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'Come Wind, Come Weather: 'A biography of Alfred Howitt', Mary Howitt Walker, 1971: Melbourne, Melbourne University Press

pp. 66-67 'During Alfred’s first period in Australia when his father was still there and they were gold prospecting
'At the Reid’s hospitable station the Howitts rested and spent a pleasant time thoroughly enjoying the comforts of the station home, and there Alfred made his first real acquaintance with Aborigines, ‘the last miserable remains of the Ovens tribe’, who were gathered near the homestead to feast on a freshly killed bullock.

‘O’possums and perhaps some beef offal was roasting and dogs and children were tumbling about … I had a long talk with one of the heads, old ‘Charley’, who it is said saved many a white man’s life, and learned a good deal from him about the blacks’ way of hunting … Outside the camp half a dozen young blacks were sitting round a fire—the bachelors of the tribe, playing cards, and they were considerable dandies.’' [quote from letter from AW Howitt to Mary Howitt dated 19.2.1854]

p. 106 According to WB Spencer's obituary of Howitt, he and Fison first met during Howitt’s exploring journey through South Australia, when 'Fison was also working up-country', ‘…they met and parted’. This was in 1859.

Chapter 15: Hearth and Saddle

p. 180 'He was now [circa 1868, I think] becoming more deeply involved in anthropology and was preparing a paper on what he called 'native witchcraft and sorcery' (Aboriginal mythology) with the help of Tulaba, an elder of the Kurnai tribe, who was one of the main sources of his future knowledge of their customs and beliefs. He had already been appointed local correspondent of the Central Board for the Protection of the Aborigines and was therefore in closer touch with the tribal people; many of the duties he carried out for the Board had considerable bearing on his later writings. Altogether, these were his formative years in science.' 

p. 184 [When he worked at Beechworth] 'His enforced loneliness was to alter the course of his thinking and living: it set him to make use of his store of notes and information, as, so far, its gathering in itself had been his immediate goal. Now dormant powers within him awakened, and in geology he sorted and assembled his notes of many years' accumulation and completed the first geological survey of north Gippsland. In anthropology his early, undirected attempts were co-ordinated with the collection of information for the American ethnologist, Dr Lewis Morgan, and a dramatic change in Howitt's working pattern followed. In many ways he was greatly influenced by Darwin's On the origin of species

'... but perhaps you do not in the least hold with the Darwinian theories, I do, to a very great extent and see its force and value more every day.' [NB not all of quote transcribed]

p. 186 'The latter 1870s were to prove the most fruitful years of Alfred Howitt's scientific career; every branch of his research opened a new door to reveal a new scene. As well as sending eucalypt seeds to the Algiers and Tre Fontane [Rome] plantations, he was collecting flies, ants and beetles for one English naturalist, and the teeth of native animals for another, H.V. Tebbs.'

Chapter 16 'I now see clearly'

p. 190 'As well as common sense, Alfred had a seeing eye, a retentive memory, a capacity for hard word and a curiosity fanned by his constant search for truth. Couple these qualities with dedication and a disregard for personal comfort, and you hold the secret of his approach to science.'

'A new world had opened for you since Liney [Howitt's wife] wrote in 1868 to Anna Mary [Howitt's sister]: 'Alfred is deeply interested just now in Geology, he has been studying Sir Charles Lyell [Elements of Geology] and he is making a Geological report of this portion of his [magistrate's] district. That was the beginning, the recognized starting-point, except for his haphazard notes and collections of rocks at Omeo when he had no clear idea of what he sought or where his search might lead him.'

p. 191 His sister, Anna Mary, recommended he read Lubbock 'Prehistoric Times'. His first geological publication was included in The Gold Fields and Mineral Districts of Victoria edited by Brough Smyth, 'who for a time was to play a considerable part in furthering Howitt's scientific work.' Smith wrote 'The Aborigines of Victoria' and was secretary of the Central Board for the Protection of the Aborigines.

p. 192 Anna Mary also helped his burgeoning scientific career by 'keeping his name before her husband's influential friends' eg W. Boyd Dawkins. 

p. 193 He also corresponded with Frederick McCoy of Melbourne Museum / University of Melbourne.

p. 194 McCoy proposed Howitt as Fellow of Geological Society, supported by Brough Smyth. Howitt sent many packets of fossils to McCoy

p. 195 'The year 1874 was marked not only by magisterial duties by also by achievements in geology and anthropology. Had Howitt not been so lonely at Beechwood far from his family and the demands of Eastwood [his home], it is doubtful if he would ever have revised his notes or assembled the information from six years of gathering. While busy with his geological work, he had been in correspondence with Lorimer Fison in Fiji since 1872 and with Dr Lewis Morgan, the American ethnologist, regarding investigations into kinship terms used among Australian Aborigines. This entailed hours of enquiry, but Howitt regarded it as evening recreation after the serious business of geology.'

