Howitt & Fison's Archive

Insights into Australian Aboriginal Language, Kinship and Culture

Howitt and Fison

Lorimer Fison and A. W. Howitt produced Kamilaroi and Kurnai in 1880. Their book revealed the complexity of Aboriginal societies and changed the course of anthropology in the early years of the discipline. Fison was a Wesleyan Missionary with extensive experience in the Pacific and A.W. Howitt was a polymath explorer, geologist, magistrate and naturalist with a deep interest in anthropology. Working together, the two men corresponded with settlers from all over Australia to try and build a better picture of Aboriginal societies. Often they would begin by sending preformatted questionnaires designed in the hope of gathering consistent information. Many of these settlers, often in far flung localities on the colonial frontier, would then proceed to interview local Aboriginal people living and working in their midst. The responses gathered from Aboriginal people, via colonial settlers, went on to inform the synthesis produced by Howitt and Fison. This information was also often supplemented by A.W. Howitt’s own ethnographic studies and experiences of people in Victoria and New South Wales.

Some of the key Aboriginal informants to Howitt and Fison’s work include William Barak, Sergeant Major, King Charley, Bruthen Munji, Billy McLeod (Tulaba), and Yibai-Malian (Murray Jack). During the course of this research we aim to uncover the names and identities of other Aboriginal people that provided information on their culture and language. We will also discover more about the identities of non-Aboriginal peoples that regularly corresponded with Howitt and Fison such as A.L.P. Cameron, Harry E. Aldridge, Jocelyn Brooke, Edward Palmer and many more.

The information amassed in this collection, as well as Howitt and Fison’s publications, continue to shape the production of knowledge about past and present Aboriginal language, kinship and culture. It is an important cultural archive for many Aboriginal people in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland.

Alfred Willian Howitt (Museum Victoria, XP 19404).
Alfred Willian Howitt (Museum Victoria, XP 19404).

Howitt and Fison Writings on Aboriginal Australia

  • Howitt, A.W. ‘Appendices D and F’ in Smyth, Robert Brough (ed) The Aborigines of Victoria, Vol 2. Melbourne: George Robertson, (1878) pp. 300-10 and 323-33.
  • Fison, L, and A. W. Howitt. Kamilaroi and Kurnai. Melbourne: George Robertson, 1880.
  • Howitt, A.W. “The Australian Aborigines.” Nature 26, no. 671 (1882): 452–53. doi:10.1038/026452b0.
  • Howitt, A. W., and Lorimer Fison. “From Mother-Right to Father-Right.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland12 (1883): 30–46.
  • Howitt, A.W. “Notes on the Australian Class Systems.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 12 (1883): 496–512.
  • Howitt, A.W. “On Some Australian Beliefs.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 13 (1884): 185–98.
  • Howitt, A.W. “On Some Australian Ceremonies of Initiation.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 13 (1884): 432–59.
  • Fison, L and A.W. Howitt. “On the Deme and the Horde.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 14 (1885): 141–69.
  • Howitt, A.W. “The Jeraeil, or Initiation Ceremonies of the Kurnai Tribe.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 14 (1885): 301–25.
  • Howitt, A.W. “On the Migrations of the Kurnai Ancestors.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 15 (1886): 409–22.
  • Howitt, A.W. “Notes on Songs and Songmakers of Some Australian Tribes.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 16 (1887): 327–35.
  • “On Australian Medicine Men; Or, Doctors and Wizards of Some Australian Tribes.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 16 (1887): 23–59.
  • Fison, L and A.W. Howitt. “Further Notes on the Australian Class Systems.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 18 (1889): 31–70.
  • Howitt, A.W. “Note by Mr. A. W. Howitt, as to Descent in the Dieri Tribe.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 19 (1890): 90–90.
  • Fison, Lorimer. “The Aborigines of Victoria.” In Handbook of Victoria:  For the Use of Members of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, Melbourne Meeting., edited by Walter Baldwin Spencer,. Melbourne: Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, (1890): 45–55.
  • Fison, L. “The Classificatory System of Relationship.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 24 (1895): 360–71.
  • Howitt, Mary E. B., and Otto Siebert. “Some Native Legends from Central Australia.” Folklore 13, no. 4 (1902): 403–17.
  • Howitt, A. W., and Otto Siebert. “Legends of the Dieri and Kindred Tribes of Central Australia.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 34 (1904): 100–129.
  • Howitt, A. W. (Alfred William). The Native Tribes of South-East Australia. London: MacMillan and Co., 1904.
  • Howitt, A. W. “Australian Group-Relationships.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 37 (1907): 279–89. doi:10.2307/2843320.
  • A.W. Howitt. “Literature Relating to Australian Aborigines.” Nature 77, (1907): 81. doi:10.1038/077080d0.