & I have no doubt you will be pleased with it. [1] I have tried to make use of it by way of stirring up Brown to write something. I paid him a visit in Sydney, spent a few days with him, & warned him that Danks would occupy the whole field if he did not go in. If we could only get him to write as he talks when we sit chatting over our pipes, we should get a splendid book out of him. [2] I made him promise to write a series of short papers for the A.I. [Anthropological Institute] which would come in well afterwards in instructing his book; but, though he means what he says when he promises, I have my doubts as to his performance. He is now General Sec'y of our Missions, & is kept flying from one Colony to the other on our mission business. If I were living in Sydney, I think I could get him to do the work. He showed me a big box, about 4 ft x 2 x 1 1/2, full of materials, among which are a lot of the most exquisite photographs which he himself took in the islands. [3] Professional photographers have told me that some of his negatives cannot be beaten. I wish he would let me have the materials. I would put them together, as I did [insert] the extracts from [end insert] Codrington's letters on the languages & then threaten to publish them if he did not correct them. I believe the philologists owe Codrington's book to my having done this to him; & I should like to do the same to Brown.

Mr Edward E. [sic] Curr is publishing a work on the Aust. Abor. [Australian Aborigines] in which he delivers his soul very freely, about me. He knows about the Victorian blacks all that a settler would be likely to learn about them by mere residence among them in the old days, without a special turn for studying them; & much of what he says about them is very valuable. But he won't believe that there is anything elsewhere which is not in Victoria; & here he makes a great mistake. The southern tribes were for the most part evidently "broken clans", & they had not the organization & full customs of the northern, eastern, & central tribes. I say nothing about the western peoples, because we have not been able to get much information from W. Australia. Curr has an African theory connected with the origin of our blacks, & prints extensive vocabularies in support of it. I don't think philologists will be much impressed by his words. he takes words of similar sound to be necessarily identical, & judging from what he takes from the S. Sea Is languages, this leads him into ludicrous mistakes. Howitt has had a little correspondence with him about his pitching into me; but I have taken no notice. You used to think me to be a fighting man; but prods at myself never stir me to fight. We have sent a circular out to our correspondents about one or two points on which he accuses us of incorrect statements, & I suggested that Howitt should sent [sic] you for publication by the A.I. the materials he has touching the Dieri Tribe, who have the custom of Pirauru, or accessory spouses, in full blast. This will make a very interesting paper. [4] I am to go up to Howitt's in about a fortnight, to look through the materials with him. Though I head my letter with my usual address, I am now at Sydney, on my way north in search of health. I don't think I shall do much more work. Yours very truly

L. Fison

E.B. Tylor Esq LL.D


[1] Benjamin Danks 'Marriage Customs of the New Britain Group' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland , Vol. 18, (1889), pp. 281-294

[2] Eventually Brown did publish papers and two books.

[3] 900 of these photographs are now in Australian Museum, Sydney

[4] 'The Dieri and Other Kindred Tribes of Central Australia' Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 20, (1891), pp. 30-104


Howitt Fison smallHowitt and Fison Courtesy: Centre for Gippsland Studies Pictures Collection, Monash University Research Repository

Fison 39

Flemington, Victoria

Nov 23 1887

My dear Sir,

I returned last night from a very pleasant visit to Sale (Howitt's residence). I went there for the purpose of going over with him a monogram on the Dieri Tribe, which he has prepared for the A.I. [1] It is a splendid paper, & I am sure you will be delighted with it. I hope the A.I. will not stand aghast at its length. Some time yet must elapse before it is completed, as there are a few matters on which it is desirable for Howitt to inflict a little more torture on his correspondents. If the enemy only knew, or would believe when he is told, how careful we have been to verify every fact, he would be still as a stone, & would never more vex our souls by accusations of rash assumptions. The Dieri, and its affiliated tribes, are those among whom the Noa marriage coexists with the Pirauru--i.e. every man has a Noa (special) wife, & also several Pirauru (accessory) wives. Each of these [insert] latter [end insert] is Noa to some other man. Hence every woman has a Noa husband, & also several Piraura husbands. The right of the Noa overrides that of the Piraura when both men are present. There is also seniority among the Pirauras, & the rights of the senior takes precedence of that of the junior when both are present on any occasion. I think I told you of this before, & besides Howitt has explained it in his paper on Aust. group relations, which he wrote for the Amer. Society. [2] It is most important, because it is regulated & restricted group-marriage now in actual prevalence, & all the evidence points to the fact that the Noa marriage is subsequent in date to the Pirauru in those tribes. Of course the Pirauru system does not amount to promiscuous intercourse; but there are ceremonial & other occasions on which the male [insert] Piraura [end insert] group has, of set purpose, promiscuous intercourse with its female group, & there are still other occasions on which all the groups mingle indiscriminately, the license being so complete as it is on those occasions noted in my paper on the Nanga. The Pirauru system is a full explanation of the Nair polyandry. [insert] There are some things which must be sent to you separately in ms. Quite unfit for publication [end insert]

Howitt is greatly stirred up by Curr's onslaught on me in is Origin &c of the Australian Race. [3] I am quite unconcerned about it myself, though Curr directly and offensively accuses me of literary dishonesty. He says that Mr. F. "more suo" concealed the relationship terms which did not suit his purpose". And he thinks he has convicted me by giving special terms for Uncle, Nephew, Cousin &c, which he affirms are used precisely as we use the English equivalents, as he supposes them to be. But he does not know what he is talking about. His manner of making the inquiry has evidently been the following:--he sent a list in English--"Uncle, Aunt, Nephew, Niece, Cousin &c"--to his correspondents, & asked them to fill in the native equivalents. A correspondent naturally puts down the word used for my brother's bro' opposite Uncle, & Curr triumphantly produces it as the equivalent to our Uncle. But the fact is that our "Uncle" is two fold, being (1) Father's Bro' & (2) Mother's bro; & the inquiry list should have given these two terms. Had it done so, Curr would have discovered that in no case are the two Uncles covered by the same term. Thus, if you were to ask me what is the Fijian term for Uncle, I should give Vungo; but I should be careful to explain that it applies only to the Mother's bro', not to the Father's bro [insert] who is Tama (father) [end insert] & I should add further that Vungo is a reciprocal term between uncle & nephew, who are said to be veivungoni (vungo'd together.)

I am morally certain that this is the way in which Curr has fallen into his mistake; but we shall make of it more than a moral certainty. We have sent a special inquiry on the subject to the correspondents on whom he chiefly relies.

I told Howitt [insert] that [end insert] I should be writing to you, & he asked me to tell you that he is preparing a paper for you on Message Sticks. [4] He showed it to me as he has it now on the stocks, & I was delighted with it. You will find it to be done after his usual thorough & accurate manner. He has got blacks of his "own people" to make message sticks, & has got others from trustworthy correspondents who set the blacks in their neighbourhood to make them. Howitt has made careful drawings of these sticks, with full explanations. The paper will prove conclusively that the message stick among the Aust. blacks is only an aide memoire. 

We were wishing you could have been with us during my late visit. You would enjoy a day or two with Howitt, & his delightful family at their pleasant residence. He & I were sitting outside the house--(at least I was sitting there, &, I grieve to say, smoking a short pipe). I had the Dieri MS in my hand, & we were discussing some point in it, when his three daughters--fine, sousy [sic], merry girls they are--came out with their landscape camera. "Here's the instrument of torture", said May, the eldest. "Now keep still, & be good." And they executed us before we well knew what was the matter. Next day they presented us with the result, neatly mounted, with "Kamilaroi & Kurnai" written under it in May's handwriting. [5] I told her it was a lasting memento of man's long-suffering & woman's independence. She said she had had a great mind to call it the complete Trio, because her little dog Midge was sitting at my feet when we were taken, & completed the trio, "Kamilaroi, Kurnai, & Curr". It was made all the funnier by the fact that Midge, who was a slim sharp nosed little dog, was moved by fleas, or flies, or something [insert] to shake his head [end insert] just at the fatal moment, & consequently came out as the shadowy ghost of a particularly truculent looking bulldog. He is only to be discovered by the aid of a lens, & the girls declare he is Curr present in the spirit with an expression of savage disgust on his ghostly visage, as he listens to the Dieri paper. They are going to print off a copy for your special benefit. I told them you would be glad to have one. 

Howitt is anxious to get his message stick paper finished in time for sending to you before you publish your new book. But he is very hardworked as a Police Magistrate, & Warden of the Goldfields, to say nothing of his Geological & Botanical work. I never saw a man who crammed his life so full of work. 

Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison

If the A.I. kick at the length of the "Dieri", pray use your influence to soothe them & get it printed.


[1] Possibly 'The Dieri and other kindred tribes of Central Australia', Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 20, (1891), pp. 30-104

[2] Presumably 'Australian group relations', Smithsonian Report 1883 reprinted by Washington: Government Printing Office in 1885.

[3] E.M. Curr. The Australian Race: its origin, languages, customs ... 1886-7 Melbourne J. Ferres

[4] 'Notes on Australian message sticks and messengers' Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 18, (1889), pp. 314-332

[5] A copy of this photograph is now in the Research Repository of Monash University Library Centre for Gippsland Studies reference


See here for a letter from Walter Baldwin Spencer to Edward Burnett Tylor about finding a Anthropological lectureship for Fison in Melbourne [Tylor papers Box 13a S12 Spencer, PRM ms collections]


Fison 40

address -- Essendon


2 June 1888

My dear Dr. Tylor,

Your pleasant letter [insert, possibly in another hand] of Apl 19 [end insert] came to me during the sessions of our General Conference at which I was present not only as one of the elected representatives, but also as Editor of our newspaper, & this means reporter & almost everything else excepting compositor & devil. I sent your former letter to Howitt. He replied a week ago as follows:- but I had better enclose his letter & let you see his ipsissima verba. [1]

The question is a difficult one. First of all custom varies so widely that one can scarcely be safe in asserting the existence of a general rule on almost any such point as that you want information about. Then, when one talks about a man's leaving his own family, & going to live with his wife's family, one is apt to get mixed between our notions of what the words "live", & "family" involve among ourselves, & what they carry with them among the blacks.

