Spencer correspondence with Byrne
10th Sept’r 1894
Since the receipt of your letter, I have been collecting information about the Urtathurta, but with some difficulty owing to the custom of using them having been so long discontinued. Only two of the old men, now alive, have worn the shoes, and the last instance of their use occurred more than twenty years ago. The younger men only know of the custom from the elders of the tribe, and in a few years it will be quite forgotten.The wearing of the Urtathurta and going “Coordeitcha lumah”, (Coordeitcha — bad or evil spirit, lumah — to walk), appears to have been the medium for a form of vendetta. It did not supersede the “Adninga”, or war party, which was always dispatched to avenge the death of a native supposed to have been killed by spells, or to recover a lubra that had been stolen.
When any native threatened the life of a member of a different tribe, the threatened native could await his enemy’s attack, or take the initiative himself. If he decided on the latter course, the doctor was consulted and a Coordeitcha lumah arranged. In either case the attacking native was called “Coordeitcha”. A doctor always accompanied the Coordeitcha, and both were similarly attired.
The headdress worn consisted of a bunch of feathers in front, and a bundle of Green leaves behind. As a disguise the face was blackened with charcoal, the whiskers tied back behind the neck, and a broad white stripe drawn from the top of the forehead down the nose to the bottom of the chin, - [sic - punctuation] a similar stripe extending across the breast from shoulder to shoulder. A girdle, made of hair cut from the head of a blackfellow after death, was worn round the waist, and the legs, from ankle to knee, were covered with ordinary hair string. This covering was to protect the legs from snakebite. In the girdle, which next to the Urtathurta appears to have been the most important article, the doctor carried a live lizard.
On leaving his camp, the Coordeitcha walked in front followed, at a short distance, by the doctor; both armed with spears and carrying the urtathurta. When hidden from the view of their tribe they put on the Urtathurta and proceeded towards the hostile Camp. The Coordeitcha always led the way, and every precaution was taken to prevent their advance being seen. On arriving at the Camp the Coordeitcha crept forward alone and (if successful) speared his enemy dead. The doctor then came up and inserted the head of the lizard he carried in his belt into the wound. The lizard was supposed to drink up the blood and so remove evidence of the manner in which the deed had been done. Sometimes the wound was seared to prevent it being recognised as a Spear wound. Almost invariably the attack was made at night, and, when successful, the Coordeitcha and doctor started back at once, halting some distance from their Camp to remove and conceal the Urtathurta before going in.
If, by chance, the tracks of the Coordeitcha were seen they were avoided, and the adjacent Camps merely kept on the alert. But if the Coordeitcha himself was seen in the vicinity of a camp, he was at once attacked and Killed. The doctor who accompanied him was in all cases allowed to return uninjured to his tribe.
When the body of a man murdered by a Coordeitcha was discovered no attempt was made to track the murderer, but the doctor immediately appointed a relative of the murdered man’s, or, failing a relative, one of the same class — a coomarra if he was a Coomarra etc — to avenge him. This was done by going as a Coordeitcha in a similar manner to that described.
If the Coordeitcha was unable to find the man he wanted to spear he Killed a blackfellow belonging to the same tribe. This, however, rarely occurred.
Immediately a Coordeitcha was seen near a Camp the man who detected him informed the others by saying “Oodnurrah Pitchimi”, (Oodnurrah — a wild dog. Pitchimi — is coming). He did not mention the word “Coordeitcha”, but his meaning was understood, and preparations were made for an attack on the Oodnurrah. In this connection, one of the head men of the tribe informed me that, when a blackfellow reported “Oodnurrah Pitchimi”, the doctors could appoint a Coordeitcha who had the power to accost the other Coordeitcha and Compel him to return to his Camp. I have been unable to fully corroborate this, but it seems possible that, when the custom prevailed to an abnormal extent, such a course was adopted to prevent excessive bloodshed.
This is all the information I can gather. As I have said, the Custom has completely died out, and the Urtathurta are only made to supply orders from the whites, or perhaps to illustrate the deeds of other days, when the old men play the Gascon before the half admiring, half sceptical Younger Generation.
The girdle of dead blackfellows hair worn by the Coordeitcha was, no doubt, supposed to Connect the wearer, in some way way, with the spirit of the dead man.
5th Oct’r ‘94
I was glad to hear that the Amperta is probably new to Science, and regret that the spider turned out such an unmitigated fraud. The old Professor will be delighted with the latter result as, presuming that the beast is occasionally flatulent, he undoubtedly scored.
Giles desires to thank you for supplying the name of his lizard, and appears relieved at getting such a formidable customer safely off his hands. For my part I am not surprised that the unfortunate reptile wilted and recklessly shed his tail, under such a diabolical appellation.
I believe the baleful effects of the scientific mania are beginning to be felt at the Alice. Gillen’s apparel consists principally of nitrate of Silver and Court plaster, Field is saturated with Arsenic, and as I have just sent them some recipes for preserving, the Chief ingredient in which is perchloride of mercury, I am looking forward with cheerful anticipation to an inquest or two in the near future.
I am sending you five ampertas packed in two parcels by this mail. Unfortunately the blacks had two of them on hand for some time before I obtained possession and, like a humpbacked acquaintance of ours, “They smell most awful vile”. The natives say the Males are living in holes apart from the females at present, and that they do not return until the young are able to run about. However, I don’t think they are far away, and I hope to get you some soon.
Still no rain and this place looks if possible more arid and desolate than when you saw it. Next month our waters will be dry, and then the “winter of our discontent” will begin in earnest. With kind regards.
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
P.S. If you can spare a copy each of Ayer’s Rock and Mt. Olga I should like very much to get them.
19th Nov’r. 94
I am glad the rats were of Some interest. When sending them I thought they were larger than the sketch you showed me, but as they agreed so well in other respects I concluded that the [sic - they] belonged to the same species, and that the difference in size was attributable to the luxuriance of the feed about here. I hope to get you some males, and a female Notoryctes before long, but I am afraid the young of the latter are now fairly Grown.
I have been trying to get information from the Natives that might shed some light on the reason for the stoutness of the rats’ tails, but without result. Isn’t it possible that some lizard Ancestor of theirs affected a Caudal appendage like N. Platyurus and that the peculiarity has survived in a modified form?
The waters here are nearly dry, and all the stock have been shifted to the Finke so that there is even less life than usual about. I don’t know what we will do if no rain falls before March, as the stock are existing on dust and recollections now.
Many thanks for Hudson’s book which you so Kindly sent me. At present I am suffering from bad eyes, so that I have not been able to do more than dip into it but I can see that I have a treat in store.
I will send something by next mail if possible, and if not, when rain falls!
With kind regards.
ProfW Baldwin Spencer
16th Dec’r. ‘94
I am sending you, by this mail, a female of P. Cristicaudata with young ones, a brush tailed rat, and a family of lizards. The latter are fairly plentiful about here, but, as they belong to a genus that I have never seen off the tablelands, you may possibly have missed them.
So far I have been unable to get either adult males of the P.C or females of the Notoryctes, but when rain falls I think I can promise you some, as there are about 150 natives at our well on the Finke and they are all enlisted in the Service. One of the boys saw a mole a few days ago, but it was too quick for him Altho’ he had a spade and dug nearly four feet into the sand after it. Of course it was a beauty — almost pure white and very large. “Twas ever thus from Childhoods hour!”
I am sorry that my Pedigree of the fat tailed rat is unsatisfactory, and humbly apologise to the unknown Amphibian, who is supposed to stand in loco parentis, for trying to supplant him. Still the peculiarity is hard to account for. The blacks say the beasts do not hibernate, and if the fat tails are provided against a time when food is scarce they should be loose and flabby now. In summer I believe the rats move about during the day and night — especially the night, but in winter they do all their hunting in the daytime and retire to their holes at dusk.
I have nearly got thro’ Hudson and think him a Charming writer and a Keen Observer of birds. Some of his Puma and tender hearted Gaucho stories are —— very affecting. His remarks about the antics of birds certainly seem to point out flaws in Darwin’s theory, and his observations on the instinct of fear also appears to Clash with the generally accepted idea. But I hardly think he represents Darwins views quite fairly, and, altogether, he disposes of them in too glib and summary a manner. Even if sexual selection has not been the cause of the brilliant Coloration and Ornaments on birds I think it has come in to play in modifying the higher Animals, and it certainly seems to apply to man. Tho [sic - though] whether it has tended to raise him either Physically or mentally seems to be an open question, as, despite our hoard of accumulated Knowledge, the Race which produced a Socrates over twenty Centuries ago, and boasts of a Talmage today can hardly be said to have made great strides. What sort of selection would marrying for money be considered — Natural, or Unnatural? Natural I suppose, as money should help the possessors in the struggle for existence!
After all, I think, climate and food cause more change in Animals and man than Natural and Sexual Selection Combined and the way Australians and other colonists diverge from the Parent type in a couple of Generations seems to be a proof.
All our Prospectors have returned from the West unsuccessful, but I don’t think they worked very hard or knew very much about their business. The inexperienced man of one party brought in what he thought were specimens of Cobalt and Galena but they turned out to be Manganese and Micaceous hematite! None of the rocks I have seen Contain fossils, and they are similar in Character to those of the main McDonnells except that the Granite is less Gneissic and is finer grained — This reminds me — Have you a specimen of the peridotile known as Kimberliti [?sic] in your museum, and if so, could you get me a small Chip.
I am glad the lizards and other Animals are turning out so well and hope you will be able to illustrate them as fully as you desire. I don’t know what getting up a book usually costs but £800 seems a fairly liberal Amount.
Still no sign of rain here, and I hardly expect any before next year. I shall be alone with the Chinaman at Xmas and intend spending the day in cursing the N. West, its climate, inhabitants etc, and only wish I had Cowle here to give me his able assistance.
Wishing you a Happy New Year.
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
Your telegram to Cowle arrived too late for mail so I sent it on by a traveller on the 15th and he should get it about the 22nd Inst.
15th March ‘95
I was sorry to hear that you had such an unpleasant trip to Oodnadatta, and sympathise with you over the monotony of the train ride. Old Jimmy must have been in a mild state of excitement when “dem hausses”[sic] were trying to get into the trap, and I can picture the look of Stoic resignation on your face during the Proceedings.
Palmer’s defection is inexplicable. When in ordinary form he can keep going for a week, and with the recently discovered North East to draw upon he should have reached Adelaide babbling like a rather profane brook. No doubt “that snake” is largely responsible, as when free from its malign influence I believe he nearly paralysed some old and respectable citizens with his “Gulf” yarns.
Winneckes birds have been exercising the minds of the whole Railway and Telegraph Depts for some time, and everybody is glad that they are handed over at last. I have said nothing to Gillen about yours — it isn’t safe!
When Horn hears from you I hardly think he will persist in his intention of publishing everything at home. It would be childish to sacrifice a book that is likely to attract more attention than any published for the last ten years to a petty feeling of pique. Not to speak of the injustice to those who have worked hard to make it a success.
I am glad to be able to send you a mole with two young by this mail, and as Harry and a couple of Gins are out hunting exclusively for moles and the female of Antechinomys I expect to have a good bag for next Post. I am also sending Antechinomys and what I take to be Sminthopsis Crassicaudata (ahem!)
Four or five old ladies are going to Oodnatchurra next month, and as I have been assiduous in my attentions to them and prodigal with tobacco, I hope for a reward in the shape of some Bandicoots and Ant-eaters. From what Harry tells me, I think P. leucura will probably be found in that neighbourhood.
I hope the Photos — especially the Studies of the Nude — turned out well. If they have, no doubt they will prove one of the greatest attractions in Winnecke’s little museum!
In your next letter Kindly describe the feet of Antechinomys. I think I have discovered some pads that don’t exist!
Parties are still going West but in nearly every instance they are poorly equipped and badly led so I don’t think they will be very successful. Gold there undoubtedly is in the Western Country, but it will be difficult to find out and the Party searching should have a man like Watt at its head, and consist of four or five old miners with a dozen camels and rations for six or nine months. As things are going I think the Western Australians will discover Gold in South Australia while our wretched little Parties are wandering aimlessly about the Country.
Michael Doolan has just brought in a nicely marked snake which I will bottle, and send along with the other beasts. This is the fifth since yesterday morning, but the others were rather big, and in deference to the wishes of the other inhabitants I did not attempt to preserve them. It’s astonishing what a prejudice people about here have against preserved snakes since your visit!
Still very hot and dusty, with the Cheerful Mosquito rather more in evidence than usual. Shouldn’t be surprised if we had a big rain before long especially as Sir C. is not very anxious about the weather reports and seems to think the wet season over.
No news worth recording from here. Kind regards from all.
Professor W. Baldwin Spencer
18th April ‘95
Your fears were only too well founded, as I was completely taken in over the Young of Notoryctes. The little lumps in the Pouch struck me as being rather formless, but I never dreamt that they were simply fattened teats. It was lucky you made an examination before imparting any more information to the Students, and I have no doubt you envied Palmer his gift of Picturesque language when you discovered that I was mistaken. I am very sorry that I disappointed you, and will remember in future that I have to deal with something more protean than the stolid quartzyte and reliable Mica Schist. I tho’t [sic - thought] I had made such a haul too!
I am glad the lizards turned out well, and will try and get some like your specimen when it arrives. It should have reached me by last mail, but I suppose the Postal Authorities have sent it via Port Darwin by way of a change.
That claypan dweller has not been secured as yet altho’ the Youngsters have been on the war path every day. They are going to the Nine Mile tomorrow and they will probably drop across him there.
Many thanks for the honor you have done me in naming the Phascologale and Diplodactylus. I hope the unfortunate beasts won’t inherit the bad luck attached to the cogno-men, as the burden of their first names is a sufficiently heavy infliction.
What you say about C. damæus is Curious, but how is it that when a beast is found in Australia Similar to one in another part of the world, People always wonder how it got here? Even you don’t ask how the lizard got to Persia and India!
