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Transcription of Box 12: Howitt correspondence Tylor papers Pitt Rivers Museum manuscript collections Part 3

See here for Part I of the Howitt letters to Tylor

See here for Part 2 of the Howitt letters to Tylor

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 or activities

Howitt 24


May 21 1890

My dear Tylor

Your note of March 22 followed me to town from Sale. My present address is as above [the letter heading is Department of Mines Victoria] -- just this time last year the appointment of secretary for mines was offered to me and for many reasons I was induced to accept it and did so. The consequence has been that I we are all settled near Melbourne. The change has been agreeable to my wife and daughters who have been so long in the bush. As to myself I should have been just as well pleased to have remained in my old groove but we cannot have everything as we would like. I am sorry to say that my present position as Head of a Department more than fully occupies my time so that I fear very much that my work in the anthropological field will be for future almost nil. It will not however prevent my doing all I can to meet your wishes and this brings me to the Tasmanian question. I have no personal acquaintance with Tasmania but I have friends there to whom I will apply and I will bring the questions under notice at the Anthropological lecture of our Royal Society which will meet in almost a week. I will also work up the subject of handle-less stone implements here. I remember that the Corpea [?] and tribes in my time there used both roughly chipped stones and ground stone implements--numbers of the latter which I observed of considerable size were used without handles and were usually kept concealed in the sand when not in use.

The diagrams you refer to were a puzzle to me as well as to Fison and I shall look from to [sic] other new designs with much interest. I wish we could see some daylight shining in the obscurity of totem [illegible]. The more I think of it the more difficult the subject seems to me My hope is in you who have in full view all that has been written and recorded as to the subject. Fison has been very much better in health until lately when he had a long & severe attack of influenza He is now absent in Sydney for his health.

He was our secy. [secretary] for the Anthropological section of the Aust. Association for Advance of science - an admirable Society We had a successful meeting

Yours faithfully



Howitt 25


Sept 1890

Dear Tylor

I have delayed further reply to your note about the stone implements of Tasmania, until I should know finally whether there were any chance of my being able to give you any details. I regret to say that results of my enquiries have been so far nil, excepting that my correspondents tell me that the implements were always chipped and never ground or rubbed down. One correspondent says that he believes a few were found with handles but I consider his information unreliable, for he admits the one which he looked up turned out to be a Victorian implement. I very much regret that my information is so meagre but unfortunately Tasmania is out of my reach. However something may yet come to me and I shall still look out for information from the few correspondents I have there.

You will regret to hear that our friend Fison has again been very ill and indeed does not go out at night now; I always dread hearing that one of his attacks has proved fatal. His time also is entirely taken up with very engrossing duties and I seldom see him. Indeed I very rarely have time to go anywhere and have no chance to prosecute any anthropological work at present, not even to write up and arrange the mass of materials which I have at hand. It is very unsatisfactory but I see no present likelihood of change. No one but the head of a great department knows how very little time remains after it has been attended to. However I look forward to some time or another having more leisure--in the good time coming!

yours faithfully



Howitt 26


Decr 1. 1890

My dear Tylor

Your note of 26 Aug reproaches me with an apparent neglect in not replying to you before this. It is however only an apparent neglect for I have carried it about for the last month hoping each day that I might receive some further information for you re Tasmanian stone implements. Unfortunately I have been very unsuccessful in my attempts to learn more than I knew when I last wrote excepting that I have verified the statement that the collection in the Public Library here contains no examples of polished implement. 

I have read Roths book which you so kindly sent me. [1] I have read it with great interest and especially the stone implement part.

I have also to thank you for your interesting paper upon the Assyrian Winged Figure which opens up a new line of enquiry. [2] There can be no doubt but that you have quite made out your case and you have answered queries as to the raison d'étre of the winged figure which have been I think latent in my mind since I read Layard years ago. [3]

I am sorry to say that I see no chance of taking up any of my Anthropological work while I am in my present position--I feel up to my eyes in a whirling sea of work of another kind and for all the minutes of the year during which the House is in session I have scarcely a minute to call my own excepting sometimes of an evening when I feel more inclined to do nothing than to set to work at Anthropology. It is an comfortable [?] relief when the House rises and "Members" no longer present themselves in the Department--then a lull and we can breathe. I expect this will happen in about a fortnight and I shall then rush away into the mountains with two scientific friends and several packhorses and forget all about the Department--if I can for a fortnight. At any rate I will get out of reach of post & telegraph and will try and fancy myself again merely a "bushman" with a taste for science. My friends will study one the fish--and the other the "worms"--and I will study the only "moraine lake" which I ever heard of in Australia.

Fison I am very sorry to say is still very unwell indeed I feel seriously uneasy about him. He is forbidden to go out at night as he is much liable to bronchitis and each successive attack appears to be worse than the previous one. Otherwise he seems pretty cheerful. Unfortunately we live on opposite sides of Melbourne and do not meet as often as I could wish.

Yours faithfully



[1] Henry Ling Roth (1855-1925). The book was The Aborigines of Tasmania (London, 1890) in which he was assisted by Marion E. Butler (a second edition was published in 1899). He studied natural sciences and philosophy in Germany. In 1878 after journeys to Guyana and Russia, H.L. Roth went to Australia in 1878, commissioned by English investors to investigate the Queensland sugar industry. He became a fellow of the Anthropological Institute in London in 1882. He stayed in Australia until 1884 when he returned to England and worked as a business man in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Later in life he was to become curator of Bankfield Museum, in Halifax and donated 7 objects to the Pitt Rivers Museum (none from Australia). See here for his wikipedia entry. 

His younger brother Walter Edmund Roth (1861-1933) also later became involved in Australian ethnography. He studied the natural sciences in the Oxford University Museum at the same time as Baldwin Spencer and Henry Balfour and later medical training at St Thomas's, London. He travelled to Australia in 1887 where he later worked as a schoolteacher and director of the South Australian School of Mines and Industries before returning to the UK to complete his medical training. He then returned to Australia, working with his brother in medicine in NSW before moving to Queensland where he was made appointed first northern protector of Aborigines in 1898. He was interested in numismatics and ethnology. See also his wikipedia entry, he is shown in 1998.267.85 to the right, as you look at it, of Henry Nottidge Moseley (with the drooping moustache in the centre of the picture).

1998.267.85 OUMNH staffStaff and students of the Oxford University Museum, 1998.267.85

[2] E.B. Tylor "The Winged Figures of the Assyrian and other ancient monuments" Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, 1890, p. 383 f. 

[3] A.H. Layard, 1853, Discoveries among the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, London: John Murray


Howitt 27




My dear Tylor

Your letter re "Baiame" [1] arrived a little time back and since then I have been carrying it about with me to consider how best I could find out what you desire to know. Speakers of Kamilaroi are not to be found in this part of Australia and I am now taking steps to get hold of some--more than one if possible in the Kamilaroi district of N.S.W. I had two correspondents of the right kind but one is gone I know not where and I fear the other is dead--he having lived in Kamilaroi land for over 50 years and being 80 when I last heard of him. I have as yet no reply from him but wait in hope. I am also making known my wants through the local press in the hope of finding other correspondents.

