Arthur Vogan and Elizabeth Goldsmith

One particular aspect of forgotten archaeologist, Arthur Vogan’s life I would like to pursue is his connection with the American writer Elizabeth Goldsmith.  He began a correspondence with her which still survives scattered in different libraries.  Vogan described her gushingly as the ‘greatest living archaeologist’, and considered her works to be among the most important ever published.  Given these grand claims and AJV’s admiration I thought it would be useful to do a bit of background research on Elizabeth.

Arthur Vogan’s clear adoration of Elizabeth Goldsmith is telling.  Vogan’s attitude to women was generally old-fashioned and romantic, even in the context of 1930s Australia.  Women fascinated and also baffled him.  He said once that he only had ever asked one woman to marry him and she declined.  That had been enough impetus to join the 1885 expedition to New Guinea ‘as it offered the chance of being killed’ [Vogan Papers: Box 12 AJV to Mrs Godden 19.7.1939].

In the inter-war period Vogan’s circle of women friends were mainly the wives or widows of successful middle class men, within his social class and sympathetic to his political views.  Sooner or later, however, he seems to have fallen out with most of them, especially in the late 1930s when he became almost irrationally fractious.  Usually they were proxies for contact with their husbands, who generally did not engage with him and generally did not seem to like him very much, but whose association Vogan invariably name-dropped.  Other women that he encountered were often resented, falling into either of two recurring categories he used – ‘Jewesses’ or members of the ‘Sydney smart set’, fashionable but vacuous and, in Vogan’s view, immoral.  Despite this he did associate with or correspond with a number of women whom he clearly admired and respected.  The clear impression is that when a woman showed competence and authority it ran so counter to his negative expectations that he immediately felt charmed by it.  Elizabeth Goldsmith clearly falls into this category, as did young archaeologist Margaret Collingridge, whom Vogan met in Sydney.

From the outlines of her life and work as gathered below it is possible to understand why Elizabeth Goldsmith may have been intellectually attractive to Vogan.  Whether she actually influenced his beliefs is a more difficult question.

A quick googling showed that Elizabeth Edwards Goldsmith had no great web presence, no biography, little digital existence.  What I did find were copies of her books:

*        Sacred symbols in Art, 1912, Putnam New York

*       Toby: the story of a dog, 1913, Macmillan, New York

*       Life symbols as related to sex symbolism, 1924, Putnam, New York

This was subtitled – A brief study into the origin and significance of certain symbols which have been found in all civilisations, such as the cross, the circle, the serpent, the triangle, the tree of life, the swastika, and other solar emblems, showing the unity and symplicity of thought underlying their use as religious symbols.

*       Ancient pagan symbols, 1929, Putnam, New York.

Her life can be sketchily assembled from a night’s work on the internet.  Elizabeth Edwards Goldsmith, the daughter of Allen T. Goldsmith and Caroline Lakey, was born on 13 April 1860.  She used the spelling Elisabeth only for her Ancient pagan symbols book [1912] but signed herself that way, as shown in Figure 1.  Her mother is noted as having ‘artistic and literary attainments’.  The second of four children, Elizabeth was noted in 1922 as having ‘traveled and lived abroad extensively.  She is a member of the Barnard and the Pen and Ink clubs’ [Pomeroy 1922: item 4817.8].  Barnard is an exclusive female liberal arts college in New York City.

When Pomeroy wrote in or before 1922 Elizabeth was still resident in New York,  but by the end of that year she had travelled to Italy.  In a letter written in May 1923 to the  New York Times [Goldsmith 1923a] says she has been in Sorrento since December 1922, and there were other English and Americans wintering there as well.  She complained that only a tenth of the letters sent to them ever get through.  Mussolini has a job ahead of him, as she suspected it was probably Bolshevik-inspired disruption of postal services.  A few weeks later another letter had her eulogising the climate [Goldsmith 1923b].  From other snippets in the New York Times it is clear that during the 1920s she was still seasonally moving between New York and Florence most years.

In one statement Vogan says he began to correspond with her in 1930, the same year he discovered remains that he interpreted to fit his theories on Yasawa Island.  This is contradicted elsewhere with a series of letters written in mid-1937 to her publishers, Putnams,  and the US Consul in Australia seeking her address.  He seems to have only tracked her down to Florence at the end of 1937 based on this and the extant correspondence [Vogan 1900-1945: Box 17].

On the eve of the Second World War Vogan sent an introduction for Margaret Collingridge, who had planned to visit Florence in a break from her studies at the Institute of Archaeology at London University.  Margaret was in France when war broke and never made it to Italy.  After marrying a submariner who perished in the war, Margaret became the third wife of Mortimer Wheeler, who had been one of her pre-war lecturers and who had already sought out her affections [Hawkes 1982].

Goldsmith wrote in a letter following the outbreak of war that the US Consul was urging all American citizens to return to the US even though they were still a neutral state, but she elected to stay.  I can find no record of her death, nor of her return to the US.  Her siblings and parents are all buried in the same cemetery, but she is absent, so I suspect she remained in Europe.  She would have been nearing 80 when war broke out, so may well have died before the peace.  A draft letter from Vogan to her is preserved in the Fryer Library, dated 1942.

Elizabeth’s signed portrait photocard is found in the University of Queensland’s Fryer Library [here], which contains a number of items related to Vogan.  Another from the same collection shows her sitting behind a desk in a fussy and packed study, still not cracking a smile, full bookshelf behind her, some on her desk and an open volume in her hands.