The Photos are first rate, especially those of the Adminga and the Finke. The venuses [sic] are delighted with their Portraits and promise to get you unlimited rats. I notice tho’ that they appear to stop at the promise as they haven’t made a start to collect yet. Female collectors seem to want age before they are a success! Giles was very pleased with his copies and sends his thanks and Kind regards. But I am afraid he looks on that snake in the light of a success, as he talks of preserving another in a similar manner and Sending it to the Museum!
It is difficult to understand Horn’s idea in having the book edited at home. He surely must know that the members of the Expedition are better qualified to do the work than any outsider could possibly be.
Stirling’s personal deficiency in Native lore does not surprise me as I tho’t from the first that he relied on his professional brother at A.G. for all information. Still, if Gillen has supplied the notes, some interesting Chapters could, surely, be written which, with the accompanying photos, would add to the value of the book.
The Gins caught a fine mole yesterday. His fur was a bright Golden colour on the back and merged gradually into a rich orange over the less exposed parts. It literally shone when he was first brought in but immersion in the Spirit appears to have dimmed it sadly. This is the only find made lately altho’ the Gins have been looking continually for Ampertas and the female of P. byrnei. The latter seems to be as difficult to obtain as the Male Amperta, and I am inclined to think that the Natives are right in saying that the sexes of these two species live apart at times. During the summer I must try and find out something more about the habits of Phascologale. Both P. cristicauda and P byrnei are fossorial and live in holes which they line with Grass, but Sminthopsis, according to the Natives, Generally occupies holes made by other beasts or takes advantage of natural crevices.
I have heard nothing of Gillen lately so cannot say how your letter has affected him. But if you have aspersed the memory of Grattan I can quite understand the Home Ruler being shocked into silence. Any other form of attack might arouse his ire, but Grattan is sacred. He will fight you about O’Connell. In fact he generally produces O’Connell in an argument and his opponent finds that it is necessary to prove Daniel an unmitigated scoundrel or admit himself wrong about — say free education!
I am afraid you do not properly appreciate the worthy Brian’s father. He believes in Progressive taxation and the building of an Overland railway on the land Grant system. As progressive taxation means the gradual introduction of the single tax, the railway will be paid for with land which the Government will eventually tax to its rental value, so that the railway will cost the colony nothing! From a South Australian point of view this seems thoroughly sound. Of course the English Syndicate that builds the railway, and people incapable of broad and Statesmanlike views may regard the matter differently. It must have cost Winnecke a big effort to sacrifice those bits about the Obnoxious members and, as he will find a vent for his feelings somewhere, I fully expect to hear of an unfortunate bird fancier coming to an untimely end. I would like to see him and Cowle together in an office for a week — especially if they had been regaled on b—s and salt beef for a fortnight previously.
I can quite imagine how dreary the never-ending round of lectures and demonstrations must be, but I think on the whole you need not envy me my bugs and Philosophising at C.W.. If anything is calculated to drive a man mad I should say a lengthened residence anywhere between Crown Point and Oodnadatta would do it, and, if you want to Kill him outright, give him about five years at Strangways Springs!
The rabbits are beginning to make themselves felt. They have reached Henbury on the Finke, and at Koppadeitchika, fourteen miles east of here, they are very thick. I am sorry for the poor misguided animals and will mercifully shoot as many of them as possible before the next drought sets in.
No sign of rain yet, but when it comes I hope to have some success in the Mole line, and if I advise a female with young you may feel tolerably certain that the young are fairly well developed!
Yours Ever Sincerely
W. Baldwin Spencer
Lubra just brought in female of P. Byrnei, but it shows no trace of a pouch at present — at least not to my vision. Expect more Gins in tomorrow.
Received spirits from Winnecke. You need not have sent them as I had over a gallon on hand.
The Gin found the female rat in among some iron poles stacked near Station. One of the males I sent you had a burrow under the same lot of poles, but as I had them shifted two or three hundred yards, recently, and restacked, the female was probably in the hollow of one of the poles.
Just got a specimen of what I take to be Antechinomys laniger. By some means or other she got into a wire covered box containing M. horridus and could not get out. Mail won’t leave here for a couple of hours so something else may turn up before its departure.
P.S. What is the small, slender-tailed rat resembling Sminthopsis, and is the small rodent the ordinary house mouse?
24th May 1895
While sympathising with your disappointment over the embryos, I am glad that the mole proved to be of some value, and gave you the opportunity — so dear to all scientists — of “rolling over” a brother in the Craft! Did you discover any traces of the embryos in the interior of the beast or had they already been born? When your paper on the reproductive organs is ready I should very much like to see it, as I am curious about this uncanny beast, which smuggles its young into the world in such a mysterious manner. The microscope work you describe must be very interesting and if I knew a little about the subject I think I would like it. As it is I rather favor brilliant generalisation than minute and accurate research!
I fancy the specimen of P. byrnei must have come from Tom Hanley as he is the only man I know who donates anything to the bottle and old junk emporium which does duty as a museum at the Malodorous Port. In all probability the specimen was sent him from here. The animal that I think is P. leucura has so far eluded capture, but as the old men still maintain that there is a beast with a white tail, having a brownish tip, and resembling P. lagotis, it may yet turn up. The boys also describe a yellow beast, smaller than P. Cristicauda with large head, medium ears, feet resembling those of P.Crist, and a short incrassated tail. A Gin came in a few days ago who saw several of them about twenty five miles North East of here, so I started a party off at once to search, and they will probably be back before the mail leaves. In any case the ultimate Capture of the beast is a certainty as the Gins are confident they can get it.
Your letter should bring Horn to his senses, and if he doesn’t gratefully accept your offer he is an idiot. Brown’s report on the N.T. will boom Public interest in the Geological work, and these Swedish collectors are Coming down the Line and no doubt sending home Specimens and reports. So, if William Austin doesnt make up his mind soon, he will be to some extent forestalled, and may have to be content with the common C.M.G.
“Restive” should describe Tate’s condition exactly. He is a regular old war horse, and, as you say, the duel between him and Horn would be worth listening to —
Gillen left the Alice on the 19th, but as it has been raining ever Since he will have a very rough and unpleasant trip and I do not expect him here under a fortnight. When he arrives I will have a chat with him about his Anthropological work, and urge your recommendation. Still it will be rough on the unfortunate “General” reader of the book if he has nothing of a lighter vein to relieve pages strewn with Ceramodactylus damæus, Tiliqua occipitalis and other flowers of the Biologist’s playful fancy.
I see Smoky Magarey and a Gentleman ... [illegible word] Worsnop have been spreading themselves on the Native Question. The latter thinks their rock pictures represent some stupendous mystery and hopes the symbols may some day be deciphered! Now, the World is badly in want of a new religion. Theosophy is about played out, and want of cash will soon compel Booth to retire, So I think if one were to decipher these rock pictures and start a religion compounded of a mixture of Theosophy and Boothism with a few Native high Priests, of the Mahatma description, living in the vicinity of the Rawlinson Ranges, to form a background, there might be money in it. A conjuror would be required, but if a third rate female trickster can deceive an Australian Judge, one should be able to educate a nigger to gull the ordinary Public in a very short space of time. The Programme might be varied by having mass Prayer Meetings enlivened with occasional jigs and Plantation breakdowns by the Elect. I think there is the Germ of Success in the idea and I’ll consult Cowle when we meet.
I am sending you, by this mail, a female of Antechinomys which appears to have six teats, and a Sminthopsis with a long fattened tail which does not agree with any of the described species. I am also sending four moles, two of which are for French. The lizard family must have had a free fight as their tails have undergone considerable repairs — These and the two single specimens are the only small lizards I have been able to get — Diplodactylus isn’t around, but I think I have secured Apus Australiensis.
There will be a big field day here when Gillen arrives and I intend adopting extreme Tory views for the occasion. The result is doubtful, as it is difficult to corner a man who trots out Niall of the Nine Hostages, and Firnachta Oig Fleadhach, on the slightest provocation. Possibly we may unite and devote our Combined energies to the Characters of our friends!
The rain is still pouring steadily, and I can’t see the paddock thro’ the window as I write. When it clears up I should be able to bag a few moles as their tracks are very thick in the vicinity of our Well.
With Kind regards.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W.B. Spencer
Crown Pt. Station
26th June 1895
I have a few Moles (‘Notoryctes typhlops’) please let me know if you will purchase some. Have heard that they are worth £5 if so shall be ...[illegible word] of same at that price.
Will you please let me know by return mail.
I believe there is a male one amongst them.
Jms G Grout
address Crown Pt Station
To Professor Spencer
Ceramodactylus damæus Genus Arabia R...[illegible word] [in Spencer’s handwriting]
26th June ‘95
I was glad to hear that all the matter for the book was so nearly in readiness, and hope you will be able to publish in Melbourne. Horn should be content when it is in the Printers Possession, and I expect you too will be relieved when it is off your hands.
I quite agree with what you say about Horn. No one should grudge him any honor he may get, as he has done good work in bringing a comparatively unknown part of the World under the notice of Scientists. It is to be hoped that they won’t create a new order and make him a Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of the Marsupial, because he happens to be a full Pouched Australian!
Your intention with regard to the full description of Notoryctes is Christian, and I charitably suppose that Stirling would have acted likewise had the Positions been reversed.
Many thanks for “Darwinism”, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Wallace is a wonderful man, and he makes out a strong case for Natural Selection as the Preponderating Cause in the Production of Species, but I can’t follow him everywhere he leads. His view, that the extra vitality of Moles during the Pairing season is sometimes applied to the Production of Colours and Ornaments, which are useless in the Struggle for existence, is difficult to understand when one considers that the extra vitality is Presumably Supplied and required for the reproduction of the Species. Then his theory of the Origin of Spines does not appear so reasonable as that the Spiny plants have adapted themselves to the barren, and arid Places which, as a rule, they inhabit — In fact, Animals that live in deserts seem to have been modified so that they can live on these plants, and the Camel prefers the Prickly Acacias to plenty of unprotected (?) shrubs. Again, his idea that Man made his first appearance near the happy hunting grounds of the Mahatmas, in a yellow condition, which became darker when he approached the Equator, and lighter when he went towards the North Pole, does not explain how the Fuegians and Australians came by their sable hides. What do you think of his views re the effects of Climate and environment? And are you a believer in the heredity of acquired Characters?
Gillen was far from well while here, and as he has not yet recovered he will probably abandon his trip North and start for the “big Smoke” at once. During his stay he took several Photos including some good ones of the “Rain Dance”, and initiated me into the mysteries of developing and fixing. I thought the work rather uninteresting and Monotonous, but as he enlivened the time by paying eloquent tribute to the Commanding Genius of the “Nation builders”, as he calls the Colonial Statesmen to distinguish them from the ordinary sort known in Europe and elsewhere, I managed to sit the proceedings out.
I am sending you four moles, a male and female Cristicauda, female byrnei, Male and female Antechinomys, Assorted Sminthopsis, and a Jerboa like rodent with a tufted tail. What is the latter? If of any interest I can get you more as they are plentiful here now.
As it has been raining at intervals during the last fortnight and I have four old Gins out I fully expect some more moles shortly, the Cristicaudas and byrneis have gone North West according to the blacks, but Sminthopsis are very numerous just at present. The jerboa like rodents are coming from the Eastward and they almost amount to a plague here — I am sorry the Cristicaudas have lost some of their hair, but the lubras brought them in a long way crammed into a small bottle which I had to break to extract them. I notice that they seem to vary nearly as much in length and thickness of tail as the Sminthopsis. Would byrnei be considered a Specialised form probably derived from P. Cristicauda?
You need not be afraid of my tiring as I am really beginning to take an interest in these Confounded beasts, and only regret that there is not a greater variety of them about.
I am keeping a look out for the Claypan Animal, likewise the Yellow crassicauda and leucura.
Cowle has not turned up, and as rumour says that he has had his hair Cut, he may possibly wait until he can appear in his normal Condition.
I have abandoned the trip West for the Present, as cannot get anyone worth having to accompany me. We are having glorious weather, not too cold, with occasional Showers of rain. Up to the present, nine inches has been registered, and the grass is waving like a wheat field over that beautiful vista to the S.W.!
With kind regards —
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W.B. Spencer
Letter from Spencer to Byrne
No. A (incomplete letter)
[...] liberty also of asking him, if he will part with them at this price, to send them to you to see about the condition and that I should leave it to your judgement. Do you mind acting as a referee: if he won’t part with them at that price and if they are really in good condition I would go to £2 a piece but don’t want to.
Judging by the look of your last ones, the breeding season is over. Hang the beasts, they must breed about two or three months before the time at which you sent me down your celebrated female. I am hoping that we will be able to work the beast out in Australia before the wily German gets him and thanks to your material I believe that we will.
Leucrura is the thing I am keenest after just now. It is a strange thing that they don’t seem to get any of that pig footed bandicoot.
French tells me that he is still distributing light and elevating literature over the Central region. He had been on the mild bust [sic] over the Baron’s (ie. the one and only Baron — von Müller) 70th birthday. The last performance of this celebrated individual is as follows. A leading medical man and his wife go to see the Baron to congratulate him: the top coat is hung up over the only vacant peg. Enter another distinguished visitor who places his top coat on the former one. The lady and gentleman go but can’t find the coat. The Baron, in great distress, suggests that ‘overcome little mit de emotions avakened mit the extraordinary kindness of his friends’ he had probably removed the coat in a fit of abstraction and taken it to his own room. Accordingly he plunges into the latter in the dark and returns in triumph. Exit the distinguished medico with his wife, the former carrying the coat on his arm. ‘Why, my dear, what have you got’, remarks the lady, and the medico finds that he has a pair of the barons most ancient and oderiferous [sic] breeches: ‘Ach’ says the Baron, ‘Madame is married so perhaps it will not matter much!’
Someday I trust you will see the Baron: he is a godsend to Melbourne. However I must stop and write a few lines to Cowle.
Yours very sincerely
W. Baldwin Spencer
Kind regards to Giles. Has he got another snake yet. That one is still relegated to a special chamber.
21st July ‘95
Gillen will be here tomorrow on his way to the “big Smoke”, and as he may not stay long I am packing up the beasts, and will send them by him.