I think you are quite right in saying Baiame is an "ancestor--head man--ghost deity"--I never heard of his being the "creator of the world"--usually he or his "analogue"--e.g. "Bunyil" or "Mungan"--first appear in the statements made, as living in the earth. I had a talk with Fison last evening on this matter but nothing arose out of it of note for you. He is better a little in health but I fear much harried with financial troubles. He is however not singular in this. I do not known one individual who has escaped the effects of the financial crash which resulted when the "Boombubble" burst here. [2] When we shall get clear no one knows--I do not. There is a complete want of all communal progress and private enterprise seems to have died out. People say that all money has gone somehow out of sight. Some of the Bulls have it bricked up others that private people are hoarding it--no one knows really how financial & commercial matters are going to turn out finally. The farmers are not making a living, graziers are all complaining, manufacturers are nearly ruined--miners only are making a little and even in mining we have had to help nearly 2800 impecunious men away into the country to go prospecting.

Of course all this does not make my official work any less or leave me any time for anthropology, geology &c so that I have absolutely nothing to repeat of interest to you

It is the same with Fison who tells me that his whole time is taken up with the paper he edits and that he has to look out for bread & butter

I hope before long to be able to send you some little information re Baiame meantime believe me

yours faithfully

A.W. Howitt


[1] Baiame, see Box 3, Folder 1, Papers 1 & 2 Howitt Papers AIATSIS

[2] In 1893 several of the commercial banks of the Australian colonies collapsed. See here for further information.


Howitt 28



Dear Tylor

I send herewith some replies which I have received re "Baiam baitchy" [?] and you will I fear not gain much from them. I am now waiting for a letter from a friend who is making enquiries from a Wiradjuri blackfellow who may know and perhaps Mr Ferguson may yet learn something. I will [2 words illegible] right of this matter but I have not much hope.

My other enquiries re 'Baiame" have been fruitless. My best Kamilaroi correspondent is dead -- the next best is gone no man knows where -- a letter in the leading newspaper has not brought a reply from Kamilaroi speaking people. As a last resource I am going to send a letter to some of the local papers.

We are all here very much grateful of the invitation sent to him, indeed he feels it the an [sic] honour to me & Australia. [?]

He will tell you how matters are going on here and I trust that you and he will have many an interesting conversation & that I could wish to be present

With best wishes I am dear Tylor

yours faithfully 

AW Howitt


Howitt 29

Finke St East Malvern



Dear Tylor

I have up to the present time not found any one who can throw any light on the Kamilaroi verb "baia". However I am still looking out and I have quite lately interested a friend in this enquiry who knows a number of people in the Kamilaroi country.

Meantime I send you a contribution which I have written up on the text of Ridleys, the work -- i.e. Gurre Kamilaroi Sayings 1856 and Kamilaroi and other Australian Languages 1875 [1]

At p 185 of the latter work says that "[insert] (1) [end insert] Baiame is derived from "baia to make or build and further on he says that Baiame '"[insert] (2) [end insert] created or preserved all things", he [insert] (3) [end insert] appeared in human form, believed [insert] (4) [end insert] in [insert] (the blacks) [end insert] their race various gifts and [insert] (5) [end insert] will bring them before him for judgement and reward the good with endless happiness.

The notes that the Rev. LE Threlked [2] has made no mention of any belief entertained by the blacks of Lake Macquarie concerning one Supreme Being and he thinks that the Kamilaroi may have retained a tradition of the kind (the belief in the Supreme being) after it had been obscured and utterly lost among the tribes in this district. [?]

I have numbered [insert] (7) [end insert] In speaking of the Bora Ridley says that Baiame commanded the people to keep the Bora. Also on the authority of "a blackfellow from Twofold Bay" that in that country "Dhurumbulum was the name of the creator of all things. 

I have numbered the different points and now deal with them.

(1) In his grammar & vocabulary he gives a number of words = to make. Baia or baialara to make by chopping or building. Bharum or baiaila to make by splitting Muna mulle to make by hand (he also gives the word Baia as the equivalent for "furs" or "clothe"

But his Missionary primer -- quoted in the above and all the following passages:-

Baiame - gir - yarai - mirri - taon - allebu - gimobi - or literally baimlalich - Baiame - verily sun, moon, stars, earth, everything created. 

also Baiame gir giwir gimobi - or Baiame made man -- and so on as to other acts of creation. It is therefore evident that he uses the verb gimobi or the equivalent of "to create" and he does not use "baia" in that sense.

(2) thus in writing of the Kamilaroi he translates the phrase "God created everything" by "Baiame allibu gimobi" not "baia" The expression that Baiame "preserved all things" comes I think from the missionary

(3) That he "appeared in human form" is a statement that also smacks of the Missionary

Compare this with all the stories about Bunyil, Mungan, Daramulun &c who are synonymous -- they are all said by the blacks to have been at the time in the earth but to have left it for the sky -- and they are all described (and represented at the Bora) as an old man (blackfellow)

As an example bearing also on (4) (5) & (7) the following which I wrote down at the Kuruyal (Bora) from the statements of the old men in Council:

"Long ago there were no men and women in the earth but only animals, birds, reptiles &c. There were no trees and the earth was like the sky and as hard as a stone. Daramulun lived on the earth with his mother Urgal-al-bal He planted trees in the earth which at that time extended far out where the sea now is.

The native thrush (Kabboka) when out hunting killed a wallaby and gave some of it to the other birds. These looking at it and smelling it said "it is rotten" and complained about it. Kabboka was much enraged and began to dance and sing a magic dance so that a great whirlwind came up [illegible] and dust and torrents of rain fell which drowned the whole country and everything in it excepting a few of the birds and animals some of whom changed into fish while others crawled out and became men and women from whom the coast murung have then descant" At this time Daramulun went up into the sky with his mother Urgalbe"

I heard it explained also at this Bora that Daramulun lives beyond the sky and watches "the actions of men and goes to meet the [illegible ?deal] and takes care of them. That it was he who first instituted the Bora and taught the murung all they know. That from him "the wizard receive their powers and the Kuyulluny (Quartz [illegible] and that he his the Great Biamban (master) who can go any where and do any thing. It was he who first gave the laws to the old people which have been handed down from father to son. He first made the Mudthi (Bullroarer) and its sound represents thunder which is his voice [insert] He also made all weapons, implements &c [end insert, this insert in a different ink]

This is the Dhurummbulum of Ridley and he gives a different version tinted by missionary beliefs of the statements which I have given [insert] and which represent the beliefs of the aborigines from Cape Howe to Newcastle and inland to the Kamilaroi boundary. [end insert, different ink]

It is worth notice that "Mungan" of the Kurnai also lived on earth, instituted their Bora and went up into the sky whence he watches the activities of men. [insert] Of Bunyil the same was taught by the Melbourne blacks -- Kulin [end insert, different ink]

The Wirrumua [illegible] River blacks said that luyago -- the Bat lived in the earth, and resembled man -- and there were others like him but there was no sex -- they were all [illegible] neither men nor women -- the Bat feeling lonely and wanting a wife took one of the others and made it into a woman, making himself into a man -- then having a wife he made fire by rubbing a stick on a log.

I have not heard a single statement from any black I have known as by the such statement as those of Ridley, [insert in different ink] re that Baiame, Daramulun Bunyil Munyan was the "creator of man" -- the [illegible] man seem to have [illegible] [mark][end insert]

[insert in different ink][mark] or rather he and the "mum Kurnai" -- "the eminent men" of olden times who were both animals and men & were strange and wiser (in magic) tan those now living. [end insert]

The Kamilaroi -- would readily accept the statement that Baiame was the same as the blackfellows "god" but they would have a very different mental picture from that of the missionary.

I think the fact that Ridley used the verb Gimobi and not bai is significant Baiame invented the weapons & tools used by all Blacks -- in fact was the artificer [underlined in a different ink] and assuming that Baiaime may be derived from baia -- the meaning I suggest is that he is not the "creator" -- (from Gimobe) but the "artificer" (from baia).