Our notions involve some sort of settlement & a permanent family circle [insert] i.e. a family will continue to live together [end insert] But I need not remind you that these notions won't do for tribes who break up into small parties, or "mobs" as the bush folk here call them, for the purposes of everyday life. And then, the mob is not a constant. A man may go into one for a time & then with another. And besides, if he have more than one wife he has more than one father-in-law, & the food provision, indicating his obligation to his wife's kin, gets mixed when one wants to reason from it. The facts [insert] also [end insert] recorded as to the side a man takes in "war" wants sifting. There is war & war. The Ordeal by Battle wants distinguishing from War against aliens. Most of the fights of which we have accounts from spectators have been of the former kind. That is to say the Totem, rather than the Horde, was concerned. I think we may safely say that all set fights are of this kind. Real blackfellow war is not a set fight, as a rule, but a sneaking murderous raid. There is great importance in this, because the fact of a man's fighting on his wife's father's side does in the Battle ordeal is no [insert] proof of [end insert] severance from his Totem, not for his father-in-law. So also, in the Ball play as far as I have been able to get information, he plays on his father in law's side, & against his own father; but he sides with his wife's father, not because that [insert] elder [end insert] is the father of his wife, but because he is of his own totem, or at least of a totem of his class.

I don't think we can make any hard & fast rule. If we get reasoning from the ascertained facts, & go straight along the draw straight lines for our conclusions to run on we shall be sure to get off the track. The savage lines of rails are curved & bent & twisted & run together in all manner of queer ways. They puzzle even [insert] the blacks [end insert] themselves [insert] sometimes [end insert] & make inquirers  tear their hair. People here talk of me as a perfect abyss of blackfellow information, whereas the more I learn the more pitiful does my knowledge seem to me, & the amount of what I don't know fills me with awe. I don't even see clearly what I actually know. These inquiries are like travelling on the Australian Alps of which I did a great deal years ago when my lungs were sound, & my muscles untiring--when I could carry, as I actually did, a hundred weight of corned beef for six miles up the bed of a mountain creek, the easiest way then. At that The only way of getting through that country is to follow the tops of the ranges, where the timber is all dead, & the ground free from undergrowth. But then you have to cut your way through the impenetrable scrub which covers the hillsides till you get to the top. There you get easy going for a time, but a deep gully comes me [?] cranking in, & you have to cut your way down, & then up again on the other side. And when you get a little way down into the thick of it, you don't know where you are. You can't even see the sun, so dense is the growth. The labour is immense, but your pocket compass tells you how to avoid wasting it by expending it in wrong directions. Here the hill country has the advantage over this anthropological "scrub"  I can't find any compass to help me here, & so go hacking & hewing away till I am dead beat & almost in despair without getting anywhere. We have certainly cleared a short track or two into the open ground, but only to find ourselves after a short progress down in the dense jungle again.

But to come to your point. You say, 'if you had to give the right & wrong of Curr's remark on the father's tribe & the mother's class, how would you put it?" I should put it in this way:--

"Curr is right in what he says, but wrong in what he means by it."

To say that the child is of the father's tribe & of the mother's class, is to say precisely what Howitt & I said in The Deme & the Horde, that the child is of the Father's Local division Organisation [insert] Division [end insert] & of the mother's social organization [insert] Division [end insert] -- of the father's Horde, but of the mother's class & totem.

But Curr means a great deal more than this. He means & asserts that the social organization touches a man on the point of matrimonial selection, & on no other: whereas the truth is that it hems him in all round, & is continually taking hold of him. We see this in the Initiation ceremonies, blood revenge, ball play, hospitality, & indeed in almost all the events of life.

With regard to your specific question as to the food provision we must bear in mind that the Kurnai have descent through the father, & their custom is not safe to generalize from. But, as far as I know, the custom of giving the father in law a good share of the game procured is very general. I don't know what the regulation is about service between betrothal & marriage, but it is likely that service is rendered. The young fellow is considered to be the husband of the betrothed girl, through actual marital rights are deferred, & therefore it is likely that the duties of the husband may be expected from him. [insert] Remember that betrothal is not the universal rule. [end insert] I will get Howitt to make a special inquiry. These inquiries want to be made on the spot by the investigator himself. You will see that Howitt says the son in law among the Kurnai spent much of his time with -- or rather near -- his father in law, but after a time he went back to his own folk, taking his wife with him. Even then, however, he seems to have gone back & forth until the old man's death.

Aldridge's evidence is very clear. [2] Only you must remember what I have already said about "war".

The Adjadura evidence is to the contrary, [3] & so is Boultbee's. [4] In fact custom in this, as in some many other matters, varies even to total discrepancy. I cannot write more, being up to my eyes in work, though I have now retired from what is called "the active work of the ministry", Yours truly 

L. Fison

P.S. I forgot to say that, with regard to your remarks about Curr, we have not taken the trouble to "fall on him & hew him to pieces". His book is really not worth taking any trouble about, & I have not put a single word into print with reference to it. [5]

Howitt was made because of Curr's personal animus against me, & his discourteous expressions, but I dissuaded him from going on the warpath. He will bring forward facts in the paper (which I have now before me in "rough-draft" for comment) which will deal with Curr's statements, & that will be enough. I am never stirred up by a mere personal attack. It would have [insert] been [end insert] easy to hit the enemy hard about his philological nonsense, but cui bono? If he had attacked Howitt, I dare say I should have been up in arms, but I should feel mean if I hit merely because the man hit me. We shall deal with his statements & arguments & ignore him. You have always seemed to look upon me as a man of war -- probably because K. & K. was wroth with McLennan & Lubbock, but that was on Morgan's & Williams' account, not on my own. I am a man of peace. On the diggings Cork, Clare, & Tipperary agreed to [insert] in [end insert] call [insert] calling [end insert] me the "Peacemaker". I have gone into the thick of their fights, thrown the ringleader of their "injyment" over my shoulder like a bag of wheat, & carried him out of the fray, & a great roar of laughter broken in upon the war cries. 

Look at the face in the photo I send herewith in another envelope, & you will see him who is still the Peacemaker. [6]


[1] 'Very words', legal term.

[2] Aldridge cannot be identified, from the following letter from Howitt it is clear that Aldridge may have come from Maryborough, Queensland and may therefore be Henry Aldridge {1844-1926) the author of The memoirs of Henry Aldridge: a Queensland Pioneer published in 2000 with Cyril Coker. In IATSIS [Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Studies] Library M69 A.W. Howitt collection in BOX 1. FOLDER 1 are letters to Howitt from Harry E. Aldridge, presumably the same person. A Harry E. Aldridge is recognized for his contributions to Howitt's work (via the questionnaires) on page x of Native Tribes of SE Australia by Howitt.

[3] Adjadura or Narungga, of Yorke Peninsula. Discussed in Howitt's Native Tribes of SE Australia, p. 67; see especially footnote. It was F.J. Gillen who gave the group the second name after fieldwork when he was based in Moonta.

[4] Boultbee cannot be identified but he is recognized by Howitt on page x of Native Tribes of SE Australia as his correspondent on the Wilga Kongait, Tongaranka, Bulali, Naualko, Guerno, Barabinya.

[5] Presumably the four volume The Australian Race: Its Origins, Languages, Customs published in Melbourne in 1886-7.

[6] Perhaps the photo shown at the start of this page?

- - - - - - -

The following letter is from Howitt but is numbered 'Fison 40'

Sale May 21 / 88

My dear Fison

Since I saw you I have been thinking about the "man & his wife father" [sic] and I may as well tell you the result so far. The Kurnai when he ran off with his wife and succeeded in keeping her was compelled by custom to provide his "ngaribil" (wifes father) with much "jeak". [insert] the best portion of game [end insert] Therefore he spent much of his time with him i.e. he camped [insert] not too [end insert] near him but yet within reach and after a time he went back again to his own people taking his wife with him. This was custom -- he spending a good deal of his time with his wifes people untll the "ngaribil" died when he remained at home.

Aldridge writes in [?] that in all cases where a man (Maryborough Qd [insert] Queensland [end insert] tribes) married a woman from a distant "tribe let" (radius of 50 miles) he left his own tribelet and lived with hers. He became part of her "family" In the event of a war expedition he fought against his own people and his own "blood relatives". Aldridge says that he has seen a father & son fighting under these circumstances, and the son would most certainly have killed his father  if others had not interfered.

T. Sutton says as to Adjadura tribe Yorke Peninsula that in no case did a man settle down with his wifes people but always took her to his tribe. [1] When a man had a wife from a distant tribe and was killed she was sometimes put to death by the old men.

J. Boultbee says as for tribes between Darling R and S.A. [2 words illegible] in no case did men join the tribes of their wives. He knew how [?] instances where men from Lake Hope or Buller [?] River who married old widows at Depot Glen (Gig [?] Range) [insert] & lived there [end insert] But then well out less from their own tribe [crossed out illegible words] "here marked men by the whites." [?]

