'By the facts we add to our store': Lorimer Fison, Lewis Henry Morgan and the spread of kinship studies in Australia.
In December 1872 the thirty-seven year old Lorimer Fison presented a paper on 'The Classificatory System of Kinship' to the Royal Society of Victoria in the imposing public library of the gold rich capital of Melbourne. The novel study of kinship was known to only a handful in the Australasian colonies and the first section was an introduction to the theory and early findings of American lawyer Lewis Henry Morgan which had just been published as Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity (1871). Fison described how he was initiated into the study at his mission station on the banks of the Rewa River on the Fiji island of Viti Levu in 1869 via Morgan's kinship schedule. He explained Morgan's thesis of two distinct forms of kinship: the 'Descriptive' types of Europe and the Middle East, so called because Morgan believed these peoples understood the 'real' forms of biological kinship via the nuclear family; and the 'Classificatory' systems of East Asia, the Americas, Africa and the Pacific Islands. The Classificatory system was profoundly baffling to the European observer: aunts could be mothers; cousins could be siblings; the uncle frequently outranked the father while land and relationships might be tracked through the mother. Morgan sought to divine the purpose behind this alterity and devised a schema of the development of the human family from a primitive to a civilised state. All variations of kinship could be plotted to the following stages:
--the Cohabitation of Brothers and Sisters
--the Communal Family,
--the Tribal Organization,
--the Barbarian Family,
--the Patriarchal Family the rise of property,
--the Civilized Stage of the Family (Morgan 1868: 479-80).
According to Morgan evidence of the earliest stages of communal marriage could be found amongst the Hawaiians whose royal system of brother/sister incest was believed to be a common form (Gardner 2008:147; Morgan 1868; 1877:403). The next stage could be found in North America as the Ganowanian (matrilineal) form, where brother sister marriage was no longer permitted and groups were separated into marriage 'tribes' (moieties) which became evidence of the earliest division into political units. The Turanian (patrilineal) forms were believed to flourish in Asia (Fison 1873:157-8; Morgan 1868). In an ominous prediction, Morgan suggested that the final stage of kinship development was yet to come: in the future the entire 'Classificatory' family would be overwhelmed and replaced by the 'Descriptive' forms of the West (Morgan 1868:480).
Fison delivered his paper ten years before E. B. Tylor's appointment as the first Reader in Anthropology at Oxford, while the proto-discipline was riding the crest of evolutionism. The deep time of Darwinism was dispelling the theory of multiple human origins and human differences required new explanations. While Australian Aborigines would become an icon of the evolutionist paradigm as the most primitive of peoples, they were completely absent from Morgan's earliest publications. Systems of Consangunity and Affinity included data from every continent except Australia. During the 1870s, however, the indigenous peoples of the Australian colonies gained a much higher profile. The years of Fison's furlough in Sydney and Melbourne coincided with a British turn to Australia as a fertile site for new data and analyses that were extensively discussed in the new journal The Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. No less than six articles on Aborigines by missionaries, settlers and some of the upcoming luminaries of the discipline, appeared in volume one in 1872. C. Staniland Wake, later president of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland and correspondent with Fison in the 1880s, published an ontogenetic argument on the place of Aborigines as the children of human mental development (Wake 1872). Boyd Dawkins, archaeologist, author of Cave Hunting (1874) and later Professor of Geology in Manchester, read a description of the burial customs of Queensland Aborigines to a meeting (Dawkins 1872: 214-19).
As Aborigines were gaining prominence in anthropology, new anthropological investigations were disseminated through the Australian colonies to improve the quality of the evidence and escape the previous reliance on the amateur observations of explorers, settlers and administrators (Gardner forthcoming: 114; Urry 1972: 46-47; 1993: 17-24). As well as the measurements of the body these questions sought systematic details on customs. Yet these questionnaires were formulated within broad evolutionist theories and the results still tended to the anecdotal and summary. Morgan's kinship schedules differed from these questionnaires for they required the meticulous collection of over 200 kinship terms in the language of the informant. The successful completion of Morgan's complex kinship schedule could only be achieved with close collaboration with one or more informants over hours and usually days. The resultant data, while they were used for comparative purposes, were rare examples of endogenous information that bore at least some relationship to the societies under investigation. Indeed, in the case of the South Pacific material and particularly in the Australian colonies, the kinship data challenged evolutionist theories and defied ready classification.
