The man the anthropologists forgot
: Erhard Eylmann and his place in Australian ethnography

  • Janette Louise Hintze

    Student thesis: Other thesis - CDU


    This thesis deals with the work of Dr. Erhard Eylmann, who came to Australia in 1896 to study the Australian Aboriginals of the Colony of South Australia. After spending three years travelling from in inland Australia, observing the Aboriginals and their habits and customs, Eylmann returned to Germany. He then wrote an ethnographic work describing what he had seen. The detailed nature of the study was dictated by the demands of the discipline of anthropology, which by the end of the 19 century, required objective and reliable information from which to develop its theories. The development of this discipline during the century, particularly the latter half, when Eylmann was studying at University, is described. The involvement of anthropology in the development of the German nationalism is important, and is relevant to the reasons why Eylmann chose to move into the field after his wife's death. 

    Eylmann was the son of wealthy family who owned property in north Germany, on the banks of the Elbe. He was well educated and his qualifications were doctorates in zoology and medicine, which fitted him eminently for his objective. His motivation was based in his rejection of his previous career in medical practice in reaction to his wife's death, and he interested himself in the field of ethnology, which was prominent in Germany at that time. He did not need a profession to support himself, but was able to carry out the work he chose without the obstacle of the necessity to earn a living or raise money for his expedition. 

    The work he did was comprehensive with twenty-six chapters covering all aspects of Aboriginal life, physical characteristics, material and spiritual culture, and external contacts. It also contains some material concerning the places he visited and people he met which is of interest to the historian. 

    Eylmann's ethnography was almost completely overlooked in Australia, although not elsewhere, and the reasons for this are discussed. They are largely external to the work, and are based in the aversion for things German, as well as the change in direction of the field of anthropology. Despite the age of the work, however, it still has a valid role to play in anthropology in Australia. The narrative of his journey provides much valuable information for social historians. Those interested in Aboriginal history and land rights will also find much of value.

    Note: Abstract -- "in inland" was a typographical error from original text.
    Date of AwardOct 1996
    Original languageEnglish

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