Add to this Muirheads [2] example of the man having to leave his tribe and join that of his wife when her "married husband" had died and it seems to me that there is some evidence of the former custom of the "Malaysian custom" Tylor writes of. Kind regards yours f.... [illegible] AW Howitt


[1] T.M. Sutton manager of the Aboriginal station in Yorke Peninsula (Point Pearce Mission Station). See here for a reference to a manuscript by him on Spencer and Gillen website. He is recognized on page xii of Native Tribes of SE Australia as Howitt's informant for the Naranga-ga.

[2] Muirhead cannot be identified but he is presumably the J.C. Muirhead mentioned on page xi of Native Tribes of SE Australia as Howitt's informant for the Wakelbura and kindred tribes.


Fison 41

Essendon Melbourne 4 May 1889

[in Tylor's handwriting?] [illegible word] June 30 89

My dear Sir,

I was delighted to receive your paper on the Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions &c, [1] & especially to note that the application of a mathematical test brought out results which I had worked out in another way. The Daily Telegraph, one of the Melbourne newspapers put in a leader upon it, and made me very proud. But I couldn't make out your diagrams. I wrote to Howitt about the paper, & said nothing about them, being ashamed of my obtuseness. In his reply he said nothing about them. He came to my house last night to tell me he had accepted the post of Secretary for Mines, which will bring him down from Sale to Melbourne, & we had a long talk, but neither of us touched the diagrams. This morning, after breakfast, he said "Will you go through Tylor's diagrams with me? There is something in them which I can't get clear." And I had to confess my utter stupidity. Thereupon he broke forth into rejoicing. "Well, that is a comfort to me," he cried. "I can't make head nor tail of the, & I was ashamed to tell you so." We consoled ourselves by supposing that you drew them on the Anthropological Blackboard when you read your paper, & explained them to your audience. Can you give us the key?

Couvade [2] I think I told you this is observed in Fiji in a variety of ways. When I was at the head of our Training Inst'n [Institution] I was both amused & annoyed by my married students' refusing to take their places in the classes for some time after their babies were born. In some tribes a man has to diet himself carefully through all his wife's pregnancy, as well as to keep himself quiet after she is delivered.

Teknonymy [3] Some of the tribes often name the father after the child & the mother too. The custom seems to be less prevalent than in former times. The names Tamai & Tinai ("father of", & "mother of") without a child's name attached, are very common.

Howitt has been chosen Vice-President of the Anth. Section of the Association of Arts & Sciences, which Convention is to be held in Jan'y here, & I am elected Sec'y. I hope we shall be able to get a few decent papers. In great haste, for my hands are over full just now 

Yours most truly, Lorimer Fison


[1] "On a method of investigating the development of institutions; applied to laws of marriage and descent". Tylor read this paper at a meeting of the Anthropological Institute on November 13, 1888 and it was published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 18, (1889), pp. 245-272.

[2] Couvade is a term coined by Tylor in 1865 to describe rituals adopted in some cultures by men during pregnancy.

[3] Teknonymy is the practice of referring to parents by the names of their children


Fison 42

Essendon, Melbourne

29 Sep. 1893

My dear Dr Tylor,

I have had a visit from Mr. S.F. Peal of Assam. [1] He had only a couple of days to spend in Melbourne, as he was returning to India, & I am very sorry that he had no more. We had a whole afternoon together, & I was delighted with him. He is a real worker, not a mere theorist, & his facts appear to me to be of the greatest value. Much of what he has observed among his head-hunters falls in with what I hear from New Guinea, &, if he has made no mistake about the pali in which the girls & boys sleep together, we have got at something which takes [insert] us [end insert] a step farther back than the Australians have taken us. He is quite confident that in some cases the two sexes sleep together in these houses as an obligatory custom, & he tells me that in one of the girls' songs there is a sweet couplet which says that "a night of sleeping by oneself is a night lost." When a girl is married, he says, this license is forbidden to her, but still she may cohabit with her husband's brothers as well as with himself. Until we had a good talk, Mr Peal was sceptical as to the notion of incest connected with cohabitation between persons of forbidden divisions, but I was able to show him that there can be no doubt at all on the matter. What the facts point to is that this notion came in upon an older license, & it is just what we might the facts of occasional promiscuity -- ceremonial promiscuity -- which I sent you some years ago would lead us to expect to find. I pointed out to him, however, that in order to make quite sure, it would be necessary to make a special inquiry as to whether there were any prohibitions at all among these young people &, if so, on what they are based. If we can get a clear case of a village in which all the boys & girls sleep together indiscriminately, there is certainly a case of promiscuity, for in that case not even our own bros. & sisters could be excluded. But this wants investigating. There were say 4 boys' houses A,B,C,D, & three girls' houses E,F,G. I asked Mr. Peal if A could go to anyone of the E,F.G. houses or if there were any classification. He had to answer that he did not know; so until we can get this cleared up there is nothing for it but to wait. He will make a special inquiry when he returns. I urged him very strongly to send his papers to you for the A. Inst., & he told me he had heard from you. He has been sending them to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, but I think the A.I. would be better for him. He says that a number of people want to persuade him to turn away from the subject because "it is beastly"; but that, as I told him, is book, & this saying from an old parson seemed to comfort him.

He is blessed with considerable skill in drawing, [2] & when I saw his bookful of capital sketches I immediately broke the commandment which says "Thou shalt not covet." He is an invaluable man, &, if he goes on contenting himself with collecting & recording facts, he will do a great work.

I held up myself before him as an awful warning against theorising on insufficient evidence, & he seemed to be deeply impressed. It was a great delight to me to meet with such a man, & to have such a talk. One of our magistrates sentenced a fellow to a month's imprisonment the other day for a drunken howling in the streets. "All right, your worship," the man remarked. "I've just done two years in Pentridge, [3] the day afore yesterday, & never got a smell o' liquor all the time. I'd a lot o' leeway to make up, so I just went at it straight. Now I've 'ad a good bust & I'm 'apply." I feel just like him. Mr. Peal's visit gave me "a good bust", but I want some more. We talked for five hours straight on end, & after he had gone I thought of a thousand things I wanted to ask him about. I gave him a line to Howitt, & I hope that Howitt was able to give him an hour or two that evening. If so, we are sure to have something to talk about when we meet. Peal sailed the next day, & I saw him no more. It is most refreshing to get hold of a man who has "been there", & who has used his eyes. Peal is no mere passing traveller. He has gained the confidence of the natives, & they will tell him things. However he knows enough about them to be able to see things with their eyes. He is a jewell [sic] of a man. I hope to get much information from him. Many years ago some inquiries made for me in his neighbourhood by a Mr. Hewitt, [4] at the instance of my cousin Herbert Reynolds, then Gen Secy [General Secretary] to the Indian Government, [5] led me to cast longing eyes on Mr. Peal's district, but I was never able to get anything more. The Govt. in India seems to know everything about the Aryan folk, but very little about the non-Aryan.

I have another matter to mention to you. About two years ago, not long before the Australian Ass. [Association] met in Hobart, a gentleman from England called upon me. He was interested in anthrop. questions, & we had a little talk. He told me he had with him a fellow traveller, Hutton by name, who was going in the same ship with him to England, & who had been introduced to him in New Zealand as an accomplished Maori scholar. [6] I pricked up my ears at this, for Tregear had sent me his Maori Comparative Dictionary, [7] & I wanted to get an expert's opinion upon it, knowing very little of the Maori myself. I asked [insert] my [2 words illegible] [end insert] to bring Hutton out to my house. He replied that they were going to Ballarat on the morrow, & thence to Adelaide, where they would go on board the mailboat in ten days' time. I then asked him if he would take the book, get Hutton to look at it during the ten days, to let me have his opinion on it, & to return it by post from Adelaide. This Mr Strickland promised to do, [8] & in due course I rec'd the book, together with a letter containing Hutton's verdict -- Which was, "Scholarly, accurate & of the highest value." It is always pleasant to say pleasant things, & my fatal amiability of disposition led me in my Presidential Address at Hobart [9] to speak of Tregear's Dictionary in Hutton's terms. I am always discovering that I am an ass. A few weeks ago I received a pamphlet containing papers read by a Mr. Atkinson in N.Z. which showed that the Dictionary is anything but what Hutton called it. [10] Probably he only examined the vocabulary, & this Atkinson says is right enough because Tregear simply took Williams' vocabulary over in one lump.

The Aust. Ass. is now sitting in Adelaide, & Drs Fraser & Carroll have free course in the Anthrop. Section. [11] If I could have afforded it, I would have gone to Adelaide for the purpose of asking Carroll coram publico [12] for the method at which he arrived at his translation of the inscriptions upon the Easter Island stones. [13] He published it in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, but returned an evasive answer to the request of the secretary, suggested by me, that he would explain his method of interpretation. I have no doubt that the whole thing is quite untrustworthy.

Yours sincerely

Lorimer Fison

E.B. Tylor Esq LL.D


[1] This must be Samuel Edward Peal (?-1897), a teaplanter, naturalist and amateur anthropologist, who was based in Sibsagar, [Sivasagar] Assam and donated objects to the Pitt Rivers Museum. It is not clear why Fison got his middle initial wrong. His publications include 1872 'Notes on a Visit to the Tribes Inhabiting the Hills South of Sibsagar, Asam' Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 41 (Part I, 1-4): pp. 9-31; 1874 'The Nagas and Neighbouring Tribes' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 3: pp. 476-481; 1883 'Notes of a Trip up the Dihing Basin to Dapha Pani, etc., January and February, 1882' Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay, 52: pp. 7-53; 1893 'On the Morong, as Possibly a Relic of Pre-Marriage Communism' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 22: pp. 244-261. He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and many other learned societies.

