John Mathew (1849 – 1929) Presbyterian minister, anthropologist
An eloquent preacher, he was both liberal in theology and ardently evangelical. Maintaining a lifelong interest in Aboriginal ethnography, Mathew published two books and numerous papers and articles between 1879 and 1928. Beside his ethnographic works he also published three volumes of verse.
John Mathew, Presbyterian minister and anthropologist, was born on 31 May 1849 at Aberdeen, Scotland.
In 1889 Mathew was called to the suburban charge of Coburg, where he was minister until his retirement in 1923. He was elected moderator by the 1911 Victorian assembly and moderator-general for Australia in 1922-24. He was a home chaplain during World War I.
Mathew was a council-member of Presbyterian Ladies’, Scotch and Ormond (chairman, 1910-26) colleges. He was a founder and office-bearer of the Melbourne College of Divinity; an advisory council-member of Coburg High School, and a long-standing member of the Royal Society of Victoria and the Australian Literature Society (president, 1915-20).
In 1926-29 he served on the anthropological committee of the Australian National Research Council. His scholarship won him further degrees, from the University of St Andrews, Scotland (B.D., 1892), and the Melbourne College of Divinity (B.D. ad eund., 1913; D.D., 1924).
Maintaining a lifelong interest in Aboriginal ethnography, Mathew published two books and numerous papers and articles between 1879 and 1928. In 1889 he won the prize and medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales for an essay ‘The Australian Aborigines’ which was the basis for his best-known publication, Eaglehawk and Crow (1899).
In 1906 Mathew returned to Queensland to visit the Kabi and Wakka people living on Barambah Government Aboriginal Station and in 1910 he published Two Representative Tribes of Queensland. While his linguistic studies and ethnographic reporting are still well regarded, his more speculative discussion of the tri-hybrid origin of the Australian Aborigines, controversial at the time, is unsupported by data now available.
From youth Mathew was a keen musician, poet, humorist and handyman. He invented a system of shorthand called ‘Breviscript’. Genial in society and a total abstainer, he was a short, trim man who sported a full bushman’s beard until his thirties, later going bald. An eloquent preacher, he was both liberal in theology and ardently evangelical. Beside his ethnographic works he also published three volumes of verse.
Complete article : http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A100429b.htm
Research and Friendship: John Mathew and his Aboriginal Informants
Between 1879 and 1928, John Mathew (1849-1929) published two books and over 20 articles on aspects of Aboriginal culture, society and languages. In that period he gradually developed some repute as an ethnographer, linguist and student of Aboriginal society. He has generally been included in subsequent lists of pioneers of Aboriginal ethnography in the period from the 1880s to the 1920s. This was the transitional phase between the ‘mere collectors’ like R. Brough Smyth and E.M. Curr and the organised, systematic, academically-based professional researchers from the 1920s onwards. Histories of Australian anthropology which list the pioneers of the discipline still usually give the names A.W. Howitt, Lorimer Fison, W.E. Roth, W.Baldwin Spencer and F.J.Gillen, R.H. Mathews and John Mathew? These men foreshadowed the professionalisation of the discipline. Some, such as Spencer and Mathew, actively promoted it. As largely spare-time and self-trained in the field, their work was necessarily less systematic than that of their full-time professional successors. Theories ‘shaped their field studies’ and they ‘took a critical and constructive part in [the] formulation’ of theory. They were motivated by a number of factors: the ‘before it’s too late’ notion of preservation, curiosity, specific interest in confirming theories or ideologies about human nature and evolution. The reputation of Spencer and Gillen has survived better than the others, for scholarly as well as political reasons. John Mathew shared many of these characteristics. But in certain respects, he was significantly different.
Two Representative Tribes of Queensland (Image above)
by John Mathew
All books by John Mathew
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