Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Relationship of Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers to people or institutions from which he purchased English artefacts

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

The list of institutions and individuals that sold English artefacts to Pitt Rivers is unusually short, however the relationships are varied.

1. Anthropological Institute

Pitt Rivers purchased a total of 266 objects from the Anthropological Institute, only one of these is possibly from England (it is very poorly provenanced) [1884.35.40]. This object was described once it had reached the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford as follows:

Accession Book IV entry - 1884.35.1 - 121 - Pottery Primitive and Ancient Hand-moulded Much damaged ancient British cinerary urn of pink grey pattern ornamented with impressed squares and chevrons over 2 ridged pointed bands Anthrop Inst [145] [Drawing]

All of the artefacts acquired from the Anthropological Institute are usually identified by a fraction number X/ 12394. Pitt Rivers' artefacts had a complicated number system instituted before 1884. It is not known whether the system was started by him personally or by Bethnal Green / South Kensington Museum. The system appears to work like this, all artefacts are counted sequentially from 1 onwards. However, certain points (usually the arrival on a new day of a new consignment of artefacts from Pitt Rivers to the London museums) triggers a different number after the slash. Thus the last item before might have been 10/ 12384. The system is not particularly easy to understand or logical to apply so it is lucky that it was not continued when the founding collection arrived in Oxford. The only benefit that the system appears to have is that it clearly identifies objects that arrived in the Museum on a particular date. These items were received at South Kensington Museum on 11 May 1881.

The Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland was founded in 1871 from two existing societies, the Ethnological Society of London (founded in 1843 as a breakaway group of the Aborigines' Protection Society), and the Anthropological Society. Pitt Rivers had been a member of both of these predecessors and was to be President of the Anthropological Institute in 1881-2. For more information about the Institute see here. Its collections had been acquired from members. Members often displayed artefacts they had collected or acquired in the field when they were giving papers (Pitt Rivers himself often did so).

2. Auction Mart near Bank of England

Again a single artefact was acquired from this source [1884.104.79], described in the Pitt Rivers Museum's accession book as:

Small globular glazed pottery whorl with equatorial grooves. Found at Auction Mart nr Bk [Bank] of England 17.1.65 Temp [that is, Time of] Q[ueen] Elizabeth [I]

Nothing is known of this Auction Mart.

3. Mr Bolton, Cockermouth

Yet again, a single artefact [1884.116.116] was purchased from this source, a strike-a-light, described as:

1884.116.1-121 Lamps (ancient) - Strike-a-light of flint and steel on 4 legs, with wheels etc and cog wheel, worked by handle which makes a smooth wheel revolve against a flint producing a shower of sparks, used as a safety lamp Purch Mr Bolton Cockermouth Cumberland ?PR [sic]
Additional Accession Book V entry - Sparks will not ignite fire damp

Nothing is known of Mr Bolton.

4. Last, Shrewsbury

Two artefacts were purchased by Pitt Rivers from this source. The first was a jug and the second a jar, described in the Pitt Rivers Museum's accession records as:

1884.37.31 Accession Book IV entry - 1884.37.1-113 Pottery Ancient Wheel-made Jug of Upchurch ware. Found by Stannier 1866, sold to Last, Shrewsbury purch 1870 [Drawing]
Additional Accession Book IV entry - Kent Romano-Brit
Blue book entry - Case 79 125 Roman jug (Uriconium (1918)
Added Blue book entry - Uriconium situated about where Utoxeter (Salop) now stands on banks of Severn
Delivery Catalogue I entry - Old English pottery etc Case 25 Jug (Uriconium) 1918 125.
[Geographical] Card Catalogue Entry - [English archaeology] Kent various localities Roman - exactly as Accession Book except adds 'Upchurch has [insert] extensive [end insert] remains of Roman pottery'


1884.37.32 Accession Book IV entry - 1884.37.1-113 Pottery Ancient Wheel-made Jar with two oblique handles near rim, cup-shaped with steep scratched zig-zag ornament. Upchurch ware. Found etc as above [1884.37.31] Purch 1870 [Drawing]
Additional Accession Book IV entry - Kent Romano-Brit
Blue book entry - Case 79 126 Roman jug ornamented with vandyke pattern in incised lines (Uriconium) (1900)
Added Blue book entry - Uriconium situated about where Utoxeter (Salop) now stands on banks of Severn
Delivery Catalogue I entry - Old English pottery etc Case 25 Two handled vase (Uriconium) 126 1900
[Geographical] Card Catalogue Entry - [English archaeology] Kent various localities Iron - exactly as Accession Book

It is not clear whether Last was another collector, an auctioneer or a dealer.