Lorimer Fison's conversion to Morgan's kinship studies in the final months of 1869 challenged his previous pessimism on the capabilities and destiny of his Fijian congregations and was followed by a year of intense study into kinship from his station on the Rewa delta of the large island of Viti Levu in Fiji (Gardner 2008). Fison followed Morgan's lead and established himself as a hub for the research, posting schedules and precis of Morgan's theory to missionary colleagues around the South Pacific and the Australasian colonies and relaying the results back to America. The meticulously completed schedules and the sophisticated memoranda accompanying them from the South Pacific showed Morgan that Fison had 'mastered the subject' and he urged his former apprentice to 'work out the system of Polynesia, Micronesia, Madagascar and the Papuan Islands', and, if possible, to write his own book on the subject that also covered their 'principal domestic institutions', polity, dance, burial, marriage, disposal of property and religion. (2) Fison demurred that he was without 'the proper knowledge requisite for the task' and that his role was simply to 'bring materials for the great master builders of science'. (3) Yet a broader study clearly appealed and his sights were set beyond the Pacific islands to his former home in the colonies of Australia. Fison wrote to the editor of the Argus in Melbourne describing the rudiments of the classificatory system and seeking others to engage in the work of gathering schedules in the colonies. As to the 'arranging, comparing and drawing conclusions from the material gathered', he wrote, 'all this I am quite willing to do myself'. (4)
While Fison may have planned to conduct the study from Fiji, his wife's illness forced the family back to the Australian colonies in the early months of 1871 where they lived first in Sydney then in Melbourne for the next five years. (5) Within a month of their arrival in Sydney, Fison had arranged the printing of 500 circulars and schedules at the printery adjoining the local Wesleyan Church in Newtown. (6) Morgan's first attempts to send Fison his weighty opus on the kinship systems of the world, Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity were unsuccessful--Fison only received a copy when Morgan cut it in half and posted it in two parts.: As a result, Fison's 1871 circular was devised purely from his exposure to Morgan's questions, his reading of Morgan's paper from 1868 the 'Conjectural theory of the origin of the classificatory system' and Morgan's correspondence. He replicated Morgan's 220 questions on kinship terms and also requested details on polity, the settlement of property, the customs of betrothal and marriage and cannibalism. (8)
Fison was relentless in his quest for kinship data from the Australian colonies. Friends and acquaintances were chivvied to the task: a Queensland sugar planter, G. F. Bridgman, who knew the 'language of the blacks' was urged to fill out a schedule and offered as many more as he could make use of. (9) He set about 'catching a gentleman who is just going down to Madagascar' and he laid a plan to 'attack Bishop Patteson [of the Melanesian Mission] and feel sure that I shall have him for a prize'. (10) While Fison's Methodist connections were his main source for Pacific schedules, the Presbyterians provided Aboriginal materials. The Reverend R. Hamilton of Fitzroy, had already sent him schedules from some ' 12 or 13 aboriginal [sic] groups' gathered from the Moravian Missionaries of the Western Districts and also the Yarra tribes of Victoria) (11) His most important contact was William Ridley, Presbyterian missionary, minister and former Professor of Greek, Latin and Hebrew at the Australian College in Sydney who was already widely published on Aboriginal matters. During the 1850s Ridley spent four years amongst the Kamilaroi [now Gamilaraay] people and their neighbours of northern New South Wales followed by two years in the Brisbane region. He was known in London through an early paper to the Philological Society (1855) and was quoted in the 4th edition of Prichard's The Natural History of Man (1855:490) (Spriggs 1997:196). On his return to Sydney in 1861 he developed his linguistic material into the publication on Aboriginal languages that first appeared in 1866 and was then revised and republished in 1875 as Kamilaroi and Other Australian Languages (Spriggs 1997:197). In the first months of his residence in Newtown, Sydney, Fison called on Ridley, leaving a copy of his circular and schedule. The next day Ridley walked eight miles to return the visit). (12) Clearly Fison's investigations excited the Presbyterian who had already examined the kinship system of his Gamilaraay neighbours: his 1866 publication included a three page appendix on 'family names, classification, and marriage law' in which he described the marriage classes and the descent systems and identified a principal characteristic of what Morgan would later claim was the essential indicator of the shift from the Communal to the Barbarian family (Ridley 1866:35-37; Spriggs 1997:196). Unlike the Hawaiians, who did not differentiate in any way between aunts and mothers, uncles and fathers--all were simply mothers and fathers and all offspring were siblings--the Gamilaraay identified a relationship analogous to cousin. Ridley wrote a paper for Fison classifying the marriage laws and detailing the extent of the system among 'tribes speaking different dialects'. (13) Fison maintained his contact with Ridley throughout his residence in Sydney, and was grateful for his efforts to bring his ethnological abilities to the notice of Oxford linguist and professor of Comparative Philology Friedrich Max Muller. (14) Yet despite his own sensitivity over the failure of others to acknowledge his work, Fison downplayed Ridley's contribution. Fison's subsequent publications cited Ridley in footnotes for his kinship data but his substantial knowledge of Gamilaraay language and customs was not elucidated and his articles and books were never mentioned by name. (15)
