The earliest coherent observations of metamorphic phenomena in Australia were made by a policemagistrate, stationed in a remote part of Victoria and largely self-taught in geology. In a series of reports and papers issued between 1875 and 1892 that magistrate, Alfred William Howitt, recorded details of metamorphic progressions found in the mountains of eastern Victoria - from folded Palaeozoic strata to crystalline schists and gneisses, and of different sorts of granitic bodies in the regional metamorphic association.
Howitt worked at a time when the metamorphic status of crystalline schists was far from generally accepted in Europe and America; some still regarded them as portions of unchanged Primitive crust. Like George Barrow in Scotland - whose work in some ways he anticipated, Howitt, however, through the influence of Lyell's writings, began as a believer in metamorphism. But whereas Barrow is respected for innovative contributions to metamorphic thought and method, Howitt's isolation in Australia kept his work little known. In fact, as recent studies show, Howitt was investigating a regional metamorphism different in style from that of Barrow. Howitt not only pioneered metamorphic petrology in Australia, he really began the study of what is now termed low-pressure regional metamorphism.
This paper seeks to set Howitt's metamorphic investigations in the contexts of his career and the then condition of his chosen subject. The principal influences on his approaches to petrography and metamorphism are seen to be German in origin. Howitt may have had no formal training in science but as a boy he lived in Germany for some years and learned the language. It was to be a most useful acquisition.