I am glad you dignify my remarks anent “Darwinism” as Criticisms, but, taking into consideration those 90 students, and other little matters you have on hand, I’ll let you off the discussion! Still I think Wallace’s “Origin of Spines” theory won’t stand, as in this country, at least, the thorniest acacias grow Chiefly on the Stony rises where there is little moisture or Soil, and the less Spiny Kinds on the deeper alluvial Ground near Creeks.
The preliminary accounts you speak of will be very interesting, and the proofs of plates will be a great assistance in getting specimens of the lizards you want. H. maculatus and the blue and red fellow, should carry off the honors so far as color goes, but I daresay some of the more delicately marked species will also look very well.
Your name for the new Sminthopsis is really a Pretty and appropriate one. I am glad he has proved distinct from the remainder of S. Crassicauda and I will try my best to get you another specimen.
I suppose Dasyuroides byrnei is Phascologale of that ilk rechristened? For God’s sake don’t put him in Sarcophilus or my friends will make remarks!
I hear they have seven or eight moles at Crown Point, some preserved in spirits and some with the intestines taken out and the body sun-dried. The latter, of Course, will be of little value. Should I hear from Grout about them I will act as you desire, but I think there is little fear of their going outside the Colony, and I can get you plenty here.
Your story about the Baron is delicious. What a study their faces must have made (especially the lady’s) when he excused himself so admirably!
I have not written to French lately and am afraid to do so until I can get him some beetles and eggs. If you see him you can gladden his heart by telling him that McKay at Barrow Ck has a beetle, about six inches long by two broad, for him.
I will keep a sharp look out for Varanus Gilleni and V. eremius. Your tin contains four notoryctes, Antechinomys, H Cervinus (more due?) an assorted lot of Sminthopsis and some lizards. The latter are principally old friends, but there are one or two I am not sure about.
The Niggers are not yet back from Oodnatchurra where they are on the lookout for Leucrura, the Isabelline Kangaroo, and the fawn-colored beast resembling P cristicauda, which I mentioned in my last letter. They are also on the look out for Chæropus and the claypan beast.
Judging from Lydekker’s description, (“The Pigfooted Bandicoot is a free drinker, but never attacks mice”!) Chæropus must be somewhat of a bad Character, and probably keeps to the thick mulga Country where he can indulge in his orgies unobserved.
Granting rain there can be no doubt that the winter is the best time for getting Notoryctes, and, judging from the quickness with which they appear on the surface after a light shower, I question whether they ever burrow so deeply as at first supposed. Immediately a shower falls the moles shift from the creeks to the bordering sandhills, keeping under cover as much as possible, as they are preyed upon by the Jackaroos — magpie like birds, with a rich note — and Crows.
I note what you say about the breeding times and will Keep the blacks mole hunting exclusively between Dec’r and Feb’y so as to get those d—d embryos if possible.
By the by, while I think of it, I want a supply of tins at once as I am reduced to one. If you can send half a dozen by rail, care of Hewish Oodnadatta, I will get him to forward them by next mail. The Gins rub the hair off the larger beasts forcing them into bottles.
Gillen just arrived, looking like a two year old, and loaded with totem stones and vermin. He has a phascologale resembling Calura, and a beast looking like the offspring of a Hapalotis that had gone astray with Cristicauda. The Cimmerian darkness of his political views is more pronounced than ever, and he nearly had a fit when I told him that the Conservatives had an absolute majority in the House of Commons!
He has several moles which he obtained from Crown Point, and he brought me a letter from there asking how many moles you wanted at the price you quoted. They do not say how many they have. Please let me know when you receive this whether you still wish to purchase and how many you want. I fancy from what Gillen tells me that the C Point people have about a dozen altogether.
The Gins brought in two more moles this morning which I am sending on with the others, and as the weather is unsettled looking I will probably get some more soon — Don’t forget the tins as the Oodnatchurra Contingent will probably have some rats when they come in.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
I am sending a small lizard which the blacks say attains a length of six or seven inches when mature.
2nd. Aug ‘95
The Gins just arr’d with a consignment, and I have about ten minutes to pack up, and write you.
The tin Contains several Cristicauda with young in various stages, Sminthopsis resembling S larapinta, and Chæropus with young. Owing to the Gins only having one tin they threw away a Chæropus and another beast called E’wurra, which I have been trying to get for some time. I told them to bring everything in whether rotten or not, but I suppose the odor was too much for them — tho’ I know you will fail to understand this!
Cowle wrote me about H. Cervinus. The beast arrived about the beginning of June, and is still in the Sandy Country but in diminished numbers. It makes holes like P Cristicauda and not temporary nests or shelters under stones. Whither it is travelling I can’t say, but will try and find out.
P Cristicauda, Sminthopsis (Ar’tillah), Chæropus (Tobyah) and probably D byrnei bred in June and July this year. H. Cervinus (Oola’biah) bred in April or May, but I fancy the breeding times may vary in accordance with the Seasons.
I got a note from Crown Point offering any number of Moles, up to twenty at your price, but I am waiting to hear from you before replying — I also heard that several moles had been found at the Alice Well, and altogether they appear to be exceptionally numerous this year.
I expect Gillen is spreading Socialistic views and Sedition Generally, amongst the bucolic inhabitants of Clare, prior to disporting himself in your metropolis. You should have him with you soon.
!More ampertas and another Chæropus just arrived, but they must wait until next mail as the driver is calling “All aboard” —
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
6th Sept’r ‘95
The Consignment of Moles from Crown Point arrived Yesterday. They were all in good condition, and as the owner was willing to take £1 each for twenty, I thought it better to take that number than give fifteen pounds for ten. Still it is a fearful price to pay for the little beasts, and I’m sorry I could not secure a monopoly of them.
A few days before your letter arrived I had a mole alive for about twenty four hours, but he was very weak when brought in, and seemed unable to burrow to any depth in the tub of sand I put him in — He ate one witchetty, and once or twice, when everything was quiet, he elevated his head and tail slightly and made a slight chirping noise which he repeated two or three times, running forward a few steps between each Cry. I fancy that fear has a good deal to do with their dying so quickly in captivity, as they are very nervous little Animals and the slightest sound disturbs them and starts them burrowing. When holding them scratch incessantly [sic] — I will try and get another alive and put the head in Muller’s as you describe, and I have also given some of the fluid to the Crown Point People and asked them to do likewise.
You must be heartily sick of Horn, his Photos and everything connected with him. Surely the man isn’t in his right senses.
As you surmise, the Winneckian woes are pretty widely known. He must have imparted them to someone in Strict Confidence as everybody coming from Adelaide tells me that Horn has “Gone through” Winnecke.
The Baron’s talent for blundering seems to improve with age. What will he be capable of when he is eighty!
I suppose Gillen has been with you ere this, and Converted some of the benighted Melbournites to his Home Rule and Socialistic views. What a time he will have among the Anthropologists! Cowle writes me in an awestruck strain of the probable effect of his visit on them, and I have been wondering whether he will offer to perform the rite of Circumcision on Howitt — just to show him how it is done! I sympathise with you in the removal troubles and would suggest distributing a few snakes in the rooms where the painters and hangers are at work. If that won’t shift them you can surrender hope!
I have noticed the increased size and fecundity of the cristicaudas, and the crassicaudas also seem to carry more young.
Re crassicauda, I think the larger and more scaly tailed varieties live principally on the stony tablelands, and the small smoother-tailed ones on the soft ground near the Creeks, and in the Sandhills.
Cervinus is becoming scarce, but I managed to get a couple of Specimens and am on the look out for more.
By this mail I am sending five tins of beasts. One contains the moles from Crown Point and the others have Tubaija (u is correct) Ur-peela, E-wurra, Cristicauda, Antechinomys, Sminthopsis, Cervinus and one Mole. In Ur-peela I think I have new species of Peragale. The blacks told me some time ago that there was a beast called Ur-peela, with a white crested tail and long ears like the Oogarta (P. lagotis) but never attaining more than half the size of the latter. The specimens I am sending seem darker than lagotis and the ears and head appear smaller in proportion. When first I looked at them I thought they had four incisors in the lower jaw the last one is so nearly divided. Is lagotis similar in this respect? The brownish beast (E. wurra), I can’t locate as he seem too small for Macrura and the color doesn’t quite agree with that of Aurata. Anyhow, thanks to the efforts of the blacks in spilling the spirits, they are fine, full scented beasts, and a little opoponox would be handy when you interview them. Should they be of interest I will send the blacks out after some more with a good strong vessel filled with spirits. Three Tubaijas are in good condition tho’ the lubras have “killed” them rather too much.
The Ur-peelas and E-wurras live exclusively in the Sandhills, and the specimens I am sending were got about forty miles North East of here.
D byrnei is like Joey B, sly — devilish sly, and I have not been able to get a solitary specimen altho I have had the lubras continually on the look out. At present, at all events, they seems to be scarcer even than Tobijas [sic], and from what the blacks say they are never numerous.
When the hot weather sets in I should be able to get you some more specimens of the Smooth-skinned lizards, and that Claypan beast. If you could send me a proof plate of each of the lizards required it would be a great help, as the blacks would know exactly what to look for.
Do you want a pair of Urtathurta? The blacks are manufacturing a pair for French, also a stone axe, but I’m afraid they won’t be finished in time for this mail. I will send them to him next post, and should any of his enemies come to a mysterious and violent end you will know that he has been “Coordeitcha lumah”!
Yours Ever Sincerely
W Baldwin Spencer
10th Oct’r ‘95
Your proof of the Mammalian Article, descriptions of new species, and plates arrived safely. Very many thanks for them.
The plates were a surprise as I never dreamt that they could turn out this class of work so well in Melbourne. They are incomparably superior to Lydekker’s or any others that I have seen. Macdonnelensis, Psammophilus and Cristicauda are beautifully done, and Dasyuroides, with a whole plate to himself, looks splendid. It is a thousand pities that Horn did not decide to have the whole work published in Melbourne, and if his days are embittered by Engravers, and his nights haunted by Printers devils, the punishment will only be just. I wonder how the “Old Warhorse” is feeling about the matter. “Nursing his wrath to keep it warm”, I expect!
With his banquets, political discussions, Scientific lectures and Green and red rumped trams, Gillen’s trip to Melbourne must have been a wild whirl of excitement and enjoyment. I had a hearty laugh over your description of his adventures and sympathise deeply with the feelings which you must have experienced when he gave vent to some particularly bloodthirsty and villainous assertion — and appealed to you for support!
Since his return to Adelaide he has been plunging into Mining, and sending excited telegrams asking me to join him in all sorts of speculations. I think they must have had him in hand praying for rain, or something of that sort, before he went to Melbourne and that his nature is now wildly trying to regain its original Cussedness! He will be full of news when he returns, and I expect to have a pleasant day or two with him before we start Quarrelling.
There will be no difficulty in getting you a decent specimen of Ur-peela when rain falls, but at Present the Country to the Eastward is very dry, and the Gins cannot go out.
Speaking of the habits of Ugartah and Ur-peela, the natives say that while the Ugartah invariably occupies the inner extremity of his burrow, the Urpeela, during the cold weather, lies within a foot or so of the entrance of his, and only uses the inner Chamber during the Summer. This peculiarity is taken advantage of by the Natives who spring on the surface of the Ground, behind the Ur-peela, breaking it in and cutting off his retreat to the inner Chamber. He is thus compelled to rush out thro’ the entrance, where a native is waiting to give him his quietus. The Ugartah cannot be captured in this manner, and has to be dug right out. Both species are nocturnal in their habits.
Sic transit leucura! I’m afraid I must have unwittingly supplied the Guileless native with the idea of that black tip to the tail!
The E-wurra and Tubaija are almost identical in their habits, and build similar nests of grass and twigs in shallow oval hollows scooped in the Ground. They are captured in the same way. Viz by placing one foot on the nest, pinning the animal and then pulling him out with the hand.
By this post I am sending you males and females of byrnei which were found in burrows, about two miles from the Station, female Antechinomys, larapintas, including female with Young, Notoryctes, and a skin which I got from the Crown Point People as handsel when I paid them your cheque. The skin is that of a young animal, and is about one third larger when the beast is mature. I suppose it is Geoffreyi.
There are no native cats here, and very few on the Finke South of Crown Point, but farther up they are more numerous. I will try and get some.
Referring to Cristicauda and byrnei, several old Gins, including the best hunters, inform me that both these species prey largely on Mus and Stapalotis. The younger blacks cannot corroborate this, but I am inclined to think that there is something in it — especially as you say that their dentition approaches that of Dasyurus.
You do not say what you tho’t of the condition of the Moles. Were they all right?
I have given up the idea of going out to the Musgraves as, if I were to go, the time during which I was away would be deducted from my leave. And as I have been nearly six years without a trip South, I feel that a visit to the land of Gaiety Girls and Green and red r—d trams would do me more good than prowling about the Western desert with a blackboy.
Summer is setting in rapidly and the waters are drying at Such a rate that if it does not rain before December I am afraid we will have to invoke the assistance of the Pious of N.S.W, whose corroboree appears to be more effective than that of our own rainmakers.
Whether we get good rains or not we are sure to have a few thunderstorms and I will have the niggers on the look out for notoryctes and lizards.
The postage you speak of isn’t worth mentioning. I seldom have such a consignment as that by last mail and it only amounts to a few shillings in twelve months! Besides I am rapidly amassing a fortune dealing in W.A. shares and if the luck continues you may see me blocking the way in Collins St about the middle of next year.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
11th October ‘95
The North Mail, and Gillen with your letter, have just arrived so that I haven’t time for more than a hurried scrawl. Gillen is looking splendid and evidently bursting with news and information of all sorts! He says he hasn’t given himself away to Stirling, and doesn’t intend to give that gentleman any more of his notes or photos — for publication at all events.
Re the Coordeitcha. If you think it is worth publishing you can lick it into shape for a short article as you suggest. The description, so far as it goes, is, I think, correct.
I have a pair of Compasses which will do for measuring so you need not send any.
The Gins will soon start out for a Second Expedition to the eastward and I hope to get a good many specimens of Urpeela and Ewurra with the Chance of Something new.