p. 197 '[H.V.] 'Tebbs was instrumental in bringing Howitt's work to the notice of M.N.H. Story-Maskelyne, professor of mineralogy at the University of Oxford.'

p. 198 'In January 1875 Howitt was enthusiastically mapping the valley of the Mitchell River, and to study it further he made a canoe trip with two Brabrolong Aborigines through the gorge between Tabberabbera and Glenaladale ... [the men] had already made two bark canoes for the journey.' [Walker describes the journey pp. 199-200]

p. 200 'Copies of all Howitt's geological investigations and writings were sent to Professor Dawkins for approval.'

p. 202 'In 1879 Howitt was transferred to Sale, with an enlarged magisterial district, but he still hammered on at his geological enquiries. Dr Morgan wrote pleading with him to give up geology for two years and concentrate on anthropology and the terms of kinship, but Howitt abandoned neither and instead worked harder at both.' 

p. 203 'In 1879 Howitt's geological work received recognition at home and abroad. His geological report of north Gippsland appeared in the journal of the Geological Society of London after Professor Dawkins had read it to the society, while in his own colony, 'the Government has seen fit to put me on a Board to enquire into the mining resources of the Colony' ...'

pp. 203-4 'In 1880 he was preoccupied with work for 'Kamilaroi [p. 204] and Kurnai' to the extent that Professor W.E. Hearn and the Chief Justice urged the Minister of Justice to release Howitt from his magisterial duties for a year to give him more time for anthropology.'

p. 204 'In recognition of Howitt's scientific work, the Linnean Society of New South Wales elected him a Fellow in 1883 ...'

p. 205 'It is impossible to see him as solely a geologist or anthropologist. To see him in the round he must be considered as a man of many parts among almost a confusion of interests. By 1887 botany was claiming a good deal of his attention ...'

p. 207 'In 1889 Howitt left Gippsland for Melbourne to become Acting Secretary for Mines. ... In 1892 he was appointed Secretary for Mines and Water Supply, and in 1896 an Audit Commissioner and a member of the Public Service Board.'

Chapter 17 The Dawn of Australian Anthropology

p. 209 'To see Howitt's anthropological work in perspective, one must go back to 1854 to his first recorded meeting with Aborigines in Albury ...'

'It was the second journey of the relief expedition to Cooper Creek that gave him his first real insight into native life and customs, and the worth of these two trips [to find Burke and Wills] as the starting-point of his observations cannot be over-estimated.'

pp. 210-211 Describes Howitt's careful relationships with Aboriginal people, how he was worried by them when travelling early in his career but also [p. 211] 'If he was strict with the tribesmen, he was equally strict with his own men ...'

p. 211 'What he was to learn from them and how he learned it were more important. His first teacher on the relief expedition was Charlie, a Narrinyeri boy from Lake Torrens on the border of the Dieri country, who was later killed by the Dieri for taking Howitt through their tribal territory. One of his first papers concerned the Cooper Creek tribes. This account is little more than haphazard observations strung together ...'

'His best and surest work was done among the Kurnai tribes of Gippsland.'

pp. 211-212 'For years after his return from the relief expedition, his interest in Aborigines lay dormant until he [p. 212] was at Bairnsdale, when it quickened with his appointment as local correspondent for the Central Board for the Protection of the Aborigines towards the end of 1868. Although the position was honorary, he carried out a multitude of duties which, to be thoroughly covered, demanded a specialized knowledge and interest in the Aboriginal people--qualities for which neither the general public nor the officials were noted. Until the passing of an Act to Provide for the Protection and Management of the Aboriginal Natives of Victoria ... in 1869, the Board was designed merely to watch over the interests of the Aborigines, but this Act defined its duties more clearly. Everything pertaining to Aborigines must be supervised by the Board's representative: places of residence, ... the custody of children ... in short, the correspondent became an unpaid secretary. Although the appointment entailed much travelling, it brought Howitt into closer touch with the Kurnai people; the Brabrolong clan of the Bairnsdale district gave him the greatest opportunity for study and personal observation. ... Within six months his studies were widening; he wrote again to his sister: 'I am glad you take such sensible views upon geology and prehistoric archaeology. I am very much interested in such subjects and devour all I can get hold of upon them.'' 

