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See here for Part I of the Howitt letters

Transcription of Box 12: Howitt correspondence Tylor papers Pitt Rivers Museum manuscript collections Part 2

Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908) Australian explorer, natural scientist and anthropologist. Partner of Lorimer Fison, see here for the start of Fison's correspondence with Tylor. For a full catalogue of all Pitt Rivers Museum manuscript collections see here. Note that the transcriptions are a first draft and are not necessarily wholly accurate, they also do not include the diacretic marks that Howitt adds in the handwritten originals and which appear in his journal articles. Part I of these letters (Howitt 1-14) is prefaced by a slightly longer introduction.

Warning: these transcripts may contain reference to secret-sacred objects.

Howitt 15

Sale March 20/85

Dear Dr Tylor

About ten days ago I received a parcel containing extra copies of the "Deme & the Horde", "Australian Ceremonies of Initiation" and a copy of the Journal of the Institute in which I observe a notice that I have been elected a Corresponding Member. [1] I value this distribution very highly as a token that the work which I have done is not thought to be without value and I thank you very sincerely for so kindly thinking of me.

I now send in a separate packet a paper on the Kurnai ancestors which I trust you will find not quite without interest. [2] I shall be glad to receive 50 copies when printed. I hope that I am not troubling you too much when I ask that you will kindly cause me to be informed how much I owe to the Institute or to the printers for the copies which I have received and also the cost of carriage which I wish to pay. If I could know the rate of charge I could then remit the amount at the same time At I send the manuscripts. I hope before long to have another paper ready for acceptance.

I am Dear Dr Tylor

Yours faithfully

AW Howitt

P.S. You will I am sure be pleasant learn [sic] that Fison is better although as yet quite unable to do any anthropological work [3]

Edw B Tylor Esq DCL &c

Via Museum House

Oxford England


[1] 'On the Deme and the Horde' (10 June 1884). It was later published in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 14, (1885), pp. 141-169,  'On some Australian ceremonies of initiation' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 13, (1884), pp. 432-459

[2] Howitt 1886. 'On the Migrations of the Kurnai Ancestors' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 15, (1886), pp. 409-422

[3] After his return to Australia from Fiji in 1884 Fison seems to have suffered from ill-health, eventually in 1888 he was forced to resign from the illness. In later life he suffered from heart trouble and it may have been this that caused his ill-health.


Howitt 16

Sale Feby 21 1888 [1]

Dear Tylor

Your welcome note of Jany 4th reached me a little time back but I delayed replying until now when I am able to send you a paper for the Anth. Inst. on message sticks. [2] Will you kindly present it. I should like to have 50 copies of reprints sent to me as before. May I trouble you also, when you have the opportunity, to ask whether copies of my last paper on the Australian classes have been sent to me. [3] I have not heard anything of them yet, I send you also herewith in a separate packet two of the message sticks mentioned in the paper. The two named of the Tongaranka tribe. If I do not mistake I sent to you some time back the Chepara "Kabugabul-bageru" and the Wakelbura stick. [4] My daughter also has made the sketches which accompany the paper [5] which she made of those two above mentioned sticks and fears that when you come to compare the drawings with the originals you may find that the sketches are not as exact as she would like them to be.

The new point which you raise in your last letter shall receive my best attention. I am not quite certain that I fully understand your question However I will reply then as regards the Kurnai and if I have not given you all the information you require please tell me I shall also write to several correspondents and will in due course report progress.

(1) In the Kurnai tribe if a man took his wife from a distant local division (as headmen also had to do) he necessarily took her away from her family. Rarely it happened that the man joined his wifes family and lived in their local division, at any rate for a time. I may say that he would be privileged to join her family at any time and use its hunting and food grounds. Indeed he was always obliged when with it or when his wifes father was with her local division to provide him with flesh food (muk-jeak). But when encamped with his wifes fathers group he could not actively encamp with them or near but built his camp at some little distance and out of sight of his wifes mother.

(2) If his he and his wifes father were on the warpath against some common enemy both would act together and would if the party included a number be under the direction of the leader of the party--who would be some man of eminence in the wifes fathers local division.

(3) If however it happened that (for instance) an own or tribal brother of the man died under the suspicion of magical malpractices by some relation of his wifes father and that in consequence a Mingi nungil were formed. That is to say an arranged expiatory fight--The daughters husband would be on the opposite side to his wifes father and would be bound to revenge the death of his brother.

If I have not answered your queries sufficiently please let me know further.

I think I mentioned that I have a paper on the Dieri tribe in hand. [6] It is so far completed that I am now only waiting for a few final replies to write it out and send to you. When Fison was here last he went over it and I was much encouraged by his kind criticisms. I have seen in Anth Inst VXVII [sic presumably means volume XVII which is correct] no 2 a short communication from Mr Frazer as to descent in the Dieri tribe being male as to boys & female as to girls. [7]

I am surprised at this even after Gasons statement. So far as I know the surrounding tribes have all of them descent connected through the mother and the missionary in the Dieri country distinctly told me that there the "children take the murdu of their mother." This matter I am endeavouring to get cleared up but so far I cannot get a reply from either Gason, or the missionary in the Dieri country. I mention this in order that you may be aware what I am doing and also that I have Mr Frasers statement before me.