Fison immediately made extensive notes on Ridley's data for Morgan but was puzzled by an anomalous coupling that appeared to be an 'infringement' on the 'original rule' of marriage across the class divisions, for Ippai (male) could under some unknown circumstances partner his kinship 'sister' Ippatha. As Fison was discussing this with Ridley he received a letter and schedule from T. E. Lance of Bungawalbyn, on the Upper Clarence river, who was also well acquainted with the Gamilaraay people confirming the marriage law was 'crossed and complicated in a manner which he did not understand', using as example a marriage between an Ippai and a Ippatha. When the informants were questioned about this apparent transgression the wife replied 'What for you stupid? This Ippai is not a Blacksnake like other Ippais, but an Emu. That explains it' (Fison 1873: 165). Fison suspected another form of classification was at work and hypothesised a further division based on the 'totem' system of North America (Fison 1873: 165). As Ridley was planning a visit to Gamilaraay country at Max Muller's request, Fison suggested he also investigate the class divisions. On his return the Presbyterian confirmed that the 'four classes were subdivided into six others, each of which bore a totem as its distinguishing mark' (Fison 1873: 165). Fison asked Lance to confirm the details and in his Memoranda on the Ridley material made the startling suggestion that while the Gamilaraay people clearly displayed 'Tamilian Characteristics': i.e. the son/daughter relationship to the children of the sibling of the same sex, and the nephew/niece relationship to the children of the sibling of the opposite sex, the subdivisions appeared to allow marriage to his half sister on his father's side, though not on his mother s side. (16) The point was particularly significant to Morgan's hypothesis that the earliest stages of marriage were between a brother and sister. Alert to the significance of the material, Fison hesitated to send it to Morgan, as he had high hopes for a new partnership with Max Muller and the first copies were sent to his sister in Oxford with the request they be passed on to the linguist. (17) Hearing nothing from Oxford he finally dispatched his Gamilaraay material to the American with further details a month later, making a total of three memoranda on the Ridley/Lance material. (18)
Morgan presented a paper on 'Australian Kinship from original memoranda of Rev. Lorimer Fison' to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in March 1872. (19) The Gamilaraay kinship system was extremely complex. The initial six 'tribes' included: Iguana (Dull), Kangaroo (Murriira), Opossum (Mute), Emu (Dinoun), Bandicoot (Bilba), Blacksnake (Nurai). The restrictions to marriages only between the first and last three and the descent through the 'female line' were, for Morgan, the 'essential characteristics of the tribal organization'; at this level the external features of the Gamilaraay peoples were 'at once perfect and complete' (Morgan 1872:417). But there was another division into eight classes separated by gender that also determined marriage partners and Morgan believed that this evidence indicated 'an organization older than the tribes founded upon sex, and more archaic than any constitution of society hitherto discovered' (Morgan 1872:418). Thus all members of one marriage class were brothers to each other, and all women of one class were sisters to each other. For Morgan the Aboriginal material was the evidence for communal marriage that he had been seeking, which was confirmed by Lance's assurance that if a man met an unknown woman from a marriage class corresponding to his own, they would address each other as Goleer = Spouse'; he would treat her as his wife, and his right to do so would be recognized by her tribe' (Hiatt 1996:41; Morgan 1872:419). Yet the Australian material defied ready classification. Despite reiterating his belief that Pacific island societies were the least developed owing to their isolation, Morgan nonetheless proposed that the continental 'Australians are savages' who rank below the 'Malayan, the Polynesian and the Ganowanian (Amerindian)' on the basis of their complex marriage classes (Morgan 1872:416). The Gamilaraay people were determined to be in a transition stage from classes to tribes. Yet the Gamilaraay kinship system contradicted the schema for it showed both the cousin relationship, which placed them in the Barbarian family above the Hawaiians, whose kinship had previously been thought the most simple, and the complex marriage classes which allowed for a brother/half sister marriage. Morgan was uneasy about these anomalies but focused on the broader point that his investigations proved universal human unity. (20) He insisted to his questioning American audience, still under the shadow of polygenist theorists such as Louis Agassiz who claimed that humans had arisen independently around the world from multiple points and that each discrete group was essentially different from the other, that his material proved a single human species had developed gradually through successive stages, and that the remnants of these earlier times lingered in the civilized mind:
we have the same identical brain ... which worked in the skulls of savages and barbarians in bygone ages; and it has come down to us ladened [sic] and saturated with the thoughts, aspirations, and passions with which it was busied through the intermediate periods
The proof, claimed Morgan, in an analysis that predicted Freud's proposition of the primitive id, lay in the 'outcrops of barbarism ...free love and Mormonism' that could be identified as the 'relics of the old savagism' that continued to 'lurk in all cities ...' repressed by law and restrained by superior intelligence (Morgan 1872:428).
Unlike Morgan, Fison directly acknowledged in his paper to the Royal Society of Victoria in 1872, that the Gamilaraay sub-divisions challenged their evolutionist classification. While the evidence of uncles, aunts and cousins ought to have placed the matrilineal Gamilaraay firmly in the Ganowanian system and therefore one step above the Hawaiians according to the schedule from those islands, Fison argued that while this was where the evidence pointed he had 'reason to suspect that among those natives, the seed of progress fell on stony ground, and did not bring forth fruit to perfection' (Fison 1873:164). This was the result of the subdivisions which complicated the matrimonial privileges and appeared to allow extra sexual license. There was another reason based not on kinship but on polity and property. The absence of hereditary chiefs amongst Melanesians and Aborigines suggested that there 'could be no transmission by inheritance of either property or rank', implying that the peoples of western Oceania at least were 'nearer to the Malay system' than the 'Polynesians' (Fison 1873:163).
The data were challenging the theory: the Malay system was based on the Hawaiians who were perceived to be the exemplars of the earliest form of kinship owing to the absence of aunts, uncles or cousins in their system. Yet now the schema was being redrawn on the basis of polity and property. So while the kinship data ought to have placed the Gamilaraay above the Hawaiians, they were relegated below them according to different criteria. At the same time the 'Malay' Hawaiians were being elevated to Barbarian status for their polity and hereditary systems.
