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June 2011

upon the conglomeration of objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum in their cherry-stained wooden cases – shrunken skulls, gruesome masks, stately totems and sharp weapons, all from the farthest points of the earth – we can picture the General, uniformed and armed with scholarly curiosity, a great collector, the most important ethnologist and archaeologist of his day.

A Sojourn to the Black Sea: Pitt-Rivers in 1854 A

ugustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers – a man of the world. When we gaze

It is as such that he is commemorated some distance from his homeland, in the mountains of far-away Georgia. Here, Georgian archaeologists at the University of Tbilisi host the annual Pitt Rivers Symposium on the General’s birthday of April 14. Interestingly, though, Pitt-Rivers never actually made it as far east as the Caucasus. His military travels, however, did take him all the way to the Black Sea, where he was stationed at the port of Varna in Bulgaria and in the Crimea in 1854, during the Crimean War.

of his Black Sea campaigns. From Bulgaria he brought back 13 silver ornaments, from the Crimea some further 27 military objects –swords, helmets, muskets. The latter, in particular, are reminiscent of the General’s personal and professional interest in firearms and their development. Not only did he study muskets from an ethnological point of view, working out their evolutionary patterns, but he also served as musketry instructor during the early and mid-1850s. The Crimean battlefield, where he encountered not only enemy Russian troops and their weapons, but also the troops and weapons of the French and Turkish allies, could hardly have failed to pique his collector-instinct.

Even though he served in the British Army from 1845 to 1882, it was only here, at the historic Battle of Alma, that he saw any active field duty – for one short month, after which the military doctors pronounced him ‘unfit for duty.’ Whether he was disappointed to leave the Black Sea or not remains unclear. We know only that he subsequently returned to the British Army training grounds of Malta and continued his military service doing what he did best: instructing troops in musketry. It is not difficult to imagine the General making use of his latest specimens from the Crimean battlefield to illustrate his talks and supplement his training.


Storming of the Great Redoubt on the Alma River: fragment of a painting by Richard Caton Woodville

The General’s stays in Varna and the Crimea were brief, yet the collector made the most

Back in Oxford, it is possible to see the objects collected by the General in Varna and the Crimea in the Pitt Rivers Museum. Those specimens are now supplemented by further

he Crimea was likely the military highlight of General Pitt-Rivers’ career.

One of the portraits of Pitt-Rivers displayed in the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1900. 1998.356.80

items from the Black Sea, from regions Pitt- Rivers did not reach, donated to the Museum by other collectors, themselves inspired by Pitt-Rivers’ collective zeal. There are even items from the Caucasus, where Georgian archaeologists now celebrate Pitt-Rivers’ birthday. These were recently enhanced by a 2009 special exhibit of photographs taken in that region by John Baddeley during the 19th century. The seasoned Russia and Caucasus traveler was born in Oxford in 1854, the same year Pitt Rivers made his own way East, to the Black Sea.

Sujatha Chandrasekaran Lincoln College, Oxford

Rethinking Pitt-Rivers: Febuary’s talk by Alison Petch A

lison Petch, Registrar at the Pitt Rivers Museum, has been researching and writing

on Lieutenant-General Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers since a Leverhulme Foundation grant in 1995 enabled information about each of the objects he had collected and donated to be entered into a database. With information on the objects in the Museum now well ordered, research has moved towards a better understanding of the collector himself, supported by a second Leverhulme grant for three years from 2009.

The General’s earliest acquisitions date to the 1850s. By 1884, when he donated his collection to the founding of the Museum, it included more than 17,000 items - although these numbers still increase as further work in the Museum identifies more pieces. Alison noted that this gift did not signal the end of his collecting: he went on to accumulate an even larger number

of items, housed in his personal museum at Farnham in Dorset. Unlike the first, this second collection, including many objects retrieved by archaeological excavation on his Rushmore estate, was carefully catalogued in nine volumes now held by the Cambridge University Library. Alison showed us slides of some of the careful, detailed and indeed beautiful drawings that illustrated the entries, the work of various assistants whom he trained in draughtsmanship. These volumes are the most lasting record of the collections as a whole as the second collection was sold and dispersed in the 1960s.


he present project supports the creation of a database from these nine volumes, thus

allowing the two collections to be compared. It would seem that the General continued to collect the same types of objects as previously, and that he did not change the principles that

Pacific Room, The Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham

informed the arranging of objects in his exhibits, where “successive stages of improvement might be placed in the order of their occurrence.”

Those readers interested in learning more should go to the project’s impressive website at museum-collection

Barbara Isaac, Friend

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