My work on the Tribal and Social organization of the Australian Aborigines gets on but slowly. My time is so much occupied by pressing official duties that I cannot set to work as I could have wished. However I am gradually writing up my material. But in doing that I can see many matters "sticking out" which would require a personal investigation. I fancy it will come to this--that I shall have to take a holiday and go into South Australia--to the Dieri tribe for instance and to Queensland and see whether I can there find the solution to the questions that have arisen.

You will I am sure be pleased to hear that Fison is much better and more like himself.

I am dear Tylor

yours faithfully

A.W. Howitt

P.S. I have enclosed the message sticks herewith H

Notes [by transcriber]

[1] Note that there is a big gap in letters between letter 14 transcribed in part 1 and letter 15 of 1885 and this letter of 1888.

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

[3] Possibly A.W. Howitt and Lorimer Fison. 1883. 'Notes on the Australian Class Systems' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 12, (1883), pp. 496-512 or more likely A.W. Howitt and Lorimer Fison. 1889. 'Further Notes on the Australian Class Systems' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 18, (1889), pp. 31-70

[4] According to Museum records, several of the message sticks mentioned in the Howitt 1889 paper are now held by the Pitt Rivers Museum they include:

1989.46.1 illustrated as figure 14 in Plate XIV (entitled 'Australian Message Sticks') opposite page 331 of 'Notes on Australian Message Sticks and Messengers', by A. W. Howitt, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol XVIII, 1889, pp. 314-332.

1989.46.3 illustrated as figure 1 in Plate XIV

1989.46.4 illustrated as figures 15 and 16 in Plate XIV

1989.46.7 illustrated as figure 5 in Plate XIV

1989.46.8 illustrated as figure 7 in Plate XIV

1989.46.9 illustrated as figure 4 in Plate XIV

1989.46.10 illustrated as figures 2 and 3 in Plate XIV

The ones from the 'Tongaranka' listed in the journal article are either figures 2-4 [2 sticks] one is figure 4--1989.46.9, the other is 1989.46.10 shown in figures 2 and 3; the one from the Chepara, figure 14, is 1989.46.1; the one from the Wakelbura is figures 15 and 16 [2 views of the same object], which is 1989.46.4.

[5] Presumably the drawings upon which Plate XIV, which is named to Alfred Robinson one of the museum assistants in the Oxford University Museum. Robinson worked for Tylor producing lecture aides among other tasks.

[6] Presumably 1891. 'The Dieri and Other Kindred Tribes of Central Australia' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 20, (1891), pp. 30-104 or possibly 1890. 'Note by Mr A.W. Howitt, as to Descent in the Dieri tribe' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 19, (1890), p. 90.

[7] Samuel Gason 'Note on the Dieyerie Tribe of South Australia; Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol XVII (1888), pp. 185-186: 'By Mr. SAMUEL GASON. (Communicated by J.G. FRAZER, M.A.) Mr. Frazer writes as follows:- I enclose a copy of a letter received by me from Mr. Samuel Gason in reply to some enquiries which I had addressed to him concerning the Dieyerie tribe of aborigines, South Australia. Mr. Gason, in the course of his duties as police trooper, has been for many years familiar with the tribe in question, whose manners and customs he has described in a very valuable little work, included in the volume, "Native Tribes of South Australia." The following letter supplements on some important points the information contained in that work. In particular it shows that the Dieyerie belongs to that rare class of cases, intermediate between mother kin and father kin, where the sons take their totem from the father and the daughters from the mother. This is not, as I hope to point out elsewhere, to be confounded with the sex totem, of which examples are to be found in Australia, but (so far as I know) nowhere else. In view of Mr. Gason's letter the statement of Mr. Howitt ("Journ. Anthrop. Inst.," XIII, p. 457) that descent in the Dieyerie tribe is uterine, needs correction ...' 


Howitt 17

Sale April 20 1888

Dear Dr Tylor

It was with great pleasure that I received your letter of Mar 10 a few days back. I thank you very much for your kindness in reading my paper on Australian Systems at the Anthropological. [1] By the time I hope that my paper on message sticks has reached you and that you have found in it some facts to interest you. [2] The Dieri paper is almost completed but it was hung up for a time in consequence of Mr J. Frasers [sic] pape notes in the Anth. Inst. [illegible] [sic] Gason as to descents. [3] It took me completely by surprise and to say the truth I feel quite sure that Gason had made a mistake. He was not able when I corresponded with him to give me a detailed list of the classes & totems of the Dieri which I obtained  from a Lutheran Missionary -- a very intelligent man -- at Kopperamana in the Dieri country who also stated that "children took the same murdu as their mother". [4] The neighbouring & kindred tribes which have practically the same class divisions and totems as the Dieri have uncles [?] descent only. Before writing to Gason I communicated with the Missionaries to the Dieri and I received a reply only yesterday -- My first letter having followed the one to which it was addressed up to where he now is stationed in Northern Queensland. The reply is in these words "the Dieri children boys and girls take the murdu of their mother. If a man is of the Kintala (dog) murdu and his wife of the Kokula (rat) murdu all their children boys and girls belong to the Kokula Murdu".