I hope you will come up again before long. We would all be delighted to see you, and if you let me know in time, I think I can manage to transport you from O.D. to here and back.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
14th Nov’r ‘95
By last mail I sent a short scrawl saying that you could do what you liked with the Urtathurta notes, but apparently it has not reached. As I put it in the Road bag at the last moment it may have been crushed out of recognition like some of Cowle’s egg parcels! So I wired you as desired.
You must be having a fearful time of it with the University Exam’s [sic], Horn Book and other work, and I wonder how on earth you stand the strain. By George, the thought of what it must be almost makes my hair stand on end, and I recognize that one has something to be thankful for even on a retired and breezy tableland.
I am glad that Horn has at last given evidence of his existence, — or rather that of his Pocket’s — and hope his emergence from the shell will be permanent. The near prospect of the book’s appearance may stimulate him a little, and no doubt the financial prosperity of the W.A. Octagon Syndicate will tend to put him in a better mood.
Our folks seem to have been nearly as demonstrative in welcoming the descendant of Edward III as your people were in recepting [sic] the offspring of the Sieur De Brisci [sic], and I suppose the recepted were both about equally wearied of the tomfoolery. Syme will have to whip up the fierce democracy.
Gillen stoutly asserted that he had not given anything more to Stirling, but I hae ma doots. Probably the Privilege of disembowelling some unfortunate devil of a Patient was dangled as a bait,— [sic - punctuation] and the Pontiff is only human!
He was rather subdued while here and only defended the “Nation Builder” in a negative sort of fashion, by saying that the other Parliaments were worse! Once or twice he quoted a few paragraphs from the “Advertiser”, and finished up with a peroration from “Speeches from the Dock” but he eschewed Argument. Said I didn’t understand the subject! I fancy, tho’, that it is beginning to dawn upon him that the Gifts of Street Corner oratory, and Supreme Self confidence, so plentiful amongst our Politicians, would be better for the addition of a little capacity.
I’m very much afraid that he thinks of invading Parliament, and only hope that the Lord will keep him out of the Treasury. If he ever gets there it will be all over with us.
The latest “bold and comprehensive scheme” is the opening up of a Stock route from Oodnadatta via the Musgrave Ranges to W.A. The Gentleman charged with the performance of the work is Mr. S. Hübbe of Ornithorhynchus and Franco-Prussian War fame so Carr-Boyd will have to look to his laurels.
The weather savours of the nether regions just at present, and our waters are drying rapidly. I’m very much afraid that we are in for another drought — the fourth in five years! The worst of it is our drinking water is not particularly nice now, and it won’t, like wine, improve with age.
Owing to the outside waters all being dry the tin is not a very interesting one this time, but if Jupiter P will only spread himself a little I hope to get plenty of Notoryctes and Urpeela this summer. The rodents I am sending are called Inda-lara and they are similar in their habits to H. Cervinus. I am trying to get the lizard which the doctor carries in his Girdle when accompanying the Coordeitcha. It is called Ina-Kowina.
Poor Daer died rather suddenly in Adelaide from diabetes just as he was thinking of starting back to Illamurta. We will all miss him very much as he was an old identity and a thorough good fellow.
Giles has left for West’n Australia, where he has received an appointment in the Tel Dept so that I am all alone in my glory. I suppose they will send someone in his place if the Colony doesn’t file its schedule at the end of the Present Quarter.
Wishing you a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W Baldwin Spencer.
15th Nov’r 95
Niggers returned without Ina-Kowina but I will get him eventually. I am sending you an Erwulla (Bullroarer) belonging to the Pultara class.
NB I want some more tins, and about a dozen of those glass tubes for claypan beasts.
20th Dec’r ‘95
Your letter with catalogue, lizard plates and the Kurdaitcha notes received, but not the notes on Notoryctes.
Many thanks for the catalogue which I can see gives much fuller descriptions than Lydekker, tho it is rather technical in places, and I will have to trust to inspiration for the meaning of some of the terms used.
The plates are splendid and the blacks were delighted when they saw them. They identified everything at once, and, during the next week, brought me in Varanus Gilleni (A-punna), V Eremius (Er-punda), A Maculatus (Arta’KoKila), D Winneckei (Pungalitnina) and they are now prowling round after C. damæus which should be findable in this hot weather.
I quite agree with what you say in the Kurdaitcha notes about the natives being able to track the Kurdaitcha if they chose. In fact I am very sceptical about most of their professions and beliefs and feel tolerably certain that their most cherished secrets and belongings can be Purchased for bacca — Provided that the deal can be made Privately.
While Gillen was here I had a chat with him about the Kurdaitcha lumah, and he was of opinion that the idea was never carried out, but existed solely in the imagination of the blacks, and he also thot that the lizard mentioned by them was not a reptile, but a stone “called the Lizard”. As to the first, I think the description Given me by the old men was too Circumstantial to be purely imaginary, and the blacks stoutly maintain that the custom was in vogue until some years ago. Gillen made enquiries amongst them and found that a lizard, and not a stone, was used. Since then the old men have informed me that three kinds of lizards are used. When I heard that more than one kind of lizard was carried I thot it probable that there was one for each class but the old men say “No”. The lizard which was most frequently used was called Oolam’ella and resembles E. Whitei, and after that the Inakowina (H bynoei?), and a slender longitudinally-striped lizard found on the Finke — I am sending you the Oo-lam’ella and Ina-kowina.
I am glad that you are gradually bringing Horn round to your own way of thinking about the book, but you must be getting tired of eternally stirring him up. When it is finished and he sees how well the work is done I think he will be rather ashamed of his simulated indifference. Anyhow, he should be. And if he is at all wise he will drop the introductory Chapter.
Your Mission to Adelaide must have been a Particularly delicate one, and I should like to have been an unseen witness of the Machiavellian manner in which you satisfied the Amour Propre of both Parties, and yet maintained Peace, when you and Tate met Winnecke!
Since writing you we have had a very heavy thunderstorm which filled all the waterholes and made the country for three or four miles around the Station look nice and green. Unfortunately it did not extend as far as the Finke, and I was utterly disgusted when the Gins, I had started out after moles, returned with the news that there had been no rain. The time was so favorable for getting them with young that it was especially disappointing.
If no luck this season we must have a big try for them when you come up next year. We will also — rain permitting — go out to the eastward of the Finke into the Ur-peela and E-wurra Country after P leucura and that yellow fat-tailed rat that I have been looking for so long. If leucura is anywhere in the vicinity, he is in the sandhills to the Eastward.
I’m not altogether certain that the Summer is the best season for collecting. No doubt reptiles and insects are then more numerous, but judging from this year’s results, Winter appears to be the best time for beasts: tho possibly the aversion the blacks have to overexerting themselves in the hot weather has something to do with the case.
Our Goldfields are still under a cloud and the few on them with sufficient energy to go anywhere are off to the West. Tennants Creek has not yet been tried owing to the Gov’t not having come forward with an offer to put people on the ground free, find them in everything, and give them three pounds a week while prospecting. The money so advanced to be paid back in yearly instalments extending over five hundred years!
Still, South Australians won’t part with their “Glorious birthright” to an English Syndicate, and I suppose things will be at a standstill until a Royal Commission — at a cost of several thousand pounds — is appointed to report on matters and then, probably, a railway will be constructed to bring the Finke sand to Adelaide for building purposes. Nation building, possibly!
I am still in W.A. Mines but think I will come out all right when they get rain next year; that is, unless those confounded Yankees and Turks cause a Panic in the English money market. Johnathan and John’s affair is absurd. War would mean ruin to both, as America would lose her fleet and her commerce, and her coastal towns would be battered, while England would lose Canada, and possibly India if Russia tho’t the opportunity favorable. At all events, they should show more consideration for holders of W.A. stock and not get dancing around and frightening people when they really mean nothing.
I shall have a very quiet Xmas all to myself, but it will be a much pleasanter one than I expected. Before the rain the Country looked wretched and our water supply had rather more bouquet and taste than was necessary, now there is a coat of green over that noble expanse to the S.W. and I am getting the boat ready to launch.
There are hundreds of turkeys and ducks about the Billabongs so we are all certain of a good dinner at any rate, and the blacks, with the assistance of your tobacco, and an indigestible duff which I have made for them annually, should hold high revel. With Best Wishes for the New Year.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
Letter from Spencer to Byrne
No. B (incomplete letter)
Jan 6. 96
[...] may see an alliance between England and Russia, though I would prefer, above all, an alliance with Germany; Italy is too bankrupt to be much use.
The U.S. imbroglio is evidently simply a Tammany Hall affair upon which subject I have written to our friend the ‘Nation builder’.
Poor S.A. seems to be getting rather into a financial fix — worse than Victoria: indeed we are beginning to improve and are managing to pay of a big lump of interest without raising another loan to do it with.
If only we had a decent railway administrator we should be perfectly right but with Gillen’s friends in power whose idea is to find people in land, money and clothes, we stand but a poor chance of having things managed from an ordinary business point of view.
I really hope that when you get anything like a decent chance you will sell out of W.A. I don’t a bit believe in the place: for the most part it is a case of booming and unless they can get a change of climate or a much better water supply, plenty of their mines — the majority of which are not worth much really — must really go.
We are getting splendid gold results in Victoria but then, thank Goodness, we are not on the boom so that we don’t have flaring paragraphs cabled home to take in the unwary widow and clergyman.
You want to be like W.A.H., one of the original swindlers, to get much or else you want to have so much cash that it doesn’t matter if you lose a few thousands. Everything in this world appears to be run on the principle that “blessed is he that hath for unto him shall more be given etc.”
Before I go further there is a question to which I want an answer — You sent me down — many thanks for it — a sacred stick which you said “belonged to the Bulthara class”: now what do you mean by that? Do you mean that it is peculiar to some ceremony performed by Bulthara men? May not Kumarra and Purula men see it or what?
You can have no idea of the mass of information which Gillen is getting together on this kind of subject. He must be expending vast quantities of her majesty’s baccy and blankets. Now for the sake of corraboration — not that I in the least distrust Gillen’s information but that it is always advisable to get the same story from the point of view of two men — can you set to work and find out as much as ever you can about the rain-making ceremony which I believe your C.W. blacks perform. You needn’t photograph them! but it would be interesting to see if you would translate their ideas in the same way in which Gillen does, but perhaps you were with him when he was getting his information. If ever you have the chance, could you secure for me a musical instrument with the somewhat ornamented bit of stick. You gave me the two rounded sticks but what I want to get, if possible, is one something like you may remember the one which you sent to French. I am getting a beautiful collection of C.A. things which ornament my study and are associated with most pleasant memories.
The view, as I sit at my study window, out on to green trees and a fence covered with creeping geranium in full flower and a small lawn which, regardless of rates, we manage to keep tolerably green, is very pleasant but I have a kind of hankering after the interior and rather envy you your view over the fertile plains away to the S.W. This time next year I hope to be with you: we must persuade Gillen to come down as I see very little chance in the limited time at my disposal to get as far north as the Alice. I would much prefer, if such a thing were possible, to run across to the S. side of the Levi Range.
Now as to beasts. The lizards were splendid: you could not have got — barring new species — a more valuable lot. Gilleni, eremius and winneckii were especially wanted and still more valuable will be damæus if you can lay hands upon it. I don’t mind how many of all these beasts we have as they are still extremely rare. The winneckii set was especially good — it is really a very pretty beast and the reddish variety made me wish that we had had this to figure instead of the bluish one.
As to the new lizards which you tied together. “Oolamella” as you say is E. whitii and the banded one “Inakowina” is Egerina fasciolata — the same beast which runs about the house catching flies. It varies a great deal in size and colour. Last mail you sent me down a little beauty with a bright yellowish body — that also is Hinulia fasciolata. The little longitudinally banded one which you sent down at the same time is Hinulia lesueuri. Some of these beasts vary very much indeed. There is amongst the lot you sent down this time a whitish beast, smooth and with faint bands along across its tail but none on the body: this I made sure was a new species but Mr Frost, the lizard man, tells me he thinks it is only a variety of the strongly banded fasciolata. However there is no doubt but that there are a goodly number of new species to be secured around C.W.
I have sent you three tins, one filled with bottles. I didn’t put spirits with them for fear of the customs and will send more next mail. I have just run out of them and couldn’t get them made in time to send off today. I will send more spirits up soon. As to the long thin Kurdaitcha lizard: Gillen sent me down one last mail and it turns out to be Rhodona bipes — a beast with small limbs and a long body.
[Drawing] There is a small bivalve shelled beast somewhat like this which you will find swimg [sic - swimming] about in muddy pools. I got just a few in a small pool by the side of the Stevenson. If the blacks could find any (make them bring them to you in water so that the soft parts won’t be dried up) they would be very welcome.
It is disappointing to think that Notoryctes can’t be found. It must be either a little after or just his breeding season and a pouch embryo would be a grand find. I’m not describing the new Peragale as yet but am waiting to see if you can, by good luck, land on one with its plumage fairly intact so as to have a decent type specimen.
Curiously enough Gillen sent me down [... letter ends here]
6th Feby 96
Your letter with tins and copies of Kurdaitcha notes to hand. You need not have gone to the trouble of sending me the latter, as I don’t want any for distribution amongst the long suffering Population of the NW!
I am glad so much of the Horn Work is off your hands, and expect you will have nearly all of it in Print when this reaches you. As the Octagon Syndicate appears to be flourishing, Horn should be in an amiable mood, and no doubt he will eventually give way to you altogether. He seems to have the quality of Passive resistance well developed tho’!
The war scare appears to have subsided, or else the Newspaper liars inventive powers have failed, but it has woke England out of her lethargy and I think She will pay more attention to her army in future. The manner in which, of late years, she has deferred to Germany has made the Germans look upon England as a sort of little Germany, and it is just as well that they should be disabused of the idea, I fancy the vaunted triple alliance has seen the best of its days, as Austria is only held together by the Present Emperor, Italy is hopelessly insolvent and it is more than doubtful whether Bavaria and the other German states relish the high handed rule of the talkative William — England in alliance either with the United States or Russia could laugh at the “Machine-like” army, which if History speaks truly, was just as machine-like at Jena, and yet came to grief.