It is perhaps worthy of note that Threlked says nothing about an aboriginal "creator" -- he translates -- or rather he uses the word "Eloi" for God because as he says "there is no word in the language but of an equivocal character namely Koun the being whom the aborigines dread." -- [3]

I do not know whether I have said anything worth your notice -- but at any rate you will see that I have not forgotten your wishes although I have been able to do but little Fison will tell you [several words illegible]

yours faithfully AW Howitt


[1] William Ridley (1819-1878) Presbyterian minister and missionary with the Gamilaraay from 1852-6 and Professor of Greek, Latin and Hebrew at the Australian College, see here. He published a vocabulary in 1856 'Gurre Kamilaroi or Kamilaroi Sayings' and his major work was 'Kamilaroi and other Australian Languages published by the Government Printer in 1875, a sumptuous volume that includes his Gamilaraay vocabulary, sketch grammar and bible stories, as well as notes on a range of other languages.' 

[2] Lancelot Edward Threlked (1788-1859) missionary and Congregational minister. 

[3] This translation of Eloi appears to have been given by Threlked in the 'Australian Spelling Book, in the language spoken by the Aborigines' published in 1836, see here


Howitt 30


Sep 29 1894

My dear Tylor

I was pleased to receive your note the day before yesterday and to see how successful and [illegible] Fison has been. [1] We who know him so well and who value him accordingly felt sure that his visit would please you on the other side of the world and that it would do us great credit. I have heard from him of the manner in which his paper was received he is one in ten thousand,

Mr Andrew Lang is off the track altogether. [2] I do not know of anything of the Davenport Brothers business in Australia. [3] At any rate I am sure there was nothing of the kind in the tribes of which I have knowledge. 

The "Bunyil Bara' were not a kind of wizard who endeavoured to act upon a person at a distance by means of enchantments though his effigy figured upon the ground and his name used in an incantation. The winding of stringybark bands round their heads &c was merely part of the process. They were not in any way tied up or fastened. [4] The bark was tied round them as in the Kurnai Bora the men tied tee tree [insert] ti [end insert] bark round themselves and as at the N-S-W Bora the men there used the fibrous bark of the string bark.

There is nothing of the Davenport brothers business in this.

I can speak of the Bunyil Bora with certainty as I knew two of the "Wizards" intimately and often talked about it with them.

I am sorry that I have not been able to get any further information about Baiame excepting that among the Ucumble (branch of the Kamilaroi organisation) who lived in the extreme northern parts of New South Wales there were chants sung at their Boras descriptive of Baiame and his doings in the earth. The descriptions which I have lately received of these Boras and of a Bora lately held near Moree (in that same district) are wonderfully like the Boras of the Coast Murring on the one hand and of the Wirajuri of the Lower Murrumbidgee in the other. If I find out anything further I will not fail to let you know.

yours faithfully



[1] Fison was invited to attend the 1894 British Association for the Advancement of Science's meeting at Oxford in 1894, which he attended--his first visit back to the UK for a long time. See here for further information. 

[2] Andrew Lang (1844-1912) academic and writer. As his DNB entry puts it, 'During the 1890s Lang revised his views and parted company with Tylor regarding the primacy of animism—the theory that all religion sprang from early man's habit of regarding the material world as suffused by spiritual life, intelligence, and purpose. In The Making of Religion (1898), and again in Magic and Religion in 1901, he claimed to have found clear traces of a pre-animistic strain of belief centring on the concept of a single high god, a benign and ethical maker of the world, later displaced by the cruder practices of animism. The point at issue was a fundamental one. If he was right, then the prevailing view of evolutionary anthropology, which pictured a smooth and inevitable ascent of human civilization from ‘lower’ to ‘higher’ cultural forms, was wrong. If cultural evolution was not inherently progressive, then the view of J. G. Frazer and the vegetable god people (scornfully dismissed by Lang as ‘the Covent Garden School of Mythology’) that mankind went through three intellectual stages of development, namely from magic to religion and from religion to science, was unsustainable.'

[3] The Davenport brothers were American magicians, active from 1854-1877, who claimed their effects were supernatural though they were exposed as frauds. Tylor, of course, had been actively researching spiritualism in the 1850s and 1860s, see here for an article about this. Here is an article about the Brothers at Melbourne Town Hall in 1876 (their first Australian performance), perhaps this is what Howitt was referring to?

[4] The Davenport brothers' tricks involved them being tied up by independent witnesses whilst extraordinary acts took place, read here for details of one performance. It was presumably this prestidigitation which Tylor had in mind for the Aboriginal ceremonies.


Howitt 31



My dear Tylor

I have now looked into the matter of the Bullroarers: the small one without the stick is the one which I sent first, the other small one with the stick accompanied the large grandfather—both these two having been used at the Jerail. I am much indebted [sic – missing word to ?] you for your intention of reading a paper on these Tunduns. The knowledge which I have of the “Bora ceremonies” (using Bora as a general term) I have found to send me in good stead in placing me in most friendly relations with any of the blackfellows I may come across, who are strangers to me and may be from distant places. For instance I made acquaintance in this manner when on the Murray River about two years ago with two of the last surviving old men whom I met with in successive days on the banks of the river. Similarly when a number of blacks of north Queensland blacks were brought down to Melbourne for exhibition purposes abut two years ago I was able to become friendly with them and found much as I had anticipated that fundamentally their ceremonies are like those I knew—the [insert] sound [end insert] character of their bullroarers and the reverence they feel for them is the same as down south [insert] but the initiation ceremonies do not according to them extend to the islands in Torres Straits or of Cape York. The Yultha has served so far as I knew as a message to call together there who should participate in the rites and the marks indicate the people who were present. May I note that two or three names in your extracts from my letters which no doubt due to my execrable [I agree AP!] hand writing are not quite correct The proper spelling is as follows:- Yatala (Cheepara [insert] tribe [end insert]) Wrukut turndun (woman [insert above] wife [end insert] turndun)

Exocarpus cupressiformid (native cherry tree)

Melaleuca (Ti tre)

I have not been able to do much fresh work of late the duties of my present office [1] are heavy and I am not able to get away from Melbourne for any time. Now that I have climbed up to the top of the tree I find that my responsibilities have naturally increased--not only as regards the duties of Com of audit but also for reason of the control  which we exercise over the whole public service. However I am undergoing a leisure hours pursuit at the materials in hand and Fison is also at work with his

Our object is to rewrite K&K and bring ourselves up to date. We shall also take the opportunity of setting matters right in respect for instance of the late EM Curr - with your remarks as to his book I am quite in accord. Westermark also requires a little attention, not forgetting the Australian writers such as Mathew [sic], Frazer &c. I shall not forget to look out for a secondhand copy of Currs work for you at a reasonable sum. [2]

I am sorry to have to send you a poor account of Fisons health--indeed we all feel much anxiety about him. He seems much aged and suffers much from bronchitis--the other day he was complaining to me that he usually feels as if about to faint. Naturally I feel much concerned and I fear that his health is suffering also from mental worry consequent upon financial matters. I mention this as I know that you feel a kindly interest in our friend. [3] 

I do not think that there is any likelihood of my visiting England being as I am not only tied by the leg but also, so much Australian that I feel this country my home. It would of course be very pleasant to meet relatives and also become personally acquainted with valued correspondents. My daughter has not visited England--I thank you for your kind enquiry. [4]

No doubt you hear from Spencer, but I may mention the most interesting information which he is working out about the tribes of central Australia anywhere there is a peculiar development of the Bull roarer. He is doing splendid work in Anthropology. [5]

With kind regards

yours faithfully



[1] The letter is headed 'Commissioners of Audit Victoria'

[2] Edward Micklethwaite Curr, (1820-1889) wrote 'The Australian Race: Its Origins, Languages, Customs' (Melbourne, 1886-87); Edvard Alexander Westermark (1862-1939) Finnish anthropologist sociologist and philosopher. He wrote the History of Human Marriage' published in 1891 which Howitt may have been referring to; Robert Hamilton Mathews (1841-1918). Possibly the Frazer being referred to was John Fraser who edited Threlkeld's book, referred to by Fison in 1894 (see Fison letters to Tylor Part 2).