I am now going to draw Gasons attention to this and we shall see what he says about it.

This is one of the only mistakes I have found him to make.

It may interest you to know that I have evidence of the existence of group marriage (the piraura marriage of the Dieri) extending from the west side of Lake Eyre in South Australia to the Burdekin River in Eastern Queensland say a stretch of 1,000 miles. I expect it will be found to be far wider in extent than has been supposed. 

I have also a paper in the stocks dealing with Curr and his errors. This I shall for convenience present this [sic] to our Royal Society in Melbourne but will of course send you a copy. [5] It will necessarily go over a good deal of ground which has already been covered by my previous papers. As to what he says about me it does not concern me at all for he has not fallen foul of me but he charges Fison with wilfully keeping back evidence adverse to his theories. This I cannot stand and as Curr has said this á propos of the Uncles [?] he has placed himself in a cleft stick and I will do my best to cause him to leave some skins behind before he gets out. Fison has been to see me very greatly to our pleasure and only left this morning. He is wonderfully better and full of life and spirits -- but still suffers from a kind of chronic bronchitis. We have now managed to commence writing up our materials for our next work -- but when it will be completed  -- "Gillen sake" [it looks like, but 2 words really illegible!] as the [illegible] say.

My daughter feels herself much flattered by what you say about her photograph. May we hope that your expressed hope to see her "perhaps in person" may be prophetic of your visiting Australia? [6]

I am dear Dr Tylor

yours faithfully

AW Howitt.

EB Tylor Esq DCL &c



[1] This seems unlikely, the paper called  'Notes on the Australian Class Systems' was published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute in 1883 and would have been read to the Institute in 1882 so it seems unlikely Howitt would have been thanking Tylor for reading that. However, none of Howitt's other recent publications dates of reading seem to match this letter. 

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

[3] Howitt's note was published as 'Note by Mr A.W. Howitt, as to Descent in the Dieri tribe' Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 19, (1890), p. 90; Samuel Gason's original article is 'Note on the Dieyerie Tribe of South Australia' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 17, (1888), pp. 185-186. Frazer's note was published as 'The Dieyerie Tribe, South Australia' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 18, (1889), pp. 94-95 where Frazer asks for a distinction to be made 'whether sexual intercourse (as distinct from marriage) is permitted within the totem class', Gason's reply is given in the same place. Samuel Gason, active from 1865, died 1897, see here was a mounted constable. Howitt later published 'The Dieri and Other Kindred Tribes of Central Australia' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland , Vol. 20, (1891), pp. 30-104

[4] Also spelt Kopperamanna, an outpost of the Killalpaninna mission. 

[5] Edward Micklethwaite Curr (1820-1889) with whom Howitt carried on an on-going feud. Possibly a reference to Howitt's paper of 1889. 'Organisation of the Australian Tribes' in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Victoria.

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


[6] This is probably a reference to the portrait of Fison and Howitt by Howitt's daughters that was sent to Tylor by Fison with his letter dated 23 November 1887 [Fison letter 39, Tylor papers, PRM ms collections, see here for a transcription of Fison's letter and description of the photograph] The photo is now held by Monash University (see photograph on this page). 


Howitt 18

Sale May 15/88

Dear Tylor

I have now two letters before me for which I have to thank you. The latest one is of April 6th in which you refer to the former questions which you put to me as to the relations between a man & his wifes people. Since you wrote first I have thought much upon the question which you have raised and I am now satisfied that your surmises are quite correct. I cannot think how it has been that this matter did not present itself to me in the light you place it in before. No doubt the "Muk Jeak" [?] which the Kurnai men had to provide for his wifes father is a trace of the time when the Malayan practice existed. Moreover the frequency with which Kurnai men went from time to time to live with their wife wives people also falls in with this practice. I have been somewhat at a disadvantage of late years when I have been pursuing anthropological & [illegible] in having ready access only to tribes which have gone out of the matriarchal stage. However now that you have directed my attention to the matter I will do my best to work it out for you -- although doing so through correspondents is heart-breaking work. I have written to a number so far I have two replies which I enclose. I also transcribe some particulars from the letter of a third which possibly may have some bearing upon the question. As soon as I hear from others I will communicate with you.

I am much pleased that you think well of the message stick paper and I thank you very much for the trouble which you take on my behalf in the matter of the copies of my paper. [1]

I have thought that perhaps it might interest you to see what our country looks like. I have therefore sent you three photos which my daughter took last summer when we made a ten days camping out expedition into the "Australian Alps" -- the nearest range of which we can see from our upper windows rising up about 5,000 ft at a distance of 80 miles. [2]

I shall look forward to the photo which you say Mrs Tylor will kindly send to me and for which I beg to present my best thanks in advance.

I was in Melbourne last week and saw Fison for a few hours. You will be pleased to learn that he still continues to improve in health. He told me that he was about writing to you.

