The Haddon Library » Pitt Rivers’ germs


Script of Haddon Library contribution to Cambridge University Alumni Festival, presented in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 14:15, Friday 25 September 2015


Good afternoon, and welcome to Pitt Rivers’ Germs. The Haddon Library’s contribution to the 2015 Alumni Weekend presentation is an exploration of offprints formerly in the possession of the pioneer archaeologist Lieutenant-Colonel Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers.

For toilets, leave this room by the doors to your left, turn right, and follow the signs.

If you’ve got a mobile phone, feel free to live-tweet the event. The hashtag’s this: #AlumniFestival, all as one word. But please keep your mobile on silent while we’re in here.

If you hear an alarm bell, leave by the entrance you came in by, and assemble on the lawn.

The presentation is expected to last approximately 45′, and tea will be served afterwards.

But first of all: why’ve we called it Pitt Rivers’ Germs?


In these Volumes I have put together all kinds of papers, from some of which I cordially dissent, yet none are so bad but that they may contain some facts or ideas not known to the best. Whilst others may have in them the germs of truths that are capable of development in after years and which being little appreciated in their time are on that account less likely to be preserved.


That’s the brief manifesto that Pitt Rivers wrote on the fly-leaf of some of the 24 volumes of the set. Let’s not ask why he didn’t write it out 24 times.


This afternoon, we’ll be talking a bit about Pitt Rivers’ life. He was a soldier; his soldiering involved a keen interest in the development of weapons and the training of junior staff in their use. So we’ll have some weapons extracts this afternoon. His soldiering also took him to the Crimea and to Ireland, and some of the offprints are connected with those places. His archaeology began while he was in uniform. He wasn’t much of a one for joining the county archaeological societies that were beginning to thrive in his day, but some articles from the journals of those societies did make their way into his collection, and are notable for that reason. He was much involved in a big spat between two national organisations in the 1860s, and there are offprints from that. And all the offprints and pamphlets are, of course, of their time.


Talking to people about this show, we’ve found that not everyone knows what offprints are. The Oxford English dictionary defines an offprint as “A separately produced copy of an article, etc., which originally appeared as a part of a larger publication.” And it would seem they weren’t called offprints at the time Pitt Rivers was gathering them. The collection comes to an end round about 1880, and OED’s first cited use of the term offprint is dated 1885 – not just the first appearance in print, but the philologist Walter Skeat suggesting a new word: “By comparison with ‘offshoot’ I think we might use ‘offprint’ with some hope of expressing what is meant.”


Pitt Rivers wasn’t called Pitt Rivers at the time he was collecting these things, either. For the first fifty-three years of his life, his surname was Lane Fox. He was born in 1827, and his given names were Augustus Henry. His eventual quadruple-barrelled glory as Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers yields many permutations to vex biographers, bibliographers and librarians. But he’s Lane Fox for the period covered by this show, so that’s what we’ll call him.


The boy had a toy boomerang. Thirty or forty years later, its attractions were undimmed.




LANE FOX, A.H. 1872. Address to the Department of Anthropology. Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1872. pp. 157-174.

Reading from p. 161

“The earliest inhabitants of the globe … differing materially in their vocabularies.”




Bit of a flight of fancy, that, about the languages. But by 1872, the date of that extract, Lane Fox knew his weapons inside and out. He had joined the army in 1845, purchasing a commission in the Grenadier Guards. In 1851, he became actively involved in an Army committee responding to developments in weapons technology. The Army’s standard weapon was still the smooth-bore musket it had used since the early eighteenth century – and now muskets were being generally superseded by rifles. The Army wanted to make sure that it chose the fittest rifle for purpose. Lane Fox’s work for this committee was probably what led to his making his own collection of firearms – which led to a collection of other artifacts – which later became a museum, and then a bigger and more prestigious museum.




LANE FOX, A.H. 1875. On the principles of classification adopted in the arrangement of his anthropological collection, now exhibited in the Bethnal Green Museum. Journal of the Anthropological Institute 4(1), pp. 293-308.

Reading from p. 293 & 294-295

“The collection does not contain any considerable number of unique specimens … implements of bronze, iron, and bone.” “The primary arrangement has been by form … two series, arranged upon these two systems.”




