The Howitt collection at Museum Victoria includes some of the most significant early ethnographic descriptions of Victorian Aboriginal people. While Howitt collected very few Aboriginal objects (only 26 in total) his manuscript collection is very large and contains important descriptions of Aboriginal languages, ceremonies, social organisation and kinship. There are over 900 manuscript items in the Howitt collection at Museum Victoria representing about half of the total Howitt Papers, with the remainder being lodged with the State Library of Victoria. The papers were divided by Howitt's grand daughter, Mary Howitt Walker, before donating them first to the museum in the 1950s and later to the library in 1971 (Mulvaney 1958). The Museum's Howitt collection also includes five extremely valuable wax cylinder recordings made by Howitt (circa 1902) which capture the voices and songs of Victorian Aboriginal people. These are some of the earliest ethnographic audio recordings ever made in Australia.

In the field of anthropology, A.W. Howitt was an important early pioneeer of the discipline first in his co-authored publication with Lorimer Fison Kamilaroi and Kurnai (1880) and then his significant time Native Tribes of South-East Australia (1904). Howitt was also an important mentor to Walter Baldwin Spencer, a former Director of the Melbourne Museum and author of several highly influential volumes on Aboriginal people (Gibson and Petch 2013). The two men appear to have shared theire research papers and following Howitt's death in 1908, Spencer encouraged his family to donate his anthropological research to Victorian research institutions.

In addition to Howitt's work on Aboriginal people, Museum Victoria also holds some materials relating to his involvement in the Burke and Wills Victorian Relief Expedition and other personal papers. There is also a collection of 133 fossils and natural history specimens, notebooks on geology and letters between Howitt and Frederick McCoy on the geology of East Gippsland.


Gibson, Jason, and Alison Petch. "'The Ablest Australian Anthropologists': Two Early Anthropologists and Oxford." Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 5, no. 3 (2013).

Mary Howitt Walker (1971) Come wind, come weather; a biography of Alfred Howitt, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press.

Mulvaney, D. J. "The Australian Aborigines 1606-1929: Opinion and Fieldwork." Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand 8, no. 30 (1958): 131-51. doi:10.1080/10314615808595109.

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