Yours faithfully

A.W. Howitt

PS I observe that I have omitted to say anything about the "ball play". The ball was the dried and blown out scrotum of an "old man Kangaroo. Two or three players would take side, each of them choosing men to play with them. Thus there might be more than two sets playing -- but usually there were two sets. The man who commences pitches the ball so that he can kick it with his foot up into the air. The players who are situated near to where it falls grasp at it as it comes down -- even jump up into the air to catch it. The other players rush up and there is a good deal of scrambling & hurtling in the attempt the get the ball. The man who has caught it holds it against his chest and at the first chance throws it up in the air or along the ground or in some direction in which he thinks his own men are most likely to get it. The great object seems to be to pass it from one to another in the manner described so as to prevent the other side getting it. There seems not to be any other rules of the game and it may go on in the manner I have described for almost hours until the people are all tired.

Among the Kurnai there do not seem to be any particular rule as to who shall be on one side or another. But practically it amounts to this that most of the people in each side are related to each other as the leaders of the game choose their "mates" rather than comparative strangers. But in other tribes e.g. the Wotjoballuk of the Wimmera which had class divisions & totems & matriarchal descent all those of a totem played on the same side & thus it was totem against totem

[fresh sheet]

Mr Thos [possibly Theo] Sutton of Point Pearce South Australia [3] says as to Adjadura tribe:

"A man marrying a woman of another tribe would claim no relationship with her people. In such a case the man would always take his wife to his own people and live near his own parents.

Under no circumstances would he settle down with her people. In the event of war between his and her tribe he would always help his own people. If in it he should be killed a meeting would be held of the chief men of his tribe as to what would be done with the woman and very likely it would be decided to put her to death also."

[illegible] this tribe has agnatic descent and

[Added in pencil ?by Tylor] Nove [sic]

Mr Aldridge of Maryboro Queensland [4]

who has had very great experience and who has even attended the celebrated Bunya Bunya gatherings [5] with me as follows speaking of the tribes within a radius of 50 miles of the above locality (Maryborough)

"When a man marries a woman from a distant locality he goes by her tribe let and identifies himself with her people. This is a rule with very few exceptions. Of course I speak of them as they were in their wild state. He becomes part of and one of the family. In the event of a war expedition the daughters husband acts in a blood relation and will fight and kill his own blood relations if blows are struck by his wifes relations. 

I have seen a father and son fighting under these circumstances and the one would most certainly have killed his father if others had not interfered"

[Added in pencil ?by Tylor] care of mat tendence [sic]


These tribes have the class system which I have noted in my last paper but use namely Bulkoin-Bunda, Barung-Thewine with the primary class Kupakin and Dilati but there do not seem to be any totems existing and descent of the class seems in the male line

Mr Muirhead of Elgin Downs Queensland [6]

says "If a man from a distant tribe say from the Barcoo or MacKenzie Rivers ran off with Wakelbura woman and get away safely to his distant home before the womans people could catch him and that meanwhile the womans promised husband died, the other must forsake his own people and join hers or her relatives would call him to combat. In every case of this kind which came under my notice the man forsook his tribe and joined that of the woman. He would be free from interference by them and his own people would not feel any anger against him. From this time forward he would be called by the name of the tribe he had joined and would take part in their ceremonies and fight on their side even against his former tribe". 

N.B. This Wakelbura tribe has a complete class system of the Kamilaroi type with matriarchal descent. See my paper on the class system.

[Added in pencil ?by Tylor] Unf...fed [sic illegible] case [sic]


[Printed column]

Gippsland Aboriginal Ceremony

Last week a number of the aborigines of the various clans of the Kurnai tribe gathered together at the old crossing place at Seacombe on McLennan's straits to conduct the mystic rites and ceremonies incidental to the admission of the youths of the tribe to the dignity of manhood, with all its accompanying privileges. The ceremony was held at the instance of Mr A.W. Howitt who secured the consent of the old men of the tribe in its taking place some six months ago, when the first steps were taken to gather together the remnant of the tribe. Mr Howitt, who is a deeply versed student in the ethnology of the blacks, and is now engaged in writing a book on the subject, was present during the whole of the ceremony, he being the only white man who has ever been admitted so much to the confidence of the blacks as to be permitted to witness their secret ceremonials. No ceremony of a similar nature has taken place in Gippsland for many years, the last having been held at the Mitchell River, the date of which cannot now be accurately fixed upon. At the time, however, there were no signs of a township at Bairnsdale, and it is calculated that the ceremony must have taken place nearly or about thirty years ago. On one side of the river there was the Lucknow station, and on the other the McLeod station, while the river was crossed in an old "dug out". On that occasion there was a total eclipse of the sun on the day of the ceremony, or as the blacks described it, "night came in the middle of the day." The proceedings at Seacombe commenced on Thursday afternoon, and about 30 blacks were present, representing all the five clans of the Kurnai tribe. Ten years ago there would have been double the number, but the old race is dying out fast. The principal ceremonies were completed by Monday morning at 9 o'clock, having taken place at intervals during that time, but the blacks did not finally disperse till Tuesday. Some of the Snowy River blacks, the Krautun (eastern) clan of the tribe were present, though they have no ceremonies of their own. They are, however, allowed to be present at the initiation ceremonies, though not ago be themselves initiated. Six youths went through the installation ceremony, and were duly admitted to the rights of manhood. One of these belonged to the Braiaka (western) clan, two were Raymond Island blacks, and the remaining three belonged to the Brabra (manly) clan. Of the ceremony itself we cannot speak , and those interested will have to wait for the publication of Mr Howitt's work on the subject before they can peer into the dim recesses of the ethnological lore of the blacks. The details of the ceremony, however, differed entirely from those practised at the recent gathering at Bega, NSW., though the principle underlying it was exactly identical. During the five days of the ceremony not a drop of drink was imbibed by any of the blacks, and not a single quarrel took place, there not being an ill word spoken. Many of the old men of the tribe were strongly averse to the introduction of intoxicating drink to the ceremony, hence the very orderly character of the proceedings.