pp. 213-214 'In Howitt's district were two mission stations: Lake Tyers  ... and Ramahyuck ...'

pp. 215-216 'It is doubtful if his interests would have expanded and deepened to flow into directed channels without the loyal support of his sister ... It was Anna Mary who lured him further into his studies with her gift of Sir John Lubbock's Prehistoric Times which Alfred read on horseback as he crossed the High Plains ... He was hungry for knowledge and the book inspired him, urging on his enthusiasm already kindled by the study of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. ... his greatest difficulty were his distance from libraries and works of reference, and his lack of mechanical equipment [for geology] so that he had to improvise. [p. 216] Anthropology, however, presented the greater challenge and greater fundamental difficulties. It was an entirely new science, and even men who appeared as leaders in the overseas field were still floundering in a sea of hypotheses. Here was a project after Howitt's heart--an almost uncharted land waiting to be explored, where again he was a pathfinder without signposts for guidance. With his imagination fired, it was no wonder that his eagerness led him into traps of hasty decisions and consequent mistakes--many of them on the same grand plane as his discoveries. At first he felt his way modestly, carefully, stumbling into print to make public some of his findings.'

p. 216 'We have seen something of the way in which he handled his information on the tribes of Cooper Creek. At this time, a figure who was far more important than he realized stepped on to the scene in the person of Tulaba (or Toolabar, Howitt's spelling varied), one of the elders of the Brabrolong tribe, a man held in respect by both his own people and Europeans ...'

'After some years of white settlement, many of the ancient customs of the Gippsland tribes were losing their significance for each successive generation. ... there were still elders such as Tulaba, who were saturated in tribal lore, and who tried to train the young men in the old way ...'

pp. 216-217 'About this time, Howitt had other good teachers. These [p. 217] included Turlburn, who risked his life in revealing to him the secrets of the sacred bull-roarer; Bundiwal, who survived the last tribal battle in Gippsland ..., Tankowillin ..., Bunbra, the last elder of his tribe ... These were all men of two worlds ...'

p. 217 'In 1872 Howitt made a trip to Cann River on business for the Board.'

p. 219 'Close to home, Howitt found that he could carry out anthropological field work in the Eastwood hop gardens where whites, Aborigines and Chinese pickers worked side by side. ... For this record I have worked not only from Howitt's letters but also from personal copies of his own books where his pencilled marginal notes identify many of the scientific specimens ... Tulaba (also called Billy McLeod) was left in charge of Eastwood and the [Howitt] family when his master [sic] was away on circuit ...'

p. 220 'Howitt, inspired by the writings of Darwin and Lubbock, turned in 1873 to the study of relationships as he found them among the Kurnai. As D.J. Mulvaney points out, it was obvious that he was making use of Lubbock's models of kinship systems and was searching for that most applicable to the Gippsland tribes. 'It is ironic that Lubbock, his first mentor, was later to prove, on this very subject, one of his severest critics.' [Endnote: Mulvaney, Historical Studies, Australia and NZ, Selected Articles First series (Melbourne 1967) p. 45] The work was hard and frustrating, but eventually Tulaba's family tree could be drawn up. 

I have got out some curious facts. You had better consult Lubbock's [The] Origin of Civilisation ... respecting the Tamil system of relationships which will explain more fully what I mean. I had two days of hard work to get it out of Toolabar (my blackfellow) but succeeded at last in mustering it ... Everything done in the way of writing down about the blacks' customs is supposed by Toolabar to be for and at the instance of 'Mr. Guvernor'. 

This investigation into Kurnai relationships is worthy of mention, as it predates Howitt's later enquiries on Lewis Morgan's behalf and partly refutes the charge later made against Howitt by an English reviewer (supposedly Andrew Lang) that his work on Kurnai relationships was merely patterned on Morgan's hypothesis.

Howitt's work was expanding in substance, but its course was still undirected, his notes were scribbled down haphazardly as information was gleaned, and to Howitt each one was a tributary swelling the main stream of his knowledge.'

p. 221 Howitt wrote to Darwin offering to collect information from him, and part of Darwin's reply

pp. 221-222 'In England ... Lubbock and J.F. McLennan envisaged an early state of promiscuity rising through female dominance to a clan system, McLennan putting [p. 222] great emphasis on 'marriage by capture'. E.B. Tylor of the University Museum in Oxford signposted the rise of man with deductions drawn from myth, folklore, and religion. J.G. Frazer ... followed the path of primitive religion ... and Andrew Lang ... took totems as his guides to the beliefs of primitive man. These scholars, with the German traveller and ethnologist Adolf Bastian and Arnold von Gennep, ... were all correspondents of Howitts and, although their theories on early society diverged ... they shared a common source of inspiration in their belief in evolution.'