[2] Samuel Peal had been an artist before he was a tea planter.

[3] An Australian prison built in 1850 in Coburg, Victoria, see here

[4] Possibly James Francis Katherinus Hewitt, Bengal Civil Service retired 1885, author of 'The Ruling Classes of Prehistoric Times in India' [see page 519 The India List]

[5] Possibly Herbert William Ward Reynolds, Indian Civil Service, Commissioner United Province, first arrived in India in 1877 and served in the NW Province and Oudh as assistant magistrate, assistant secretary to the government. [The India List page 598]

[6] Possibly Frederick William Hutton (1836-1905) Naturalist, geologist, professor of biology at Canterbury College in 1880, and also curator of the Canterbury Museum (however there is no mention of him being a Maori scholar).

[7] Edward Robert Tregear (1846-1931) New Zealand public servant and scholar. See NZDB entry here and wikipedia entry here. In 1891 he published his Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary.

[8] Mr Strickland cannot be identified further.

[9] Fison was president of the Anthropological Section at the 1892 Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Hobart.

[10] Arthur Samuel Atkinson (1833-1902), journalist, lawyer, philologist, astronomer, naturalist. He was very interested in the Maori language. As the NZ DNB says:

In 1892 Atkinson clashed with Edward Tregear over the latter's Maori–Polynesian comparative dictionary, published in 1891. Atkinson maintained that Tregear's methodology was unsound and his knowledge of Maori language inadequate. He expressed the last point with his usual acerbic wit: 'The weak point…in Mr Tregear's work lay in the fact that the learned author had not waited to learn the Maori language before beginning to write his Maori dictionary.' Unlike William Travers and Tregear, Atkinson published relatively little but he systematically collected Maori words and idiom, and annotated printed Maori. His scholarship was acknowledged by H. W. Williams in his preface to the fifth edition of A dictionary of the Maori language (1917).

[11] John Fraser of Maitland, NSW, who wrote 'The aborigines of New South Wales' Sydney 1892 and Alan Carroll (also known as Samuel Matthias Curl) (c 1823-1911) Anthropologist and physician. Founder of the Royal Anthropological Society of Australasia and editor of its journal 'The Science of Man'. 

[12] In public view

[13] Alan Carroll, 1892. "The Easter Island inscriptions, and the translation and interpretation of them". Journal of the Polynesian Society 1: pp. 103–106, 233–252.


Fison 43

Essendon 18 Oct [added in pencil by another hand ?1893 [1]]

My dear Sir,

Many thanks for the leaflet containing your "method of investigating the development of institutions". [1] I am [2 words heavily scrawled out then written over the top] sure most of your conclusions are the right ones, & your method of arriving at them is the only way of reaching a reasonable certainty.

Have you noticed the fact that, while Moffat was called Ra-Mary, Mrs Moffat was called Ma-Robert? It looks as if the father were called after the daughter, & the mother after the son, but of course this one instance only suggests inquiry.[2]

If I were in Fiji now I would make special inquiry as to the effect on the father's position of the advent of the first born. Though the Fijians have paternal descent most of them -- it is probable that something survives of the old notion, just as the vasu survives from the older maternal descent. wE have a fine young fellow in New Britain now. I will send him a letter pointing out what is wanted, & have no doubt he will make the inquiry for me. The fact that names are actual property hereditary in the clan makes [insert] the fact of [end insert] teknonymy more significant. The personal name not only distinguishes the individual but marks the section to which he belongs. Of course new names are invented, but they belong to the inventors. I was a long while in Fiji before I noticed this, & it was only by accident that I noticed it at all. I vaccinated about 3000 natives, & registered their names. Looking at them one day, I was struck by the fact that while the introduced baptismal names were used by all the clans in a village community none of the groups used the old names were almost exclusively confined to certain groups, & even the baptismal names were not repeated in any one group until the third generation--that is there was an interval of a generation. The child might be named after a grandparent, but not after a parent. This may be a survival of maternal descent. But the property in names is beyond dispute. I heard Andi Kuila, Thakombau's daughter, [3] once angrily rating a lady of another clan for "stealing one of our names", & the excuse offered was that "these are new days" -- i.e. the old customs have passed away.

There is a word "out", leaving a tantalizing blank on the first page of your Memoir. "The eldest son of an African chief inherits his stepmother's ----". [4] Will you fill up the gap when you give me the pleasure of hearing from you again?

I am not sure that something like the couvade is not to be found among savages with maternal descent. The notion is that there is some connection between the father & the child such that indiscretion as to diet &c on the part of the former would injure the latter. You remember Howitt's blackfellow who said to his disobedient son "There you stand with my body, & yet you won't do what I tell you": & that other blackfellow who must be Euripides reincarnated, & who said during a discussion around the campfire "Who ever here" "The man gives the child to the woman to keep. Who ever heard of a woman having unless she got it from a man?" And the woman murmurs  assentingly "That's so!" If Lubbock & those others who say that savages don't reason, could only hear some of these camp-fire talks, they would cut out certain passages from their next edition.

I don't think you are right in saying that "in the material stage of society the father has hardly any power or position". [5 These Australian blacks are pretty low down in the scale, & your saying is not correct concerning these. The father, as we said in K. & K. is "utterly ignored", but only as regards the line of descent. We meant nothing more than that. He has both power & position as regards both wife & child, & can hammer the one & control the other nemine contradicente. [6] The fact is that the lowest savages are quite a long way on their road to paternal descent. But, after all, the father may have more real power among nomad hunters like the Australians than he has among [insert] those [end insert] settled agricultural tribes where he has to go & live in his father-in-law's house. I have made a note of this point for special inquiry in New Britain, & will get young Rickard there to go into these things, & send me a paper for you. [7]

What you say about the marriage being allowed between the children of "brother & sister" requires, I think, more careful statement. Marriage is allowed between the group to which the brother's children belong, & that to which the sister's children belong, but there is always, as far as I know -- excepting where such marriages have become necessary for "political" reasons -- an inner regulation preventing too close in & in breeding * [insert] * A & B are actual brother & sister. A's son must not marry B's daughter [end insert] 

Here I may note -- though it does not touch the point in question -- the regulation which forbids a man to marry a girl who [insert] if [end insert] he has killed one of her near kinsfolk.

I am turning over in my mind your final conclusion that exogamy arises out of the necessity of securing allies, & I am doubtful about it. [7] As a matter of fact intermarriage between savage tribes no more prevents their fighting than the Royal intermarriages in Europe prevent war. And besides, the intermarriages are within the "Hellenikon", so to speak, whereas your theory seems to require them to be between the Hellenikon & the Barbaroi. Exogamy, wherever we find it, is endogamy as regards the "nation"; it is only exogamy as regards the groups of which the nation is composed. Therefore, unless we suppose a time when every group was an independent unit, before the formation of "communities," I don't see how your theory can work. However, I don't trouble myself much with speculations as to how things came to be. It is quite enough to find out what they are -- enough for me, that is. I have suffered so much mortification by finding out for myself through the evidence of ascertained facts, that pet theories of my own were bosh, that I have retired from the business in disgust. Did I ever tell you of my elaborate chart of the sea-floor in Fiji, which I constructed with infinite trouble from Denham's soundings? [8] It looks most beautiful. There were hills rising abruptly out of deep wide valleys, & extensive plains; & the configuration of that bit of the sunken continent was a fine picture. I showed it in the pride of my heart to the captain of our mission schooner. He asked me where I found my data, & I told him I got them from the soundings on the Admiralty Chart. He went down the cabin & brought his chart up, & spread it on the skylight. Pointing to a sounding which indicated the summit of one of my marine hills, & which was marked thus (say) ./ 250, he said "Don't you know what that line with the dot over it means?" "No" said I. "Well -- it means no bottom with that number of fathoms." I looked at him speechless, then at my beautiful chart, & then I picked it up, & pitched it overboard. I have had to pitch quite a number overboard since then; but, after all, it does a man good to find out that he is an ass.

W Can you tell me whether the British Association of Arts & Sciences [insert] Society of Science Letters & Arts, London [end insert] is any good? [9] I got an intimation from them that I had been recommended by Dr Mann of Brooklyn for a Founder's Fellowship -- whatever that may mean -- & asking me if I would accept it. But as there was an annual subscription of a Guinea, [10] & as I have just built a house & bought the land on which it is built without a shilling to do it with, I declined the honour, needing all my infrequent guineas for poitboiling [sic] & interest paying purposes.

Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison


[1] This means that this letter must have been written after 1889 when this paper was published, "On a method of investigating the development of institutions; applied to laws of marriage and descent" Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 18, (1889) pp. 245-272.

[1] See 'On a method', p. 248: 'Let us now turn to another custom, not less quaint-seeming than the last to the European mind. This is the practice of naming the parent from the child. When Moffat, the missionary, was in Africa among the Bechuana, he was spoken to and of, according to native usage, as Ra-Mary = father of Mary.' This refers to Robert Moffat (1795-1883), Scottish Congregationalist missionary and David Livingstone's father in law (Mary who is the daughter after whom he was named, was the wife of Livingstone). Moffat's book was Missionary Labours and Scenes in South Africa (1842).

[2] Thakombau, king of Fiji (c 1817-1883) also known as Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau.

[3] You would think, logically, that this reference must be to the front page of 'On a method ...' referred to in the first paragraph of the letter, but it doesn't appear that there are any references to stepmothers or relevant references to Africans in the paper. A search for the relevant paper has been unsuccessful.