(Vide Gippsland Mercury Jan. 31 1884)


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

[2] These photographs are held by the Pitt Rivers Museum, 2013.38.1-3, they are of Latrobe River, 'Thimble Rock' and Upper Wellington River respectively.

[3] Here there is a reference to a manuscript of "The Adjadura Tribe of Aborigines on Yorke Peninsula", Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia, 1887-1888 by T.M. Sutton of Point Pearce Aboriginal Mission, (presumably the same person). He was the superintendent of the Mission according to The Adelaide Advertiser of 15 July 1899, which recorded his death. See here.

[4] Possibly Edward Thomas Aldridge who lived in Maryborough and established a hotel there and according to 'Poorhouse to Paradise: The Adventures of a Pioneering Family in a North Queensland Country Town' by Lyall Ford page 11 '... In 1848 [Mr Edward Thomas Aldridge] became the first person to take up residence in what is now the city of Maryborough, which grew quickly thanks in no small way to his business acumen and activities.'

[5] The bunyi is a native Queensland pine tree, according to this site, 'Once every three years between December and March a bumper harvest of nuts is produced. It was during this time that the Bunya Gatherings occurred, with invited Aboriginal groups travelling from all over Southeast Queensland. At these gatherings groups conducted business: items, food, information and new knowledge were traded and shared; cultural, social and kinship obligations were observed and arranged; disputes and complaints were resolved; ceremonies were conducted and future events organised; and songs, stories and dances were swapped between groups to be taken home to their own people. Groups attended other events with different groups and continued the cycle. Through this trading and exchange of information, songs, stories and material culture trade routes were established across Australia. ... The last Bunya Gathering is believed to have been held in 1902.'

[6] The Muirheads owned Elgin Downs station. This was probably James Muirhead, see here.


Howitt 19


May 21 1888

Dear Tylor

On the assumption that "every little helps" I now send you two further contributions to the solution of the questions which you propounded re the "Malayan custom". 

I daresay that further evidence will come in from other correspondents -- as it does I will forward it to you.

My memoir on the Dieri still hangs fire through the delays on the part of my correspondents However I hope that before long it will be completed and sent off to you.

Yours faithfully


Edw B Tylor Esq FRS &c

Oxford England

[Fresh sheet]

Rev'd Louis Schulze Finke River S.A. [1]

Alewlinga [?] tribe

(1) A man who has marries a woman of another tribe usually takes her to his own home. There is now an instance here. A man has given his daughter to a stranger; but she would not have him. However he took her away into his own country and watches her night and day, even taking her with him when he goes hunting.

(2) The man accompanies his wifes father upon expeditions for revenge and vice versâ.

(3) If a brother of the daughters husband dies and if the father of the said woman (father in law) is suspected of having caused his death by witchcraft, the daughters husband is bound to excuse and defend his wifes father to the best of his ability.

(4) If the other brothers wish to kill the supposed offender, the daughters husband must prevent them.

[Written sideways alongside] N.B. this tribe has four intermarrying clans, with I believe descent in the female line as in the Kamilaroi class. But I cannot find any trace of the two primary classes, nor any group of totems. The descent is therefore as yet not worked out with certainty AWH

Woiworung tribe Yarra Yarra River Vic. -- William Berak, Informant. [2]

A man always took his wife to his own country. For instance the Woiworung obtained wifes [sic] from beyond Mt Macedon and from the Goulburn River and gave wives to those people in exchange. A man never settled down with his wifes people but he went to see his wifes father from time to time to "whew him his daughter" and if the old man was ill it was his duty if possible to take care of him. It was his duty to give him presents such as 'possum rugs, and weapons and to keep him (when in his neighbourhood) supplied plentifully with food -- which was called in the Woiworung language Ngul-lurp (=the muk-jeak of the Kurnai).

The man did not fight on the side of his wifes father against his own tribe, but in no case would he do any injury to him.

