Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

Letter from A. Thomson to Spencer

Physical Description

16.11.1896. From A.Thomson (The Museum, Oxford) to B. S. Belated thanks to B. S. for an important specimen. Interesting Oxford gossip. “Balfour” at the Pitt Rivers has been in very poor health for some time”.

Primary Comments

Miscellaneous Letters: 1892 – 1959


Letter: Arthur Thomson to WB Spencer - 1

The Museum. Oxford. Nov. 16 1896
My dear Spencer
You must have thought me an ungrateful brute but when you hear all the facts I feel sure you will modify your opinion To put it briefly I only ascertained from Fairbairn that you were the sender of the black man’s penis. The package arrived without any not or card to intimate the sender & as I had got promises from several friends that they would send me home what specimens they could lay hold of, I was naturally at a loss to know to whom I was indebted for the “article” I admit that I thought of you in connexion there with but I made up my mind it was not exactly in your line & that most probably it was a peace offering from some medical friend. However I made up my mind that I would wait until I received his letter which I felt sure was bound to follow telling me something about the specimen. This never came, hence my ignorance not only of the nature of the thing but also of the donor to whose kindness I was so much indebted. At last Fairbairn’s arrival has cleared up the mystery of the donor & I hasten to thank you very heartily for so kindly remembering me but Fairbairn appears to have very ^hazy ideas with regard to the nature of the object. I gathered

Letter: Arthur Thomson to WB Spencer - 2

from him that the specimen belonged to a male who had practiced certain mutilations either for tribal or other purposes Indeed I at once concluded that Fairbairn referred to the “whitle cock” but I was certain the specimen sent could not be such for I have photos of natives thus described which show an appearance which I represent roughly in the accompanying diagram
[annotated diagram] –a –b
( a) is the urethra split up throughout the whole length of the body of the penis whilst b is placed over the orifice of the canal where the penis joins the scrotum. I at once hunted up your specimen again & confirmed the view I had previously formed that it had not been similarly treated from what I could gather from an inspection of the specimen the penis was of stunted form, (I have seen such specimens in this country) & apparently circumcision had been practised the operation had apparently involved the ^fraenum & a small part of the anterior end of the urethra had thus been cut into – That circumcision is practiced by some Australians is I believe an
acknowledged fact but I am not familiar with any method of stunting the growth of the organ & I naturally concluded that that was a congenital defect. I am very much interested in the whole ^question

Letter: Arthur Thomson to WB Spencer - 3

& if you can find time to write me a short account of the practice of the natives as illustrated by the specimen you sent home, I should be very much indebted to you.
I was glad to hear from Fairbairn such good accounts of you. You must have had grand opportunities when you went up country with that expedition
Here things are fully much as they were. Golcle you know has returned to us as Professor of Physiology. Sanderson is now the Regnes & Lankesles has ceased from troubling at least in an open way though he is never weary of trying to get at us by underhand means Dear old Jackson I see very little of his duties at the .... seem to absorb all his times – Benham seems to have settled down for good & Bourne is evidently going to run hard for the Linacre Professorship when that becomes vacant He has made himself a university position by his all round good business qualities so you’ll have to gird up your loins old man when the times comes. Murchin seems happy & contented as a fellow of Merton & Garstanly is tempting providence by having married on his Lincoln fellowship You would be sorry to hear of poor Pollards death, an able man I always thought. Chalmees Mitchell is deep in journalism, scientific

Letter: Arthur Thomson to WB Spencer - 4

and otherwise in London You know he married one of the Heavenly bodies daughters. Horns I haven’t seen for some time & I should .... Hickson was ^ not a great success at Manchester. Marshall was a giant to follow. Balfour of the Pitt Rivers has been in very poor health for some time very serious but he is set up again now & though I cannot say he has much to fall back upon yet I hope he may get .... as time goes on. Poor chap his system is soaked with gout & at times he has sever attacks which leave him in a very prostrate condition
Now I think I have told you most of the news. I am sure after what I have said that you will forgive me for my apparent rudeness
I hope all your family keep well & hearty. When may we expect to see you home again?
With kind regards & renewed thanks
Believe me
Yours Ever
Arthur Thomson

Rights: Pitt Rivers Museum

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Letter To
Sir, Spencer, Walter Baldwin
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Pitt Rivers Museum