Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

Letter from Fison to Gillen


First and Last Pages

12 April 1897
Dear Mr Gillen,
I cannot refrain from writing a hurried note – though I am up to the eyes & overhead in work just now – to tell you how glad I was to hear Spencer’s report of your work at the Engwura. As I said at the Royal Society Inst Thursday evening, after Spencer had finished, “It is the most magnificent bit of anthropological work that has been done for many a year”. I enclose you a couple of newspaper cuttings – one from The Age, & the other from the “Public Talk” column of my own little paper, this latter being only a printer’s proof. The par. will appear in our issue of the 16th [?].
Spencer at the Royal Society gave you full acknowledgement, & asked me to say something about the value of your own personal work. This I did at the Royal, & am still [?] in other quarters. Your own work made his possible, & on the other hand you are fortunate in securing a comrade such as he. In addition to Spencer’s report at the Royal, Howitt & I have had two long evenings with him, at which we did nothing else but talk over the splendid results of your work.
Will you tell Spencer’s “royal elder brother” that if I possibly could I would make the journey all the way to his country to great him, & to talk to him about things in general? Also tell him that I found a tribe in Fiji – only in one part of the “Great land”, who brought stone churinga with them when they first came to the country. Their chief, whose name was Lútunasómbusómba, lost his vátu vðlái (inscribed stones) by the upsetting of his canoe when he got within the barrier reef. They were in a basket, carefully covered up, & sank when the canoe was capsized. He mourned for them, saying, “My descendants will be in evil case because my vatu volai are lost” . He set up a stone pillar on the spot where he landed, & carved on it the markings which were on the “inscribed stones”. They were these [Illustration & pencil notation] They are found in N Europe also & I have seen them on Yorkshire wolds.
Also please tell him that another tribe elsewhere in Fiji, on another island, & in that place alone, have the Engwura; but they have lost all memory of what it means, & have now only a mere remnant of it. The Arunta only have it in perfection.
If I were not in an absolutely stone-broke condition financially, I should be delighted to send you a P.O. for a few pounds of tobacco as a present to my Wild-cat relatives; but when my ship comes in I will do so. At present she is detained by contrary winds.

With many congratulations
Yours sincerely
Lorimer Fison

Rights: South Australian Museum

Document Details

Date Made
12 April 1897

Document Details

Letter To
Gillen, Francis James
Number of Pages
Number of Sheets




South Australian Museum