p. 222 'Once Howitt was in touch with Lewis Morgan and dealing with his enquiries, he passed an important milestone in his career ... Morgan 'the father of American anthropology', was also Darwin-inspired, and was an initiated member of the Iroquois tribe of North American Indians. Calling Lubbock's and McLennan's theories of marriage by capture 'nonsense', he based his own hypothesis of early society on a state of promiscuity, drawing his conclusion from his study of kinship terms used by some North American tribes which he considered to be merely a reflection of an earlier and darker state of primitive society.'

p. 223 'It was through Lorimer Fison, a Wesleyan missionary in Fiji who, through Professor Goodwin Smith, [1] had become interested in ethnology, that Howitt came across Morgan, with whom Fison was in correspondence.' [pp. 223-4, Walker gives details of some correpondence that Fison had in Australasian on 15 June 1872 about Australian kinship systems, the only person known to have answered Fison's letter was Howitt]

Chapter 18 Howitt and Fison

p. 225 'Two years after he had replied to Fison's letter in the Australasian ... he wrote to Morgan:

I believe that you are not unacquainted with my name through the letter of our mutual correspondent Rev. Fison ... I feel that I might possibly be of some small service to you in gathering information in respect of the Gippsland Aboriginal Natives ... if you can make any use of me I shall feel highly honoured. [Endnote: AWH to Morgan 20 July 1874 given in Stern 1930]

pp. 225-226 'Reference has been made to an earlier meeting between Howitt and Fison on the banks of the Murray [at the gold diggings, no real detail provided], but now their collaboration had to be by correspondence as one man was in Australia and the other usually in Fiji. To help their search, they developed a circular, patterned on Morgan's questionnaire, and distribution began:

A clergyman, the Reverend Lorimer Fison and I have undertaken the investigation of the system of kinship among the Australian aborigines and our mutual friend Brough Smyth has offered to get printed for us a lot of circulars ... We are now busy sending them out all over Australia and have written to all sorts and [p. 226] conditions of people ... sending circulars and asking for help and information ... I daresay five hundred people know of it by this time and five hundred shall also directly be communicated with before I have done ... I feel a particular interest in the success having invented the scheme and devised the method of analysing the result. But the work will be awful--Fison sent me one informant's batch of communications from one tribe and it took me three evenings hard work before I could turn 'chaos into disorder'. [Endnote: AWH to his sister 1 September 1874]

p. 226 Howitt's wife who was from Adelaide arranged with Charles Todd that circular be sent to men on Overland Telegraph Service [ie Gillen amongst others presumably]

p. 226 Letter to sister:

'... We have in them [kinship relations] the strongest evidence of the evolution of the Australian aborigines from a lower stage of savagery ... we find the Australian system to stand midway between the Malaysian and the Turanian systems ... I take the greatest interest in the enquiry ... it is my relaxation!' [Endnote: AWH to his sister 1 September 1874]

pp. 226-227 'The necessity of earning [p. 227] their living prevented both men from travelling round the country to make personal investigations ... the collecting of virtually second-hand material ensured that much material, otherwise lost to posterity and to science, was saved. On the debit side there was the constant risk of unreliable information given by misleading correspondents. Mulvaney has shown how carefully Howitt learned to sift the material ... They were perhaps unduly influenced by Morgan ... they unconsciously suggested the required answers by the form in which their questions were posed.'

p. 227 'In 1873 Howitt was preparing his first paper on kinship systems within the Brabrolong tribe, later published in Brough Smyth's The Aborigines of Victoria.'

pp. 227-228 Anonymous criticism of Howitt's chapter in Saturday Review which Fison and Tylor prove to be by Andrew Lang, 'Lang's hostility' continued to Howitt to end of his career.

p. 228 Much of Fison and Howitt's work shown in Morgan's Ancient Society 1877

'By 1876 Morgan had suggested to Howitt and Fison that they should jointly write a book.'

'During 1877 he [Howitt] was a member of a Royal Commission on the Aborigines ...'

p. 229 'After two years of work, Kamilaroi and Kurnai [K&K] was published in 1880 ... In England, Anna Mary enlisted Tylor as the man most likely to be of use to her brother: 'He is president of the Ethnological Society and must see the book and be its frind.' This he did by putting the manuscript in Macmillan's hands for English publication and sale.'