That’s Lane Fox at the opening of the Bethnal Green Museum in 1874. What he saw in technology he saw also in biology, and he liked sometimes to boast that he’d got to the idea of evolution before Charles Darwin. But let’s jump back to the 1850s, and the rifles committee he was on. It was a big boost to his Army career. Following the committee’s recommendation, the Army adopted the French-designed Minié rifle as standard. Lane Fox and the committee’s president, Studholme Brownrigg, picked up the task of training, and devising training, in the use of the rifle. Lane Fox was soon the principal instructor at the Army’s new School of Musketry at Hythe. It’s sad to record that he quarrelled seriously with the school Commandant, Colonel Hay. Lane Fox was – let’s get it out of the way now – a highly combative individual.


He fought in the Crimea, was decorated, promoted, mentioned in dispatches, invalided home. His Crimean service was not as spectacular as some. But – in a war where the British Army showed incompetence and poor decision-making at the highest levels – one thing the Army got right was those Minié guns Lane Fox had helped to choose and introduce. By the end of the Crimea campaign, every infantry battalion was using them.


Lane Fox remained in the Army until 1882. Soldiering developed a number of his skills. He was good at organising groups, good at surveying and reading landscapes, good at weighing up evidence. These proved invaluable, in the 1860s, to his first involvements with archaeology.


He did some excavating in Ireland, which he didn’t like talking about later on, and in 1867 took part in the first digs he usually acknowledged. These were in Yorkshire, under the tutelage of William Greenwell, a canon of Durham Cathedral.


We think Greenwell may have been the source of some of the offprints. They include two issues of the Quarterly journal of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History. Lane Fox had no Suffolk connection, and very little time for county archaeological societies. But Suffolk was another place where Greenwell excavated, and these publications of the Suffolk Institute contain much about his diggings. Aidan now reads from Greenwell’s account of Risby Barrows.




GREENWELL, W. 1869. Risby Downs.   Quarterly journal of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, June, pp. 39-40 (16-17 of pdf)

“The barrows are situated on either side of the road … a contracted unburnt body, too decayed to allow the position to be made out.”




Canon Greenwell’s report goes on in that way, describing two more bodies and one more urn with scientific precision. We can contrast his report with the anecdotal, evocative manner of the piece that introduces it.




GEDGE, J.D. 1869. Risby. Quarterly journal of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, June, pp. 37-40

Reading from pp. 37-38 (14-15 of pdf)

“On the road between Risby and Cavenham … as it might have done in the old days of body-burning.”




Canon Greenwell’s precision was what Lane Fox fed on, rather than the prose we’ve just heard. But while we’re in Suffolk – here’s an extract from the other issue of the Quarterly journal, one of those bonkers irrelevancies that brighten a library day. It’s from the journal’s account of a joint excursion in September 1868 by members of the Suffolk Institute and the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, exploring churches on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.




Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History. 1869. General meetings and excursions. Quarterly journal of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, January, pp. 2-17

Reading from p. 16 (9 of pdf):

“Flixton Ruin was the next locality … antiquity of the ruin was not so great as had been supposed.”




A lecture made up on the spot, and shot down immediately by the assembled experts. We believe we’re doing better than that this afternoon.


The Crimean war arose from geopolitical rivalries focused on eastern Europe. Lane Fox’s Crimea service seems to have left him with enough interest in the question to collect offprints on it, though they are not the main part of his story. Here’s Sir George Campbell, Scottish Liberal MP and former Governor of Bengal, venturing some views that may have chimed with Lane Fox’s own conservative politics and class interests.




CAMPBELL, G. 1877. Races, religions and institutions of Turkey and the neighbouring countries: being the substance of two lectures delivered in the Kirkcaldy burghs. London: published for the Eastern Question Association by Cassell Petter & Galpin.

Reading from pp. 27-28

“It is the fashion to compare the Hungarian … sympathy of its own Slav subjects for their oppressed brethren.”