[3] Lorimer Fison's health deteriorated after 1888 when he retired from the ministry and turned to journalism. In 1905 he was granted a government civil list pension of £150. He did not die until 1907.

[4] Fison visited England at Tylor and W.B. Spencer's insistence in 1894 to attend the BAAS meeting at Oxford. It seems Howitt did not go at the same time. Tylor may have been trying to entice Howitt to attend a similar meeting in 1896 or 1897.

[5] Spencer and Gillen thought of Fison and particularly Howitt as mentors, Howitt is either referring to the work that was carried out during and after the Horn Expedition of 1894, or to the Engwura fieldwork they carried out at the end of 1896. The former seems more likely as the Engwura fieldwork had not yet been set up. 


Howitt 32 


12 June 1897

My dear Tylor

I am sorry to say that I have so far been unable to do anything for you as to West Australian stone implements. 

I have lost the run as we say here of my former correspondents who seem to have been swallowed up in the Mining Boom over there and the mining men of whom I know a great many have no interest in anything but gold--either native--or English.

However I have now another chance in a young relative who is just gone away and who will endeavour to do something for you. I thought it well to let you know that although silent I am not altogether forgetful. You will know of course of the splendid work which Spencer is doing here--he had a unique chance and he took it and is making the best possible use of it. [1] I am constantly in communication with him and feel it a privilege when able to assist so good a fellow and so true a [illegible] by very little and in my [illegible] in the way of information and hints.

Fison & I have had several evenings with him and shall have another as soon as he receives his next batch of papers from Mr Gillen. [2]

Fison I am sorry to say is still no better and I fear that his continual illness which seems to be an apparent bronchial affliction gives his friends only too great cause for concern about him. He has been for some time working at his share of our common notes and material but told me the other day that he had been compelled to put it on one side for the present.

I may take the opportunity of mentioning that in view of the time which may elapse before my Anthropological material may be worked into shape, my daughter has undertaken to put together what I have as regards the Folklore of the tribes of South Eastern Australia. [3] May I ask your kindly advice whether it would be better to publish in England or here--the work will be in scientific lines and yet written so as to commend itself to the taste of the general reader. I may also mention that I have been preparing a paper during the last twelve months which may perhaps have a title such as "Primitive belief as seen by the [illegible] lights of Australian Savagery" would this be acceptable to the Anthrop. Inst. [4]

With best wishes I remain

my dear Tylor

yours faithfully


P.S Since I [illegible] this letter an old friend has turned up from Western Australia and who is now returning, He feels an interest in the customs &c of the aborigines of whom he knew much in the old days, and he [illegible] promised to do what he can in supplying the information you require AH


[1] This is the Engwura fieldwork Spencer and Gillen carried out in Alice Springs at the end of 1896. This fieldwork was eventually written up as part of Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899). 

[2] Gillen (in Alice Springs) sent Spencer (in Melbourne) large batches of notes on specific items for which he gained information from his local informants. These notes formed the basis of their 1899 publication.

[3] M.E.B. Howitt, Legends and Folklore ms. This is cited in Howitt's 1904 book The Native Tribes of South-east Australia, London: Macmillan. Also Mary E.B. Howitt "Some Native Legends from Central Australia" Folklore vol 13 no 4  (Dec 1902): 403-17.

[4] Howitt does not seem to have published such a paper with the Anthropological Institute.


Howitt 33

[Note in Tylor's handwriting?] A'd [answered] July 28 99


6 Jly [sic] 1899

My dear Tylor

I have now to acknowledge and reply to two of your letters. First of all as to the last introducing the Rev Mr Lewis-Smith I was very sorry to have been absent from Melbourne when he was here -- during the Xmas and New Years Holidays. [1] I enquired at "Menzies Hotel" but found (4" [sic] instant on my return to the above office) [2] that he had gone without leaving any address. When you see him on his return to Oxford please express to him the great regret I feel and having been away when he was here.

As to De Rougemont or I think most properly "Grien" [3] -- no one here or I may say in Australia believes a word he says. I have to read four numbers of his adventures and I have no hesitation in expressing my opinion that it is "fiction". [4] No man who had ever seen any blacks and knew anything about their manners & customs would make the statements this man does. What he says about them, their marriage message sticks, smoke signals &c &c is what a man would write who had read, or heard o them, who had most probably seen [illegible] blacks e.g. in N.S.W.- or Queensland but who had never been in contact with them in their half civilised condition much less in their primitive savagery. The vocabulary of words you send are Australian but I have not been so far able to identify them with any tribe. One word "Yungara" = Kangaroo is northern Australian, another dura = moon is Central Queensland -- but this is nothing since words crop up unexpectedly as if "bobbing up serenely from below".

In short I have no doubt that "De Rougemont" is a fraud. I may later on have some more to say -- because I am opening up communication with a settler near Cambridge Gulf -- when I hear anything you shall learn it.

I am now writing up a good deal more of very interesting information about my old friends the Dieri tribe of the Lake Eyre Basin. When completed I will send it to you if you will kindly see to it for me with the Anthrop. Inst. [5]

I may also mention that I have a great part of my work on the 'Tribal & Social Organization of the Australian Aborigine their customs & beliefs" in the stage of a rough draft". [6]

It promises to be of considerable size and will I hope be of some interest.

I suppose you have seen Spencer. We are looking forward to his return. [7]

yours faithfully

A.W. Howitt


[1] it is possible the first part of his surname is not Lewis but Lerwin or similar

[2] the letter is written on Comissioners of Audit, Victoria, notepaper.

[3] Louis de Rougemont (1847-1921) was born Henri Grin, but also known as Grien, Green and Grein. 

[4] As his ADB entry has it, 'As Louis de Rougemont he called on (Sir) J. Henniker Heaton, who gave him a letter of introduction to the editor of the new Wide World Magazine. From August 1898 to May 1899 it serialized 'The adventures of Louis de Rougemont', which focused fancifully on the astounding experiences he had had while allegedly spending thirty odd years as a castaway among the Aboriginals of North-West and Central Australia. The articles were republished as The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont, as Told by Himself (1899); they were fluently and cleverly written, but essentially the plausible concoction of a colonial Munchausen'.

[5] Possibly a reference to a paper written with Otto Siebert: 1904. 'Legends of the Dieri and Kindred Tribes of Central Australia' Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. 34, (Jan-Jun, 1904), pp. 100-129

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

[7] Spencer had travelled back to the UK, and visited Oxford.


Howitt 34

Melbourne 4 Sep 1899

My dear Tylor

I write at once in reply to your letter of the 29th July as I can answer your questions without making further inquiries. Gason was in error in speaking of Mura Mura as an individual "good spirit." [1] According to the Dieri belief there were numberless Mura muras, indeed I find them, in the Dieri legends which I have collected, attached to places all over the country around Lake Eyre. They may be described as "superhuman" men, the forerunners of the blackfellows, but exactly like them in person habits, mode of thought, but possessing great magical powers. These legends include one the analogue of that given by Gason, one recounting the appearance of "unformed" creatures, that is the totem animals, at Lake Perigundi, [2] when the local mura muras completed them in form & they being the ancestors of the "Kana"--that is the "blackfellows" eg Dieri; anoter recounts the wanderings of two mura muras bearing stone knives which they introduced wherever circumcision was going on in lieu of the firestick. I have at present collected about a dozen of these legends. The mura muras are the analogue of the supernational people who figure in all the tribal stories, such as the "Muk kurnai" of Gippsland &c.