[4] Again this paper cannot be identified, though logically it should be 'On a method ...' (but it isn't, at least in the printed form)

[5] Nobody contradicting

[6] Richard H. Rickard (1858-1939) pioneer missionary in New Britain. He published the first New Britain dictionary and grammar in 1889. He seems to have been in New Britain from 1882-3. See here for his papers in NSW. Rickard never seems to have produced a paper for Tylor for the Anthropological Institute.

[7] Tylor does make this point in 'On a method' (1889) but it is mid way through the paper (p. 261) not a final conclusion!

[8] Vice Admiral Henry Mangles Denham (1800-1887), Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Station, Royal Navy 1864-66. He was captain of HMS Herald which did survey work in the southwest Pacific between 1852-1861, including Fiji in 1854. The PRM has some of the objects collected during the voyage of HMS Herald.

[9] It seems Fison was wise to be distrusting of this organisation: This webpage gives details:

'Trueman Wood, the Secretary of the Society of Arts, was concerned about the confusion that was being created in the minds of people between the Society of Science, Letters and Art in London [SSLA] with his own society. Writing in the Times, February 23, 1883, he noted the SSLA appeared to be migratory in character, for its various circulars list a variety of addresses; Tollington Park, Sydenham, Shepherd’s Bush and Kensington. He acknowledged his ignorance of its operations even though “it seemed closely connected with his own business.” But he had discovered that the by-laws of the organization made provision for its members to wear “gowns and hoods”, as well as “gold and silver decorations” and there was no objection to members “employing after their names any quantity of letters they might consider attractive or ornamental.” ... He made a “slight request” that it change its name to the Society of Letters, “a name less confounded with that of the Society of Arts”. ... The following week H V Goold, Baronet., chairman of the Society of Science, Letters and Art of London responded to Trueman Wood’s suggestions in his letter to the Times. [Times, London, March 6, 1883 page 4] He agreed with Trueman Wood on the substance of some of his statements but was critical of the words used. It was correct that his society could adopt its own insignia (not decorations) and members could use a small number (not quantity) of letters F.S.Sc. after their names. This group of letters he believed could not be confused with any other society.'

[10] A guinea was worth 21 shillings, at the time Fison was writing (say 1893) a guinea would be worth (depending on the measure) from £95.96 to £1,126 according to Australia used pounds, shillings and pence until 1966.


Fison 44



30 April '94

Dear Dr Tylor

I have to thank you --(for I have no doubt that it is owing to you)--for the invitation to the British Ass'n at Oxford. I wrote to the Local Secretaries telling them that I could not go, but Spencer [1] & others at the University [2] have taken the matter out of my hands, & they tell me I am to do as I am told. What will come of it I don't know, & as the Americans say, "I don't take no stock" in it, thereby securing to myself the blessedness of the man who expecteth nothing. [3] Spencer put a paragraph about the invitation into the Argus here; & it has given me much amusement to note how that paragraph has "pitched" all sorts & conditions of men. I have had congratulations from the colonial Dan even unto Beersheba, & the chief director of a company whose paper I edit wrote effusively that he felt thankful he had "the acquaintance & friendship of one so honoured." I never observed any very marked symptoms of that thankfulness in byegone days. But now he wants to give a grand dinner that he may display me to his friends.

I don't know what will come of the conspiracy that is afoot to send me to England, & so I cannot write to the Secretaries to withdraw my former letter, but Spencer tells me he has written to one of them, Mr. Bourne. [4] All I can do is to "bide & see". It might be a good thing for me if the scheme falls through, because some of you evidently suppose me to be somebody, a delusion which my presence would be likely to dispel. I know very little outside my own line, & all I have done seems to me so small & imperfect that the invitation from Oxford makes me feel like a humbug.

I did not intend the sketch of the Gudang, Kaurareya & Saibai words for the A.I. It is too slight for publication. I meant it only for your own information. The object of the paper of which it was a part was only to prevent the Royal So'cy here from publishing Mathew's nonsense. [5] It is quite possible that there may be a connection between the Australian languages & some of the N. Guinea, but what I wanted to show was that Mathew's [sic] evidence was no evidence at all & that his facts are methods are inadmissable. Many of the N.G. languages are evidently Melanesian, but some have nothing Melanesian about them, & what they are I don't know.

Codrington put me into communication with Sidney H. Ray. [6] Ray is a wonderful man. He knows more about these languages than anybody else, & he has a marvellous insight. He ought to come out here, & work up the Aust. & Melanesian tongues. If I were a rich man I would found a Fellowship here for the purpose & put him into it. Codrington describes him as a "little scrubby fellow", & second masher of a London Board School. "He knows a great deal more than I know," Codrington says, "& I have to pretend to advise him." The man who knows more of the Melanesian languages than Codrington must positively leak knowledge. And to think that he has gained his knowledge in the intervals of teaching "reading riting & arithmetic" in a Board School at Hackney! It is most wonderful. I have discovered a lad of 17 in New Zealand who has a similar gift. He is a parson's son, & I have an interesting correspondence with him. I am egging him on.

We have a man named Fellowes in one of the New Guinea Islands who promises very well, [7] & is collecting facts. He has found there the divisions, distinguished by totems, which Sir Wm. Macgregor declared were not to be found anywhere in his realm. Fellowes assured me of a fact which I will send on to Peal of Asam, about whom I wrote to you some time ago. The young people [insert] girls [end insert] on his [insert] Fellowes [end insert] island are allowed a very wide license before marriage, but never within the exogamous un, which is the name for the tribal division. I expect that Peal will find something like this among his head hunters. At all events the point wants settling. It will be very important if in the Naga (or Nogu tribes, as Peal says they ought to be called) there is positively no restriction before marriage. I don't expect it, but am quite prepared to accept it if Peal finds it to be so.

I have read your paper on the Tasmanians &c which you were good enough to send me. [8] Do you think it is quite safe to conclude that the Tasmanians had no handled hatchets because they used handstones? Some of the Australian tribes use them, but they put handles on others. The evidence of Tasmanian settlers is complicated. A man who had been a shepherd in Tas. before the gold discovery in Australia told me that a scar on his cheek was the result of a wound inflicted by a stone hatchet. He said it was handled with green rods bent over it, & fashioned by strips of hide, & gum, like some of the Australian hatchets. This, however, may have been made by an Aust. black. There was one of them who incited the Tasmanian natives to attack the white settlers, & did a great deal of mischief. 

Your letter of Jan 3. has been waiting for a reply. I intended to ask Howitt about bidgee & baitchy, & have always forgotten it. A fortnight ago I went to his house for the express purpose of clearing off a lot of matters. We spent an evening over the, & your letter hid itself in the deepest recesses of my bag under some religious newspapers -- or perhaps they spread themselves over it of malice aforethought -- at all events, I forgot to bring it out. I will make a special pilgrimage to Howitt about it.

As for the Fijian & Tanganyika words, I will draw up the lists if it be settled that I don't go to England. If I go I can show them to you on the spot. My opinion of course is that there is no connection whatever between them.

I take no interest whatever in Westermarck's theory, nor in any other one which a civilized man evolves out of his inner consciousness & puts into the mind of a savage without an atom of proof for it. [9] There is no evidence, as far as I am aware, of the aplisiogamous dislike. [10] Mr. Westermarck could not have had in his mind a correct idea of the life of nomad hunters. The boys & girls are not "brought up together" as he thinks. The tribe seldom assembles; it breaks up into small parties -- it must do so of necessity -- & scatters hither & thither over the common hunting ground. The whole tribe could not exist in any one spot for any length of time. This scattered condition is the rule, the gathering of the hordes is the exception. In the agriculture stage aplisiogamy would be ruinous; it would alienate the tribal lands.  ..siogamy [illegible] is preferred & enforced.

The "oath to the dead" is simply a free translation of the Fijian "vosa bubului". Bulu is Spiritland, & the vosa bubului is simply the word which is heard there as an invocation, or adjuration. A man declares something, or promises something. "Thavuta e ndira," says the other man, requiring him to strengthen his word by "calling one (of the dead)" to witness. A name is then called, which is never spoken under ordinary circumstances, & the dead in Bulu harkens & hears, & is bound to punish if he has been called in vain.

I don't feel like writing to the Academy about "beachcoamer", [sic] that derivation is only my conjecture, & I was sickened long ago of publishing conjectures. The most that can be said of it is that it is more likely to be correct than "beach-comber" is. That ass Dr. Fraser of Sydney would probably find a Sanskrit root for it. I have been made very savage by his dealing with a paper of Ray's. He "realised" it, & printed pages of his own absurd comments together with it, mixing them up so that you don't know which is Ray, & which is Fraser, until you come to some awful piece of utter bush, & then you know. [11] He has served Threlkeld in the same way, [12] & Pratt of Samoa. [13] The man runs the linguistic section of the Royal Society in Sydney, & does what he likes with it. I have been holding myself down with both hands ever since Ray sent me the paper, to prevent myself from writing an indignant letter to the Sydney Morning Herald about it, but I think I shall let go. The annotations are a disgrace to science. If he had published them separately it would have been only [insert] a [end insert] piece of folly, but now it is that, & impertinence as well.

By "G. I. 'Till," I mean that the characters look as much like that as anything else. Certainly more like it than the characters which make up Daibata, & which have little or no resemblance to those on the figure.

