Line of Blood: The truth of Alfred Howitt
Melbourne Books, $34.95 pb, 303 pp
Alfred William Howitt is a well-known yet enigmatic figure in Australian colonial history. Born in England in 1830 and raised by literary and politically active parents, Howitt grew up amid an erudite and socially progressive milieu. With his father and brother, he arrived in Australia in 1852, hoping to ‘make it big’ on the Victorian gold fields. Enthralled by the natural environment and the liberties afforded to a gentleman bushman in the colony, Howitt decided to stay on while his family returned to London.
What happened next has become the stuff of Australian legend. Howitt demonstrated his aptitude as a bushman, led exploration expeditions into the interior, and received considerable public acclaim after discovering the bodies of the explorers Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills in 1861. His curiosity and intellect also saw him make significant contributions to early geo-logical, botanical, biological, and anthropological collecting, and to research.
In Line of Blood: The truth of Alfred Howitt, Craig Horne – speechwriter and member of the extended Howitt family – seeks to better understand Howitt ‘the man’. Though he was eulogised for his many achievements and talents, Howitt’s motivations and character have remained elusive. The book engages in a journey of discovery as Horne attempts to understand how Howitt, a man who relished Australian bush life and had such close engagements with Aboriginal Australians, could continue to harbour racial prejudice.