5. Royal United Services Institute Museum

Pitt Rivers was a member of the Institution and often gave papers there. He acquired a total of 107 artefacts from this source, including the collections of Edward Belcher and John Petherick. However, he only obtained one English artefact, an axe [1884.119.105] described in the Museum's accession registers as:

Accession Book V entry - 1884.119.1-631 Implements Copper Bronze (copper specified when known) Celts - Similar celt [to 1884.119.104] with pronounced cusped points to edge, triangular pits both sides, rough surface Worstead Common Norfolk TG Bayfield 1832 From United Services Museum
Added Accession Book V entry - Palstave
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry - Narrow bronze celt with expanded edge hafting pits formed by flanges and cross stop Worstead Common N'folk 1832 from United Services Museum
Blue book entry - Bronze period 1451 Bronze celts (4) Class G England (2302)
Delivery Catalogue II entry - Bronze period Swords Daggers and Casts 4 bronze celts in tray (England) 1451 blue 2302 51 [screen or case?] 332

To find out more about the Institute in general go here, to find out more about its history go here. The Institute was first set up, as a museum, in 1831 although it was renamed Institute only six years later. According to one source, the RUSI Museum:

ROYAL UNITED SERVICE INSTITUTION, Whitehall Yard, was established, in 1830, for the collection of objects of the professional arts and sciences, and the delivery of lectures of an appropriate character. There are now five departments to be recognised: The Library, which is filled with naval and military books, and a cabinet of coins, has two useful appendages, a map-room and a reading-room.
The Military Department comprises nine rooms and three galleries, in which are distributed American, Oriental, and European weapons; military models, accoutrements; Chinese and Asiatic armour; Captain Siborne's wonderful model of the great Waterloo battle, exhibiting 190,000 figures; the sword worn by Cromwell at Drogheda, and, the sword worn by Wolfe at Quebec; the sash which lowered the body of Sir John Moore into his grave at Corunna; the skeleton of Marengo, the horse which carried Napoleon at Waterloo; Colonel Hamilton's model of Sebastopol.
The Naval Department, in three rooms, contains a large collection, of naval models, European, Asiatic, and American; the Franklin relics, discovered in Captain Sir Leopold McClintock's expedition; the rudder of H.M. Ship Edgar, sunk at Spithead; Drake's walking-stick; and Captain Cook's chronometer: these are a few of the more note- worthy treasures enshrined in the Museum. Recently has been added the model of the battle of Trafalgar, placed r upon a table made from old planks taken from H.M. Ship Victory. The piece of ordnance outside the building was captured from the Russians in the late war.
The institution is supported by nearly 4000 members. Entrance fee, 1l.; life subscription, 9l.; annual subscription, 1l. The Lecture Theatre and Waterloo Room were decorated by Owen Jones.
Admission, by ticket, procurable from any member, from 11 to 5 daily, April to September, and 11 to 4 during the winter season.

taken from Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

Charles Dickens' published an account of the Museum in a Dictionary of London, 1879, given in the same source as above:

Upon entering, the visitor finds himself in a room devoted to African arms. There are spears and assegais of all shapes and sizes, belonging to the tribes of Abyssinia, Ashanti, Central and Southern Africa. Upon the floor stands a great variety of war-drums of various forms; these are looked upon by African tribes in much the same light in which European troops regard their standards. There are many shields of different kinds, among them a shield with silver ornaments, once the property of a great chief in Abyssinia. There are also some suits of curious armour made of plaited cane. In the African department are some Moorish guns and match-locks, inlaid with silver, The next room is devoted to modem arms. There is a collection of the rifles employed by the different governments of Europe, and a great many other forms of breechloader and magazine rifles. In the same room are obsolete fire-arms, flint-locks, and other weapons, which look clumsy and primitive by the side of the neater, lighter, and far more deadly modern weapon. The next room is devoted to Asiatic arms. There are some curious Chinese and Indian cannon and jingais, some suits of Indian chain-armour, together with primitive weapons from Borneo and the Polynesian islands. Beyond the Asiatic room is that devoted to the marine branch of the United Service. There are a great variety of fine models of ships of all shapes, from the high-pooped vessel of our forefathers to the modern ironclad. Among them a melancholy interest attaches to one or two fine models of ironclads upon his own design, presented by Captain Cowper Coles, who went down in the Captain, a vessel with a low freeboard, fitted with turrets upon his plan. In this room are some Gatling guns and mitrailleuses of various patterns, and also some torpedoes, fixed and movable. At one end are models of small craft of all kinds, from the Cingalese outrigger and the Venetian gondola to the Chinese junk. In the next room is a model upon a large scale of the Battle of Trafalgar, showing the exact position of the various vessels of the united French and Spanish fleets, and of those composing the two British columns of attack. Returning back to the first room, the visitor will find to his left two rooms filled with models of all the different descriptions of ordnance in use in the British army and navy, together with the shot and shell fitted for them. Upstairs there are several rooms with noteworthy military trophies; the most interesting object in the whole museum, however, is a model of the field and battle of Waterloo, executed with a marvellous accuracy and fidelity. This model was many years ago exhibited in Leicester-square.

