Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

Letter from Sir W B Spencer to H Balfour 24/9/1920

Physical Description

24.09.1920. From B. S. to H. B. The reply to No19 above. Details of B. S.’s resignation and the reasons for it. Details of his new country bungalow. News of his two daughters and their marriages. Nostalgic recollections of the old “Pitt-Rivers collection, which gave him his first interest in anthropology. Memories of Moseley and Tylor. “Tylor … Simply fascinated me.”

Primary Comments

Correspondence between W. Baldwin Spencer and Henry Balfour


Letter from Sir W B Spencer to H Balfour 24/9/1920 - 1

National Museum
My dear Balfour,
I was very glad indeed to get your letter of Aug 4 & to know that the box reached you safely. We were feeling very anxious as so many things have gone to the bottom – also I was anxious for news of you & am very relieved to hear that you are well again. Time goes by and one does not possess the resilience of thirty years ago – not that I feel much older. After 7 years of strenuous work as President of the Professional board which left me no time for research work I gradually got more & more out of touch with zoological work & realized that I was losing interest in it so I resigned on reaching the horrible age of 60. to give place to a more ‘modern’ man who was versed in recent methods. I must confess that I had become completely out of date but preferred to recongnize this myself rather than have it pointed out to me by the Council which had the power to do so on my 60th birthday. We have been most fortunate in [torn] Dr Agar – he is not only a good field man – having [torn] in S America – but he is very keen on & most [torn] regard to matters of heredity etc & will have a [torn] opportunity. After 33 years of lecturing at 9 a.m. [torn] first year students it is a wonderful relief to think [torn] a

Letter from Sir W B Spencer to H Balfour 24/9/1920 - 2

morning that some one else is doing it & that you can sit down quietly in your study & work away at what you want to. It was however as you will understand somewhat of a wrench to walk out of my old Lab. & hand it over to another though nothing could have been kinder than the expressions of my old students or more courteous & thoughtful than the way in which Dr Agar acted. I go to the old Lab. Every now & then but of course it only takes a year or two before as entirely new generation of students arises & one realizes fully the meaning of “A Pharoah has arisen you knows not Joseph”. Taking advantage of the absence of my wife in England I sold as you know the old Warley & now we have a new one – only really a little bungalow – some 22 miles out of Melbourne - it is quite big enough for us in fact we cannot live save on a very modest scale but it is delightful to be in the country & to have ones own fruit & vegetables && milk & butter & flowers galore. From the front verandah we look down on the little township & railway stations & from the back one we walk straight out into the wild bush. For a country cottage it is not inconveniencing as we have our own electric plant, hot & cold water, ‘vacuum cleaners’ worked by electricity, ‘radiators’ if we don’t want fires & any amount of wood which costs me just 6/. a ton to cut. This must be almost as cheap as your fuel. The whole place is about as big as three of your rooms & of course all on one flat. I am much wondering what my wife will thi [torn]

Letter from Sir W B Spencer to H Balfour - 24/9/1920 - 3

National Museum
now on her way out having spent some fourteen months with our elder daughter in Scotland – she was very far from well – some form of nervous breakdown partly due to war & other work & partly to anxiety about our two daughters’ husbands both of whom by good fortune came through safely. If you should ever be near Glasgow my elder daughter (Mrs Arthur Young) lives in a most delightful spot called “Core” on the Clyde & would be very glad to see you. I have told her you & Mrs Balfour may someday announce your arrival. She has now 3 picanninies which makes one feel older. My other daughter Alline – whom you met here – lives with her husband on the land in West Australia – a very wild part – she has a little boy & is coming with him over here for the summer as there is another little one ‘en route’. For many months she has had a very rough time in the ‘back-blocks’ & needs a rest.
I was much interested in your lecture to the Somersetshire Society more especially because it was the old Pitt Rivers collections that first gave me my real interest in Anthropology. It was I think in 1884 or 5 that Moseley asked me if I would spend the vacation in helping to pack up the collection which was then housed at South Kensington. I did a great deal of the packing up & it was intensely interesting – have Moseley & Tylor coming in & hear them talking about things. I remember well that Moseley seemed to know a

Letter from Sir W B Spencer to H Balfour - 24/9/1920 - 4

great deal more than Tylor in regards to detail & of course after his experiences on the “Challenger” he could speak of many things with first hand knowledge but Tylor with his curious way which you may remember of every now & then as it were ‘drawing in his breath’ – I don’t know how otherwise to express it – simply fascinated me. It was intensively interesting to a young man like myself & also a great privilege to come into such personal contact with two such workers. of the two it struck me at that time Moseley had the greater technical knowledge but Tylor the wider outlook. Chinnery who met you in Oxford was in Melbourne for sometime but is now in German N.G. He left his wife behind – there was a still born child since he left & she has been in a dangerous state for weeks but I am glad to say she is now out of danger – but has been a very serious matter. C. Is a nice fellow & an excellent worker. I trust you are all well. Kindest regards
Yours very sincerely
W. Baldwin Spencer.
I wish we could hear news of your being appointed Professor.

Rights: Pitt Rivers Museum

Document Details

Date Made

Document Details

Letter To
Balfour, Henry


Pitt Rivers Museum