Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Balfour, Westlake and stone tools from Tasmania

Alison Petch, Researcher 'The Other Within' project and Rebe Taylor

Page 246 of Balfour's notes on Westlake collection (now the PRM accession book)

Page 246 of Balfour's notes on Westlake collection (now the PRM accession book)

Page 270 of Balfour's notes on Westlake collection (now the PRM accession book)

Page 270 of Balfour's notes on Westlake collection (now the PRM accession book)

Page 448 of Balfour's notes on Westlake collection (now the PRM accession book)

Page 448 of Balfour's notes on Westlake collection (now the PRM accession book)

My thanks to Rebe Taylor, ARC Australian Research Fellow, School of Historical Studies, The Australian Centre, University of Melbourne, who is the source of much of the following information about Westlake and also co-wrote this webpage.

The Westlake collection [1934.83] at the Pitt Rivers Museum consists of 13,033 artefacts (the vast majority stone implements) which first came to the Museum in 1923. They were collected between 1908 and 1910 by Ernest Westlake in Tasmania, Australia or by Hobart resident Joseph Paxton Moir (on Westlake’s behalf) between 1910 and 1916. In addition there are further 1,936 Tasmanian stone tools from other sources. [1]

The Westlake collection

Ernest Westlake (1856-1922) was a gentleman and amateur geologist, passionate about the ancient antiquity of mankind; he was also a Quaker, a vegetarian, a believer in ghosts and water-divining. In addition, he was the founder, in 1916, of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, a kind of alternative Boy Scouts movement now known as the Woodcraft Folk.

Westlake was particularly interested in the 'eolith' debate. His French collection was made up of eoliths which he believed were used by human ancestors two million years earlier. (This collection was de-accessioned and returned to Aubrey Westlake in 1980). He also collected fossils (this collection is now in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. His interest in eoliths led him to his interest in Tasmanian stone tools (he believed that they were very similar, and wished to know what the connection between them might be). When Westlake first arrived in Hobart, he stayed with Joseph Paxton Moir (1853-1933), who ran a lead shot tower in Tasmania but was also collector of Tasmanian stone tools. Moir showed Westlake his collection and they did quite a bit of collecting together. Westlake collected in over 130 different sites.

Balfour's work on the Westlake collection

It is clear that Balfour was interested in the material culture from Tasmania from very early on in his museum career, he was certainly acquiring Tasmanian stone tools for the Museum with a very few years of the museum opening. (see section entitled 'Balfour's collection of stone tools from Tasmania' below).

In 1893 he wrote:

The recently extinct Tasmanians afforded a most interesting example of arrested development. Not only were they still in their stone age, but the fact of their never having shaped their implements of stone by rubbing or polishing, but by chipping or flaking only, and that of the simplest kind, and their never having hafted them in handles, seem to refer back their condition of culture to that of the earliest palaeolithic times, and to present them to the anthropologist as survivals from almost the earliest periods of human development. Their stone implements were far ruder in fact than the better examples of palaeolithic stone work in Europe, and in variety of design extremely limited, and their general inferiority in workmanship was unrelieved by examples which betrayed in any way wht might be considered as more than very moderate skill in manufacture. Were it not for their ruthless extermination by the savage methods of intruding civilisation, which resulted in their complete extinction in 1876, this interesting race would still have been living, an instance of persistence of primitive conditions which seem strange to us when we think of the strides made by civilisation elsewhere. [pp. 16-17]

In 1906 he wrote:

Perhaps the best example of a truly primitive race existing in recent times, of which we have any knowledge, was afforded by the native inhabitants of Tasmania. This race was still existing fifty years ago, and a few pure-blooded survivors remained as late as about the year 1870, when the race became extinct, the benign civilizing influence of enlightened Europeans having wiped this extremely nteresting people off the face of the earth. The Australians, whom Colonel Lane Fox referred to as being 'the lowest amongst the existing races of the world of whom we have any accurate knowledge', are very far in advance of the Tasmanians, whose lowly state of culture conformed thoroughly with the characteristics of a truly primitive race, a survival not only from the Stone Age in general, but from almost the earliest beginnings of the Stone Age. The difference between the culture of the Tasmanians and that of the Australians was far greater than that which exists between man of the 'River Drift' period and his Neolithic successors. The objects of every day use were but slight modifications of forms suggested by Nature, involving the exercise of merely the simplest mental processes. The stone implements were of the rudest manufacture, far inferior in workmanship to those made by Palaeolithic man; they were never ground or polished, never even fitted with handles, but were merely grasped in the hand. The varieties of implements were very few in number, each, no doubt, serving a number of purposes, the function varying with the requirements of the moment. They had no bows or other appliances for accelerating the flight of missiles, no pottery, no permanent dwellings; nor is there any evidence of a previous knowledge of such products of higher culture. They seem to represent a race which was isolated very early from contact with higher races; in fact, before they had developed more than the merest rudiments of culture—a race continuing to live under the most primitive conditions, from which they were never destined to emerge. [Balfour, introduction p. xvi-xvii, Pitt Rivers, 1906]