Yaloyalo is "little halo", just as "valivali", the deck house of a double canoe, is "little bali". Supposing the Fijians to have yalo = spirit, it is quite natural that they should make yaloyalo out of it for shadow. It would make itself. It is possible, as you say, that yalo may have meant "shadow" formerly, & have been promoted to "spirit". In N.Br Duke of York [insert] New Britain [end insert] tulungia means both "shadow" & "spirit", & in each case it takes the possessive suffix. There is also lebarau for spirit. Yalo, by the way is not necessarily a disembodied spirit. Do you not think it may be possible that the Fijians had some other word for "shadow" & that yaloyalo supplanted it? But this is only conjecture.

Howitt is flourishing like a green bay tree, & doing yeoman's work in the Mining Department; but he is kept so busy that he can do little or nothing else. I seldom see him now. Both of us have our noses hard pressed to the grindstone. If I do go to England I will employ my homeward passage in doing absolutely nothing. But I don't "feel it in my bones" that I shall go.

We are getting heaps of gold in the colony. There is a widespread mining revival. But all the money is going into the banks & not coming out. They are compelled by their reconstruction scheme to call up all their uncalled capital; men pay a call or two & then can't pay any more, whereupon the bank absorbs all they have paid & forfeits their shares. Also they are using what money they have in buying their own deposit receipts which are selling on 'Change at 16/ to 16/6 in the £, then paying a debt of £100 with about £75. They will come out richer than ever in the end, if they can hang it out.

Yours sincerely

Lorimer Fison


[1] Walter Baldwin Spencer. Spencer campaigned to send Fison to the BAAS meeting in Oxford in 1894. See also here, Fison 14.

[2] University of Melbourne where Spencer as Professor of Biology.

[3] He did go, as the Australian Dictionary of Biography has it in his entry 'In 1894 he was among the representatives of Australian science at the British Association meeting at Oxford, where his work was fully acknowledged.'

[4] Gilbert Bourne, Spencer had studied with him at Oxford. He features in the photograph of Oxford students and tutors shown on the home page of this website, sitting next door to Spencer in the front row.

[5] Robert Hamilton Mathews

[6] Sidney Herbert Ray (1858-1939) Comparative and descriptive linguist. Ray, S.H. (1892). "The languages of British New Guinea". Transactions of the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists. II (1892): 754–770. See A.C. Haddon, (1939). "Sidney H. Ray: 28th May, 1858–1st January, 1939". Man 39: 58–61.

[7] Samuel Benjamin Fellows (1858-1933) Methodist missionary, stationed at Dobu [1891], Panaeati [1892] and Kiriwina [1894]. This webpage says, 'During his ten years in the mission field Fellows founded two circuits, reduced two languages to writing, and made translations of the Scripture, hymns and catechism in both'.

[8] Tylor, E.B. 'On the Tasmanians as representatives of palaeolithic man' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 23 (1894), pp. 141-152

[9] Edvard Alexander Westermarck (1862-1939) Finnish philosopher. 

[10] Fison is possibly talking about the 'Westermarck effect'. 

[11] Presumably 'The languages of the New Hebrides' by Sidney H. Ray revised by John Fraser "Read before the Royal Society of N.S. Wales, July 5, 1893". Fison carried out a long feud against Fraser whose linguist and philological work he seemed violently to disagree with.

[12] Lancelot Edward Threlkeld (1788-1859) a Pacific missionary with the London Missionary Society. 'In 1892 An Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal the People of Awaba or Lake Macquarie being an account of their Language, Traditions and Customs; by L.E. Threlkeld. Rearranged, condensed, and edited, with an Appendix by John Fraser, B.A., LL.D., was issued by the government of New South Wales.'

[13] 'Some Folk-Songs and Myths from Samoa' Translated by the Rev. George Pratt with Introductions and Notes by John Fraser, LL.D published in 1891. George Pratt (1817-1894) was a London Missionary Society missionary on Samoa from 1839-1879. 


Fison 45

Allington House, 


Aug. 31. 1894

Dear Dr Tylor

Your letter of the 20th inst. has just reached me here. Bishop Selwyn sent it on to Codrington. He did not even know that I was in England. I have not been to Cambridge yet, nor shall I reach that place till after the middle of September.

It will give me the greatest pleasure to avail myself of your kind invitation to stay with you for the one or two days which I would have in the galleries of your Museum. 

I do not know yet when I shall have finished my present round. I leave Ipswich tomorrow for Liverpool, Manchester & Yorkshire. Thence I have to go to Wales & Nottingham, & then I must give a few days to London. I will, as you suggest, write to you when I have done my round.

I am quite sure that the stone implements you produced at the section meeting are Australian. I do not clearly remember the details of the case I mentioned in my letter to you & I have not my memoranda books with me, but I remember one point which struck me at the time. The man said the stone was handled by stout twigs bent over it, & tied together with strips of skin or sinews, the interstices being filled with gum. Now the usual Australian handle is a small lath bent over the stone - not twigs - & it would seem that the owner of that particular stone had not found in Tasmania ready means for getting at the materials for the customary handle, & so had adopted those which were at hand.

With kind remembrances

Yours sincerely

Lorimer Fison

A letter addressed to me at any time c/o Wes: [Wesleyan] Mission House / Bishopsgate St Within / London E.C. would be forwarded to me wherever I might be.

I forgot to mention that I am now sending my paper to the Secretary of the Anth. Inst. It would be a good thing if Basil Thomson could be present when it is read. I should like him to have a chance to join in the discussion. If it is read before I leave England I might be present myself. I shall not go til Oct 19th. [1]


[1] Possibly 'The Classificatory System of Relationship', The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. 24, (1895), pp. 360-371. Basil Thomson (1861-1939) intelligence officer and colonial administrator, he worked in Fiji 1884-1887, and in New Guinea from 1887, he returned to Fiji in 1890-1893 when he left the colonial service and returned to the UK.


Fison 46

[Headed paper: Orient Line The Pacific Steam Navigation Co. ... Royal Mail Steamer]


English Channel

Oct 19 1894

My dear Dr Tylor

I got my baggage taken on board last night, & came quietly myself this morning before the big rush of passengers & then friends came down. We are now going merrily down channel with perfectly smooth water & a fairly clear sky. I am thankful that there is no fog, for a fog in the English Channel, crowded as it is with ships, is a horribly dangerous thing, & I am, unfortunately for my peace of mind, sailor enough to know it.

I feel almost sorry that I went into your Museum at all, excepting that it enables me to enter into full sympathy with that wretched Tantalus. [1] I have carried away with me more sights & longings than I can conveniently hold.

I will write by & bye when we have shaken down into our places on board. This is only a line to say farewell to my kind hostess & host & to wish that it might be auf wiedersehen. But I fear the envious gods have not that happiness in store for me.

So with kindest regards

Believe me

Yours sincerely

Lorimer Fison. 


[1] Tantalus: Greek mythical figure famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was made to stand under a fruit tree in water, with the fruit and water ever out of his reach. 


Fison 47



Dec 6. 1894

My dear Dr Tylor

[written alongside in Tylor's handwriting in pencil 'Call back soul details' with line alongside first paragraph] I should have written to you before, but for several reasons. First of all, I am ashamed to say, I lost the paper of memoranda on points which turned up in the course of our conversation when I had the great pleasure of staying at your house, & I could only remember one point -- viz. that of the man calling back his soul. I hoped to find the paper in the pocket of one of my portmanteaus, in which I knew certain documents were stowed carefully away; but, when I got my baggage through the custom-house after an exasperating rely, your memo. was nowhere to be found. I might have written to you on the voyage about the soul-invocation, but I wanted to look up the particulars, which were in my note-books at home; & furthermore I must confess that I was demoralized by the utter laziness which always comes upon me on shipboard. During my passage home I worked hard because the work had to be done; but on the voyage home I had nothing to do which might not be done at a future day, & I made a shameful fall. Let me first of all get my Fijian friend off my mind. I have looked up my notes, & the facts are as follows:--

I was sitting in the native teacher's house at the village of Yaroi, a village on the island of Matuku, Fiji, when a lamentable cry arose from a house on the flat below. Going down to see what was the matter, I found a man [insert] sitting [end insert] with his back against one of the house-posts, the tears rolling down his cheeks, & lifting up his voice in the woeful cry which had startled me. Two women were fanning him, & joining their voices with his in the wail. As I entered the house these words came to my ears, "Lesu mai na yalonggu! Co Thavu-lesu manda mai!" = Return hither my soul! Turn & return!" Manda is imperative, Note the phrase Thavu-lesu. Thavu means to "go about" as a ship. This shows that the man supposed [insert] that [end insert] his soul, having found itself disembodied, had started on the Path of Souls to Mbulu - hence thavu

The reason for his distress was this. He had dreamed that he was in Tonga. Somebody trod on his foot & awoke him suddenly. Starting up & finding himself in Fiji, he quite logically -- reasoning from his own premises -- concluded that his soul could not have had time to return from Tonga; wherefore here he was, a mere miserable body without a soul, & he must die. This is interesting as showing that the yalo is necessary to life. It is the inner Ego that is the real personality. I don't suppose that the savage reasons this out in this way, but it seems clear that this must be the wa what he somehow feels.