Fison also tackled other evidence that complicated the schema of human development in Oceania. Language, many theorists claimed, similarly moved along an evolutionist path that could be plotted according to the development of society: if polity had evolved from family to tribe to kingdom to government, then language had also developed from gesture to guttural to mono then polysyllabic and then eventually to standardized grammar and the accuracy, nuance and finesse attributed to the refined and the civilized. Yet Fison's knowledge of the complexity of Fijian languages challenged the theory that 'savages' lacked the faculty of grammar (Fison 1873:169). Aboriginal tongues were similarly complex, noted Ridley, whose knowledge of Greek, Latin and Hebrew allowed him to compare Australian and classical languages. George Taplin, superintendent of the Point Macleay mission of South Australia amongst the Narrinyeri (now Ngarrindjeri) people, provided further evidence. Fison noted that the 'Narrinyeri nouns have two cases more than the Greek nouns have, and are inflected throughout all the cases, ' while the Gamilaraay verbs, the possessive pronouns of the Tongan and the personal pronouns of the Fijian all revealed greater complexity than the pronouns used in 'civilized nations' (Fison 1873:169-70). To accommodate this tension Fison was forced to reverse the developmentalism of the evolutionist schema. Thus while the explanation for the evolution of polity was from simple to complex, that of the evolution of language was from complex to simple: 'complex forms being dropped one by one in the line of advance, as too cumbrous to be borne in a rapid march' (Fison 1873:169). Similarly the greater complexity of the Gamilaraay kinship system with its classes and subdivisions did not indicate an evolutionary advance on the binary systems of the Pacific Islands. Fison was quick to correct T. E. Lance's conclusion that the multiple marriage classes of Gamilaraay peoples compared to only two classes in Fiji was evidence the former were of a higher civilization. The missionary insisted that this was proof of a lower state, for the 'tendency to civilization is to simplicity in grammatical forms, as the history of all languages abundantly proves'. (21)
Fison concluded his paper with his own speculations on the origins of kinship and the importance of kinship similarities as an argument for the common origin of all peoples. When the characteristics of the kinship system of 'one tribe [was] reproduced with startling fidelity in another tribe far distant from it, we are, as it seems to me, irresistibly impelled to the conclusion that there must have been a time when all these widely separated nations belonged to one race'. The origin of humanity, he believed, lay in Asia which was 'the fatherland'. For Fison, kinship studies provided a guide across a previously 'trackless waste', and laid out a 'broad and well-defined path where formerly we could discover but an uncertain footmark here and there'. The inquiry revealed both the slow march of kinship forms as well as the inspiration: 'that shadowy host who bring up the rear in the onward march'. 'Leading the van' of kinship ahead of the mob of Communal and Barbaric peoples was the Civilized European (Fison 1873:179).
While Aborigines were being entrenched in European thought as the most primitive of peoples their kinship schedules continued to challenge their place on the evolutionist ladder. The Reverend Taplin's response on the Ngarrindjeri of South Australia was a surprise to Morgan for they showed the Ngarrindjeri to be patrilineal rather than matrilineal: 'Kinship through females is more archaic than that through males' Morgan insisted, 'and where the latter is found we must suppose the people made the change', yet clearly he had not expected it. His schema, which appeared to work relatively well through the rest of the world, was breaking down in the Pacific and the Australian colonies. He had to admit that the Australians 'seem to have carried their development some distance in advance of the Polynesians' yet the evidence on technology and polity strained the classifications and Morgan suggested to Fison that 'mentally they seem inferior to the Polynesians'. (22)
Morgan never resolved this tension for he had already broadened his analysis from kinship to the development of all human institutions. This new study allowed him to brush aside the anomalies of kinship data and concentrate instead on the 'modern institutions of civilisation' by exploring the living remnants of savagery and barbarism. In a letter to Fison, Morgan sketched the outline of his new investigation that was eventually published as Ancient Society (1877) and was to prove so influential on Marx and Engels (Spriggs 1997; Tooker 1985: xvi). Morgan posited that savage and barbarous nations gradually develop in four distinct areas: 'the growth of the idea of the family, the growth of the idea of government, the growth of the idea of property--which was the true sign of civilization and has become the dominant passion of the human mind, and finally the growth of the idea of religion'. What Morgan now required from his collaborators was a 'full exposition of the lives of savages and barbarians' to 'illustrate and explain the modern institutions of civilization'. (23)
Aware of the growing importance of Aborigines in metropolitan analyses he admitted to Fison that he was 'behind the times on Australia' and asked for information: 'I suppose' he wrote 'they had the bow and arrow, spear and shield, stone implements, pottery, woven fabrics with warp and weft, basket making, the fish spear net and hook. Did they have iron? And was it smelted on the island, or introduced from without. How far had they got in house building? Did they use the native metals? What was their subsistence, and what boats did they make. (24) While Fison's knowledge of Fijian life was extensive, based on his time spent on the Rewa delta and the Tongans and Fijians he had come to know in Lakeba mission station in the Lau group on the eastern fringe of the Fiji islands, he lacked comparable experience amongst Aborigines. On his return from the mission field he lived in Sydney and Melbourne. There is no indication in his personal papers that he had any direct contact with the subjects of his study while he was developing his theories of Australian kinship. In response to Morgan's request, therefore, he retreated to the public library in Melbourne where he waded through volumes of 'Travel and Exploration'. He warned Morgan that the sources were 'bewilderingly contradictory' but did his best to answer the questions in a 10-page letter covering Aboriginal technology and society and including particularly garish details on cannibalism and funerary rites. (25) It is notable that Fison made no particular use of these varied observations in his own subsequent texts. Yet despite a steady stream of kinship material from Fison based on completed schedules and extensive memoranda, and despite Fison's warning that the material was contradictory, Morgan placed Australian Aborigines on the lowest rung of human society in Ancient Society, and reproduced the most ghoulish and unsympathetic of Fison's library extracts to provide a damning assessment of Aboriginal cannibalism noting that 'Australian humanity, as seen in their cannibal customs, stands on as low a plane as it has been known to touch on the earth' (Morgan 1877: 374).