Jamison [sic] committed the greatest of all sins — he failed! Had he been successful I think Rhodes would have annexed the Transvaal nolens volens.
I can hardly believe that Cleveland intended a quarrel with England. He has always seemed a fair and upright man, but no doubt there are some bad eggs amongst his Party, and they must have fanned the flames for Purposes of their own. Still neither Nation seems to have taken the matter seriously and I think Uncle Sam would fall into line with his Kin if the combination of “God and the German Sword” got meandering around the Union Jack. I was amused at the way the Continental Powers backed up England during the row — wouldn’t they have liked to see her embroiled with America!
I agree with most of what you say about W.A. but think there are many good mines there, and that there will be a mild boom when rain falls. This South African embroglio will also benefit W.A. eventually, as the English investor will prefer ventures in a Colony under the Control of England to those which are at the mercy of the Boers. And after all the Western Country is not such a desert as represented. An old friends of mine writes that a Great Part of it is infinitely superior to the interior of South Australia, and that the Hampton Plains near Coolgardie, are splendidly grassed and husked. The water difficulty is the great drawback.
The stick I sent you is an Er-wulla or bullroarer, used in the Initiation Ceremonies, and carried by the Initiate while isolated during his recovery from the rite. Each class makes its own Erwulla in a manner peculiar to the Class, and uses it in the initiation of its members, but the Erwullas of all classes can be looked at by any man after he has been initiated. Boys and lubras are not allowed to see the Erwulla and severe penalties are supposed to be inflicted should they offend against this rule. As a matter of fact nearly all the lubras and boys see them sub rosa, and the same lubras and boys, if of similar classes, tho’ afraid to look at each other if anyone is about, not infrequently “Sin by two and two” — under the Acacias. As one would naturally expect, infidelity is the Crime most heavily Punished, but death is rarely inflicted in any of the tribes for this offence, tho’ the lubras are sometimes badly mutilated.
I have only seen portions of the Rain “Ungwobarah” and have never paid much attention to the matter, but I will try and get some information from the old men.
Scott of Tennants Ck passed here a few days ago with a half caste boy who is thoroughly versed in the sign language of the T.K. tribe. Gillen had him in his sanctum nearly every day while at Alice Springs so you should have a great budget by this mail. The fact that in the T.K. tribe a lubra is only allowed to use sign language while communicating with the other blacks for some months after the death of her husband, and that the boys are similarly interdicted while recovering from the Initiation, seems to explain why the Sign language is so largely used in this tribe.
I have had a pair of Troras (the sticks for beating time) made, but they are rather rough and I will wait until the boy who made French’s comes in before sending any.
Again, I have only lizards to send you as the Country is too dry for the blacks to go out, and I am afraid the bag will continue small until Winter or rain Comes. Among the lizards is C. damæus which I had some difficulty in getting as only two old women Knew the beast and they had a job to find a name for him — He is called Jilyarrra, and is said to be exclusively nocturnal in his habits. I think during the hot weather he must be so, as, tho’ Winneckei and other lizards were captured during the day, I could only get damæus by supplying the Gins with lanterns and sending them out at night. He is a very pretty beast, before going into the spirits, being a delicate shade of reddish brown down the sides of the back and head, and the white markings show out very distinctly. The figured specimen hardly does him justice.
Directly rain falls I must start the Gins out after Urpeela and other beasts as I believe the Crown People have communicated with the British Museum Authorities who desire to purchase an all round Collection from Central Aust — I do not think they will get much outside Moles, but they might drop across Urpeela and Ewurra.
When you come up we will be better able to decide which is the best direction to go in search of new beasts — Gillen should have no difficulty in Getting down unless his magisterial duties interfere, or the break up of the Paid Patriot Party causes him to commit suicide.
We had a fearful spell of hot weather during January. For nearly three weeks it averaged 110, sometimes going up to 116 or 17, and I began to fear that the advent of General Booth had banished Old Nick to Central Australia — During the last few days it has been cooler and as the boat is now launched on the waterhole, Yelept Atnooralooralirra, I go for a row between those majestic Coolabahs on the banks and admire the Scenery generally.
Still, I think I would prefer a stream that “stole by lawns and grassy plots, and slid by hazel covers” to the Goat pondy waters you wot of, and even you would, I think, get tired of seeing Mt. Frank malevolently blinking at you thro’ the haze.
With kindest regards.
Yours Ever Sincerely
P.S. I enclose a Memo from Gillen.
P.P.S Had to detain a parcel for Cowle by last mail as the Contractors objected to carry P.P. Parcels. [sic - punctuation] there being no Parcel Post route up the Finke — I will try and send it on.
29th Feby ‘96
As Ross from Crown Point is going to Oodnadatta tomorrow I am sending you a Consignment of beasts and this note by him.
I was very sorry to hear of your home trouble, and hope that all is now quite well again. With this anxiety added to the Colossal amount of work you have on hand, I can well understand your feeling jaded, and only wish that you could take a run up here during the Winter months when the trip would really do you good.
I don’t think I quite realised what the work of editing was until I had a look thro’ the bulky volume you sent. It is really a splendid work in every way, and must make a big stir in the scientific world. Speaking of it, Winnecke, in a recent letter, says regretfully, “Owing to Spencer’s indomitable energy, Horn is going to have another show for the Knighthood!”
I see that he (Horn) is rather in evidence at Home of late, especially at the Colonial Institute where he caused the August Sides of the Members to shake with his jokes about CA — I wonder if he gave them that description of a camel which so tickled the S.A. Public, or confined himself to the humorous experience he had between Oodnadatta and HS Bend!
We had a nice rain on the 21st which, altho’ it did not put any water in the Creek, has made the place look nice and green. I started the Gins out to the Finke immediately it fell, but they were unable to get any moles. I am now sending them to Oodnatchurra, and if the waterhole there has been filled they will be able to get Urpeela and Ewurra with any other beasts that may be misguided enough to live in that vicinity.
As some crabholes on the tableland had been filled I searched them for bivalves this morning and I succeeded in getting two varieties — one a reddish brown in color and the other colorless and transparent with the lines of growth few and rather faintly marked. So far I have not been able to get any with the dorsal line serrated as in your sketch, but I will keep a look out for them — Apus are to be had in millions, and I got one univalve which is in the bottle with other specimens.
I am still solus here so you can imagine how quiet things are. Gillen, I never hear from, and Field tells me he is working like a Trojan, night and day, at his Ethnological notes. Rumour has it that recently he got up in his Sleep and adjourned to the washhouse from which there presently came a sound of chanting accompanied with vigorous stamping of feet; and on the astonished Night Operator going to see what was the matter, he found the Pontiff, artistically decorated with Day and Martin [sic], and with fancy patterns in Postage Stamp selvage bestowed over his ample person, corroboreeing away like an Aroondah warrior!
The blacks had a rain corroboree here a fortnight ago, and I saw several of the morning dances. They take place about an hour before sunrise, and have a vivid effect on one in the dim halflight. Some of the headdresses are very elaborate, and the different chants with the corresponding dances remove the monotony so common in their other corroborees.
When you come up we will get them to go through the Series.
With Kind Regards,
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
30th April 96
I am glad the last collection proved of Some interest — I was very doubtful about it, but tho’t the Eulimnadia did not quite agree with any of the Species described in the Horn work. I have since tried to get some more of them, but without success, and I am inclined to think the species is a short lived one. Those I found were in small, rather deep, crabholes which had a good deal of vegetation growing in them, but, even in these crabholes they were much less numerous than the Estheria, and in the shallow, muddy claypans and billabongs they were altogether absent. By this mail I am sending you what appears to be the Permanent species of Estheria (?) — They were obtained in the tank live while carting water from the big billabong. They are very thick thro’ the umbones.
I shall not be greatly disappointed with the Geology as I didn’t expect much. The only Geological effusion of Tate’s I have seen is his Inaugural address to the Society for the Advancement of Science and that was simply all padding, and very poor Padding at that.
I can see that Horn has been at it again, when you speak of his feeble jokes! He surely isn’t going to resuscitate that labored one about the Camel, and inflict it on an unsuspecting Public under a Scientific Cloak?
I am sorry the trouble is not over with Winnecke, but am certain he would not do anything he tho’t dishonourable. The only thing is, would he in a fit of spleen persuade himself that a Course was right, which in his Cooler moments he would Condemn.
Many thanks for the Banjo’s verses, several of which I have not read. He writes spiritedly and knows the bush — that is the bush of fences and shearing sheds, but as a Poet I think he comes behind Victor Daly, Lawson and one or two others — not to speak of our big gun Stephens. Still I suppose he is to be judged as a writer of ballads, and comparing him to Stephens is like comparing Kipling to Tennyson. What do you think of that ineffable ass our New Poet Laureate and his poem about Jameson’s Raid?
I think the Alice Springs blacks only know of the Mole thro’ seeing it on the upper Finke and their opinions on this beast are more than usually valueless, as even here, where it is comparatively numerous, the Natives know little of nothing of its habits. Still, I think, when all is discovered, Witchetties will be found to form a larger proportion of its diet than ants; tho’ no doubt it feeds largely on insects of all sorts as you say.
I cannot for the life of me see that this beast has been modified to feed on Ants. His mouth seems as unsuitable for this purpose as for feeding on Witchetties while his strong claws would enable him to dig the latter out of the soft roots among which he probably builds his nest. Besides the horny extremities are required to protect him while travelling thro’ the sand, and the soft thick fur is necessary to Keep him warm — There!
By this mail I am sending you a Couple of Perameles, a worm-like snake, some spiders and a villainous looking Grasshopper, besides the Estheria.
I should have had Urpeela long ago but for the dryness of the Country. We are in a deplorable condition here — no feed anywhere, and only between two and three months water — or rather mud. I’m afraid we are in for it in earnest this time, and we have never been in a worse Position to meet with a big drought. However, there is a slight gleam of light amidst it all, in the advance of W.A. stocks, and I am taking your advice and getting rid of them.
My ass’t also arrived about a fortnight ago, but, as he is almost a cripple and an inferior operator, I’m little better off than I was before.
And thus endeth the Jeremiad!
Our Elections are all over today and the result goes to show that the Woman Elector is not conservative but rabidly Socialistic and she also seem to have a Penchant for Socialism without brains, rather than with that Commodity, judging from the result of Some of the Elections. But you will hear all about it — from a certain point of view — from Gillen — The only thing I am afraid of is that the rate at which they will want to “Advance” South Australia will be too much for her weak back and broken Knees and that she will collapse altogether. Our only safeguard is that the Powers that be are such gifted — , that in all probability they will induce the unsuspecting stranger to put his money into our concerns and so save our own deserving population.
I believe we are going to have a surplus but it is derived solely from the advance in Western Australian trade — no mean proportion of it being due to telegrams!
Don’t be a bit surprised if you hear of Orangeries at Charlotte Waters before long or that the S.A. Govt purpose breeding rollicking rams in the “Magnificent Sandhill Country to the Eastward of Charlotte Waters and forming the valley of the famed River Finke!”
I am glad you are coming up again and only wish I could get out with you to George Gill’s Range, but I’m afraid it is impossible. Cowle, however, should have no difficulty in getting away, and while you were chasing up the vermin in that direction, I could make a grand raid on the Sandhill Country to the Eastward with an army of old women!
I intend trying to get leave in September (3 months), this would be bring me back in December so we might come together, and, if Cowle were here to meet you, you could go on to George Gill’s Range, and on return I could run you back to Oodnadatta — that would suit? There is just a bare possibility of my being able to go, as there will be a man here relieving me with whom I might arrange if the High and Mighty Todd approved.
I hope Mrs Spencer is now quite well. Kindest regards.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor Baldwin Spencer.
8th June 1896
Bearing in mind that I have such an acute little Critic, I must try and amend the writing and avoid the blots on this occasion. I certainly felt careless and off color when last I wrote, but a few days trip over the delightful Country on the Stephenson, and the Prospect of a holiday in September have restored me to my normal resigned condition.
I was glad to hear about Keartland. He is a genuine worker at all events, and, tho’ I don’t envy him the appointment and its multifarious duties, the trip, if it includes the country lying west of Barrow and Tennant Creeks, Should be interesting and may result in some good mineral discoveries.
I have just finished reading the Geology and having a look thro’ the Botany in Part 3. The Botany, so far as I am capable of judging, seems good, but I cannot see that the Geology adds much to our Previous Knowledge. Since ‘90’ it has been Known that the Main ridges of the McDonnell are Silurian and the ages of the underlying Quartzite Schists may well be left until fossil evidence of their age is forthcoming. A strong unconformability hardly seems sufficient reason for relegating them to the Pre-Cambrian and I am inclined to think that Brown’s opinion will prove correct, tho’ no doubt he erred with respect to the age of the Post-Silurian Conglomerate.
In describing the Alice Springs Country, Tate gives the usually accepted explanation of the formation of the Gaps etc, but he makes only one mention of a fault, and does not refer at all to the Simpsons Gap Range which should have been of interest. But what amused me in the report was the introduction of Chewings and East. Chewings, no doubt, is now a good man, but when he visited this Country in ‘91 he knew absolutely nothing about Geology and he learnt little during his sojourn. He thought that the Quartzite was basalt, that the horizontally bedded hills (like Ooramina [sic]) were Tertiary, and that the fossils he discovered were Carboniferous. He was quite jubilant over the Prospect of discovering a Coal field at Alice Springs! When he arrived in Adelaide Tate took him in hand, determined the fossils as Upper Silurian, and between them they brought forth a Pamphlet in which Brown’s classification of the Ooraminna Range as Devonian was adopted, and Tennison Woods’ opinion re the Aolian formation of the desert Sandstone put forward as Chewing’s. East was a fair mineralogist and had some knowledge of Geology, but he was in the unfortunate Position of having no one to Crib from. He regarded all the rocks to the base of the Silurian, with the exception of those at Horseshoe Bend, as Cretaceous and thought the stony tablelands were the boulder-strewn beds of Ancient rivers which the boulders had protected from denudation, tho’ he made no mention of the latter idea in his subsequent report.