Having stated his belief (shared with Pitt Rivers) about the primitiveness of Tasmanian culture, Balfour was therefore very interested in the Tasmanian stone tools in Westlake's collection. He spent much of his last years working on them. The first mention of Balfour's work on the Westlake collection is in the 1923 Museum Annual Report:

I have been engaged in research work upon the very fine collection of Tasmanian stone implements formed by the late Mr. E. Westlake. This is by far the finest collection of its kind in the kingdom and will throw much light upon the status of the Tasmanians among Stone-age peoples.

This information was repeated in the 1924 Annual Report. Interestingly this is earlier than we have records of the collections being in the Museum but it is clear from correspondence held in the Museum that Westlake's son must have loaned the collection to the Museum for Balfour to work on. [1] A letter from Aubrey Westlake, Ernest's son, to Henry Balfour dated 3 October 1923 remarked that he was sending all the Tasmanian notebooks he can find of his father's, that some contained personal notes, and he would be glad to have them back once Balfour had extracted anything of interest. He expressed his gratitude to Balfour and Professor Sollas for time they had given to his father’s work'. [PRM ms collections Balfour papers, Miscellaneous: Aubrey Westlake]

In 1925 Balfour recounts his findings in his Presidential Address to the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia (1925) on "The Status of the Tasmanians among Stone-using Peoples". He explained that:

The great dearth of Tasmanian specimens in the museums of Great Britain and the very obvious importance of such relics of this rudimentary culture, led me in 1892 to collect together such examples as I could procure from correspondents in Tasmania, and thus I initiated a series of the native stone implements of the Pitt Rivers Museum. Somewhat later, the late Sir E.B. Tylor became interested and also procured a number of the implements. In this way a few hundred specimens were brought together. But I still did not think that it would be wise to express any definite opinion in regard to this stone-age culture in general, and I preferred to wait until a far greater mass of material was available and could be passed in review. [Balfour, 1925: 2]

He recounts that one reason for selecting the topic was that 'the Tasmanian aborigines are probably the only people of whom it can be said with confidence that they remained into quite recent times in an arrested culture-phase which may be described as strictly Palaeolithic - a very remarkable instance of the persistence of primitive conditions. ... It offers an instance, a very striking one, of the past surviving in the present, of ethnology offering a hand to archaeology, a happy blending of sciences to the advantage of both'. [Balfour, 1925: 1]

His examination was enabled 'through the kindness of Dr Aubrey Westlake and his desire to futher the cause of scientific enquiry, I have in my hands for the first time being the magnificent collection of Tasmanian stone implements brought together by his father, the late Mr Ernest Westlake, a most enthusiastic and indefatigable collector and a keen student of early stone-age problems. The collection numbers many thousands of specimens and it will take me a long time to examine and classify the whole of this mass of material. So far, I have examined some 5,000 specimens, gathered from about 40 sites, a sufficiently extensive series to warrant my introducing the subject to your attention at least tentatively.’ [Balfour, 1925: 2] Balfour wanted to classify them typologically and complete a topographical survey of them. [A copy of the paper is available via the PRM ms collections, Balfour papers pamphlet box 1]

He wished to

study the material from two different points of view. Firstly, I want to classify the whole series typologically, with a view to establishing what are the most characteristic and dominant types of implements, and determining the range of variation in tool forms. Secondly I aim concurrently at a topographical survey, in order to ascertain what characteristic local differences, if any, may be detected in the groups of implements procured from various parts of the country, and also with a view to the differentiation of the material derived from factory-sites from that gathered upon camping grounds. This dual objective necessarily renders the work slow and laborious and involves the necessity of keeping together all the implements collected upon a given site. [Balfour, 1925: 2]

The conclusion he seems to reach in this paper is that 'in estimating the degree of advancement of a given people in the general sequence of culture-evolution .... [I would] put forward a plea for a correlation with a post-Mousterian culture-phase'. [Balfour, 1925: 4] Balfour discusses certain specimens specifically. The final paragraph states:

I may conclude by expressing the opinion that we are still justified in believing that the natives of Tasmania exhibited in their culture a persistence of strictly Palaeolithic conditions, and that, to this extent, they may be looked upon as unique among the recent peoples of the world. [Balfour, 1925: 14]