They wanted to publish quickly because they feared that others were 'following their footsteps' and might publish first [eg George Taplin]

pp. 230-231 Criticisms of K&K

p. 233 'Howitt was becoming increasingly interested in initiation ceremonies, and had attended a rehearsal of the Kurnai initiation ceremony--the "Jeraeil"--and when it was over, had said, half in jest, to Tulaba, 'Now I am Jeraeil too.' Tulaba regarded him gravely, 'You are my brogan,' he said in confirmation, and this implied that the two men, because they had witnessed the tribal mysteries together, were bound to each other as brothers. Even this bond was not quite strong enough for Tulaba to infringe the secrecy attached to certain of the ceremonies which Howitt knew nothing about until Long Harry (Turlburn) told him about them.'

p. 234 'The new knowledge gave him confidence to call a "kuringal'--the initiation ceremonies held by the tribes of south-east New South Wales ... Several hundred tribesmen attended; some came from Gippsland but mostly they were drawn from coastal and tableland areas. As Howitt's time was limited by his period of leave, he persuaded the elders to curtail the ceremonies, which even then lasted for two weeks. A full account is to be found in The Native Tribes of South-east Australia.'

p. 235 'In 1882, after their long collaboration by post, Howitt and Fison met at Sale.'

'Now they could make progress on their series of articles for the Anthropological Institute.

We have so far arranged our plan of action. Our two works will necessarily be separate--Fison with the Fiji customs will ... take up the running while I leave off with the Australians. Meanwhile we shall contribute a series of papers to the Anthrop. Inst. or to magazines in order to secure our ground ..'

[Again they were worried about someone 'stealing' their information.]

 p. 236 'Now Howitt, as an elder or 'Gommera', called an initiation ceremony of the Brabrolong. A full 'Jeraeil' had not been held by them for fifty years. ... Howitt, as an initiated man, boldly attended the proceedings although some of the other elders, including Tulaba, were doubtful enough about his credentials to take him aside and question him closely as to his attendance at the full ceremonies of the Kuringal at Bega. Howitt was fortunate in that the questions were posed in such a way that he was not called on to give direct answers. In an address on the subject, given before the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science, he stated his case:

There were, and no doubt, still are, white men who had been duly admitted to the boras [initiation ceremonies] ... no doubt these men were at the time they were admitted bound down under a solemn promise to secrecy ... and honorably kept it ... Fortunately, in my case no such promise was extracted, for I attended in the first instance under circumstances which caused those who conducted the bora to receive me as one having already acquired the status of themselves.'

The Brabrolong reckoned Howitt to be one of their own ... Emu wren totem, and this assured him greater acceptance by them.'

p. 237 in 1883 he was appointed corresponding fellow of the Anthrop. Inst. of Washington

pp. 237-238 'When Howitt moved to Melbourne from Sale in 1889 ... although geology occupied his working hours, anthropology continued as his chief interest. He began to rewrite his printed papers on the subject ... in preparation for a complete work designed to contain all he had written on anthropology with corrections and [p. 238] alterations ...'

p. 238 Howitt had been member of AAAS since its inception, in 1898 he presided over anthropological section

p. 239 Fison and Howitt were both Fellows of Queens College, University of Melbourne

E.H. Sugden, Master of Queens college remembered 'Many delightful evenings were spent in the Master's study when Dr George Brown, Dr Howitt and Dr Fison foregathered to smoke their pipes and swap yarns about their experiences with the Aborigines. Professor Baldwin Spencer was present at these symposia and imbibed from these veterans the interest in anthropological research which ultimately led to his own monumental work on the native tribes of Australia.' [Endnote, Manuscript Queens College Library]

p. 240 Spencer's assessment of Howitt's work, praising it generally though saying it was limited to SE Australia rather than interior, but casting doubt over his reliance on questionnaires. [Spencer always overtly recognized Howitt and Fison as mentors]

p. 241 Howitt stuck to his belief that 'the primitive state of society was that of an undivided commune'.

p. 243-244 Lang's renewed criticism of Howitt after publication of Native Tribes of SE Australia.  'In England, Frazer and Tylor supported Howitt, as did Spencer and Gillen and, of course, Fison in Australia.'

p. 251 'It was Spencer who was behind the move in the AAAS when Howitt was unanimously chosen as the first recipient of the Mueller medal for scientific research; it was Spencer, too, who proposed him for an honorary Doctorate of Science at the University of Melbourne.'

p. 251 Spencer wrote to Frazer '...It was Fison who first of all drew Howitt's attention to the particular line of work that needed to be done in regard to our Australian tribes, but it was really Howitt who did the work, and how well he did it ...'