I have so far not found a belief among the Lake Eyre tribes like that of those of South Eastern Australia. They so far seem to belong to the tribes which have ceremonies of the Bora type and [insert] not [end insert] those like the Engwura of central Australia. Nurundu, Nooreli, Bunyil, Mungan ngain, Daramulun, Baiame are I feel satisfied different names for the same supernatural Being, and I have [illegible] that the same belief extended at any rate as far as Brisbane. 

As to the Deluge legend. I found that there noticed in the Mura Mura legends are the precisely that great inundations which at uncertain period pour down in to the Lake Eyre basin such as one I saw in 1882 in the Lower Diamontina, where Birdsville now is, and which was 20 miles wide. [3]

On the south coast I find forms for like deluge legends from Western Victoria to Shoalhaven. [4] This takes the form of an incursion of the Sea and I am pressed with the idea that it may be a tribal memory of such a catastrophy [sic] during the period of volcanic action when Mt Gambier and Mt Buninyong were active and at which time it is now known that man existed in Victoria. [5] A sea wave such as that caused by Krakatoa [6] might produce such effects in our low lying coasts as one pictured in the Port Philip, Gippsland, and Twofold Bay legends.

You will be interested to learn that Mr Kenyon one of the water supply engineers is doing some excellent work here as to stone implements He has found examples which form a completely parallel series with those of Tasmania. I introduced him to Spencer the other day who hopes to be able to secure a series from him for the National Museum of which Spencer is now the Honorary Director. I shall try and get some for you also. [7]

I am hard at work on my long talked of book on the Australia [sic] but I fear that I shall not be able to complete the first draught [sic] of it in less than a year, as it continues to grow. Meantime so as to make some new material available I am preparing some further notes on the Dieri and other tribes of the Lake Eyre Basin which will give some very interesting new facts. [insert] for the Anthrop Institute [end insert] I have fortunately come across a most willing & competent correspondent in the Dieri country who speaks the language and has the confidence of the natives. What I have told you of the Mura Mura is part of the work being done. But even as to this work I cannot yet see the conclusion. [8]

Yours faithfully

AW Howitt


[1] The Dieyerie Tribe of Australian Aborigines Samuel Gason edited by George Isaacs 1874 State Library of Victoria

[2] Lakes Eyre and Perigundi are in South Australia.

[3] Birdsville is in the far southwest of Queensland. The Diamontina River flows in central west Queensland and the far north of South Australia 

[4] Shoalhaven is in southeastern NSW.

[5] Mount Buninyong overlooks Ballarat in Victoria, it is an extinct volcano. Mount Gambier is in South Australia, near the city of the same name, it too is an extinct volcano. 

[6] Now would be described as a tsunami. Krakatoa had a massive eruption in 1883 followed by many tsunamis.

[7] W.B. Spencer was honorary director of the National Museum of Victoria [now Museum Victoria] in Melbourne from 1899. Alfred Stephen Kenyon (1867-1943) did not give any objects to the PRM until April 1915 (then 1917 and then further donations in the 1920s). Tylor donated (or the PRM was given after his death) a large number of stone tools from Australia, most are from Tasmania, many collected by Joseph Paxton Moir, it is possible that some of the others may have been obtained by Howitt from Kenyon but there is no real reason to believe it.

[8] The book was to become The Native Tribes of South-east Australia, London: Macmillan 1904, the Dieri article might be the one with Otto Siebert. 1904. 'Legends of the Dieri and Kindred Tribes of Central Australia' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 34, (Jan-Jun, 1904), pp. 100-129. Otto Siebert was a Lutheran missionary. Between 1894 and 1902 he lived at the Bethesda Mission on the Cooper Creek and worked closely with the Diyari, Wangkangurru and Yandruwandha people of the area. See N. Peterson, Lindy Allen and Louise Hamby 'The Makers and Making of Indigenous Australian Museum Collections'. This is the collaborator Howitt was referring to.


Howitt 35


7 Sep 1900

My dear Tylor

I was pleased to hear again from you. I have shown it to Spencer and he tells me that he will take steps to supply your wants in the way of stone implements. [1]

You will be pleased to learn that there is every prospect of Spencer and Gillen going off on another expedition somewhere about February next. [2] They have sent word through the Arunta tribe that they "are coming" and these people will send the message on. The University Council has granted twelve months leave of absence for Spencer and I hope that our government will subsidise him.

About Baiame. He is as far as I know always represented as a superhuman male, who is the source of all magic, and therefore able to [?missing word do] all and more than the "Blackfellow doctor" can do.

As these men profess, and are believed to be able, to "walk invisibly" and to "do anything" magically, I do not see anything more in the statement that Daramulun can "do anything and go anywhere." I think the expression was merely a coincidence as regards the [illegible] of Wellington's [?] phrase. It was at the Kuringal ceremonies I heard it used. One of the boys was of the Wolgal tribe and did not understand the Yuin language spoken by the head medicine man at the ceremonies. I had therefore the advantage of hearing the latter instructing the Wolgal boy in English as spoken by the blacks.

The Head Medicine Man possibly heard the expression from some of the white people, but it exactly expresses the belief in Daramulun's person. Daramulun with the coast Murring people is the analogue of Baiame with the Kamilaroi and Wiradgiri. But with the latter Daramulun is the son or "boy" of Baime.

I have in writing to Andrew Lang pointed out that there is no such thing in the minds of the Australian natives as an omnipresent and omnipotent Deity. [3]

I do not know whether I have mentioned that I have made up my mind to give up official life. I shall retire from office the end of this month and am intending to go to the sea coast at the Gippsland lakes where we have a home waiting for us and there I shall spend twelve months in completing my long contemplated work on the Australian aborigines. I have roughly drafted it and find that it will make five or six hundred pages, without new materials which I am still gathering from the tribes about Lake Eyre.

With kind regards

yours faithfully



[1] Spencer did donate some stone tools from Central Australia in 1903 with other material from the Spencer and Gillen fieldwork. It is not clear if that was part of fulfilling this promise.

[2] This is the famous 1901 expedition from south Australia through central Australia ending in Borroloola in the Northern Territory. Some of the artefacts collected during this expedition were given to the PRM [amongst which were the stone tools mentioned in [1] above.

[3] This is the typed letter which is not addressed [Howitt 36], which, it has been concluded by AP and John Mulvaney (when he was researching Spencer's papers for his biography of him) must be a fair copy of the letter Howitt sent to Lang. Andrew Lang (1844-1912) writes a fairly lengthy rebuttal of Tylor and Howitt's work in the Anniversary essays produced on Tylor's retirement, and also wrote several articles disagreeing with Howitt's conclusions about Australian totems and marriage systems. 


Howitt 36

[Headed 'Howitt Australia' and 'Tylor', in handwriting. The remainder of the copy letter is typewritten with some pencil or ink changes, marked in text below as [insert hw]. In MH Walker's biography of her ancestor [1971] she remarks on page 238 that Howitt's wife was the typewriter so she presumably typed this from Howitt's dictation or handwritten draft?