N.B. Berak is the sole Lurrira [?] of his tribe. He is the "Native Bard" of Dr Torrances paper. He was a boy of about 10 years old when Batman settled at the Yarra River. [3]


[1] Louis Gustav Schulze (1851-1924) , missionary at Finke River 'The Aborigines of the upper and middle Finke River : their habits and customs, with introductory notes on the physical and natural history features of the country' 1891 Adelaide, from the Translations of the Royal Society of South Australia, 1891. Subject of 'The history of Louis Gustav Schulze, missionary : details of his ancestors and family descendants of the past 200 years' compiled by Max Altmann. 1980.

[2] William Barak (1824-1903) Aboriginal spokesman sometimes described as 'King William' last chief of the Yarra Yarra tribe. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, 'He was Howitt's chief informant for central and south-west Victoria and elsewhere.'

[3] George William Torrance (1835-1907) Clergyman and musician. John Batman (1801-1839) a Tasmanian farmer came in June 1835 to look to settle by the Yarra River. 

Howitt 19 [again]

[in separate envelope but still numbered Howitt 19, NB though the accompanying documentation doesn't say so the envelope appears to be dated 22 May 1888. These are presumably later arrived returns from Howitt's correspondents that, as promised, he forwarded later to Tylor]

from Mr J.W. Boultbee formerly of Tarella N.S.W. [1]

The statements refer to tribes living on the west side of the Darling River and extending over the country included between it and the South Australian boundary, westward of the River between Wilcannia and Menindie [sic Menindee]

(1) the Husband invariably took the wife from her own people and made his home with his own tribe. This is particularly the case where the Lubras [2] were raided from their own tribe and generally where the marriage takes place within the tribe, but the man has a different class name from the woman.

(2) The only cases that I met with where the husband lived with his wifes tribe were in the case of the Bulloo River and Lake Hope Blacks [3] who married into the Mulyan Eppa (Depot Glen) blacks. They however only took old widows and were evidently outlaws from their own country for either some crime among themselves or they had become marked men by the white settlers.

(3) I do not think the blacks position in regard to his tribe is altered by his marriage He will freely fight his wifes kin. I saw one big fight at Bulloo Bulloo [?] and the blackfellows were on that occasion fighting the tribe their lubras belonged to. It was Endawana i.e. Boulka Lake against Koonyte or Yancannia. Several were killed & the Headman of the Endawanas speared in the thigh from which he ultimately died He was a stalwart rascal about 6 ft high and had 9 daughters from 3 wives -- an unprecedented family for a black.

N.B. I think in considering that this information may be said to refer to the country lying between the Darling Rr, Garoo River, Queensland boundary to down the South Australian boundary to Lat. 32 [degrees]

May 22 Since I wrote this letter I have been talking over the Ball playing with some of the Blackfellows. One of the Kurnai, the old Melbourne Blackfellow Berak and a Shankill (Murray River) blackfellow -- one of the Kilpara (crow) clan of his tribe.

I now understand what I have seen of the game better and have also further data for you. The practice of the Melbourne [insert] Woiworung [end insert] & Swan Hill blacks is this -- and it is very nearly the same as that of the Gippsland tribe.

The ball is made of strips of opossum pelt rolled up tight -- fur inside (at present on the Murray River they use an namaj [sic] English ball). Two sides are chosen each under a leader. At Melbourne the Buiyil people played on one side and the Waa people on the other. At [illegible] Hill the Kupara are on one side and the Muknara on the other. If either side were weak -- the other side lent men to make the sides equal. Then it was totem against totem (class division against class division) as it was at the Wimmera River and [illegible] also wherever the classes were existent. With the Kurnai who had no totem it was kindred or locality (which was almost the same) against kindred or locality, or young men against old men.

A ring was formed -- say 100 yds diameter within which one side stood with the ball. The other side stood outside in a row or if the players were very numerous in a row with a number "fielding" at a distance. When all were ready the "Captain" of those in the ring threw up the ball and those outside rushed in to the ring. The attempt now was for the one party to retain the ball by passing it from one to another or by throwing it to one or the other and for the other party to possess themselves of the ball. So soon as one of the outside party or opponents secured the ball he threw it out of the ring as far as possible towards one of his own party "fielding" -- Both parties then rushed after it and it was now the object of one party to pass it from one to the other away from the ring and for the other party to carry it back to the ring. If they could do that they won the game. If the other party succeeded in carrying the ball off altogether -- by throwing it from one to the other until the other party was tired out the opponents won it.  These two old men are now gone away for a time but when they return I shall enquire re the "wifes practice" and the Malayan practice and will report to you further



[1] James W. Boultbee (1851-1909), farmer at Tarella and later public servant. See here for more information. 

[2] Lubra - An Aboriginal woman

[3] Bulloo River is in western Queensland and northern NSW. Lake Hope is in South Australia near Kopperamanna, see here. Depot Glen appears to be in NSW.


Howitt 20


May 20 1888

Dear Tylor

When I wrote I thought that I could send you the three photos at once but I found that I was mistaken and that I should have to get copies printed off. Hence it is that it is only now that I am able to perform my intention.

(1) on the Latrobe Rivers about six miles from here. It gives a good idea of the flat country between the mountains and the sea. The first lady at the left hand side is my wife--the last but one on the right is my youngest daughter. It represents an Easter picnic party.