Chapter 19

p. 264 in 1903 Howitt elected Fellow of RAI

p. 265 Howitt travelled to England in 1903 and read a paper at the BAAS meeting at Cambridge where he stayed with Frazer, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science

Chapter 22 The Ascent of Aboriginal Man: Howitt as Anthropologist by D.J. Mulvaney

p. 285 'The implicit assumptions of white racial superiority and the perfection of Anglo-Saxon social institutions are manifest in their [Howitt and Fison's] thoughts, while they explicitly assented to current doctrines of Aboriginal racial extinction based, however, on a realistic appraisal of trends.'

p. 286 'As the bibliography of Howitt's anthropological publication indicates, he was productive ... In addition, largely due to the efforts of his daughter May, some hundreds of pages of his notes and numerous letters from his informants have been preserved, together with Howitt's own correspondence with his family in England. His writing is difficult to decipher and his notes are often untidy, scrappy and ill-ordered, invariably undated, and usually written on the back of official government forms and circulars.'

pp. 286-287 'A.W. Howitt stands comparison to such company. [Frazer, Morgan, Lubbock, Lang, McLennan] His theories often were demonstrably untenable, his methods questionable [p. 287] and his interpretations fallacious. Even so, this neither discounts the value of much of his information, nor detracts from his sway.'

p. 287 'Howitt came to anthropology with no illusions. As an explorer, he shared the prejudices of his less educated associates ...'

p. 287 'Howitt's early impressions of Gippsland Australians were little different. ...

p. 288 'Contempt and superiority diminished with familiarity and sympathetic paternalism developed. During the 1880s it is evident that Howitt was both charitable and a strenuous worker on behalf of Aboriginal welfare, although his methods were not always popular with the Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines, or with his missionary neighbours. There is every reason to accept his claim that 'I gained their confidence through mutual acquaintance and they regarded me almost as one of themselves.

Yet there are limits to his understanding of the social cohesion of Aboriginal society ... It is relevant to observe here, that his interests lay with the older men--not unnaturally perhaps, as he found them to be repositories of tribal lore. It is revealing to learn, however, that he was quite unsympathetic towards the younger europeanized Aborigines.'

'It is relevant to examine the recommendations of the 1877 Royal Commission on the Aborigines, upon which Howitt served. The Commission emphatically recommended the concentration of Aborigines upon stations, irrespective of tribal affiliations, loyalties or sentimental attachments to other areas: the Commissioners were positive that they appreciated the best interests of the Aborigines.'

p. 289 'The key to understanding Howitt's anthropological interest in Aborigines lies in his assumption that they represented the Type of Prehistoric Man, in the initial stages of human social development through Savagery. His concerns was with group patterns rather than with individuals; current assimilation problems evoked charity, but assumed relict tribal customs provided positive intellectual stimulation. Howitt was positive that the Aborigines would soon die out and that adjustment to European society was impossible--'contact with the white race is fatal; the aborigines lose the original savage virtue, and acquire instead our vices which destroy them'. It was thereofre an urgent obligation on scientists to collect data on the ascent of Man while there was time.'

p. 290 'Here then was Howitt's purpose: to lay bare the essentials of primeval society, on the assumption that Australia was a storehouse of fossil customs. Studies of group relationship--kinship, marriage, avoidance, rites, obligations, retribution, social and political control--these were his concern. ... Despite his reference to informants, therefore, Howitt's work is depersonalised. Group and not individual relationships were sought; tribal and not family matters were recorded ... Even at the group level, interest lay rather with disparate customs ('survivals) than with comprehending and describing organic, functioning societies. This approach enabled him to assemble diverse odds and ends into apparently logical but not necessarily valid or historical patterns. This is only to conclude that Howitt's mind was typical of his own evolution-conscious generation, in which to infer the origin and development of stages of institutions was to explain them.'

p. 291 'This then, is the perspective within which Howitt urged that fieldwork 'will reveal many peeps into the inner social life of savages, and will also throw an unexpected light on the most obscure practices of antiquity.'

'Howitt was a convinced evolutionist ...'

p. 295 'Lorimer Fison, a Wesleyan missionary in Fiji, received one of Morgan's circulars in 1869. He supplied Morgan with Fijian classificatory terminology which they both interpreted as survivals from states of 'promiscuity' and 'consanguine marriage'. Returning to Sydney, Fison initiated studies of the Kamilaroi tribe of New South Wales. A long letter in the Australasian (Melbourne) on 15 June 1872 enlisted Howitt's services as his Kurnai tribe informant. Only a month previously, Morgan had written to Fison. His letters illumines the reasons for his concerns with Australian evidence. It becomes apparent why Howitt, engaged in his evolutionary reading at this time, becomes so stimulated ... 