Let’s not go into Lane Fox’s own statements about Ireland and the Irish people. His views were a bit much even for his friends and colleagues. But Ireland in the offprints is represented mainly by short papers about specific archaeological sites and finds: ‘Souterrain discovered at Curraghely, near Kilcrea, Co. Cork’, ‘Description of a bronze figure said to have been found at Clonmacnoise’, ‘On some ancient personal ornaments of glass found in Ireland’. And this: Sir William Wilde, the father of Oscar Wilde, leading into a talk on the early races of Ireland, has some words about the arrangement of museums. He was speaking in 1874, the year Lane Fox got up his museum in Bethnal Green.




WILDE, W.R. 1874. Upon the early races of mankind in Ireland, their remains and present representatives. Report of the forty-fourth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. London: BAAS. Pp. 116-128

Reading from pp. 117-118

“If you would not have museums like … I do not think that any Government should support a museum that was not properly arranged.”




Now. We mentioned a spat between two national organisations in the 1860s. It was actually a split: the Ethnological Society of London and the breakaway Anthropological Society. As with all splits, there were several fault-lines: class, attitude to evolution, attitude to questions of race. The founder of the Anthropological Society, James Hunt, is now known to have been a paid agent of the pro-slavery Confederate States of America. Some people, Lane Fox included, managed to be in both societies, and the offprints include James Hunt’s presidential addresses. To modern ears it is surprising that these massive slabs of print were first uttered by way of kicking off a discussion.




HUNT, J. 1863. Introductory address on the study of anthropology. Anthropological review 1,

  1. 1-20.

Reading from pp. 13-14

“Much of the future success of the Society … but it is left for us to discover the exact relations.”




Lane Fox, for all his combativeness, was one of the people who after eight years brokered a reunification of the two societies, as the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. This body had the more progressive, anti-slavery, pro-Darwin group in the ascendant. Now the Royal Anthropological Institute, it thrives to this day.


So how did Lane-Fox’s offprints come to Cambridge? They were presented in 1991 by Stella Pitt Rivers, widow of Lane Fox’s controversial grandson George Pitt Rivers. Stella Pitt Rivers also endowed a George Pitt Rivers Professorship of Archaeological Science, here in Cambridge, and presented a bust of him, which is now in this building. Professor Lord Renfrew [indicate his portrait] played a great part in seeing this work through. Lane Fox’s papers were presented to Cambridge University Library at the same time. We’re glad that we also have Dr Michael Thompson, who catalogued those papers and wrote the first biography of our Lane Fox, with us this afternoon.


And how did Lane Fox become Pitt Rivers? It was in 1880. He inherited an estate in Dorset, with a certain amount of money, not huge, on condition that took the new name. His whole life changes at that point. The second son of a second son, the half-pay Army officer, becomes one of the landed gentry. The big estate contains a number of archaeological sites, which he gets to excavate with the help of paid assistants. He’s appointed Inspector of Ancient Monuments, and tries to interest other gentry in the archaeological sites they might have on their estates. He keeps up with Canon Greenwell, though they can both be a touch irascible at times. But 1880 is where the offprints collection comes to an end – he’s not now collecting articles, and he’s not writing so many of them himself. He’s penning reports on the excavations, and having them privately printed as fine volumes.


So all that is another story. We have those fine volumes, too, in the Haddon Library, and maybe we’ll give them an outing in a future Alumni Festival. For now, let’s regroup across the lobby [point] for tea.


Further reading


Bowden, Mark. 1991. Pitt Rivers: the life and archaeological work of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, DCL, FRS, FSA. Cambridge: CUP


Evans, Christopher. 2014. ‘Soldiering archaeology: Pitt Rivers and “militarism”‘. Bulletin of the history of archaeology 24(0): art. 4.


Thompson, Michael. 1977. General Pitt-Rivers: evolution and archaeology in the nineteenth century. Bradford-on-Avon: Moonraker.


And see the Rethinking Pitt Rivers pages on the website of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford



Performance credits

 Narrator Simon Barlow

Reader Aidan Baker

Powerpoint Dr Clare Sansom

Compilation and script Aidan Baker





Thanks to the following people for information:

Dr Chris Evans

Dr Alison Petch

Professor Lord Renfrew

Dr Michael Thompson

Dr Chris Wingfield


And thanks to Anthony Pitt-Rivers OBE DL for information, and for permission to include the unpublished material.