6. Sotheby

Sotheby is one of the major auction houses of the world, and when Pitt Rivers was collecting it was pre-eminent in England. He purchased many artefacts from the auction house particularly after 1880 when he inherited a large estate and was able to devote more of his resources to collecting (the majority of these artefacts form part of the Pitt Rivers collection which did NOT come to Oxford and was exhibited in his private houses and at his own private museum at Farnham). To find out more about Sotheby's history, go here.

In total Pitt Rivers obtained 296 artefacts through Sotheby that formed part of the founding collection of the Oxford Pitt Rivers Museum. 74 of these are English items. All of them are from the James A.S. Medhurst collection of archaeological objects from Jordan Hill and Weymouth in Dorset. For more information about these artefacts go here.

7. Williamson

Pitt Rivers acquired one artefact from 'Williamson' by purchase:

1884.67.72 Accession Book IV entry - 1884.67.1-143 Human form in Barbaric Art and Civilised Art - Bronze coarse work in good condition, figure of youth in toga. Found in Thames Chertsey Roman Purch Williamson
Delivery Catalogue I entry - Realistic representations of human and other forms Cases 45, 47, 51 - 56 Bronze figure on stand (Roman) 3/ 9764
'Green book' entry - South Kensington Receipts, 9 [?] July 1879 - Realistic art 1 Roman bronze statuette found in the Thames at Chertsey
'Green book' entry - South Kensington Receipts, 10 July 1879 - repeat of above information.

Nothing is known about Williamson, who he was or why he sold the object to Pitt Rivers.

8. Bryce McMurdo Wright

Pitt Rivers acquired 140 artefacts from Bryce Wright in total, of which four were from England:

1884.118.191 Accession Book V entry - 1884.118.1-273 Implements Bone Ivory Horn - Curved point made of a small tapering antler tine. Found in peat bog Lea Valley Walthamstow Aug 1869 (11R)
[Geographical] Card Catalogue Entry - [English archaeology] London Walthamstow Undated - England London Lea Valley Walthamstow Curved point made of a small tapering antler tine Aug 1868 B.W. 11 red Original Pitt Rivers Collection


1884.123.473 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.123.1-911 Neolithic and Mesolithic Madelainean etc - Small globular hammerstone, no cortex, signs of use Portland Dorset Surface 'B.W.' [Drawing]


1884.125.305 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.125.1-415 Neolithic implements 1884.125.1 - 415 Neolithic implements 1884.125.206 and on Neolithic ground celts (except where stated) - Similar celt [to 1884.125.304], more oval and sub-plano-convex (13 1/2) Hammersmith May 1869 Bryce Wright [Drawing]


1884.127.65 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.127.1 - 143 'Modern' stone etc implements Hammers Axe heads - Subrectangular round edge flat implement (?hoe or ?axe) of blue black ?schist, perforated from both sides (8.8) 12.2.78 ?England[Drawing]
?Delivery Catalogue II entry - Stone implements 5 stone sinkers (2 round 1 barbed and 2 six sided) in tray 12.2.78 [Case or screen?] 41 372
?'Green book' entry - South Kensington Receipts, 25 February 1878 - Received per Mr BM Wright 19 stone implements etc

Bryce Wright was a dealers in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London. It comprised a father and son, with identical names. They were two Victoria natural history dealers, Bryce McMurdo Wright father (1814-1875) and son (1850-1895). The elder Wright began in business in about 1842 selling minerals and fossils, from the 1860s he began to trade seriously in ethnological and archaeological items.

We know a little about Pitt Rivers and Bryce Wright junior's relationship because some of their correspondence survives in the manuscript collections of the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum:

“Sir, I have a good armlet and a good hair ornament you might like to see - the armlet is as follows [Drawing] and the ornament of spiral thus [drawing] ... Good with twisted ends and a series of Maori ... [word illegible, possibly beads] etc, I remain, Sir ...] Paper headed Bryce-Wright Mineralogists and Expert in Gems and Precious stones, The Museum, 26 Savile Row W. [Letter from Bryce-Wright to PR 7.3.1889 B403]


“Perhaps you will excuse my mentioning the reason for my leaving my museum and the difficulties which I have had to go through - my landlord of the whole block of buildings containing my museum failed and I had to pay the whole of the rent due to him about £300 per quarter. I not sleeping on the premises and not coming within the hoofers [sic] act I paid it twice when ... my position was undeniable the whole of my Museum which I had spent so much on was lost to me and everything in it. I shall soon however have other business premises when I will send my new Circular ...” [Bryce Wright 2.11.1891 Letter about a large collection of West Indies stone tools L767]

Both of these post-date the founding collection's arrival at Oxford of course.