FISON, Rev. Lorimer (1832-1907)


FISON, Rev. Lorimer (1832-1907)
anthropologist
was born at Barningham, Suffolk, on 9 November 1832. His father was a prosperous landowner, his mother a daughter of the Rev. John Reynolds, a woman of ability and personality. Fison was sent to a good school at Sheffield, proceeded from there to Cambridge where he read with a tutor before becoming a student of Caius College in 1855. In the following year he went to Australia and while at the diggings the news of the unexpected death of his father led to his conversion to active Christianity. He went to Melbourne, joined the Methodist church, and after some further study at the university of Melbourne offered himself for missionary service in Fiji. He was ordained a minister and sailed for Fiji in 1864. His first term as a missionary, which lasted for seven years, was very successful. The Rev. George Brown in an article in the Australasian Methodist Missionary Review said that Fison was "one of the best missionaries whom God has ever given to our church". His honesty, kindliness, tact and commonsense were appreciated alike by government officials, white settlers, and the natives themselves. He became much interested in Fijian customs and in 1870 was able to give Lewis H. Morgan, the well-known American ethnologist, some interesting information relating to the Tongan and Fijian systems of relationship. This was incorporated as a supplement to part III of Morgan's Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity published in 1871. When Fison returned to Australia in that year he began investigating similar problems in connexion with the aborigines. This led to his becoming acquainted with Alfred William Howitt (q.v.) with whom he was afterwards to do such valuable work in Australian anthropology.
Fison returned to Fiji in 1875 and, when the training institution for natives was established, he became its principal. He did excellent work and the effects of his influence on the Fijians was long felt. He published a life of Christ Ai Tukutuku Kei Jisu and also wrote a valuable pamphlet on the native system of land tenure in Fiji. This little treatise became a classic of its kind and was reprinted by the government printer, Fiji, more than 20 years later. Though so far away he continued his study of the Australian aborigines, his preface to Kamilaroi marriage descent and relationships in Kamilaroi and Kurnai (1880), by Lorimer Fison and A. W. Howitt is dated Fiji, August 1878. The materials for the interesting legends afterwards published under the title of Tales from Old Fiji (1904), were also collected about this time.
Fison returned to Australia in 1884 and for most of the remainder of his life lived near Melbourne. From 1888 to 1905 he edited the Spectator and made it one of the best Melbourne church papers. At the meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science held at Hobart in 1892 he was president of the anthropological section, and from the chair, with charming candour, pointed out that a theory of the Kurnai system, which he had worked out with infinite pains in Kamilaroi and Kurnai, was "not worth a rush". In 1894 he visited England and attended the meeting of the British association at Oxford. There he met Max Müller, Professor Tylor and many other distinguished scientists. At Cambridge he became acquainted with Dr afterwards Sir James Frazer who was much impressed by his frank and manly nature. Fison continued to do a large amount of journalistic work and even when he was past 70 years of age had to work very hard to make a bare living. In 1905 he was granted a civil list pension of £150 a year by the British government. He had now become very feeble in body though his mind retained its keenness. He died on 29 December 1907. Before going to Fiji Fison had married Jane Thomas of Pembroke, Wales, who survived him with two sons and four daughters.
Fison was six feet in height, "a big burly man, powerfully and heavily built, with a jolly good-humoured face, a bluff almost jovial manner, tender-hearted but bubbling over with humour, on which the remembrance of his clerical profession, as well as his deep, absolutely unaffected piety, perhaps imposed a certain restraint". (Sir James G. Frazer, Folk Lore, 1909, p. 172.) He was a great missionary, an excellent journalist, and with Howitt he did remarkable pioneer work on the Australian aborigines which carries the respect of all scientists and can never be entirely forgotten.
The Methodist Church of Australasia, Victoria and Tasmania, Minutes Seventh Annual Conference, p. 41; Sir J. G. Frazer, Folk Lore, 1909; C. Irving Benson, A Century of Victorian Methodism; The Victorian Naturalist, April 1908, p. 186.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lorimer Fison — (9 November 1832 – 29 December 1907) was an Australian anthropologist, Methodist minister and journalist.Early lifeFison was born at Barningham, Suffolk, England. His father, Thomas Fison, was a prosperous landowner, his mother, Charlotte, a… …   Wikipedia

  • 1907 in Australia — Infobox Australian year year = 1907 monarch = Edward VII governor general = Henry Northcote, 1st Baron Northcote pm = Alfred Deakin population = 4,122,201 australian = elections =Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland See also: 1906 in Australia,… …   Wikipedia


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