In Australia and Polynesia [sic] you are several strata below barbarism into savagism [Morgan informed Fison] and nearer to the primitive condition of man than any other investigator. You have in their institutions of consanguinity, marriage, and tribal organization, far reaching and intelligent guides, not only as to their present, but also to their past, condition. When all the facts are ascertained through all the shades of savagery and barbarism in the different nations of the earth, we shall recover the thread of man's progress from the first to the last clearly and accurately defined, with the chief agencies and instrumentalities by which the progress has been made.'

pp. 299-300 Discussion of questionnaires.

p. 300 'Howitt's efforts to develop questionnaire techniques as an anthropological aid are a little-known episode in anthropological history. His later schedules were over-ambitious, but his attempt to refine Morgan's system of recording relationship terms was based on his own field experience.'

p. 301 'Even ingenious circulars cannot guarentee return postage. Howitt and Fison sent out about 500 of their 1874 questionnaires. By March 1876 fewer than 5 per cent had been returned, and not more than 1 per cent 'yielded results'. 

p. 302 'If he sensed that data were unreliable, he endeavoured to check them, as numerous letters sent to informants testify. His theoretical predilections undoubtedly influenced his judgment, but usually his objections were grounded upon evident textual conflicts.'

p. 303 'To some extent, Howitt used his correspondents in the manner in which Frazer relied upon Spencer for data, and Spencer in turn employed [sic] Gillen.'

'... his own experience was the dominating element in his research. Given that this occurred essentially between 1872 and 1885, it is an impressive record.

p. 304 'Although from October 1871 Tulaba was Howitt's basic Kurnai informant, his papers show that he held long discussions with many other Gippsland people, and twenty male informants are mentioned in his notes and some additional men feature in Kamilaroi and Kurnai while women were also consulted. Interviews were easy to arrange. Apart from the weight of his official status, it is relevant that he employed many Aborigines on his Bairnsdale property. He was also a frequent visitor to the mission settlements at Lake Tyers and Lake Wellington (Ramahyuck) and therefore possessed facilities for prolonged contacts.'

'He named his informants freely in these early essays and, possibly more than any other anthropologist working before 1880, he was meticulous in his citation of authorities. His notes incorporated by Brough Smyth into the text of The Aborigines of Victoria contain numerous personal names; a letter to Nature (1876) on Gippsland boomerangs provided valuable data and cited four informants. Kamilaroi and Kurnai is studded with names already familiar from previous accounts.'

p. 305 'Howitt sought old women as informants at Ramahyuck, and it is evident that this was his deliberate policy. Of the twenty men mentioned in his notes, sixteen are traceable in mission records. Only two of them are born later than 1845, while at least nine were born before European settlement in Gippsland, including his basic informants, Tulaba and Turlburn.'

p. 306 'Howitt was an innovator in other recording techniques. Although apparently no camera enthusiast, he photographed ceremonies instigated by himself near Bairnsdale in 1883-4 ...'

'In a letter written in 1922, the Director of the Museum of Victoria, Sir Baldwin Spencer, referred to the receipt of six wax cylinders from Howitt's daughter, May. They were poorly preserved then, and today only two of them remain intact. They evidently record Victorian Aboriginal songs, and as one cylinder is labelled 'Sergeant Major' [one of Howitt's named informants] it is probable that it was recorded during Howitt's interview in 1902.'

'However, his [Howitt] interest in ethnomusicology extended further back in time. It was through his initiative that in June 1885 Lorimer Fison conducted Barak into Allen's music warehouse, Collins Street, Melbourne, where he sang as 'a baritone of average compass and not unpleasing quality'. ... His songs were notated by G.W. Torrance and published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute in 1887. Howitt's accompanying paper included a plea for ethnomusicological research.'

p. 307 ... owing to pressure from the Ramahyuck Moravian Mission the Chief Secretary of Victoria prevented Howitt from arranging ceremonial gatherings in Gippsland during 1885, 1886 and 1887.'

'Howitt's field investigation of ceremonial life in 1883 and 1884 ... was stimulated by the interest of Edward B. Tylor ... but the methods were his own. He witnessed initiation ceremonies in two colonies, noteworthy enough at this period, but he also sponsored them, unusual at any period. Accepted as an initiated elder by two tribes, the southern New South Wales Murring and the Gippsland Kurnai, he instigated these rituals and largely determined their duration and venue. Although he described the events on several occasions, he was reticent on many counts.'