Finch Street, East Malvern,

Melbourne, Victoria,

10 August 1899.

My dear Sir,

Last month I was much gratified by receiving your letter of the 17, June, which Dr. Lorimer [sic, presumably this means Fison] transmitted to me. Since then I have been considering how best I might make a reply to the questions you have put to me. The difficulty really is how I can condense what I have to say into reasonable limits. Even in attempting to do this I find that I shall appear to you probably to have written an essay on the subject --- at unconscionable length. I hope that the importance of the questions which you have raised will serve for my excuse.

I have been long impressed by the vast period of time during which the Australian aborigines must have been isolated in this continent free from outside influence. I have detailed my grounds for this belief in my address to Section F of the Aust. Ass. Adv. Science, in Sydney January 1898, a copy of which I addressed to you in Scotland and hope that you received. [1] The level of culture of the Australians when they left the parent stock must have been that of the palaeolithic races of mankind, and even those races must have advanced in culture much beyond the social level of "primitive man." The level of culture of the ancestors of the Australians may be inferred from the conditions implied by the classification system of relationships obtaining among the (socially) most backward standing tribes (such as the Dieri of Lake Eyre), from their existing marriage customs, and from their tribal legends which to my mind enclose a nucleus of truth --- the survival of former customs.

I have gathered together more or less complete, or more or less incomplete data as to tribes over the Eastern half of Australia, and more especially as to those located around Lake Eyre and those of South Eastern Australia. In one sense the Lake Eyre tribes are the most primitive, while the coast tribes from [blank] to Brisbane (and apparently even beyond that point) have had a social development marked by (a) the more or less complete dying out of the class and totem system. (b) The abandonment of the practice of "group marriage" which is a living fact in the Lake Eyre tribes, and the change for descent in the female to the male line. Notwithstanding these changes in the social structure and custom, the terminology of relationship remains more or less that which is used by the Lake Eyre tribes, and which applies accurately to the system of "pirraurie" (group marriage) while it is not applicable to the marriage system of the coast tribes.

In looking over my facts as to all the tribes, I see clearly that the Australians have had a social development tending towards the establishment of individual marriage, the recognition of paternal descent, and probably the communication of hereditary Headmanship. I find in the coast tribes that as the "social organisation" in classes with totems, became lost, the "local organisation" in "Geographical groups" of the tribes, became more pronounced. The result has been that as the class organisation dies out and the totems become mere names, these no longer control marriage. It is the "local organisation" which does this, so that a man is not compelled to marry a woman of a certain class and totem, with which, as the Dieri express it, he [insert hw] his [end insert] class and totem are "noa", i.e. marriageable, but that the men of a certain locality take wives only from a certain other localities, to which their sisters go in exchange as wives.

You ask me as to the "primitive [insert hw] noa [end insert]" of the Arunta tribes. Bearing in mind what I have just said, they are not so primitive as for instance the "Wrabunna" [sic] [2] mentioned by Spencer and Gillen, or the Dieri, both of which represent a vast number of tribes all more or less nearly allied, and stretching from the Southern border of the Arunta, outwards towards the sea at Port Lincoln, and Eastward far up the Barwan River.

Therefore all have a "two class" organisation. That is, the tribe is divided into two classes (varieties) one called Kararu the other Materi which intermarry, with descent in the female line. Taking a still wider view of the field I find that this "two class" system, with class names which are recognised by the tribes when the different names meet, as being equivalents, extends over the whole of the River Darling country from the Balonne River to the Murray, and from the Barrier and Grey Range to about a hundred miles East of the Darling. These tribes, for the reasons given, are in my opinion the most "primitive." But the Arunta represent another vast stretch of tribes which have advanced from the "two class" system to a "four sub-class" --- even to an "eight sub-class" system which regulates their marriages. That is to the north of the Lake Eyre tribes; while to the east there are other "four-class" tribes such as the Kamilaroi which extend from near Maitland in New South Wales to the head waters of the Flinders Range. South of the "two-class" tribes (Lake Eyre, &c) and South and to the East of the Kamilaroi and other "four sub-class" tribes are the coast tribes already mentioned, which extends, for instance in Victoria, almost to the Murray River, and of which the "Kurnai" are a typical example. The Kurnai as you will remember have no classes and no totems, excepting the "sea totem", which by the way, appear to be peculiar to the more advanced coast tribes. I have found them as far round the coast as Brisbane --- in all cases being the "man's brother" and the "woman's sister."

But it may be said of the Arunta --- as I think this is really what Spencer and Gillen claim as "being primitive", that their ceremonies are very archaic, for instance the Intichrunia [sic] ceremony. [3] Their legends also point to former customs, which partly survive in the ceremonies.

The Arunta totems with reincarnation are quite peculiar to the tribes represented by the Arunta, and I have not found any such ideas elsewhere. I may note however [insert hw] see list L.P. [end insert] that the belief in the totems being the ancestors is wide of field. The Dieri have it, and the Kurnai ancestors and the animals are new over-totems. i.e. the "[insert hw] Muk- [end insert] Kurnai" are the same thing. [insert hw] ? [end insert]

[insert hw] a line alongside this entire paragraph [end insert] As to the "Over God." [insert hw] not my word [end insert] I can scarcely fall in with the idea that Baime or Mungan is a "God" much less an "Over-God", which implies to my mind the existence of inferior Gods. Let me here correct myself in a passage which you quote in "the Making of Religion". I there use the expression "great Spirit". [4] This is a bad "slip". Neither Murelli, Bunyil, [sic] Mungan-ngaur, Baiame nor Daramulun is a "spirit." Everything I have heard of them, at the Bora (I use this as a convenient term for all the initiation ceremonies) or in conversation with the initiated men, pictures an old man, very wise, most magically powerful, possessed in the highest degree of the attributes and powers of the medicine men; in one aspect also the kindly "Headman" of the tribe, both on the earth and beyond the sky. No prayers are addressed to him, or is any sacrifice offered. But at the Bora his name is invoked, so that his "magical power" may fill the novices, and make them "clever men" as I have more than once heard one of the old men anglicise their own expression.

[insert hw] a line alongside most of this paragraph [end insert] I assume, indeed I feel no doubt that Murelli, Bunyil, Mungan-ngaur, Baiame and Daramulun, all represent the same supernatural individual under their different names; but with this proviso that with the Wiradjuri Daramulun is the Son of Baiame. We have therefore a wide spread belief which extends over at least that part of Australia lying between the Murray mouth and Brisbane, in the same supernatural being to whom with propriety the name of "Our Father" may be applied. This belief according to my aboriginal informants, old men whose word I could fully trust, was taught them by their fathers either before white men entered their country, or very soon after. This belief formed the central part of the Initiation ceremony and was jealously guarded from the uninitiated. All that the women knew was that a supernatural Being spoken of as "Father" (among the wild Blacks) came at the time of the Bora to make the boys into men.

[insert hw] a cross  [end insert]As to these beliefs having been missionary taught, I do not in the least believe. Take Gippsland as an instance. It was so shut in by physical obstacles of Mountain and dense scrubs and jungles that all the intercourse between the Kurnai and the "wild blacks" on the Melbourne side, on the north and to the east was when occasionally war parties crossed the mountains or traversed the jungles to revenge raids made by them on the Kurnai. The country was only discovered and settled in 1842-3 and it was in 1863 that the mission stations were established. When I first knew the Kurnai about seventeen years after the country was settled [insert hw] 1860 [end insert], there were many of the old time men living who were still savages slightly varnished with contact with the white men, numbers of younger men also had grown up to manhood in the old savage times and a younger generation of lads dating from a little before to after the settlement.