Actually, Tate in attacking Chewings’ and East is to a great extent demolishing his own earlier views respecting the McDonnells.
The silicification of the Cretaceous rock is certainly a puzzle, but I don’t think Tate need have conjured up a land 600 miles long by 200 broad, Pitted with innumerable volcanic vents, vomiting for [sic - forth] ashes and bombs, to explain the Phenomenon. The usually mild and inoffensive Finke may have butted the Crown Point Range and Knocked a hole through it — tho I should have thought a Passage thro’ the low Country four miles higher up would have been Preferred, but how so many volcanoes could have existed in Post-Cretaceous times and only left bombs to tell the tale is a mystery. The theory covers all the Phenomena no doubt, but it has yet to be proved that the bombs are connected with the Silicification. I am inclined to think that they are derived from outliers of the older rocks, and that the desert sandstone may have derived its silica from sea water, while the lower brecciated hills with Chalcedonic Cappings may represent extinct hot springs. It is hard to believe that the Silicification of the desert sandstone, the lower brecciated hills, and the still lower ironstone Stratum was contemporaneous. If it was it must have occurred yesterday and yet the desert sandstone is much denuded altho’ it resists the weather better than the felspathic breccias or ironstone.
When travelling up the Stephenson last week I noticed a number of low hills composed of an impure silicious limestone resembling travertine, and capped with slaggy looking blocks of Chalcedony which in places were cemented to the limestone. These hills are the home of the “unrolled agate” found between the Stephenson and Bloods Creek but, tho’ I searched for some time, I could not find any obsidian in their vicinity. There are also some hills near C.W. capped with large masses (up to 10 tons) of a vesicular Silicious rock, overlying brecciated felspathic rocks, and unaltered argillaceous Sandstone and ironstone but here again there is no obsidian. However, whether the worthy Professors theory of the contemporaneous Silicification of about 120000 square miles of Country thro’ the Medium of volcanic vents (which broke out like measles on the lower Country instead of Showing along the lines of least resistance) — the ranges is correct or not, he certainly scores over the other Geologists in giving an explanation of those extraordinary features — the claypans — I used to think they were formed thro’ the natives corroboreeing on them, and thus pulverising the stones and lowering the level of the ground, but, tho’ this view would also explain the hardness of the niggers feet, I suppose I must give it up!
By this mail I am sending you the same old lot of beasts, which I expect you will fervently wish in the Yarra when you receive them, but until rain falls there is no chance of getting either Notoryctes or Urpeela and I am afraid I have worked out the new species about here — in marsupials at any events.
I am also sending specimens of the vesicular rock and the Chalcedony and limestone I mention, besides some Emu Poison bush and a Plant which I would like to know the nature of. It looks like an Euphorbia and is credited with very poisonous properties.
I am glad to hear that you will be able to pay us a good long visit this time, and regret that my departure for town in September will prevent my being here when you arrive. But I will probably see you before you leave, and as I will be back in December we will be able to get the Rain Corroboree Pictures, and any stray beasts that may have been overlooked.
While I am away I expect either Field or my brother Jack will be here, and I know they will be as anxious as myself to assist you in every way.
It is unnecessary to say that it hasn’t rained!
With kind regards, and hoping that Mrs Spencer and my captious little critic will have an enjoyable trip.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
21st July ‘96
Many thanks for enquiring about Plant. I should not have sent it but that Several horses have died here lately, and this plant being Euphorbiacous I tho’t it was probably the cause.
I quite agree with you that the hot spring theory is quite as bad as the volcanoes, and think in my letter I ascribed the silicification of the Desert Sandstone to deposition from sea water, and only invoked the aid of hot springs to account for some mound-like elevations capped with large masses of Scoriaceous rock, and for the silicification, in places, of the cretaceous ironstone and Kaoline. By this I mean deposition from the Supra-cretaceous Sea coincident with the final upheaval of the Desert Sandstone. But I find that the direct action of hot springs will not account for the Scoriaceous rocks as they (the rocks) are distributed all over the higher tablelands, altho’ not in such large masses as on the isolated mounds rising out of the valleys.
The diversity of the formations underlying the Supra-cretaceous at comparatively short distances apart point to denudation of the Cretaceous Prior to the deposition of the Desert Sandstone, and some denudation of the latter may have taken place before its final upheaval and silicification as land and marine conditions appear to have alternated during its deposition. Presuming that the supra-cretaceous formation was thick and arenaceous on the elevations, and thinner and felspathic in the depressions, the silica would penetrate to a greater depth and form a more stable or weather resisting rock combined with the Sand than it would with the clays, and the latter, occupying the depressions, would in time be denuded leaving the Sandstone capped hills isolated. The scoriaceous Chalcedony and allied vesicular masses found on the surface may represent the final deposit of Silica after the underlying rocks were saturated, and as the saturation would occur earlier in the case of the felspathic rocks the surface masses would be larger when found in this conjunction. Their Scoriaceous appearance is probably due to the decomposition of included felspathic and other matter. The coarser felspathic breccias sometimes present a very scoriaceous appearance through the felspars being decomposed and only a network of the cementing silica left. A hill near here is capped with masses of this scoriaceous rock underlaid by Desert Sandstone and silicified Cretaceous ironstone and Kaoline. It is noteworthy that where limestone occurs the capping is always Chalcedony. The obsidians must, I think, be derived from the older rocks — probably an examination of the ranges to the westward of here would throw some light on their origin. How they were transported with so little erosion is a mystery unless one inflicts an Ice Age on a Country that has already been roasted and boiled. Still, despite the latitude, such a condition may not have been altogether impossible, tho’ I can understand the objection a strict uniformitarian like Tate would have to the introduction of a cause demanding extraordinary conditions.
Your suggestion that the silica was supplied to the sea by hot springs appears probable, as they might represent the second stage of volcanic action, or the accompaniment of such action at a distance. But, tho’ a fresh water sea may have existed during tertiary times, I think it could only have covered portions of the Desert Sandstone. To have caused the silicification it would have to be co-extensive. Tate, in the Horn work, is very reticent, merely referring to a basin at Dalhousie Springs and a supposed one at Crown Point. He certainly says that the rainfall was at one time “vaster” than at Present, but even that condition would not require a rainbow as an assurance of Safety from deluge. In his pamphlet he speaks of the vast lacustrine area which isolated West from Eastern Australia and of the similar fresh water area which continued the isolation into late Tertiary times, but the only evidence adduced in favor of the fresh water sea is the existence of Circumscribed lake basins, extinct rivers, and the remains of Crocodiles and large herbivores. Of course, a Glacial Period in Tertiary times might have occasioned large bodies of fresh water like Lakes Lahoutan and Bonneville in N. America! I agree with your description of the formation of the Gaps, but why should not Crown Point Gorge have been formed in a similar manner? It seems strange that the Finke, which had kept pace with the upheaval of the Silurian and flowed into the supra-cretaceous sea, should, on the upheaval of the Desert-Sandstone, only succeed in cutting a Channel 100 miles in length before the Country was denuded nearly to its present level. It is especially difficult to understand if Tate’s theory of Silicification is accepted, for then the Finke would only have to Cut its way through soft sandstone and clays, and the silicification must have taken place while it was wending its way to C Point. Don’t you think it more probably that the silicification had already taken place, and that the Finke, on arrival at Crown Point, found a depression between two slight elevations, and, flowing in a broad channel, left a shingle deposit in front of, and at the sides, of the elevations. The deposit may have been repeated at different times, and each deposit would be left on the banks as the river Channel became deeper and narrower. With reference to the distribution of the bombs. I know that they are found from Farina to Horseshoe Bend (over 500 miles) and in this vicinity they are found on the tablelands twenty miles East and thirty or forty miles West. Perhaps they are more plentiful in the vicinity of the Peake and here than elsewhere, but I think they come from the West.
Watts sections are well done, and his account of the Crystallisation of the Mica is interesting, but on the whole — tho’ I am not at all enamoured with my own opinions — I don’t care for the Geology. The Silurian part may be good, but little is added to our knowledge of the Cretaceous. Watt cannot be held responsible for this as the time at his disposal was altogether too short for a detailed examination. I am sending you a few bombs, one of which seems to have taken on its present peculiar form while spinning in the air as it shows no mark of impact with the Ground. It may be a button which his Satanic Majesty dropped when stoking a volcano. I am also sending an Apunga, or bag, and a couple of Troras. Only two Dasyuroides — obtained in time, and one dried Mole have been brought in and I am holding them over till I get enough to fill a tin. I will keep a look out for the Crustacea immediately rain falls and obtain all the information possible about them.
Goodness only knows when we will get a rain. Our waterholes are just dry and I am hard at it getting the stock together and shifting them to the Finke. With this, and inspecting travelling stock for the Queensland bug, I am kept going. The behaviour of this bug is rather difficult to explain according to the doctrine of the Survival of the fittest. Perhaps his mission is to improve the breed of Cattle. It would be sacrilege to suggest that the Country was only suitable for ticks!
Gillen must be having a great time amongst the tribes. His whole heart is in the work, and he spares neither himself nor the niggers. One civilized blackboy, whom he had questioned into a state of Semi-imbecility, recently burst out with “ — it, Mr Gillen, you know more about these — niggers than I do. Let me alone!”
Cowles suggestion re asking the Comm’r of Police for his assistance is a good one, and there is no doubt the use of the Camels would be gladly granted. If this drought continues it will be impossible for you to do anything without Camels as all the outside waters are dry. Cowle will be pleased to have another trip out with you.
I hope to get away from here about the end of September and will probably be in Melbourne early in October but I can’t say exactly until I arrive in Adelaide.
I am glad that I will have at least a week or so with you here when you are returning, when we may solve the Geological problem. I think you will do it — of Course, with the assistance of an eminent Geologist like myself!
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
Having finished mustering yesterday I cantered over to the Anderson Range (12 miles West) this morning to have another look at some peculiarities I had noticed there.
I found the Range capped with Shattered Desert Sandstone which in many places was conglomerate from top to base — Both top and base of the Section examined were silicified, but the centre was in many places loose and Crumbling. Imbedded in a section of the Soft Conglomerate I found a grooved and striated siliceous boulder — It projected out of the conglomerate about a foot, and a few inches in from the face it was broken, but the other half or portion was partly visible. On the lower spurs were a few isolated masses of conglomerate, felspathic breccia, and a white vesicular rock which formed the capping — all blended together into a compact mass. In the Conglomerate portions the dark brick red cementing silica was largely in excess of the Quartz inclusions. One boulder of this rock 6 x 6 x 9, weighing say 20 tons, was in an inverted Position, the base presenting a Glazed appearance and the vesicular capping resembling this [drawing]. On a slight saddle there is a smooth space which descends the hill on the North side for twenty or thirty feet and then sweeps East and West, being bordered on both sides (Especially that nearest the hill) by blocks of desert Sandstone Conglomerate.
I had got this far in my examination when I noticed my horse making off in hobbles, and when I got him back to where I had left the saddle it was too late to climb the hill again so I will have to pay it another visit. I send you a rough sketch which doesn’t pretend accuracy, and some numbered specimens of rock — No 1 Capping of Conglomerate, No 2 Centre, No 3 underlying felspathic rock; others labelled.
I must apologize for inflicting all this on you, but I won’t refer to the subject again, and I promise faithfully not to send any more rocks!
Pebbles similar to those in the Conglomerate are distributed over the low hills 9 or 10 miles N of C. Point, and also in a small Creek running out of a hill about 4 miles N of Mt. Squire.
[2 Drawings of hillside with differently shaded areas of rock
[Shading 1] - 10 feet shattered Desert Sandstone conglomerate, varying in mixture and hard-ness
[Shading 2] - 12 feet Desert Sandstone conglomerate silicified top and base
[Shading 3] - 2 feet off felspathic rock underlying conglomerate
B shingly slopes
S Vesicular capped boulders
R Smooth space
• Striated boulders
Note. The perspective is Chinese — Height of hill about 200 feet, but top portion is on a large scale to show conglom etc
[Separate drawing] Ground plan!
4th Sept’r 96
I am glad to hear that all your arrangements are made for coming up, and only hope that sufficient rain will fall to make your trip a pleasurable and successful one. So far there is not prospect of rain here, and a low barometer only heralds a duststorm.
Do not, on any account, allow my movements to interfere with your Sydney trip, as, owing to my having to assist in floating some Alice Springs Mining Properties, I will probably be detained in Adelaide for some time — How long I won’t be able to say until I have seen Winnecke and other shareholders.
Whether I shall go Westwards depends altogether on what the outlook is like when I go down; probably I will go for a short trip and return. So that I may have the pleasure of working out the Geological Problem with you after all.
What you say of Tate’s treatment of Brown’s work is quite correct, and Brown, when here lately, pointed out some remarks of Tate’s that appear to be deliberate misstatements. He (Brown) was too tired after his long trip to listen to my suggestion that he should have a look at the hill to the Westward, but he criticised some Portions of the Horn Geology, especially insisting on the distinct stratification of the Pre-Silurian, in places, and on the unconformability of the Ooramina Sandstones with the underlying limestone. Since he left I have succeeded in unearthing five casts. One resembles Isoarca [sic] and shews teeth on hinge line, the other is of a shell about 11/2 inches in length, ventricose, with prominent subspiral beaks, equilateral, equivalve, and deeply furrowed concentrically. I think it may be akin to Isocardia [sic]! The casts are not very perfect but Etheridge may be able to determine them. I have also found some more fragments of separate whorled Ammonitile [sic]. The bag I sent was made by a Charlotte Waters blackfellow, and I saw an old man making another in the Camp yesterday. I think, but am not sure, that I have seen similar bags at Alice Springs.
The beast supply has been very limited lately, and I have only succeeded in getting a couple of Antechinomys, and a Larapinta, in addition to a few beasts I am taking down for Winnecke’s Museum. I am leaving two Dasyuroides (females with a lot of young ones) a Larapinta and a couple of Antechinomys here for you.
