Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

Letter from Spencer to Howitt


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March 17.05.

My dear Howitt,

I came across a letter to you today half written which reminded me that I ought to have written to you long ago. I hope you will not put down my long silence to forgetfulness. After the year's work which had been very hard I went off to New Zealand with Mrs Spencer & our two girls for a real holiday & was too lazy to write more than necessary. We had a lovely time in New Zealand going round both the North & South Island. The scenery there is simply magnificent - Equal to the best of the Alpine scenery in Switzerland & the Fiords in Norway which is saying a great deal. We

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ended up in Auckland & from there came across to Sydney where I left the family to go up to the Blue Mountains myself coming straight on to Melbourne as I had been away quite long enough. As you can imagine this meant a sudden plunge into work & I am only now overtaking arrears. At the University we are in the midst of reorganisation & arranging for new courses in Mining & Agriculture & as President of the Professional Board my hands are more than full with routine work. This week alone, on the top of ordinary work, I have 15 committee meetings & arranging work for these leaves me but little spare time. Under these circumstances please forgive my silence. I have not even been able to go to Essendon to see Fison though I hope to do so soon. I am hoping to hear some news from

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Frazer before long in regard to our request to him to help us in the matter of a civil service pension.

I have been delighted to see the reviews of your work. They must have been most gratifying to you & some recompense for your long work. The review in "Nature" apart from Crawley's remarks in regard to ...... marriage & expiation pleased me very much. It was peculiarly gratifying to me to see you recognized as 'the Nestor' of Australian Anthropology. On some points we may not perhaps see eye to eye but I hope that you will always realize that I am fully aware of the very great debt which I myself as a younger worker owe to you. Had it not been for your early work which gave me an insight into the organisation of Australian tribes I should probably never have started anthropological work at all or at least as Tylor & Moseley had given me an

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initial turn in this direction I should have had to spend years in learning the fundamental things which you had already worked out - a knowledge of which gained from your work enabled Gillen & myself to go further afield.

Is there any chance of your coming into town soon. On April 8th we hold our commencement at the University & if you would care to do so I very much wish that you would take the Degree of D.Sc. ad lundem. Unfortunately this means paying a fee but I would very much like to have you enrolled as a Doctor of Science of our University. The fee is I believe only �5.5.0 & if you will pay this then the University will be distinguished by enabling it to count you as one of its graduates. Please think the matter over. We can with very much pleasure offer you our spare room & if Miss Howitt will not mind having a bed in a room with our two girls we need hardly say that we should be delighted to have you both for as long as you can stay with us. My wife joins me in saying that we must sincerely hope you will both come. I need scarcely add that I shall be most delighted to see you & to have the chance of a talk.


W.Baldwin Spencer.

Rights: State Library of Victoria

Document Details

Date Made

Document Details

Letter To
Howitt, Alfred William
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State Library of Victoria