(2) The Thimble Road--[illegible] Macalister River about 45 miles from here. A mass of Devonian conglomerates which have rolled down from the mountain.

(3) Upper Wellington River about 80 miles from here. Taken at early morning when we made a Holiday trip last February. [1]

Since I wrote I have received another reply re "Malayan practice" I enclose the particulars [2]

yours faithfully

A.W. Howitt


[1] Please note these photographs are now held in the photographic collections of the PRM, 2013.38.1-3, see also Letter Howitt 18 above.

[2] These particulars do not seem to have survived


See Fison 40 here for another letter from Howitt to Fison dated 21 May 1888


Howitt 21

Sale Sep 21 1888

Dear Tylor

A few facts have accumulated since I last wrote which I may as well communicate to you. I regret however that as yet I do not feel in a position to reply definitely to your queries as to Currs meaning where he refers to "an Australian belonging to his fathers tribe for purposes of war and inheritance and only for purposes of marriage restrictions to his mothers class." Before I can do so I must write to him and find out what it is he exactly means. I will do this soon and when I am in Melbourne in October next I will endeavour to send you a reply after having a talk with Fison.

My work has been almost at a standstill for some time. The Dieri paper I could not complete for the want of some further data which I have only just received. You may remember a notice which was sent by Mr Frazer to the Journal of the Anth Inst conveying a statement of Gason that with the Dieri the sons take the fathers murdu and the girls that of the mother.  When I saw this I could hardly believe my eyes because my own knowledge was against this as well as the statement made to me by the missionaries in the Dieri country. I thereupon wrote to the Lutheran Mission at Koppermana requesting that further enquiries might be made. The reply was that the Dieri said all the children both girls and boys take the murdu of the mother and not of the father. In order to further check the statement I again wrote to the missionary asking him to enquire from the Dieri concerning a certain man who was the Head Man of the tribe when I knew it and of whom Gason has spoken written much in giving me information about the Dieri. This man I knew to have been of the Marryura [insert] (Pirtulacca L..cea) [end insert] murdu. In reply I hear now that (1) His murdu was Marryura (2) His mother's murdu was Marryura (3) His fathers murdu was Waruyati (Emu). 

I also learned from a correspondent who is well acquainted with the tribe which adjoins the Dieri in the south west that with them the children are all of the same murdu as their mother. He sent me a list of a number of the tribes people which showed this conclusively. I am now quite sure that Gason made a mistake but I must say for him that it about [sic] the only one I have found out except a few inaccuracies in some of the less common Relationship terms. I have thought it well to tell you all this and I shall also write and inform Mr Frazer.

I have also learned the following which bears upon your previous enquires 

Mr Chas J Cameron of Penola Downs, Queensland [insert] near the source of the Thomson River [end insert] [1]

(1) the man always takes the woman he marries to his own tribe (2) Under no circumstances so far as these blacks know does he live with his wifes tribe 

Mr James Lalor of Gubberamunda near Roma [insert] Queensland [end insert] [2] says "A man if he marries a woman of any other tribe takes her to his own tribe to live with his parents, just the same as if he had married a woman of his own tribe But if he likes to do so he can settle down with his wife's parents and friends and tribe. This is the custom of this and the neighbouring tribes

Mr W.H. Flowers of Pine Mountain, Rockhampton Queensland says:

In the Kuinwurbura tribe a widow is taken by the brother (own father and mother) of the deceased. If there were no full brother a half brother would take her. If a man marries a woman of a neighbouring tribe he would go and live with her tribe and in the event of war between their tribes he would [insert] not [end insert] fight at all but would look on. 

I shall now begin to get the Dieri paper ready to send to you. It will be rather long but I think that its length might be excused considering that it gives a good deal of authentic information about a very typical tribe.

You will I am sure be pleased to hear that Fison has much improved in health. He has retired from active part in his church and now edits the Literary paper which is the organ of the Wesleyan here. I have not seen him lately but I hear from him constantly and he writes cheerfully. Is there any possible chance of you visiting Melbourne on the occasion of the next meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science? The next meeting will be in July 1889 -- You would receive a very warm welcome

yours faithfully


P.S. I shall be glad to receive when they are ready the extra copies of my last two papers -- that is to say those that have been finished. I feel really quite ashamed of giving you so much trouble in this matter

I now observe at the last moment that I have another contribution from a correspondent from [illegible] N.S.W. which I may as well send

Mr James W. Boultbee late of Tarella -- west of the Darling River NSW say [sic] of the tribes there: [3]

(1) the husband invariably took the wife from her own people and made his home with his own tribe. This is particularly the case where the women [4] were raided from their own tribe and generally when the marriage was an amicable arrangement with another and distant tribe from his own

(2) The only cases that I met with where the husband lived with his wifes tribe were in the case of the Bulloo River and Lake Hope [insert] Dieri Plains AWH [end insert] blacks who married into the Mulyaneppa (Depot Glen) blacks, they however only took old widows and were evidently outlaws from their own country for either some crime among themselves or they had become marked men by the white settlers.