[insert hw] a line alongside most of this paragraph [end insert] What I have said about the beliefs applies to these people; but the actual secrets of the Initiation I only learned from the men who were young men at the time of the settlement, but who had been initiated by the old men in the manner of their fathers and who had revealed to me and to the novices at the Icrarl [?] what they themselves had been taught and which they had kept secret for so many years until the time came when it might be lawfully revealed.

Your "Folk-lore Brethren" may rest assured that these beliefs have not been borrowed from missionaries. As to "native mendacity", no such thing could arise between a black fellow and another initiated person. I have over and over been able to [insert hw] check [end insert] the accuracy of statements made to me by blacks who knew that I was one of the initiated and I never found that anything but the exact truth had been told to me. It is inconceivable to me that a man would dare to lie on such a sacred subject to an initiated member. But he would secrete, or if driven to a corner would lie like --- let me say a De Rougement [5] --- to an outsider, because it would be impossible to tell him the sacred secrets. [insert hw] ? ! [end insert]

There is an interesting parallel to be seen between the secrets from Murelli to Daramulun.

Bunyil commences to be known in Western Victoria, and as I have said seems to represent the Beneficent Headman, the "All Father" in which aspect he is anthropomorphic, but as Bunyil he is also the Eaglehawk and so the aspect verges on a totemistic character. He has two wives who are Gunawara (Blackswan) and a son Binbial who is the Rainbow.

The Kurnai were an off shoot of the Kului stock of which I take the Woëworung tribe as my example. They had lost the class names and the totems which the Woëworung had, and Mungan-ngaur, the analogue of Mamangata (our father) Bunyil, was entirely anthropomorphic, [insert hw] [hard to read] Dolphin Apollo [end insert] yet his son Tundun is the Porpoise and therefore one of the "Muk-Kurnai" or Kurnai ancestors, that is the once upon a time totems, which are only now to be discovered in shadowy names and customs. Baiame and his son represent Bunyil and Brubeal, and Mungan-ngaur and Tundun, but are entirely anthropomorphic. Yet it seems significant that at the Bora I heard Daramulun spoken of as being also "Maliau = Eaglehawk." [insert hw] Also male &c ? [end insert]

I think that it is now quite too late to get any reliable information from Victoria, New South Wales, South Queensland and South Australia south of Lake Eyre. I speak with feelings of certainty because I know Victoria and I have lately written to a number of correspondents in the other colonies who all agree that it is now too late. During the last ten years the blacks especially the old ones have died off rapidly. The younger people who are now alive know nothing. As an example of the present condition of affairs the following will serve. A photographer in Sydney sent me a set of photographs which he had obtained on a Bora ground where the Kamilaroi living at the western end of the Macquarrie River had some ceremonies going on. He asked me to tell him what the pictures represented because he could he could not get information from the Blacks. I told him that some of the scenes were familiar to me but the others were not so, indeed appeared to me not to belong to the Bora proper. He replied saying that a number of Blacks who had come with drivers bringing cattle from the north had joined the Kamilaroi, some being from Western Queensland, some from the Northern Territory and that they had assisted the Kamilaroi in getting up the Bora. That the photographer was permited to go into the Bora ground and even photograph some of the less sacred scenes shews one how the old customs are broken down, and the mixture of custom, if this kind of information is accepted, will lead to confusion worse confounded.

I may mention that I am engaged in writing up all my material and hope within two years to complete a work which I have been preparing for on the tribal and social organisation of the Australian Aborigines, their customs and beliefs &c. [6]

I have only one correspondent at work within the bounds I have mentioned, and that is in the Dieri Country, where he is carefully gathering under my direction all that can be got of the old tribal beliefs, legends, &c., also most important materials for completing my account of the tribes living around Lake Eyre, who as I have before said practice "group marriage and descent" systematically --- notwithstanding the contrary statement of Miss Edith [blank] [insert hw] illegible [end insert] in the Nineteenth Century of July last. [7] In anticipation of my bond [insert hw] 'bond' crossed out and 'book' added [end insert] I shall when this information is complete, send a paper to the Anthropological Institute and will take care to let you have a copy. [8]

I have read the works you mention which are in the Melbourne Public Library. Your "Making of Religion" I have especially read with the greatest interest and was naturally much gratified by the kind manner in which you have accepted my evidence and quoted my statements. You make a very strong point in shewing the existence in tribes so widely separated of a common belief in a "powerful Being who sanctions truth, unselfishness, chastity and other virtues" --- under laws which "make for righteousness". In thinking over all I know of the Australian savage I have asked myself again and again "What is implanted in man, which, even when isolated from outside influence, has impelled the primitive ancestors of the Australian savages to unconsciously travel onward towards some distant goal of mental and social evolution which is still as invisible to us as it was to primitive mankind?"

I shall indeed value your works if, as you kindly suggest, you send them to me. I trust that I have not wearied you and that what I have said may be of some little interest to you. Please do not hesitate to let me know if I can give you any information or be otherwise of assistance to you in your work.

I remain my dear Sir,

Yours faithfully,


A. W. Howitt [9]

Notes by transcriber

[1] Alfred Howitt. 'On the Origin of the Aborigines of Tasmania and Australia' AAAS vol 7 1898. Howitt's address was reviewed as 'The Science Association' ... Mr A.W. Howitt, F.G.S., read an interesting paper on the origin of the aborigines of Tasmania and Australia, in which he contended that the aborigines reached Australia by a land bridge connecting with the Indo-Asiatic continent; or by a land extension of the Austral continent to the north west, over some shallow channels separating Australia from the Asiatic lands.' [from the West Australian 10 January 1898 page 5. 

[2] Howitt is probably referring to the 'Urabunna' of Spencer and Gillen, a name of a group of people now usually glossed as Arabana. See Mulvaney, Morphy, Petch 1997 'My Dear Spencer ...' p. 530. This is an interesting misspelling. It may be that it is the typist's mistranscription of Howitt's appalling handwritten version of 'Urabunna'. It is not clear who typed this letter to Lang. The PRM copy is obviously a carbon copy as it is purple, and handcorrected. It was probably a draft (though the mis-spelling was not picked up) as it is handcorrected throughout. Perhaps it was typed by Howitt himself, or a member of his family. It is addressed from his house after retirement.

[3] Again this is an interesting misspelling. At the time of writing Howitt had been discussing the fieldwork which led to Native Tribes of Central Australia [1899] for some time, so he should have been aware that the ceremony was referred to, by them, as 'Intichiuma', an 'increase ceremony'. See Mulvaney, Morphy, Petch 1997 'My Dear Spencer ...' p. 506. 

[4] Andrew Lang 'The Making of Religion', London: Longmans, Green 1898. Howitt strangely words the last sentence, 'I there use the expression', I take it to mean 'you quote me as using ...'. If I am correct then Howitt is incorrect. In the 1898 first edition of The Making of Religion, Lang does not refer to Howitt using this terminology at all. He does refer to it in this context in the third edition [1900] but there he is referring to the writings of Spencer and Gillen rather than Howitt (and if this is to be the letter written by Howitt in 1899 it would not be likely to include references to Native Tribes which was published in that same year. In the first edition in 1898 Lang does quote Howitt as saying

‘The Supreme Spirit, who is believed in by all the tribes I refer to here [in South-Eastern Australia], either as a benevolent, or more frequently as a malevolent being, it seems to me represents the defunct headman.' [p. 192, quoting Howitt's JAI paper of 1884, also referred to in Appendix D].

Perhaps this is what Howitt is referring to?

[5] Louis de Rougemont (1847-1921) Hoaxer. 

[6] The book was to become The Native Tribes of South-east Australia, London: Macmillan 1904.