Fison, by contrast, became increasingly wary of evolutionist speculation. Indeed, the inductive evolutionism of his first paper in 1873 was toned down considerably in his half of the book he published seven years later with Alfred William Howitt, Kamilaroi and Kurnai (1880). While Fison continued to use the development thesis as an organising metaphor in his work, he avoided the reification of the evolutionist hierarchy so common amongst the metropolitan theorists. His unease was the result of the training in empiricism he had undertaken during his time at Cambridge and the influence of his new anthropological correspondent, Anglican missionary Robert Codrington. Fison had first sent a schedule to the Anglican headmaster of the Melanesian Mission on Norfolk Island in 1871. Codrington responded with a warning about the straight-forward application of the English terms 'son, 'daughter' etc across linguistic and cultural boundaries and argued that the 'promiscuous use of the word tribe is also dangerous. I don't believe there is a notion of a tribe properly so called m all the Melanesian islands. (26) Their extensive correspondence was marked by a growing dissatisfaction for the work of the armchair theorists and an increasing disdain for their hypotheses (Gardner 2006b). John Lubbock, the first president of the British Anthropological Society was their favourite target, but they were deeply frustrated by the shortcomings in the method of many of those in the metropole carrying out ethnological inquiries (Stocking 1995:25). Fison observed
The man whose knowledge of his subject is really deep and wide is cautious in his inferences, modest in his statements and respectful to those whose opinions he controverts; while the other, who knows just enough to make himself ridiculous, lays down his theories as eternal truths, dogmatic with far more than a theologians' dogmatism, and pours contempt upon all who differ from him. (27)
Codrington agreed and broadened his complaint to include all the armchair investigations of the period. The problem was the lack of direct observation and the continuation of evolutionist hypotheses developed in the metropole even when the data from the periphery challenged the schema. After reading Lubbock's The Origin of Civilisation (1870) which was so successful that the second edition appeared in the same year and five subsequent editions were published in rapid succession, Codrington complained to his brother Tom that
to my mind it seems after reading Lubbock that the savages of the scientific men recede farther and farther from my experiences and my belief is that if you could get the evidence of people who really know and live with these savages who are considered the lowest you would find that the savages of the very low type do not exist in the world. Scientific men fit their evidence to their preconceived ideas of how things ought to be. (28)
As the conflicting kinship data from the Australian colonies continued to arrive in Melbourne, Fison began to lose confidence in Morgan's thesis. He did not challenge the American directly, though gave full rein to his frustrations in his annotations on Morgan's Australian paper which he posted to Codrington--this document was recently purchased by the National Library of Australia. Fison warned that 'My friend Mr. Morgan is responsible for his generalizations. I do not go with him in all his flights ... I wait for the missing rungs in the ladder'. On the very first point on the advancement of the 'savage' through the stages of 'barbarism' to the 'pastoral' and 'agricultural conditions', Fison argued, against his earlier beliefs, that 'Mr. Morgan, with many others, seems to take it for granted that all races have passed through like experiences. I see no proof of this and it is too large a postulate to be granted'. (29) He also challenged Morgan s argument for the growth' of language from gesture, which 'must' have 'preceded articulate speech'. Impatient with the fascination with gesture language amongst metropolitan theorists Fison insisted that gesture simply fulfilled a utilitarian function across linguistic boundaries and that those who used gesture were fluent in at least one spoken language--a point he reiterated in Kamilaroi and Kurnai (55). (30) He challenged the term 'tribe' which he found confusing and denied that 'totems' could be found in Fiji. Morgan too was finding 'tribe' an imprecise word and in 1873 described to Fison how he had discarded it in favour of the Greek and Roman gens. (31)
Fison also posted a copy of Morgan's paper to A. W. Howitt, the Gippsland magistrate who answered his call for informants in the Australian in 1873. Well known in Victoria for his efforts to locate Burke and Wills, the explorers who had perished in central Australia in their attempt to find an inland sea, Howitt was a self-taught geologist and keen reader of Darwin and the tracts inspired by the new scientific thought of the 1860s and 70s, including Lubbock's Prehistoric Times (Keen 2000: 80-84; Mulvaney 1971:285-312; Stocking 1995: 20; Walker 1971:196-215). Fison was delighted by Howitt's first attempts to map the kinship of his Kurnai neighbours in Gippsland in 1873, both for the content of the schedule, which appeared to show the transition of the Kurnai from the Malayan to the Turanian system, and for his new informant's ready grasp of the theory and the method)-" By mid 1874 their collaboration was well established and together they devised a new circular for printing and publication. (33)
The Fison, Howitt partnership was to prove important to the origins of anthropology in Australia, yet the two men differed in their understanding and interpretation of anthropological theory. Early in their correspondence Fison complained to Howitt that Morgan was a 'thorough Darwinian' noting, in argument against the inductive reasoning of many who were influenced by Darwinian thought, that 'I never yet set my theories above facts and insisted upon the facts giving way to the theories. (34) Over the following two years their correspondence obliquely discussed the application of Darwinian Theory to their kinship data and it must have become obvious to Fison that his Gippland collaborator was also a 'thorough Darwinian'. Finally, in 1876 a series of letters on the question of evolution passed between them. In answer to Howitt's direct charge that Fison did not accept evolution the missionary responded that 'I believe in evolution. Only I do not believe in the evolutionists'. Wary of accepting that humanity and the human condition were formed through materialist rather than deist forces, Fison none-the-less made his argument on the grounds of method rather than religion. While accepting that Howitt's 'semi-human' ancestor may exist, Fison insisted that 'I cannot find proof that a number of successive stages forming an ascending series compels me to accept a form lower than the lowest'. Paradoxically, his religious convictions strengthened his demand for empirical evidence.