(3) I do not think the blacks position in regard to his tribe is altered by his marriage. He will freely fight his wifes kin. I saw one big fight at Bullu Bullea and the blackfellows were on that occasion fighting the tribe their wives [5] belonged to. It was Endawana i.e. Boulka Lake against Koonyite or Yaucannia. Several were killed & the headman of the Endawana speared and ultimately died He was a stalwart rascal about 6 ft high and had 9 daughters from 3 wives -- an unprecedented family for a blackfellow".

Mr Thos Sutton of Point Pearce Mission Yorke Peninsula S.A. says [6]

"(1) A man marrying a woman of another tribe would claim no relationship with her people. (2) In such a case the man would always take his wife to his own people and live near his own parents. (3) Under no circumstances would he settle down with her people. (4) In the event of war between his and her tribe he would always help his own people. If he were killed a meeting would be held of the chief men of his tribe as to what would be done with the woman and very likely it would be decided to put her to death also."

It seems custom varies very greatly in different tribe. [sic] AWH [insert] In conclusion I give you the statements of the [end insert] missionary at the Finke River in S.A.

The Rev. L. Schultz says of the Aldolinya [?] tribe: [7]

(1) A man who has marries a woman of another tribe usually takes her to his own tribe. 

(2) A man assists his wifes father in his expedition (Morazugen) and vice versa

(3) If the brother of a man dies and should the father of the wife of this latter be charged with having caused the death by witchcraft, the man is bound to defend his wifes father to the uttermost

Mr Jocelyn Brook Sub Inspector of Native Police East Normanby Northern Queensland says [8]

"I have never known an instance where a man took a wife from a neighbouring tribe and remained with her people. He always returns to his own tribe again although looked upon as a relation, and in the event of a tribal war would side with his father in law."


[1] Charles James Cameron. See here.

[2] James Lalor (1829-1922), his biography is Lalor of Gubberamunda, pioneer of the Roma district by Anne Harris

[3] In fact Howitt had already sent Boultbee's response in his letter Howitt 19 (see above).

[4] Lubras in the original account, otherwise the two versions sent by Howitt are similar but the end of point 1 seems to be completely different.

[5] Lubras in the original Letter 19 sending\

[6] This section from Sutton was first given in Howitt 18 above in the same words.

[7] The section from Louis Gustav Schulze was previously sent by Howitt to Tylor in Howitt 19, it is not expressed the same way.

[8] Jocelyn P. Brooke was apparently in Queensland from 1881 to 1889 when he retired from the Native Police, see here


Howitt 22

Sale Sep 26 1888

Dear Tylor

When I wrote to you the other day I think I omitted to ask you as I intended to do to be so very kind as to communicate the results of my enquiries concerning the [illegible] of the [illegible] among the Dieri to the Anth. Inst. Gasons statement was recorded in the Journal and I think it will be as well that the information which I have now obtained and which quite confirms my previous statements should also find a place there. [1]

I have written to Gason telling him the result but have not yet heard from him. If there be anything to note in his reply -- if he sends one -- I will let you know

I hope that you will not think that I am asking you to do too much or trespassing too much upon your kindness

I am dear Tylor

Yours faithfully

A.W. Howitt


[1] 1890. 'Note by Mr A.W. Howitt, as to Descent in the Dieri tribe' Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 19, (1890), p. 90


Howitt 23

Sale Jany 28 1889

Dear Tylor

I send you now by this post the manuscript on the "Dieri tribe" which I have had in hand for a long time [1] I had intended originally to have used it as part of the appendix to my projected work on the Tribal and Social Organization of the Australian tribes [2] -- but Fison suggested that I should send it to the Anthrop Inst. with which I am very glad to fall in and I hope that it may prove to be acceptable and not too long.

I have to thank you for sending me the spare copies of my paper on "class systems" which duly arrived. [3] I suppose that  on "Messagesticks" will follow in due course. [4]

I failed to acknowledge your last note until I could see what present chance there might be of a Lectureship at our University. There may be a "wealthy Australian benefactor" but alas I cannot think of him at present. And I spoke to the Chancellor of our University the other day on the subject without warming him up in the least. However the idea is so good and I should much like to see Fison the first Professor that I shall keep it in view and will move in the matter whenever or wherever there seems to be a chance.

I read your paper on "Method of adherenses" [?] with very great interest and I shall look forward to future results with expectation. [5]

I am sorry to say that I have no more evidence to send you as to "Maternal arrangements in Australian tribes" -- my correspondents seem to me to be so to say all defunct.

I am dear Tylor

Yours faithfully



[1] 1891. 'The Dieri and Other Kindred Tribes of Central Australia' Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 20, (1891), pp. 30-104

[2] 1904. The Native Tribes of South-east Australia, London: Macmillan

[3] Howitt has made reference to this before, I cannot find reference to it unless it is 1883. 'Notes on the Australian Class Systems' Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 12, (1883), pp. 496-512, which seems unlikely. Perhaps I am missing some very obvious paper in which case, apologies.

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

[5] Possibly a reference to 'On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions; Applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 18, (1889), pp. 245-272

See here for Part 3 of the Howitt letters to Tylor

Transcribed by AP April and November 2013

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