I comforted the poor fellow by telling him about the electric telegraph, & pointing out to him that the yalo would not require a canoe to be dragged down into the water in Tonga to carry it across the sea as if it were a mere material yango (body). It would move with the swiftness of thought, & he might be sure it was in him before he started from his sleep -- in fact, if it were not, he would not have been able to awake at all. This seemed reasonable to him; it was consonant with his line of thought, & he was comforted to such an extent that he called for something to eat. I daresay this saved his life, for a Fijian can die whenever he likes; & ounce this man had come to the conclusion that he must die, in all probability he would have died. Of one thing I am quite sure -- that it would have done no good to tell him his belief was all nonsense. Had I done so, he would have assented to all I said & retained his own conviction, which was a perfectly logical one from his point of view. A dream to a Fijian is not a mere dream; it is a reality. His disembodied yalo has actually been abroad & seen & heard & done. This particular case is useful as showing the single line of rails condition of the savage brain. The man reasoned logically enough along the single line of the return from Tonga, measured by the time [insert] supposed to be [end insert] required for the journey; but it never occurred to him to consider that his yalo had gone to Tonga in the shorter time. I pointed this out to him, & his face lit up at once. Still, he had been asleep for some time, whereas he was in Tonga at the [insert] very [end insert] moment when he was suddenly roused; but the electric telegraph settled the matter; as I told him, the telegraph was not known in his father's time. Thus the wisdom of the ancients was not impugned. Some time afterwards the Yaroi teacher informed me that the case had been eagerly discussed by the elders, who accepted my view of the case, & said that I was a wonderful man & rich in wisdom.

I hasten to send you the papers you ask for in your post card which reached me today. You will observe that Basil Thomson's finding of the veindavvlam in the Govt returns enabled me to approach the subject of the Classifactory System from a fresh point of view, & I have no doubt that his remarks upon it will be of great value. He is a very fine man. [1]

By the way, I have been thinking over his remark about the "happy-hunting-ground" being the result of fond reminiscences of the old unabula. This is doubtless so in some cases, but certainly not in all. That the Sala ni yalo is the "back-track" along the line of immigration I have  long been convinced, & have said so more than once or twice & I think you will find references to it in my letters to you, & I published it some years ago in the now-defunct Centennial [?] Magazine -- but it must be borne in mind that in many cases the back-track leads to anything but happy hunting grounds. Avaiki sometimes is a contracted land of darkness, & the Melanesian Panoi is a miserable place where the departed spirits live on excrement. Thomson's theory must not be pushed too far.

I had a delightful passage to Australia, found all my folks well, & met with the kindest greeting from everybody. My fingers are still aching from the hearty handgrips.

Will you give my kindest remembrances to Mrs Tylor, together with my sincere regrets that I was unable to see more of such kind & valued friends. The claims of my own kinsfolk, whom I had not seen for nearly 40 years, & whence I shall never see again, were, of course, paramount.

Believe me, 

Yours sincerely,

Lorimer Fison

[written on top in Tylor's handwriting in pencil 'Written through Jun 20 1895' with line alongside first paragraph] P.S. May I ask you to remember your promise to write to me about Fraser's annotations of Threlkeld's paper? [2] Threlkeld spent 17 years among his blacks, & is a perfectly trustworthy authority. Fraser's incompetence is only equalled by his impudence. Max Müller & Sayce have given me letters about his annotation of Ray's paper, & Boyd Dawkins wrote to Prof. Liversidge about it. I shall follow up his blow with their letters, & one from you on the Threlkeld paper would clinch the matter. My object is to persuade the Royal Society of N.S.W. to roll away the stone of reproach from their door. It is a disgrace to science & humiliates the real workers in Australia. 

My very kind regards to Mr. Balfour. I am sorry indeed that I could not spend three or four days in the Museum. The one occasion on which I visited the galleries transported me into the seventh heaven. I forgot how the time was going, & that I had an appointment with Dr. Murray of the big Dictionary. [3] That appointment was never kept. I was even unconscious of the pangs of hunger, & lost my lunch. I ought to have had a full week in those galleries, to say nothing of the ground floor. 

There is a [insert] grand [end insert] nephew of mine at Christchurch a very fine, handsome young fellow, son of my nephew Frederick Fison, whom you know. If you should ever come across him, please give him my loving remembrances. If we reckoned kinship by the Australian system he would be my grandson, & have my totem.

I read with interest Dr. P.W. Bassett Smith's paper on the Aborigines of N.W. Australia in the May number of the A.I. Journal, [4] which I found at my house on my return home. These are natives concerning whom Howitt & myself have been able to get very little information; but I am glad to say that a very intelligent young squatter who lives about 100 miles East of Cambridge Gulf got on board our ship at Albany, & soon became interested in what I told him about our researches. He promised to make inquiry for us on his return home, & I am to send him a copy of K. & K. to start him on the track. It is a great desideratum to get observant men who are living among the natives to take an interest in the work. An unobservant man may pass years among them without seeing anything. Thus Horne, [sic] [5] who recently took Spencer & his company to the MacDonell [sic] Ranges, declared to me that in a wide stretch of country in which he had stations the blacks had no divisions of any kind. That very country is plotted out in Howitt's map, & its system fully ascertained. "Eyes have they, but they see not."


[1] Basil Home Thomson (1861-1939), he assisted William Des Voeux, then Governor of Fiji from 1883 until he left to join Sir William Macgregor's staff when he became Colonial Administrator of British New Guinea.

[2] Reverend Lancelot Edward Threlkeld (1788-1859) and An Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal the People of Awaba or Lake Macquarie being an account of their Language, Traditions and Customs; by L. E. Threlkeld. Rearranged, condensed, and edited, with an Appendix by John Fraser, B.A., LL.D.

[3] James Augustus Henry Murray (1837-1915) Lexicographer, editor Oxford English Dictionary

[4] 'The Aborigines of North-West Australia', P.W. Bassett-Smith The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland , Vol. 23, (1894), pp. 324-331

[5] William Austin Horn (1841-1922), he paid for the Horne Scientific Expedition of 1894, when Walter Baldwin Spencer first travelled to central Australia and met his future anthropological partner, Francis James Gillen.


Fison 48

Essendon Melbourne Vic Australia

[Headed paper: Queen's College University of Melbourne]

Aug 5. 1895

My dear Professor Tylor,

Allow me to congratulate you most sincerely on the appointment by which your University has honoured herself as well as you. [1] My congratulations come late, but they are most sincere. I am glad also to hear--& I hope the news is true--that Anthropology is now made one of the University courses. [2] It would be very interesting to me, & to other here, if you would tell me something of the arrangement of the course. There are so many books, none of which have been written precisely from the text book standpoint. Howitt spoke to me the other day about getting out a new edition of K. & K. or rather pulling the old one to pieces, throwing away a great deal of it, & bringing it up to date under a new title. So far, it is only what my friend Baron v. Mueller, [3] our botanist here, calls "a suggestion," but it may possibly take shape by & bye. Baldwin Spencer is full of delight with a Mr Gillans, [sic][4] a station manager in the McDonnell Ranges country, whose acquaintance he made when he was in those regions on the Horn Expedition. [5] He says G. is a very fine man, & has extensive knowledge of the blacks in his country, which has been a terra incognita to Howitt & me. G. is to come to Melbourne soon, & hold a council with us. [6] Horn declared that the blacks there had no intersexual divisions, but Gillans records the four classes under names which are familiar to us elsewhere. One important point he settles beyond question--viz. that the practice of sub-incision has not for its object the keeping down of the population, for all the blacks in the tribes there have it performed upon them.

The new Journal has arrived. I was very glad to see Basil Thomson's paper side by side with mine, for I think it will finally settle the question as to the origin of the Classificatory terms; but as to the origin of the exogenous intermarrying divisions out of which they came, that is another question. [7] I cannot shut my eyes to the evidence of a prior promiscuity. At least I cannot account for the facts in my possession on any other theory; but, as I said at Oxford, I have left off making theories. That most beautiful one of mine--the theory of the Kurnia system--has finally cured me. It accounts for all the facts, but it is wrong in spite of that.

As soon as I had read Matthew's paper on the Australian Boru in the Journal, [8] I sent a note to Howitt stating my conviction that M. had not seen the ceremonies at all, & that he had written from hearsay only. Howitt replied that I was right. A long while ago M. wrote to him about his visit. He did not go to the place until after the ceremonies were over, & what he saw was the Bora Encampment--not the Bora Ground, which is a very different thing. He says in the Journal that the old men took the novices to a place in the bush, & stayed there with them for six days. That was the Bora Ground, & it is there that the mysteries are performed. Compare M.'s account with Howitt's in the Journal of 1884 & you will see the difference.

Did you find Peal's Vocabulary [9] about which I wrote to you? I want to send him a letter, & I am ashamed to do so until I can tell him whether the Vocabulary has turned up or not. It was that which you showed me at Oxford.

I was very sorry to hear from Miss Weld [10] a few days ago that Mr. Balfour was ill. [11] I hope he has completely recovered ere now. I got some things from Fiji for your Museum which I noted were lacking, but the case has not turned up yet. I had notice of it several weeks ago. [12]

With kindest remembrances to Mrs Tylor & all Oxford friends

Yours sincerely Lorimer Fison


[1] This is presumably Tylor's Professorship, we do not know the exact date when Tylor was appointed but it must have been shortly before this letter as a University statute was approved to establish the post specific to Tylor in June 1895.

[2] Sadly it wasn't, it remained a sub-set of Natural Sciences for some time to come.

[3] Ferdinand Jacob Heinrich von Mueller (1825-1896), German-Australian physician, geographer and botanist. He was Government Botanist for Victoria from 1853.

[4] This was Francis James Gillen (1855-1912), Spencer's anthropological partner from 1894.