Her main interest was in identifying the history and origins of symbols as used in art, design and everyday life.  The three books variously trace the history of symbols based on the then current knowledge of archaeology, speculations about diffusion and art history.  She shared Vogan’s broad belief that symbols provided a common pre-literate ‘language’ common to all humans, and that both human cultural history and intellectual development could be traced through the evolution of symbolic use.  Vogan was strongly influenced in this belief from his earliest dabblings in archaeology, and it formed the basis for how he interpreted the results of his Pacific fieldwork.  While this had been a fashionable belief earlier in the cnetury it was again being displaced by a more diffusionist model of thought that symbols were not universal, but could be traced back to particular progenitors.  This was most notable in the work of the diffusionists of the Grafton Elliot Smith – W.J. Perry school, but had become a broader trend within archaeological thought.

Goldsmith’s study was ‘archaeological’ only in an antique sense, one that did not really survive the creation of a professional discipline that took that name from the late 19th century onwards.  Archaeological studies in the sense used by Goldsmith looked at physical evidence among their sources, as much as they did on documents, myths and folklore.  This use of the term was rapidly phasing out by the 1930s, in large part due to the strong professionalising influence of British academic and instituional archaeologists, who were attempting to restrict its meaning not to a type of resource alone, but to an application of technique and accompanying body of academic thought [e.g. Stout 2008].  Since the late 19th century there had been little difference between the sources and methods employed by archaeologists and antiquarians, but increasingly the former were creating an orthodox view of the past that was centred on institutional credibility and support.  While anyone could, in theory, continue to be an archaeologist because they studied archaeological evidence, institutional archaeology distanced itself from all but a small fraction of the amateur archaeological world.  This trend would develop even further in the 20th century, to the point where in Australia legislation all but completely removed even indigenous people from having say about their own past [e.g. Smith 2001].

Politically Vogan and Goldsmith were reasonably aligned.  Both were openly anti-Semitic, with a liking for what Hitler and Mussolini had done politically in the 1930s.  As war threatened in late 1939, both expressed the common idea that it was the unfolding of a  sinister Jewish plan to convince the British to fight the  Germans.  Although Vogan was no fan of the Germans he initially thought Hitler was a captive of the German war party.  Nonetheless soon after the war began he told Goldsmith that he thought Hitler ‘a humbug, a rogue and a ruffian’ for persisting with the war [Vogan Papers: Box 17 AJV to Elizabeth Goldsmith 9.12.1939].  Vogan completed a manuscript on the origin of the swastika in 1938 and sought to get it published, approaching the German Consulate in Sydney in July 1939.  They declined and referred him to German publishing houses.  Goldsmith had read the manuscript out at a gathering she organised and thought Vogan’s findings were right, but she cautioned:

do you think there are more than a handful in this crazy world that are for an interpretation of an abstract subject?.  Magazines in the USA are published to suit the tastes of the cheapest & most vulgar minds [mostly in the hands of the Jews].  They are disgusting – just as the present civilzation is decadent & disgusting. [Vogan Papers: Box 2 Goldsmith to AJV 18.4.1939]

Goldsmith also tried to help Vogan with his great concern of the late 1930s – the fate of his library and research archive.  His Mitchell Library papers preserve a letter from Lansing B. Bloom, of the Archaeological Institute of America, who contacted Vogan to see whether he was willing to donate his collection to the School of American Research [formerly the School of American Archaeology] at Santa Fe.  Bloom had met Goldsmith in Florence and she had told him about Vogan’s concern.  Unfortunately by then Vogan had already sold his collection to Tyrrell’s.

The saved correspondence ceases at the end of 1939, although the Fryer Library preserves a Vogan draft of 1942.  His latest writings focus on an old man’s collapsing world, but occasionally he makes mention of symbols or ideas he got from Goldsmith.  Of all his local and foreign correspondents she was one of the few with whom he did not fall out.  Goldsmith’s fate is unknown, while Vogan saw out the war by a few years but frailty and increasing alienation distanced him from nearly all his previous friendships.

Vogan called Goldsmith ‘the greatest living archaeologist’, which reveals just how detached he was from the archaeological world in the inter-war period.   Her symbolic studies were encyclopaedic rather than insightful.  She was not engaged in any branch of archaeology that was leading anywhere, and provided no check to Vogan’s own flights of fantasy.  It is certain that she cared for his friendship, and that they couldn’t communicate once the war began, when he needed companionship more than ever, is extremely sad.  It was yet one more blow Vogan had to deal with towards the end of his life.



University of Queensland
Fryer Library Pictorial Collection – images UQFL477 PIC724a, UQFL477 PIC724b.  Available here and here.


Goldsmith, E. 1912
Sacred symbols in art, Putnam, New York.

Goldsmith, E. 1923a
[Letter to editor], New York Times, 13 May 1923.

Goldsmith, E. 1923b
[Letter to editor], New York Times, 13 May 1923.

Goldsmith, E. 1924
Life symbols as related to sex symbolism, Putnam, New York.

Goldsmith, E. 1929
Ancient pagan symbols, Putnam, New York.

Hawkes, J. 1982
Mortimer Wheeler: adventurer in archaeology, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London.

NYT 1924
‘Notables sailing today on two liners’, New York Times 24 September 1924, p. 11.

Pomeroy, A.A. 1922
History and genealogy of the Pomeroy family, colateral lines in family groups, Normandy, Great Britain and America; comprising the ancestors and descendants of Eltweed Pomeroy from Beaminster, County Dorset, England, 1630, A. Drake and Co., Detroit.  Available on-line here – EEG’s entry is no 4817.8.

Smith, L.J. 2001
‘Archaeology and the governance of material culture: a case study from south-eastern Australia’, Norwegian archaeological review, 34 [2], pp. 97-109.

Stout, A. 2008
Creating prehistory: druids, ley hunters and archaeologists in pre-war Britain, Blackwell, Malden.

Vogan, A.J. 1900-1945
Papers, State Library of NSW – Mitchell Library, Sydney, ML 182/87.


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