A Very Human Survey: The Cross-Cultural Inquiries of R. H. Mathews

Martin Thomas

Abstract


In addressing the life and legacy of R. H. Mathews (1841-1918), this article queries the emphasis on 'otherness' that is common in much post-colonial commentary. The focus here is on the sharing of knowledge and other experiences of familiarity across cultures. Mathews was an Australian-born surveyor who turned to anthropology in the 1890s, publishing prolifically in Australia and overseas. Well known in Aboriginal communities through much of eastern Australia, he took advantage of contacts he had developed during his career as a surveyor. Such experience gave him a personal understanding of the land which greatly influenced his anthropological writing. In addition to direct interview, he also acquired information through correspondence with graziers and officials with Aboriginal employees or other connections with indigenous people. The article draws from some of these letters, many of which survive in the extensive R. H. Mathews Papers at the National Library of Australia. To date, the main source of information on Mathews has been a three-part article by A. P. Elkin published in the 1970s. Much information has since become available, including the testimony of Aboriginal informants who were recorded by Janet Mathews, a grand daughter-in-law of R. H. who worked for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies as it was originally known (now AIATSIS). Mathews close connections in the Aboriginal world did nothing to protect him from the internecine feuding that characterised Australian anthropology in the Federation era. The article argues that Mathews' standing was damaged by a conspiracy involving the Melbourne-based Professor W. Baldwin Spencer who persuaded J. G. Frazer and other scholars in Britain never to acknowledge him or cite his work.

Keywords


Robert Hamilton (R. H.) Mathews; biography; Janet Mathews; W. Baldwin Spencer; Aboriginal history; Anthropological history; Cross-cultural research in Australia

Full Text:

PDF

References


BARKER, J. n.d., Recording by Jimmie Barker. [Recording] AIATSIS Audio Archive A1706, Canberra.

BARKER, J. & MATHEWS, J. 1980. The Two Worlds of Jimmie Barker: The Life of an Australian Aboriginal 1900-1972 as told to Janet Mathews, Canberra, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

BYRNE, D. 2000. Archaeology in Reverse. In: MERRIMAN, N. & SCHADLA-HALL, T. (eds.) Public Archaeology. New York and London: Routledge.

ELKIN, A. P. 1975. R. H. Mathews: His Contribution to Aboriginal Studies: Part II. Oceania, 46, 132. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1834-4461.1975.tb01884.x and https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1834-4461.1975.tb01901.x

ELKIN, A. P. 1975. R. H. Mathews: His Contribution to Aboriginal Studies: Parts I-III. Oceania, 46.

ENRIGHT, W. J. 1899. The Initiation Ceremonies of the Aborigines of Port Stephens, N. S. Wales. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, 33, 115-16.

FRAZER, J. G., 1908. Frazer to Spencer, 19 April 1908. [Letter] Spencer Collection Box 5. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum.

GOURLAY. 1900. Gourlay to Mathews, 9 July 1900. [Letter] R. H. Mathews Papers MS 8006/2/1. Canberra: National Library of Australia.

LANG, A. 1903. Social Origins, London, Longmans, Green, and Co.

LITTLE, J. n.d., Interview with Jimmy Little Sr. [Interview] AIATSIS Audio Archive A1021, Canberra.

MATHEWS, F. n.d., Interview with Frank Mathews. [Interview] AIATSIS Audio Archive A1954, Canberra.

MATHEWS, R. H. 1893. Rock Paintings by the Aborigines in Caves on Bulgar Creek, near Singleton. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, 27.

MATHEWS, R. H. 1904. Ethnological Notes on the Aboriginal Tribes of New South Wales and Victoria. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, 38, 203-04.

McLEAN, D., 1905. McLean to Mathews, 8 December 1905. [Letter] R. H. Mathews Papers MS 8006/2/7. Canberra: National Library of Australia.

MUNDY, S. 1965. Interview with Stan Mundy. [Interview] Interviewed by Janet Mathews. AIATSIS Audio Archive A1020, Canberra.

SPENCER, W. B., 1901. Spencer to Fison, 30 September 1901. [Letter] Spencer Collection Box 1. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum.

SPENCER, W. B., 1903. Spencer to Frazer, 13 June 1903. [Letter] Spencer Collection Box 5. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum.

SPENCER, W. B. & GILLEN, F. J. 1968. The Native Tribes of Central Australia, New York, Dover.

THOMAS, M., 2000. This is Jimmie Barker. [Radio] ABC Radio National, 25 March 2000.

THOMAS, M. 2003. “To You Mrs Mathews”: The Cross-Cultural Recording of Janet Mathews 1914-1992. The Australasian Sound Archive, 29.

VAN GENNEP, A. 1907. Van Gennep to Mathews, 1 July 1907. [Letter] R. H. Mathews Papers MS 8006/2/13. Canberra: National Library of Australia.

VAN GENNEP, A. 1909. Van Gennep to Mathews, 16 November 1909. [Letter] R. H. Mathews Papers MS 8006/2/13. Canberra: National Library of Australia.

WALKER, A., 1899. Walker to Mathews, 6 January 1899. [Letter] R. H. Mathews Papers MS 8006/2/1. Canberra: National Library of Australia.