[5] Horn Expedition

[6] Gillen visited Melbourne during one of his leave periods in southern Australia between 20 and 26 August 1895 and recorded after his return in a copy letter to E.C. Stirling (the copy being sent to Spencer as they had presumably previously discussed its contents): 

“While in Melbourne I had the pleasure of meeting Messrs Howitt and Fison who are said to be the ablest Australian Anthropologists[.] They were greatly interested in my work and gave me much encouragement to Continue. Since seeing them I have decided not to furnish any further information for the Horn Volume. My notes as they stand will, when licked into shape, make a very respectable addition to the Anthropological Section of the work, they Contain a lot of entirely new matter which Howitt and Fison tell me is extremely valuable. Later on I hope to deal with the whole question in a series of papers which I shall send to the Anthro: Society in London through Prof. E. B. Tylor of Oxford” [Letter 10 dated 30 August 1895 Spencer papers, correspondence with Gillen, PRM ms collections]

[7] 'The Classificatory System of Relationship' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. 24, (1895), pp. 360-371. 'Concubitancy in the Classificatory System of Relationship', Basil H. Thomson JAI vol. 24 (1895) pp. 371-387.

[8] R. H. Mathews, ‘Aboriginal Bora held at Gundabloui in 1894’, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol. 28, 1894

[9] Sidney Peal, an Indian colonial officer

[10] Miss Weld lived at 5 Norham Gardens, Oxford and had attended the BAAS meeting. Address taken from here [Fison 1]. Charles Richard Weld (1813-1869) is recorded as having lived in Conal More, Norham Gardens, Oxford and may have been related to her, indeed his daughter may be the right Miss Weld. If so, then it seems her morther and she lived in Norham Gardens after his death (they are recorded as attending a funeral of a fellow Norham Gardens resident in January 1892. her mother was Anne Sellwood (1814-1894). She was Agnes Grace Weld (1849-1915), and she was photographed by Lewis Carroll in childhood as Red Riding Hood in Croft Rectory on 18 August 1857 and also by Julia Margaret Cameron with another little girl [1866-1870)(photographed owned by the National Media Museum). She was the neice of Lord Alfred Tennyson's wife and also related to Sir John Franklin, the Arctic explorer. She travelled a good deal each summer with her parents. She was an author of 'Sacred Palmlands, or the journal of a Spring tour' [1881], 'St Agatha and her festa' [1884], 'Glimpses of Tennyson and of some of his relations and friends' [with others][1903]. 

[11] Balfour had suffered a 'serious' illness, recorded in the Annual Reports of the PRM of 1894-5 (he must have been absent from work for quite a while as he was unable to write the annual report for 1894 in the correct year). See a section here in Larson's paper on Balfour on his health.

[12] No further items from Fiji are recorded in the PRM accession registers as coming from Fison, nor are there any items from 1895 to 1907 (when he died) from Fiji that could have come from him but attributed to someone else as collector (or donor).


Fison 49

Memo [1]

In a former letter I wrote to you about the Navitilevu word for Tathi, Sea, with which I was unacquainted when I wrote my notes on Codrington's Conspectus of Melanesian words.

May I ask you to strike out my note on the word Sea & to substitute the following:--

Sea The word for Sea in the literary Fijian (Mbau dial.) is Wasa, usually reduplicated, or combined with levu great, or loaloa boac   [illegible] or luva, windy (or perhaps rather "empty") But Tathi is a common word for sea on Navitilevu.

P.S. I forget whether I pointed out in my last letter that your explanation of the tabu between the Kurnai and his mother in law does not cover the precisely similar tabu between brother & sister in Fiji & elsewhere. Some of our Vanua Levu tribes still call Father's sister "Mother", & Father's sister's daughter "Sister". In those tribes the tabu between a man & his father's sister's dr. is as strict as is that among other Fijian tribes who look upon those relatives as veindavolani = those who lie down together. 

I venture still to adhere to my theory as to that tabu -- that it is expressly instituted to prevent familiarity between certain forbidden degrees. I look upon it as "supplementary legislation", precisely such as would be required to supplement the original class divisions in order to make them preventive of certain marriages.

Land Tenure

May I remind you -- if the reminder be in time -- of the alteration I asked you to be good enough to make under section Kaisi? "ngone sa senga na tamandra" instead of "ngone tawa vakatamani". There is also a nice verbal distinction which I have [insert] did [end insert] not observed, unless my copy of the paper be at fault, under the word Matanggali at the beginning of the paper. Nggalia is to "lay up" by twisting under the palm of the hand, but the twisting together of the cocoanuts is Nggalina. The insertion of the N in the latter case would greatly oblige me. Once more I have to apologise for troubling you.


[1] This memo (presumably once attached to another letter) is undated. It must date to around 23 May 1881 because letter Fison 11 [see here] has the same information about the sea and Tathi; and must have been written by September 1881 when Fison's paper on 'Land Tenure in Fiji' had been published and a copy received by Fison in Fiji. 


Fison 50

Please note: These notes are written on very fragile transparent paper and are very difficult to read and transcribe. They may be Fison's carbon copies that he talks about taking of his correspondence in Fiji? See Fison letter 18, here. It does not appear to duplicate any other Fison letters in the PRM ms collections. Fison appears to be explaining his and Howitt's questionnaire techniques. The letter obviously dates from very early in Tylor and Fison's correspondence when Fison was extremely bitter about McLennan's attacks on his and Howitt's work.

Let me now give you two or three extracts from my letter book as showing the carefulness with which we have worked. Commenting on a memo sent me by Howitt on a communication from a new correspondent, I find the following words:--

"Past unpleasant experience has taught me the invariable rule never to accept a new fact, even from a native, without further inquiry. There is no doubt in my mind that the facts are of very great importance; but I distrust ----'s acquaintance with the facts, or rather his perception of them. Careful inquiry is needed, & his account seems to me to be only a basis to be worked upon. (N.B. the statement in question was favourable to our theory.) I have had information in my hands for several years, which I have not been able to verify, & which I should therefore hesitate to use, unless with special qualification x x The evidence should be tested most carefully, & established beyond possibility of doubt before it is finally adopted. You are taking up new ground; for this reason, without taking any other into consideration, you may be sure of violent opposition."

Again -- "Is ----- an initiated man? If not, I don't think his account of the initiation ceremony can be worth much. If one I become more & more convinced as I go on that natives will not reveal such matters to uninitiated men, unless it may be some of the wretched drunken remnants of the broken clans now haunting the public houses of our bush townships. Moreover, unless a white man has a special preparation, it is very probable that he would not see significant facts, or at all events would not note them, & understand them." [in pencil] (Here again the statement was "all on our side")

Again, writing to our Colonial Secy, the Hon. J.B. Thurston, who had kindly offered to send on my mss for me in the O.H.M.S. bag, I said "I am very much obliged to you for your kind offer as to my mss. But are you sure that you fully understand what you are undertaking x x We have between 40 & 50 correspondents in various parts of Australia & Oceania, & are continually exchanging reports &c, some of which pass & repass several times from one to the other. For instance, say that Howitt gets a piece of information from a [several words illegible] or a Mounted Trooper, or an Oxford graduate who is utilizing his classics by riding after cattle on a station in the Far North -- He makes a copy adds his remarks & sends the ms to me for mine. I study it & add my notes. The ms so enriched goes back (if necessary) to the informant, & returns with questions answered. In some cases the process is repeated over & over again. However, any new fact has to be tested, ... [several words illegible] a circular has to be written or printed about it, & copied sent to such of our correspondents as are considered likely to be able to furnish information. Some of their replies require further testing, & so the process goes on widening & extending The work is horrendous, & the expense is most lamentable. ... [several words illegible] man who, according to McLennan is too easily satisfied with anything that makes for his view to be trusted? No man has a right to bring such an accusation against another unless he has good reason for it. And if he make the accusation he is bound to show his reason

------------     -------------

Note that Fison 1 is interesting because of its relation to another key player in Oxford museum anthropology:

Fison 1

19 Penywern Road

Jun 6th 79

Dear Mr Tylor

I sent you a letter from Mr Fison [1] on Monday sent to me by Sir Arthur Gordon [2] he wants it back so I thought you would like to see it first. as to the last part to which Sir A draws attention I feel sure there must have been some miscarriage & I have told him so as the Anthrop would never intentionally snub a man who could be so useful & it would be a good thing to get his paper instead of letting him send it to the United States as he proposes to do.

I quite agree with you that good papers are the primary thing but you can't get a good class of papers out of a bad class of men you must if you please bear in mind that neither Evans, Dillon or yourself [3] had any thing to do with the Anthrop in the time of its difficulties & you do not see as I do that [illegible] by [illegible] of Charnock Carter Blake & Ramis [?Kaims][4] looming in the distance & ready to return as soon as Brabrook [5] has prepared the way for them. I have a letter from Hilton Price [6] two days ago in which he says quite spontaneously that Brabrook is sure to bring them all back as soon as he gets a majority of one on the council. Carter Blake is a good comparative anatomist. I offered him [2 words illegible] as President to read his papers if he would put aside past feuds but he would have nothing to do with us after that [illegible, possibly betrayal] it is evident they will only come back in procession as they went out. that means the ultimate exclusion of such gentlemen from the council & the [illegible] as to a correlation of things often is only kept alive by personalities & indecencies

Yours very truly

A. Lane Fox

Notes [by transcriber]

[1] Lorimer Fison, clergyman and anthropologist, see wikipedia

[2] Sir Arthur Hamilton-Gordon, see wikipedia

[3] Presumably Tylor, John Evans and Harold Arthur Lee-Dillon, 17th Viscount Dillon (1844-1932).

[4] Richard Stephen Charnock (1820-1904 or 1905), Charles Carter Blake (?1840-?), the final name cannot be verified.

[5] Edward William Brabrook (1839-1930) see wikipedia

[6] Frederick George Hilton Price (1842-1909) see People link on left hand menu.

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