Gillen is still at work with undiminished energy and the wail of the tormented Native is loud in the Land. Cowle has been silent for some time, but I understand that he has had his hair cut so he may intend Paying Crown Point, and possibly C.W. a visit.
Many thanks for information re plant. I must try and get a flowering specimen as I would like to Know the species. It appears to be very poisonous. Hoping to see you soon.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W Baldwin Spencer
Letter from Spencer to Byrne
No. C (incomplete letter)
(University of Melbourne - on the headed paper)
March 2 1897
My dear Byrne,
The mail has once more come in and I’m busy for a few days over C.A. matters. After reaching Melbourne a fortnight ago I felt somewhat seedy and went off up to the hills for a change before term began, not feeling quite equal to settling down to the eternal grind of lectures once more. Certainly Victoria looked beautifully green and fresh after the parchedness of S.A. generally and it was a great relief to be amongst dense timber and fern gullies with any amount of water. French and myself went up to a place called the Black Spur and much enjoyed ourselves fossicking about quietly for 5 or 6 days. I haven’t been able to get through all that I wanted before the mail went off as it was Saturday last before I could settle down to developing the last batch of negatives — the Crown Point ones amongst others. I have printed off two or three and put them inside the Horn Anthropology volume which goes by this post: more shall follow next mail, but there has been such a batch to print off so as to send the Pontiff an anthropological series from my negs, that I have had my hands fully occupied in this line.
It seems an age of a time since I left CW. We had a very comfortable journey down to the head of the line and got through without any mishap and with a day to spare in the metropolis of Oodnadatta which was quite long enough. Luckily for me Kennedy was there and livened up things a bit — how he manages to retain his spirits is a marvel.
Adelaide — “that delightful town” as Gillen styles it in his letter (in contrast to “dirty, dull, boom-busted Melbourne”) looked as uninteresting as usual.
After all I didn’t see Winnecke, at least only out of a railway window on my way across at Mt Lofty, so couldn’t discuss Hornian matters with him. I daresay he will write you about them. He left me a copy of Horn’s letter to the Premier to look at and his reply thereto. The former was very short and simple, the latter in the best Winneckian vein and must have made the minister smile as it did me. The funniest part of it was a sentence in which he stated that many things in the “narrative” were taken out of his journal, which is a remarkable statement in consideration of the fact that I had only once had a short glance through the said journal in manuscript in his office and knew practically nothing whatever of its contents.
I suppose that before this you will have had a copy of it. It is much like the usual run of such things — “started in the morning on a bearing 107°30’ altered this to 105°20’” and so forth and doesn’t strike me as being particularly interesting or as containing much in the way of valuable observations. If Ernest Cowle Esq is not attracted by the par on page 45 I shall be surprised. “Mr Cowle whose leave of absence has long since expired, now asked to be permitted to [...]
I don’t know how far this is private on second thought, so please regard it as such unless, which I think he is pretty sure to do, W. writes to you. [on side of page]
[letter ends here]
26th March ‘97
Your trip to the Black Spur must have been a very pleasant one. Altho’, unless you have the faculty of living in the present only, it must have been somewhat marred by the thought of those coming lectures.
The Photos you sent are perfect, and show the unconformability of the Desert Sandstone and the variation in dip of the underlying rock very distinctly.
David’s confirmation of your opinion about the glacial markings should put their Genuiness [sic - genuineness] beyond question, and no doubt further traces of ice action will be found among the adjacent hills, and northward on the Course of the Finke. With reference to the Yellow Cliff Sandstone. Altho’ it is coarser in texture and not so thinly bedded as the Sandstone we examined under the Crown, it agrees well with the Yellowish Sandstone lower down in the Series, and it certainly doesn’t resemble an ordinary river deposit any more than the Sandstone underlying Crown Point. Tate, if I remember aright, says that the debacle pushed masses of Sand and Gravel before it “forming low hills bordering the Finke about four miles South”, and possibly he ascribed the “scratchings” to the grinding together of such masses under great lateral pressure: but, (apart from the improbability of the debacle), in that case the embedded Stones would be scratched, and apparently they are not. Ross procured some of the smaller embedded stones from Yellow Cliff and I am sending them to you by this mail. If I can get a trip north during the winter I will examine the hills to the N and W of the Crown carefully. I would like to go Westward up the Lilla until the older rocks appear, but am afraid the trip would take too long.
Brown has made a new departure in his latest map. The tabletops he marks “Upper Cretaceous or Tertiary”, the claybeds as “Lower Cretaceous”, and the superior Quartzite of the James and Ooramina [sic] Ranges as “Jurassic”! The central axis of both ranges, and the ranges four miles south of Alice Springs are marked “Cambrian”, and the Lower Silurian is shown as almost completely covered by newer formations along a line from Crown Point to Alice Springs via the Hugh and Ooraminna. He found Cambrian fossils at Alexandra, N.E of Powells Ck, and bases his Cambrian classification of the lower beds of the McD, James, and Ooraminna Ranges on lithological resemblances to other Cambrian areas. I think there can be little doubt that Tate was wrong in saying the Ooraminna Quartzites and Sandstones overlaid the limestone conformably, but whether Brown is right in assigning a Cambrian age to the latter seems an open Question. Eylmann says he found lower Silurian fossils South of Alice Springs, but I haven’t heard in what localities or formations. It seems to me that they don’t exactly know where they are, and the only way of settling the matter is to make a detailed Survey such as you suggest.
I have not heard from Brown about the fossils I sent him, but he is evidently doubtful about Crioceras or he would have been more positive about the Upper Cretaceous.
Winnecke did not favor me with a letter last mail, but I noticed several copies of the Journal going through. His using the Photo’s [sic] come as a surprise but I suppose it is, as you say, that Winnecke is not quite himself when having to do with Horn.
Cowle is right about Eylmann being a close observer. He certainly Kept his eyes about him between here and Oodnadatta, as he noticed everything even to “Ze croostat vich swim on his back” (apus a), and the obsidian bombs. [sic - punctuation] but I don’t see how he can do really valuable work without collecting specimens — unless his notes and drawings are exhaustive.
The Wheal Fortune has crushed and been found wanting. The results, being slightly over 4 dwts per ton, just about paid for half the crushing expenses, and, as eighty tons of what I presume is Similar Stone cost us £2,20 for raising alone, I decided to sell out, and did so for £3. The Alice Springs people are still enthusiastic, but it is a tempered enthusiasm as the amount I got for my shares proves.
A large quantity of the Arltunga machinery is still at Oodnadatta, and it will be a least six months before it is erected and ready for crushing. By that time the Government will have expended about £6000, and the cheerful inhabitants will have come to the conclusion that it won’t pay to raise stone unless they get a bonus of so much per ton. There is Gold in the Country, but I’m afraid Managers and Miners will have to be imported before it can be made Pay.
The Pontiff was enthusiastic over the Federal Election and was greatly disappointed that the majority of his Sans Culottes did not figure amongst the Chosen. I think Kingston will achieve notoriety at the Convention, as, without being exceptionally clever, he possesses a good deal of cunning and he will probably wait until the majority of the speakers have expressed their views, and then Come in with a carefully prepared speech, which will gladden the hearts of the socialists, and at the same time soothe the Imperialists by referring to the “Silken bonds”, and “the flag that has braved the battle and the breeze”. Solomon is, I think, our best all round man tho’ inferior as a Speaker to Gordon who should divide the honors with Barton and Reid. But the whole affair is vanity and humbug and they are all “on their own”!
As usual we missed the rain, altho they had a good fall at Alice Springs and Oodnadatta. The 300 points we had here did not entice the moles out, but I have secured specimens of Crimia and P Minor. The latter appears a full grown male, but the confounded nigger neglected opening him, and he is reminiscent of Dick Palmer’s snake.
My side is quite well again and I don’t think I ever felt in better form, altho’ a little depressed at present thro’ having had an overdose of Marie Corelli. Even the consolation of finding that the Devil was a milk and water fraud did not compensate for her treatment of Huxley (?) in the “Mighty Atom”.
Hoping that you are quite well and that Mrs Spencer has had a safe and pleasant trip.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W. Baldwin Spencer
11th May ‘97
Your account of Tate’s interview with David is amusing, and quite bears out what people generally say about him. It seems a pity that a man of his ability should be so unreliable and what makes it worse is that, in South Australia, at all events, he has many disciples.
I don’t know what to think of Brown’s new map. If he is right there must have been subsidence and elevation east of the Finke which did not affect the country to the Westward. Mt. Watt and Mt. Musgrave are about the same elevation, not very far apart, and yet a wide Gap in their ages. Then the basal parts of Crown Point are shewn as Jurassic while those of Mt. Frank are marked “Upper Cretaceous or Tertiary”, and, yet the Sandstone underlying the silicified capping at both places are lithologically alike. However, I suppose, it will be settled some day, but it seems absurd that there should be so many conflicting descriptions of a Country which is not quite as complicated in its Geology as the Scottish Highlands.
Still no sign of rain, and I will be in the throes of shifting to the Finke in a fortnight, unless our Bore strikes water in the meantime. It is now down one hundred feet, through Kaolinite, and blue clay with Gypsum crystals, but the progress is slow and it will take them four or five months to go the seven or eight hundred feet I think they will need to sink before striking water.
Cowle passed here yesterday with a four in hand team of blacks en route for Pt. Augusta. He is lean, but healthy, and looks forward to a “high old time”. He had a wash here.
Following is from Gillen, “Vide wanderings Achilpa, column 4. Urachipma is Mt Sonder where, while passing, the Achilpa saw Illuta (big pig-faced rat) man making large wooden Pitchies (uritcha), and named spot Urachipma, which means the place of the Pitchies. Whenever Ariltha was performed special Nurtunja was made all routes. Kowowa always erected, but only used for Engwura”.
I will keep a sharp look out for moles while on the Finke, and may, also, be able to get some more specimens of Urpila [sic] and Ewurra. The trip up Lilla Ck will, I’m afraid, have to wait until the Deity listens to Wragge.
I believe the mines at Alice Springs are more wonderful than ever, but I’m devoting my attention solely to the West which is, I think, on the eve of resurrection. What do Victorians say to the Kalgoorlie output beating that of Ballarat and Bendigo? In another six months the Boulder, Lake View and Ivanhoe, alone will turn out more gold than either of those districts. There!
You can imagine the dearth of anything to write about under existing Circumstances so will close with kindest regards.
Yours Ever Sincerely
1st August ‘97
Yours with Nansen’s “Farthest North” received, and I have forwarded the book on to Crown Point after enjoying the Perusal. Reaching 86° was a big feat, but after all there is not a Great deal to show for so much labor and Privation and I think a thorough examination of the Franz Joseph Archipelago, or better still, the Antarctic continent would be more likely to give valuable results. In the latter I have no doubt Primal Man will be found, surrounded by Generalised Polyprotodonts, and lamenting that he had missed the Jubilee junketings!
By the papers I see that the imperalist rash, which broke out so suddenly, is still in evidence, and the pot-bellied little man with the unromantic Countenance who hails from N.S.W. appears to have a bad attack. The other Premiers of Greater Britain have also made magnificent offers of assistance, and I think it was a shabby thing of Goschen to suggest that they should pay for their own fleet. No one but a mercenary Jew would have been capable of such an action, and I should not be surprised if Australia refused to borrow any more money from a country harboring such an individual —
No useful rain of Course, and, with the exception of our attenuated Cristicauda, nothing captured since last I wrote. Six weeks ago we had a light shower which put a fortnights water in some of the crabholes, but, altho I visited them every day, I could not discover any sign of life. When they were just dry I found one thin, white, wormlike, beast, which broke in two when lifted, and a few twigs covered with a viscid substance, all of which I put in spirits. The temperature was max about 70 min 36 to 40.
I have the blacks on the look out for S. larapinta, and I suppose the moles will put in an appearance again some day.
Cowle arrived here yesterday looking very stout and well, and he overflows with reminiscences of the tour, which must have been a thoroughly enjoyable one. He intends going into the Photography thoroughly, and I expect he will soon rival the “Supreme” himself as an artist.
By this mail I am sending you portion of a cast of a cephalopod which shews markings resembling those of the suture. They may give some clue to the species.
With kind regards,
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor W. Baldwin Spencer
1st July ‘98
I was very sorry to hear that you have been unwell, and hope that you are now quite recovered. The anthropological work, in addition to the ordinary routine, was altogether too much, and I am glad that the former is now successfully finished.
Despite the opinion of our veracious English and Colonial Press, I can hardly believe that the U.S. is likely to form an alliance with England. America has always been friendly with Russia, and also owes her independence, in a great measure, to France. In addition, England is, to all intents and purposes, a German appendage and Uncle Sam detests the Gentleman of the mailed fist. As you say it will probably end in a big war — Germany opposes the U.S. in the Phillipines [sic], France mediates between Spain and America — Peace. France, Russia and U.S. attack Triple Alliance. England, if wise, looks on — if not, gets licked. Result — hashed Teuton!! England escaping with the loss of India, and her African possessions, also her fleet, which was lost thro’ her Admirals following the example of the late lamented Tryon, and attempting to manoeuvre in smooth waters. Australia invaded by Russians who are horrified at way Govt a/cs [sic - accounts] cooked, and the rottenness of Banks and other institutions, but who are greatly taken with Roundabout Reid! C.A., bravely defended by an army of flies, remains unconquered.
We have had nice rains and the waterholes are full, but there is little feed. Marsupials, with the exception of Larapinta, are scarce. The lubras are now out after moles and bandicoots in the Oodnatchurra country where I believe there is a good deal of water lying about. By mail I am sending some beasts, just captured, which should be in good condition for Sections, also two or three beetles for French.
I saw a notice of a work by Dr. Roth in the Bulletin some time ago, and was much struck with his theory of mimicry as applied to Subincision. I always tho’t that the operation on the females was a result of the operation on the males, being rendered necessary by the loss of penetrative power in the male organ, but in the LarraKuyah tribe I believe the female is not operated on, and the male is consequently not subincised which proves Roth right.