'It was at about this time [1884] that Turlburn showed him the sacred boards, or bull-roarers, which Howitt judged a ritual 'survival' from an earlier stage of social evolution. From correspondents whom he contacted subsequently he knew that they possessed widespread ceremonial significance ...'

pp. 308-309 Mulvaney discusses in more depth the Howitt-arranged ceremonies 

p. 310 'While constituting an early example of field anthropology, it possibly ranks as one of the most bizarre. What of the ethics of this deception perpetuated upon two tribes? Wesleyan missionary Lorimer Fison approved and hoped to participate; in Fiji he had posed as an initiate and elder of an Australian tribe. Howitt felt no qualms.'

p. 311 'The fact is, however, that whatever his theoretical weaknesses, Howitt contributed much to Australian anthropology. ... This essay has demonstrated that he pioneered many fields--questionable techniques, ethnomusicology, field study of ritual beliefs--and the fact that his methods may be judged unfortunate today does not detract from their initial influence. The great social theorists, Tylor, Frazer and Durkheim, among others, drew upon his research to bolster their exposition. However, perhaps his greatest influence lay closer to home. ... Howitt's friendship with Spencer and the indebtedness of the younger man for guidance has been recognized. Sir James Frazer called Spencer and Gillen 'disciples' of Howitt and Fison, and Spencer's published correspondence testifies to his regard for Howitt's advice and the correctness of his analysis.'

p. 312 'Howitt also provided a quarry of information, much of it factual and descriptive, and even if the reader might wish for less simple-minded concentration on themes, unusual incidental information occurs. For example, Howitt became interested in private property rights, and valuable references to the Mount William axe quarry all stem from his attempts to get Barak to talk about property ownership. Even Malinowski paid tribute--'his theories are contradicted by the excellent and admirably rich information he himself gives on social matters. If we can seldom agree with him as a speculative sociologist, we always admire him in his ethnographic research'.'

pp. 323-329 Appendix 4 Howitt's 1874 questionnaire [from the copy in the Mitchell Library]

pp. 328-329 Appendix 5 Questionnaire to Informants 


Dear Sir,

I am desirous of gathering together, as soon as possible, all the information which my correspondents can give me as to the Customs, Beliefs, Tribal, and Social Organization of the Australian Aborigines.

Permit me to ask whether you have been able to obtain any information on the subjects referred to in my former letters to you.

On the next page, I give a detailed list of the subjects to which my inquiries relate, and any additional information you can give me will be most acceptable.

I am, dear Sir,

Yours very truly,

A.W. Howitt

1. What is the name of the tribe to which your answers refer ... its local organization in sub-tribes, clans or lesser divisions; the boundaries of the country occupied by the tribe?

2. The class divisions of which the tribal community is composed ...

3. The laws of marriage between the classes of the tribal community?

4. The laws governing descent in the classes?

5. The tribal government; whether in the hands of one headman, or several head-men, or a council of elders ...

6. The Tribal Council: its constitution and powers?

7. Offences against tribal law or custom and method of punishing such ...

8. The offices of Herald and Messenger, the use of message sticks and emblems for calling together assemblies ... or for declaring war or proclaiming peace?

9. The Wizards and Doctors of the tribe; their  pretension to communication with spirits and to the possession of spiritual power; the practice of magic and the use of charms for producing or for curing disease?

10. Beliefs as to death and its causes; funeral ceremonies, and the after existence of disembodied spirit

11. The initiation ceremonies?

12. Rules regulating the distribution of game and of food ...

13. Infanticide ...

14. Cannibalism ...

15. Gesture languages; signs and signals by smoke or otherwise?

16. Beliefs [endnote: The above queries refer solely to the beliefs existing at the time of the settlement of the country by the whites--and not to any beliefs or customs acquired from them] as to the structure of the world ... and generally to natural phenomena?

17. The folk-lore of the tribe ...?

18. Vocabularies--Give the native words corresponding to the English:

(1) man

(2) woman

(3) head

(4) hair [etc] ...

In writing native words, observe that a is sounded like a as in father, e like eh, i like ee, u like oo, ai like eye, au like ow as in now.

Notes by transcriber

[1] Possibly Henry Goodwin Smith, (1860-1940) professor of systematic theology in the United States, but this seems unlikely?

Notes taken by AP March 2013

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