Documenting Pitt-Rivers: New Acquisitions

10 September 2012 – 6 January 2013

Archive case

Documenting Pitt-Rivers

The material in this display has been selected from a collection of photographs, notebooks, documents, and letters donated to the Museum in July 2012 by Anthony Pitt-Rivers, great-grandson of General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827–1900). The materials are not yet fully catalogued, but it is already clear that they comprise a rich research resource for students of nineteenth-century anthropology, archaeology, and collecting. This temporary exhibition is designed to provide the Museum’s visitors with a preview of the collection.

According to his own account, Pitt-Rivers began collecting in the early 1850s. He was known then as Lane Fox, only taking the name Pitt-Rivers after he inherited the Rivers estates in 1880. After giving his collection – the ‘founding collection’ of this Museum – to the University of Oxford in the mid-1880s, he set about making a second collection, which was housed in his museum in Farnham, Dorset, as well as in Rushmore (his house on the Dorset–Wiltshire border) and elsewhere on his estates. This second collection was retained by his descendants until the 1960s, when it was dispersed in a series of sales. A nine-volume illustrated catalogue of the collection (1882–1900) survives in the Cambridge University Library.

The records for the General’s first collection are not so detailed. However, Anthony Pitt-Rivers’s donation includes sixteen notebooks, dating back to 1840, that document the young Pitt-Rivers’s reading and other activities. One also includes the first listing of his collection of weapons (see far right).

As well as making two major collections, Pitt-Rivers carried out extensive archaeological research. This took the form of large-scale excavations on the estates he inherited in 1880, especially on Cranborne Chase. Following Parliament’s passing of the Ancient Monuments Protection Act (1882), in 1883 he also took up the newly created post of Inspector of Ancient Monuments. As the first Inspector, he travelled the length and breadth of Britain recording hundreds of prehistoric sites. Amongst other things, this work led to his developing a particular interest in Celtic crosses.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is immensely grateful to Anthony Pitt-Rivers for his generous donation of these documents relating to his great-grandfather’s work. Mr Pitt-Rivers’s donation has been of enormous assistance to the team working on the Museum’s major research project ‘Rethinking Pitt-Rivers: Analysing the Activities of a Nineteenth-Century Collector’, funded by a grant from The Leverhulme Trust (2009–2013). This temporary exhibition is an outcome of that project.

For more information about General Pitt-Rivers, his life, and work, see the website of the ‘Rethinking Pitt-Rivers’ project at

Documenting Pitt-Rivers

Album entitled ‘Photographs of Rushmore and Environs’ containing more than a hundred photographs of Pitt-Rivers’s house and estates, taken by his secretary Harold St George Gray (1867–1963) in the 1890s. The Museum Hotel is now the Museum Inn. The building that used to house the museum at Farnham is now a set of private apartments. After a visit to the museum on 17 September 1898, Hilda Petrie (wife of the archaeologist Flinders Petrie) wrote to her sister: ‘The museum is a large building…built on the site of a gipsy school, beautifully and simply built, splendidly lighted and arranged, with nothing to distract the attention, and all white-painted. There we went quickly thro’ room after room, porcelain of different countries, wood-carving, national costumes, enamels, peasant utensils etc., heathen gods and weapons, and savagery of all sorts, and a quantity of Benin copper casts were the principal things we saw, and a series of Scottish crosses…’. (On loan from Anthony Pitt-Rivers.)

Documenting Pitt-Rivers
Album entitled ‘Photographs of Rushmore and Environs’ containing more than a hundred photographs of Pitt-Rivers’s house and estates, taken by his secretary Harold St George Gray (1867–1963) in the 1890s. Rushmore is now a private boarding school. After her visit to Rushmore in 1898, Hilda Petrie wrote: ‘The hall consisted of two immense rooms, crammed with every imaginable object, and a corridor, stacked with curios all over its floor, led to a billiard room whose table was piled with Romano-British bronzes, and dozens of early Syrian glass Documenting Pitt-Riversvases… We saw also the Gainsboroughs in the dining room...’. (On loan from Anthony Pitt-Rivers.)

Album of photographs, watercolours, and plans entitled ‘Our Ancient Monuments’, compiled in the 1880s–90s. Opened to show two watercolours by Pitt-Rivers’s artist W. S. Tomkin and a detailed site plan of ‘Wayland’s Smithy’, a Neolithic chambered long barrow near the White Horse at Uffington, Oxfordshire. Pitt-Rivers surveyed the site in 1884. [2012.79.1]

Documenting Pitt-RiversTwo photographic portraits of General Pitt-Rivers, taken at the same sitting in the London studios of W. & D. Downey, around 1890. The portrait on the left appears to be a photographer’s proof. The signed portrait on the right was the one selected by Pitt-Rivers for printing in some of his publications. [2012.33.1 - 2]


Objects on loan displayed by
kind permission of Anthony Pitt-Rivers
Curation: Jeremy Coote & Christopher Morton
Case design: Adrian Vizor