I will endeavour to get a pouch Echidna, and keep a look out for leaf-piercing ants, but I am afraid the Echidna will be difficult to get as they resemble the moles in hiding until the young are fairly grown.
Our bore is down 1200 feet, water struck about 600 feet. Supply small, rising to within 160 feet of the surface — no increase since. Doubtful when finished as they are continually having accidents and muddling things generally.
Field so far, a ghastly failure. Battery put thro’ about 250 tons in five months, Woolcocks salary £35 per month. Cost per ton reckoning W’s salary alone 14/-. Rate charged to public about 12/-! Results from battery so far about same as from Huntington Mill viz 12 dwts per ton. Gold on average worth under £3.10 per ounce.
Wheal Fortune and Star of North, under management of Messrs Gillen and Besley, a great success. Two holes — one twenty, one fifty feet — sunk, and about sixty tons of Stone picked off surface at a cost of £750. Result three Crushings 4 dwts, 10 dwts and 2 dwts. Final result, bankruptcy of Co!
I have stuck to W.A. and have been increasing holdings in Kalgurli [sic] Mines. So far have been losing steadily, but if war does not break out, think I will more than recover losses eventually.
Lubra just come in, says old women will be in tonight with moles and other beasts. Mail leaves at 2 p.m. so will not be able to forward for a fortnight.
Yours Ever Sincerely
13th Aug ‘98
I am sorry to hear that the last vacation was again given over to work, and that you contemplate devoting the next to the cheerful savages E of Lake Eyre. This will never do. No man can work at high pressure, like you are doing, all the time, and even for the sake of the work a rest would be beneficial.
As one who has cultivated “Sweet idleness” for years, and who knows its charms, I would strongly recommend spending the next vacation, [sic - punctuation] with the Genial French, in some quiet spot where the “Gentle Art” can be followed, and where, lying under a shady tree, you can smoke the Pipe of Peace and Content, and watch the clouds going overhead. Only the lightest of literature (carefully selected by French) should be allowed, and all conversation on Scientific subjects strictly prohibited. I really believe a couple of months of this sort of thing would do you a vast amount of good, and that the work would not suffer in the long run.
There seems to be a good deal of truth in what you say about work, and to the real worker the reward, to a great extent, is in the doing. It is useless to say that either Knowledge or Power make men happier when a blackfellow in his Camp is probably more content and free from care than men like Huxley or the Kaiser. Perhaps in the next incarnation the workers become drones and vice versa; but, failing the incarnation, the drones, Provided they own enough dollars, have rather the best of it.
Arltunga is still turning out about half an ounce to the ton, but I’m afraid the stone being put thro’ is hardly an average sample, and it is rumoured that some of the gold is of low grade — only worth about 30/- an ounce. An English Syndicate are prospecting in the vicinity of Tennants Creek and I should not be surprised to hear of their striking something good. If they do, plenty of capital will be forthcoming as the Great Zebina Lane is the High Priest of the show.
The country around is looking fairly well — in fact there are several patches of green, the size of a tablecloth, between here and Mt Frank, and a friendly mirage occasionally puts a few lakes on the surrounding tablelands, so that the view from the office door is at times pleasing, if deceptive.
I have been rather busy lately mustering and yard building, and the blacks have been hard at work practising imported Corroborees, which a travelled member of the tribe has brought over from Queensland. Still I have succeeded in getting a few moles, and the lubras are now out after Peragale and Chæropus. Dasyuroides and Phascologale are not about at Present, but they are sure to turn up later on, when the weather gets warmer.
By this mail I am sending you a small tin of beasts, and hope to have Peragale, and some beetles for French, when the expedition returns. The witches will notsearch for beetles, or if they do they bring a bottle full of one sort — Generally the common green one with the buggy odour!
Things are not looking too bright for England in Cathay, with Russia and France continually encroaching, and “Divine Right Bill” irritating America and making an ass of himself generally.
It will be a terrible war when it comes, and I don’t think it can be far off.
Gillen should be here in two or three weeks en route for Oodnadatta where he leaves Mrs. Gillen and returns to Alice Springs. That is, if he can resist the temptation of a flying visit to Town. The blacks meditate shifting their camp to Oodnatchurra while he is in this vicinity.
I have not heard anything of Eylmann for some time, but I will deliver your message if he turns up.
Yours Ever Sincerely
Don’t forget what I say about the next vacation “From the mouths of babes etc”!
25th March ‘99
Your welcome letter and a copy of the Magnum Opus were received by last mail. I was glad to hear that you had a fairly good trip, and your mention of Seeing Snow while passing thro’ France came like a cool breeze to temper something over 100 in the shade.
The return to the perpetual grind must be awful and I don’t know how you have the courage to face it. I am certain the first lecture would find me missing!
From the Papers I see that Haeckel must have been at Oxford about the time you were in England so I suppose you had some dry and very learned discussions on beast and other matters.
I have not got thro’ the work yet, but I admire it very much and think it should prove a great success.
Gillen starts for the home of the Cousin Jacks next month, and from what I can hear he will have to be circumspect in his new quarters, as the Moontaites are rabidly Wesleyan and Anti-Irish. Just imagine the Pontiff suffering martyrdom for the cause of Home Rule and shouting “I did it for Ireland”, amid yells of “Kick un Sonny”, “Kick un while un’s down”.
Cowle is busily engaged transferring the native population of Tempe Downs to Pt Augusta where, if the tales of their daring and bloodthirstiness are true, they will prove a menace to the Population, and necessitate the presence of the military. Cowle should be down here next month to take charge of the ballot box for that important voting place — Horseshoe Bend.
We are having the same old drought here with just sufficient feed and water to keep the stock alive. Yesterday we had half an inch of rain which will stave off going to the Finke for a couple of months, but the country wants about ten inches of rain to put things right.
The blacks are all congregated here, all outside waters being dry, and the beasts are very scarce. I have a few Antechinomys and one or two moles, but Phascologale, Sminthopsis, Dasyuroides, the Bandicoots and the rodents have evidently sought Greener Pastures and I feel very much like doing the same myself.
With kind regards,
Yours Ever Sincerely
Professor Baldwin Spencer
Letter from Spencer to Byrne
My dear Byrne,
Many thanks for your letter. As you surmise I simply detest the usual grind which has begun again and leaves one no time from lectures and Committee meetings. The first lecture I always just go in and take a look at the men and tell them what to get in the way of books and apparatus so as to kind of break the ice. Once in the work it is not so bad and it is wonderful with what rapidity the weeks slip away.
With the working off of the opus magnum I had hoped for a little spare time but one thing after another comes up.
This year it is the Aust. Ass. Adv. Sci. which will keep me busy. We are holding the meeting here in January next and it means a lot of work for the Secretaries. If you could, by any chance, get over I am sure you would enjoy it as a lot of the Geological people will be here. Which reminds me that I saw David the other day and asked him why they had not sent any copies of the Crown Point glacial account. He promised me to see after it. At present he is head over ears in the Funafuti, the results of which ought to be of great interest. Very soon he goes home to England to see people there about it as the core is being examined in London under the auspices of the Royal Soc.
We are having any amount of reviews of the opus — most of the leading English papers giving us a column or two: they are all, so far as they are anything, favourable — some very much so.
I hear indirectly that the Bulletin is going to review us unfavourably but why for I can’t quite think after their laudation of Roth: perhaps it is on a question of style. It certainly is somewhat heavy but one can’t write up the organisation in the style of the Bulletin. Cowle has kindly promised me a ‘review’ in his next letter so doubtless he is busily engaged thinking out something particularly scathing. “Grimms fairy tales up to date” is all that he remarks about it so far. I can imagine him using language and tearing his hair over one or two things in the introduction. At the present rate of proceedings he is rapidly leaving himself no work to do or niggers to look after.
The only excitement that we have here is the illness of Sir F. McCoy (our prof. of Geology), he has been delivering the same lectures for 37 years past and in his absence we are to have a substitute and so may perhaps for an interim have a little geology taught in the University.
Added to this we have some mild excitement owing to the fact that the Gov. is opening its purse to a slight extent. We are getting about £10000 at the University for metalurgical [sic], pathological and Physiological labs. and some £15000 at the Public Library, some of which (£7000) is to go to the national Museum for building so that as you may see things are going up in the Colony. What about W.A.? I’m sorry for Forrest whose time must be nearly over now that bad times have come.
I hope you’ll get a good rain: we have had a grand season down here and things are looking splendid. I hope you are well.
Yours very sincerely
W Baldwin Spencer
P.S. When, if ever, you get the chance, could you get me one or two death-adders. I saw Boulenger, the great snake man at the Brit. Mus., and he is confident — in opposite to Lucas and Frost — that the C.A. beast is a distinct species from ours and I want two or three to see if it be anything more than a variety. What about P.leucrura.
25th July ‘21,
Dear Sir Baldwin,
I was glad to receive your kind message, and, tho’ late, I congratulate you heartily on the well earned honor received in recognition of your services to Science.
I saw Sir Edgworth for only a few minutes when passing, but long enough for me to recognize his courtesy and kindliness, and understand the secret of his popularity. It is a pity he did not have more time at his disposal, but he appeared well satisfied with results, and the knowledge gained should enhance the value of his coming work on Australian Geology. Of later years, I have thought that the Cretaceous rocks north of here rested directly on the Silurian, and that the McDonnell group of ranges, upheaved in the Silurian, were almost completely submerged in the Cretaceous, re-elevated sufficiently during the Tertiary to become glaciated — the glaciation lasting until a recent Tertiary period — and then subsided to their present level. However, conjectures are futile, as the Easter Islander remarked to the Tasmanian, and Sir Edgworth’s work should decide the matter.
During the years since last you saw it, there have been many changes in this country. The rabbits have supplanted the marsupials, and the indigenous plants are gradually giving way to inferior kinds of herbage. A record season, like the present one, may improve matters, but many rabbits survived the last drought, and I think they will soon be as numerous as ever. Many of the old, and some of the young, natives you met about here are dead. Even our form of Administration has changed and we now figure as a sort of Police Satrapy. The policemen protects, prosecutes, punishes, and feeds, the Aborigines. He controls their labour, and decides who shall, and who shall not, be permitted to employ them, He rules the Bungalow, and the JPs meekly obey him — in fact he runs Centralia. The result depends on the sort of Policeman we get. It is not an ideal form of rule but is, perhaps, better than that of the mischief making Missionary, or the Sham Philanthropist.
When filling up the Census paper recently, my mind went back to the Census of twenty years ago. Then, in reply to a certain question, poor old Gillen compounded with his conscience, the Cook proclaimed himself a Loman Katlik, and you and I wrote “Object”. This year, I wrote Pantheist and next time, if I haven’t found Conan Doyle’s familiars, I suppose I will narrow it to Proto-electromist or something equally trashy!
If the present wave of hatred and discontent subsides, I may visit what was called Civilization some time next year, but I fear there is little chance of a change for the better. My private opinion is that this elderly Sun of ours, not being acquainted with Einstein’s “Relativity”, has failed to make enough allowance for leeway, and is dragging us thro’ a region of space occupied by ions charged with “Survival of the fittest” energy. No doubt, the passage of our System thro’ such a region of space was, in the Past, the cause of our forefathers clubbing Pithecanthropus and other rivals, and incidentally, losing most of their hair. On the present occasion God, who may be supposed to take a parental interest in us, and who cannot be too well pleased with the result of the former experience, was probably steering for a “survival of the best” region, but Einstein “bushed” him (those Germans are a bad lot), and now we are faced with a struggle for existence between the Races, which may recur at intervals until only one is left. In this connection, it would be interesting to know how our nearest Anthropoid relatives (the Gorillas for instance) are affected at the present juncture. Anyhow, I believe it will be safer to remain on the tablelands with a secure, if monotonous, present, and mourn for the good old times, “All gone like snow long, long ago — the times of the Barmecides”!
With the best of good wishes,
Sir W Baldwin Spencer F.R.S., K.B.E.
[NB envelope to letter still extant — it was addressed to National Museum of Victoria]
16th Decr ‘25,
Dear Sir Baldwin,
Another milestone on the road to the “Dawn of Nothing” is in sight, and with it come memories. Many of the old faces have gone, and the few remaining accentuate the difference between the past and the present, And not only the faces, the manners and the Customs have altered. The Motor, as you foreshadowed, is firmly established, and with some further improvements to the road, and alterations in the Machine, large trucks will be running next year. They will supply all the transport required, and if the Govt builds a railway it will increase its financial difficulties immensely, and, unless Uncle Sam comes to the rescue, land Australia in the Insolvency Court, with railways and water schemes that cannot be made to pay, Irrigation and Soldier supplements that are insolvent and the intelligence of her politicians as her only assets.
I have just read “The Antiquity of Man”, and was pleased to find that the Author had extended the boundaries of the Garden of Eden to the Southern Hemisphere. Still it is a long cry yet to anything approaching finality, whether the Australian was driven here, or merely stranded while on his way elsewhere remains a puzzle. Some day, a relic older than the Talgai [sic] skull may be unearthed, and shed some further light on the subject.
Whatever the past hides, the present of the unfortunate Aborigine is sufficiently miserable, Native food of any description is almost non-existent, and under the circumstances, the rations issued to the old natives are insufficient. But for the earnings of the Younger men, who buy food, and the Kindness of some of the older residents, the old blacks would be semi-starved. All these old people have been accustomed to clothes and tobacco, and, now, the amount supplied to them is absurdly small. In addition, our Missionaries undermine their authority, and ridicule their traditions, we take from them everything that makes life worth living, work them until they can work no longer, and then hand them over to the police, whose main endeavour is to work things as cheaply as possible, and thus please a Gov’t that has neither Knowledge nor conscience. It is a despicable crime.
There have been a few showers of rain, lately, between Oodnadatta and Alice Springs, but practically the drought is unbroken, and in my opinion, likely to remain unbroken for some time, but, of course, rain in this country is accidental, and accidents will happen!
I hope yourself, Lady Spencer and family are quite well, With the best of good wishes for the New Year.
Sir Baldwin Spencer K.C.M.G., F.R.S.