I must be sure of the facts. It must not merely seem probable, or even certain. So many things in my experience have appeared absolutely certain to me, and yet have turned out to be very uncertain, if not altogether erroneous, that I have developed a confirmed sceptical habit, especially when sceptical theories come before me. (35)
Howitt responded with a passionate plea for the application of Darwinism to their material in which he collapsed geological with biological and cultural arguments and concluded with a discussion on why Spain had fallen behind other European nations who had marched ahead in technological and political development: he argued that the killing of the intelligent and enlightened Spanish in the inquisition had allowed the bigoted and ignorant--the unfit--to flourish and reproduce, resulting in the hereditary degeneration of the nation. (36) Following this exchange their correspondence returned to the safer ground of their data.
If Fison was wary of his collaborator's Darwinism he was almost certainly dismayed by his mentor's speculation in Ancient Society (1877) which he received in Fiji following his return to the theological college of Navuloa on Fiji in 1875 (Stern 1930a: 265). (37) The book was close to the outline Morgan had proposed to Fison some five years earlier and was a very different book from Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity, which was a mass of kinship data held together with a thin narrative thread of evolutionist speculation. Ancient Society, by contrast, contained less data and more speculation and went well beyond kinship to expound Morgan's theory of social evolution in all aspects of human society. Fison did not repeat his criticisms of Morgan's method that he had made to Codrington and his only direct complaint of the text was that Morgan had misrepresented or misunderstood him in relation to Aboriginal weaving (Stern 1930a:266). It is telling, both in relation to Fison's character and the power of evolutionist theory that the missionary continued to flatter Morgan and supported him in his battles, particularly with Scottish lawyer J. F McLennan who maintained a sustained attack on the American. Fison wrote of McLennan that 'I feel towards him as a Fijian feels towards a man who has insulted his chief' (Stern 1930a:274).
At the time Fison was completing his half of Kamilaroi and Kurnai, co- written with Howitt and published 1880, though completed during 1878 and 1879. He mapped out his aims for his section of the book to Morgan:
1. That Australian marriage is communal, in other words the marriage of a group of individuals to another group.
2. That relationship was that of a group to a group.
3. That each group was exogamous. In other words that each class must marry outside its own limits (Stern 1930a: 268).
Compared to Morgan's outline for Ancient Society of the 'growths' of family, government, property and religion, (38) Fison's plan for his contribution on Aboriginal kinship was noticeable for the absence of evolutionist or temporal metaphors. He did not banish the notion of development completely though his claims were modest compared with the theorists of America and Britain and he eschewed the inductive reasoning of most anthropologists of the period His object 'was to trace the formation and the gradual development of the classes ... to set forth their laws of marriage and descent, and to show that the terms of kinship peculiar to the Turanian system necessarily arise from class divisions' (Fison and Howitt 1880: 27).
Fison's half of Kamilaroi and Kurnai opened with a long exposition on Gamilaraay kinship which included discussion on material from around the colonies and the Melanesian islands. While five years earlier Fison had claimed that the Gamilaraay had failed to fully advance from the Malayan (now Punaluan) family to the Turanian or Ganowanian stages, he now had no hesitation in identifying the Gamilaraay as Turanian, indeed the question of advance from matrilineal to patrilineal was superfluous to his argument and he used the single term Turanian to cover both Ganowanian (matrilineal) and Turanian (patrilineal) (Fison and Howitt 1880:26). Fison gave full exposure to the bewildering array of Aboriginal data he had gathered, in the process revealing anomalies and exceptions to much of the evidence that had previously determined the place of Aborigines on the kinship ladder. Indeed, his further investigations into the extent of half-sister marriage--which had so excited Morgan when first described by Ridley and was central to the initial plotting of Aborigines on the lowest rung of kinship--revealed this coupling to be an anomaly that did not appear amongst all those defined as Gamilaraay and was not found elsewhere on the continent (Fison and Howitt 1880: 47). The third section of the book was an attack on the failings of the evolutionist analyses of John Lubbock and more particularly McLennan, who insisted that the kinship terms of the New World were merely a form of address and did not reflect any deeper reality (Fison and Howitt 1880: 141, 149, 144; Stocking 1995: 25). One by one Fison discounted these theories as well as other favoured notions including 'marriage by capture', the prevalence of polyandry, and the belief that only girl babies were killed in infanticide, each argument backed by data and underpinned by his questioning of the importation of English terms to describe indigenous relationships.