[7] The Nineteenth Century was a British monthly literary magazine founded in 1877. The article has not been identified

[8] 'Legends of the Dieri and Kindred Tribes of Central Australia' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 34, (Jan-Jun, 1904), pp. 100-129.

[9] There is a separate note with the letter written on an index card: 'This is almost certainly a copy of a letter sent to Andrew Lang (1) The tone is more formal than that used by Howitt to Tylor; it is also typed. (2) In a letter to Tylor on 7 Sept 1900 Howitt says he has written (in the past) to Lang DJ Mulvaney 17 April 1970'. This was presumably written by John Mulvaney when he was researching for his biography of Spencer, So Much that is New.


Howitt 37

Notes & labels on "bull-roarers"

[2 drawings in rectangles. The first drawing is annotated 'Dieri yantha June 25, 83' and shows 5 bull roarers numbered 1 to 5, and 2 annotations near specific bull roarers - Between 2, 3 and 4 'adja-dara bull roarer June 25 82' and by 4, 'large U... Apr 14 1884'. The second drawing is annotated 'Chepara bribbim Dec. 30 82' and shows 3 bull roarers numbered 6-8, Number 7 is annotated 'mooring mudthi June 25 83. Below the first drawing is written ...]

1. (original label) 

2. 3. } (abolish and peverse) [sic] "10 June 25 '83" 

4. "larger tundun see Howitt's letter Apr. 14 1884"

5. "smaller tundun see Howitt's letter Apr 14. 1884"

Below the 2nd drawing is 

6. No label or marking on this

7. "1 June 25 '83"

8. [in square] "Bribbun (Large) 1 kept concealed from the women) Label tied on and written in violet ink

On reverse of this sheet:

[in Tylor's handwriting]

to AWH Apr 7 96 some such little as

"The Australian Bull-roarers collected by Alfred W Howitt as described in his letter & published [inserted above, 'published in his'] paper. With exhibition of the original specimens & supplementary notes by Edward B. Tylor."

[I wonder if this shows the first display of Howitt's bullroarers in the Pitt Rivers Museum, and some hint as to their earliest labels? A great deal more research would be required before this could be ascertained for certain


Howitt 38

First sheet [in Tylor's handwriting]


got with your letter

Stick No 11 June 25 83 find letter

5 sticks not accounted for

[these are notes presumably by Tylor perhaps on the bullroarer display?]

on the reverse is a long section of a paper in Tylor's handwriting transcribed below. I think that Tylor was reusing paper to make notes on Howitt's bullroarers

country, the task of dividing the present population into a number of races, and of making out how each kind or race came to be what it is, has been [insert] is as yet [end insert] far beyond the power of the ethnologists who have made these matters their special study. More or less of the same difficulty is found in the attempt to classify exactly the population of any [insert] every [end insert] other country. For instance, though at first sight the African Negros seem so peculiar and distinct a race, travellers describe in their [insert] insert them blending [end insert] African distinct types varying widely in complexion ad features. In fact it is true with the populations of all countries where [insert] everywhere [end insert] [insert] imperceptibly into types only chocolate-brown of skin, and approaching Berber or Arab features. In fact, what seems at [end insert] what seems at first uniformity of type, everywhere proves on closer examination to shade into endless varieties.  It is best to face at once these difficulties in the study of mankind, rather than to make the problem seem simple and easy by hiding away the difficulties in a corner, whence they must come out sooner or later. Learners and teachers alike should [insert] do well to [end insert] gain clear and sharp notions of what they do [insert] really [end insert] know, and where their knowledge ends. In science, difficulty and apparent confusion in the evidence is [insert] are [end insert] apt to indicate the presence of laws behind which closer scrutiny will bring to [insert] clearly to [end insert] light. There is strong reason to believe that this is the case with the problem of the Races [insert] races [end insert] of Man.

Up to this point, then, it has been made out that a race-type is in so far a reality, that all races use it in distinguishing their by eye own people from others. The question then arises, how the race type thus loosely recognised, may be accurately defined and calculated. Some general principles are here laid down as to this problem, so far as it has as yet been solved, and can be treated in elementary terms.

III 43 [in another hand]

Second sheet [in Tylor's handwriting]



Bribbim (large) [insert] the largest? [end insert] find letter

9 [superscript 7 or possibly inch sign] from Gibson see letter Dec 30 1882

larger & smaller tundun letter Apr 14 1884 find this letter 

turndun attached to stick 9" is this the turndun mentioned letter Dec 30 1882

string of grandmother turndun

bull-roarer Dieu yuntha Jun 25 83

ditto [bullroarer] No 2 [illegible] pallum June 25 83 } find letter

No 1


1 fire-stick 2 drill 9" Wourorung Melbourne described in letter Dec 30 1882

Fire-drill Chepara Tribe Queensland

described re AW Howitt letter Aug 23, 1882 Broombim-talo-yucka

3 Fire-stick Flinders R from E. Palmer 

from AW Howitt see letter Aug 23, 1882

[on reverse, in Tylor's handwriting]

in regretting their unhappy fate, which fills one of the darkest  [insert] a drear dismal [end insert] page of our colonial history. Even what [insert] We are now beginning to see what sacrifice [end insert] value here would be [insert] have been [end insert] in such a [insert] minute [end insert] careful portraiture of their thoughts and customs as Mr Howitt is drawing up of the [insert] Australian [end insert] tribes just across Bass Straits. As this cannot be, at least, [insert] it is necessary that [end insert] the existing fragmentary information should be carefully [insert] diligently [end insert] collected and [insert] critically [end insert] sifted. To this task Mr H Ling Roth has devoted long labour, examining likely sources [insert] in all likely quarters [end insert] so as to gather together the fragmentary notices scattered through voyages, histories, colonial documents, and other sources from which first-hand information, however fragmentary, could be obtained. Anthropologists who have so often had to complain of the scantiness of materials as to the native Tasmanians will be the first to find with surprise that so much more is really known than was supposed, and will be glad to have this book at hand possess this book, the more so that its object being technical rather than popular, only a small edition number of copies has been printed. E.B.T.

Third sheet [in Tylor's handwriting]


S.... Zuni 75720

Scotland Highland pramman A Lang

Bullroarer with stick made by black men in America given me by Mr Flo Clarke see card look for letter

Bambizo for fire D Hickson Celebes [1]

Drawing of NZ bull roarer in BM CH Read

[on reverse, in Tylor's handwriting]

which is that of the Drift and Cave Men of Europe, On the life of those oldest [insert] and what is not less remarkable there is the same absence of any proof that the stone implements was ever furnished with a wooden haft or used [illegible] them grasped in the bare hand. Of the life of the [illegible] [end insert] prehistoric tribes of the Old World the life of the Tasmanians may give some idea, allowing for a milder climate on the one hand, but a want of the great animals on the other, and remembering that the modern savage was in some arts below the ancient, for there is no record of the Tasmanian having made a needle for sewing his skin garments with [insert] his [end insert] sinew thread, nor did he in pictures [insert] drawings or carvings [end insert] show anything of the artistic skill of the Cave people [insert] men [end insert] of Central France. Every detail of the life and thought of such a people the Tasmanians is thus full of anthropological interest to anthropologists, whose hitherto 

Looking at the vestiges of a people so representative of the rudest [insert] lowest rudest [end insert] type of man, anthropologists must join [insert] with [end insert] philanthropists 


[1] Presumably Sydney John Hickson, the object is possibly 1911.1.69, 'Rigid fire-saw of bamboo, Celebes (S.). Hickson Coll.'

Transcribed by AP February 2013, November 2013. 


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