Fison did not create the stir in metropolitan anthropology that he had hoped. His more strident arguments against contemporary anthropological method were largely ignored by the reviewers who concentrated instead on the anthropology of marriage and the depth of the material produced in the book. Edward B. Tylor in the Academy did acknowledge that Fison's evidence that both boy and girl babies were killed amongst those who practised infanticide was a compelling argument against Lubbock's theory of the origin of marriage by capture on the basis of a shortage of women, but he did not discuss the broader issue of anthropological method Indeed he lamented the book's exposure of 'exceptions, anomalies and variations of rule among different tribes' which made the study particularly difficult and defied the 'reduction' of kinship to a system. Still concerned with the claim for human unity in the face of arguments for essential difference, Tylor could see that Fison's 'variations' did little for his insistence on the psychic unity of mankind. Therefore be used the review as a platform for his argument that evidence of the independent invention of the same objects of material culture in different parts of the world was proof of human unity, and gave as an example the use of the bull-roarer amongst the Kurnai of Australia, the 'Kafirs' of South Africa and the Maori of New Zealand (Tylor 1881:264-266).
In his review for Nature McLennan (39) claimed the book was 'largely a polemic on behalf of Mr Morgan' and described his own theory that as a child must always know the biological mother then the extension of the naming rights of mother to the mother's sister can only be a form of address with no deeper significance. McLennan could see that Fison had doubts about Morgan's theory--'Mr Fison (who does not quite believe in the consanguine family)' -and he made the valid point that his data were not particularly supportive of the thesis on the development of kinship (McLennan 1881 : 585).
Kamilaroi and Kurnai revealed to Morgan that his formerly rather sycophantic acolyte had not been as supportive as his letters suggested. In a rather uncomfortable exchange of letters Fison admitted, despite Morgan's pleading for him to accept that the consanguine family was the necessary deduction from the Polynesian system, that he was not convinced of the existence of the 'consanguine family': the purely promiscuous base-line of human relationships which was central to Morgan's theory (Stem 1930b: 432). Insisting that he believed in the possibility of this stage, he argued, rather unconvincingly that he was forced by the prurience of his fellow missionaries to pull his punches on his discussion of the 'Undivided Communal family'. Ever wary of inductive arguments, expressed through his insistence on 'facts above theories', Fison could not accept Morgan's thesis in its entirety though he assured him that Howitt was a keen believer (Stern 1930b: 433-435). As Stocking notes, Howitt clearly expressed the 'upward march of social evolution' for the Gippsland Aborigines in his section of the book (Stocking 1995: 27). The fertile and important correspondence between Howitt, Fison and Morgan was brought to an end with the unexpected death of Morgan in December 1881 at the age of 63. Fison's subsequent collaboration with E. B. Tylor was more mature and founded on the acknowledgment of Fison's importance in the discipline.
As Spriggs has shown, the details of Aboriginal life that were to prove so influential in the development theses of the late nineteenth century were gathered from a very few sources and then filtered through Morgan's widely published Ancient Society with numerous references to Oceania provided either directly by Fison or collected by him. Fison's initial engagement with the material, and with Morgan, showed his struggle to deal with the tensions between the data and the schema. Fison knew that the Gamilaraay people ought to have taken their place on the Ganowanian rung, with the Ngarrindjeri people one step above them as Turanian, or Tamilian. Fijians ought to have been placed above the Hawaiians, which continues to be recognized in contemporary kinship studies as the most simple of the kinship forms. Despite the increasingly conflicting evidence for Morgan's schema, Fison did not confront the American anthropologist who had become so important in evolutionist studies. Yet his correspondence with his fellow missionary Robert Codrington revealed his increasing disdain for metropolitan theorists. Indeed many missionaries who were closely engaged with the subjects of metropolitan anthropology struggled to reconcile the evolutionist schema with their knowledge of their congregations, though a number engaged in the tortured reasoning required to position Aborigines and Islanders on the development hypothesis. While the evolutionist schema was eventually discredited in the discipline of anthropology it retained its paradigmatic status for theorists in psychology, politics, psychoanalysis and sociology well into the twentieth century and remains a popular touchstone as an explanation for social differences.
The Fison Project, Fison Rev. Lorimer, Letterbooks: No. 3, 27 Oct 1870--March 1873; No. 4, 16 April 1873--26 Feb. 1876. Pacific Manuscripts Bureau (PMB) 1039--Reel 2 and 3.
The Fison Project, Fison, Rev. Lorimer, Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870-1881. PMB 1043.
The Fison Correspondence. The Tippet Collection, St Marks National Theological Centre, Canberra.
Lorimer Fison annotated copy of Lewis Henry Morgan 'Australian Kinship', National Library of Australia, MS:9857.
Lorimer Fison 'Circular letter with accompanying schedule' 6 March 1871. New South Wales Pamphlets, State Library of Victoria vol. 31.
Letters and Journals of Robert Codrington 1870-1882; National Library of Australia, Australian Joint Copying Project, M865.
DAWKINS, W.B. 1872. 'Mode of preparing the dead among the natives of the Upper Mary River, Queensland. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 1:214-219.
FISON, L. 1873. The classificatory system of kinship. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 10:154-67.
FISON, L and A.W. HOWITT, 1880. Kamilaroi and Kurnai: Group-marriage and Relationship and Marriage by Elopement, drawn chiefly from the Usage of the Australian Aborigines. Also the Kurnai Tribe, their Customs in Peace and War. Melbourne: George Robertson.
GARDNER, H. 2006b. Missionaries, Evolutionism and Pacific Anthropology: The correspondence of Lorimer Fison and Robert Codrington. The New Pacific Review: Proceedings of the 16th Pacific History Association Conference The Pacific Centre, The Australian National University, Australia, 122-133.
2008. 'The Origin of kinship in the Pacific', Oceania 78, 137-150. forthcoming. 'Practicing Christianity, writing anthropology: missionary anthropologists and their collaborators'.
P. Grimshaw and A. May-Brown (eds), Missionaries, Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Exchanges. Sussex: Academic Press.
HIATT, L. R. 1996. Arguments About Aborigines: Australia and the Evolution of Social Anthropology. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press.
KEEN, I. 2000. 'The Anthropologist as geologist: Howitt in colonial Gippsland'. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 11: 1, 78-97.
KUPER, A. 1988. The Invention of Primitive Society. London: Routledge.
LUBBOCK, J. 1978 [first published 1870]. The Origin of Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McLENNAN, J. F (attributed to Maclennan D). 1881. 'Review of Kamilaroi and Kurnai. Nature, 21 April 1881:584-88.
MORGAN, L.H. 1868. A conjectural solution of the origin of the classificatory system of relationship. Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 7:436-77.
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(1.) George Stocking jnr's fine vignettes of both Robert Codrington and Lorimer Fison's critiques of armchair anthropology in After Taylor are an important exception to this gap in the historiography (1995: 17-46).
(2.) Morgan to Fison, 19 August 1870. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870--1881, PMB 1043.
(3.) Fison to Morgan, 9 December 1870. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(4.) Fison to R. Britton, 16 December 1870. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(5.) Fison to Rabone, 12 December 1870. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(6.) Lorimer Fison, 'Circular letter with accompanying schedule' 6 March 1871. New South Wales Pamphlets, State Library of Victoria, vol. 31.
(7.) Morgan to Fison, 17 March 1873. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, PMB 1043.
(8.) Lorimer Fison, 'Circular letter with accompanying schedule' 6 March 1871. New South Wales Pamphlets, State Library of Victoria, vol. 31.
(9.) Fison to G. F. Bridgman, 12 April 1871. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(10.) Fison to Charlotte Waring, 18 April 1871. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(11.) Fison to Charlotte Waring 18 April 187 l, Fison to G.. F. Bridgman, 12 April 1871. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(12.) Fison to Charlotte Waring 18 April 1871. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(13.) Fison to Morgan Memoranda No 5. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039. This Memorandum was also sent to Max Muller and T. E. Lance.
(14.) Fison to T. E. Lance, 17 May 1871. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(15.) See for example Fison and Howitt, 1880. Kamilaroi and Kurnai. 37fn.
(16.) Fison Memoranda on the Australian Aborigines, No 6. (undated but written approximately the end of April 1871). Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(17.) Fison to Charlotte Waring, 7 May 1871. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(18.) Fison to Morgan, 7 August 1871, 12 October 1871 Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(19.) Morgan to Fison, 5 February 1872. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870--1881, PMB 1043.
(20.) Morgan to Fison, 5 February 1872. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870--1881, PMB 1043.
(21.) Fison to Lance, 5 May 1871. Letterbook 3, PMB 1039.
(22.) Morgan to Fison, 7 May 1874. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870 1881, PMB 1043.
(23.) Morgan to Fison, 5 February 1872. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870-188 I, PMB 1043.
(24.) Morgan to Fison, 20 September 1872. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870 1881; PMB 1043.
(25.) Fison to Morgan, 16 December 1873. Letterbook 4, PMB 1039.
(26.) Codrington to Fison, 22 March 1872. The Tippet Collection, St Marks National Theological Centre, Canberra, TIP 70/10/32/31. I am very grateful for the assistance of archivist Lindsay Cleland and the librarians at St Marks National Theological Centre.
(27.) Fison to Codrington, 31 January 1876. Letterbook 4, PMB 1039.
(28.) Robert Codrington to Tom Codrington, 20 August 1873, Australian Joint Copying Project M865.
(29.) Fison annotation to Lewis Henry Morgan 'Australian kinship', p. 412. National Library of Australia, MS:9857.
(30.) Ibid., p. 413.
(31.) Morgan to Fison, 17 March 1873. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870--1881; PMB 1043.
(32.) Fison to Howitt, 23 June 1873. Letter book 4, PMB 1039.
(33.) Fison to Howitt, 6 July 1874. Letterbook 4, PMB 1039.
(34.) Fison to Howitt, 6 July 1874. Letterbook 4, PMB 1039.
(35.) Fison to Howitt 20 May 1876. Fison Letterbook 4, PMB 1039.
(36.) Howitt to Fison, 4 July 1876; Tippet Collection St Marks TIP 70/10/33/13/12.
(37.) In 1930 Stern published a selection of the letters from Fison and Howitt to Morgan beginning in 1873. As these are more accessible than the manuscript archival sources the references to this correspondence from this point are to these published transcripts.
(38.) Morgan to Fison 5 February 1872. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870-1881, PMB 1043.
(39.) This review was attributed to D. Maclennan, not J. F. McLennan. However this review is discussed explicitly in the Fison, Howitt, Morgan correspondence and in letters between Howitt and his sister as the work of J. F McLennan and it seems likely that Nature made a mistake (Walker 1971:230-31 ; Stern 1930b:441).
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