Balfour seems to have drawn most, if not all, of the stones in what later became the accession books for the Westlake collection. Furthermore, Balfour drew 131 of the implements in fine detail for his unpublished manuscript on the Tasmanians. These are currently housed in the PRM manuscript collections [Balfour box labelled ‘evolution of decorative art’]. These correspond to detailed notes in the unpublished manuscript (by number) and can also be identified in vols IX and X of the accession books. Each of the stones is physically numbered. It is not clear who numbered the stones in red ink (according to locality) – Balfour, Westlake and/or Paxton Moir. Balfour wrote to Aubrey Westlake on 4 September 1923 that he was organising the stones into their original localities and also typologically (Box 1, Folder 6, Westlake Papers, OUM). But Westlake had also numbered his eoliths in red ink, so it may have been him and/or Paxton Moir who numbered the stones.

On 14 August 1926 Aubrey Westlake wrote that he was very grateful for Balfour's work and invited him to select a series from the Westlake collection for the Museum:

‘I think it is the least I can do in view of your great kindness in working up my fathers collections + bringing the matter before the scientific world.’ [PRM ms collections Balfour papers, Miscellaneous: Aubrey Westlake]

In 1927 Balfour reported:

I have continued my detailed examination of the Westlake collection of Tasmanian stone implements, and have reached new and definite results involving the revaluation of the status of native Tasmanian culture. [Annual Report 1927]

Annoyingly, he doesn't say what his conclusions were! It is Taylor's belief however that we can safely conclude it was his theory that a Mousterian/Aurignacian level of culture should be attributed to the Tasmanian – a long way from Westlake’s idea of an Eolithic level of culture, and beyond Tylor’s idea of an early Paleaolithic level – quite a shift from other scholars and collectors of Tasmanian lithics. [Rebe Taylor, pers. comm.] However, in 1928 at a meeting of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science at Hobart, he gave a paper which makes some of his opinions clear:

My own point has been that even those who recognizea Mousterian facies in the Tasmanian lithic industry, and who therefore place this industry on a level, more or less, with that which characterizes the mid-Palaeolithic culture, are still in actuality very short of the mark in their estimate of the native achievement. What my own researches have clearly shown to me is that, although a Mousterian facies is certainly recognizable in the types and technique of a large number of the implements found so abundantly in Tasmania, this does not in any way represent the highest achievements of these natives. A careful survey of a very large number (many thousands) of the native stone tools has convinced me of what I suspected as long ago as 1894, which is that the most advanced work of the Tasmanians finds it counterpart in the implements of the still later and more evolved technique of the Aurignacian culture ... during which a greater variety of specialized tools was reached, together with a greater delicacy in the art of flaking. [Balfour, 1929: 315]

He did not attend the meeting in Hobart but obviously submitted his paper

My immediate object has been to raise certain special points which I venture to hope may be considered and discussed at the meeting of the Association. It is a matter of deep regret to me that I am unable to be present at the meeting and cannot enjoy the privilege of taking part in the discussions. I would gladly learn the views of others who have been able to study on the spot the problems arising from an attempt to diagnose the cultural-status of the natives of Van Diemen's Land. That research in this field of inquiry is worthwhile, goes without saying. [Balfour, 1929: 322]

Work obviously carried on after this date, but slowly, for six years later, in the Annual Report for 1933-4 Balfour reported:

Further progress was made in my study of the extensive collection of Tasmanian stone implements formed by Mr. Westlake.

The status of the collection was obviously left in limbo until Balfour died. In 1939, after his death, Penniman reported that:

The purchase of the Westlake Collection of implements of the aborigines of Tasmania, begun during the life of the late Curator, was finally completed. [Annual Report for 1939-40]

In the 1943-4 Annual Report Penniman reported:

The order and cleanliness of this area [the 'Iron Shed'] inspired the Curator to attack Museum House which former readers will remember as a principal worry of the late Curator, and which we must one day vacate. Nearly all of the large Westlake collection of about 12,000 stone implements is now in classified drawers, and about 5,000 other specimens are classified and distributed elsewhere, or roughly classified in closed packing cases in Museum House, so that for the time we can find them fairly quickly, and can ultimately move with speed, decency and cleanliness.

In the same annual report it was added:

In the Top Gallery 21 screens have been added to the archaeological series, making 54 in all out of a possible 80. Of these, 45 are so far devoted to Stone-Age Industries, and 9 to Stone-Age Techniques. These with the attendant exhibitions have completed our display of the ancient Stone Age in Europe, Asia, and Africa to the beginning of the use of metal, and have made a good start on the industries of peoples in a Stone Age when discovered by Europeans. Especially interesting are the Bushman exhibition with Mr. Dunn’s fine collection from Palaeolithic to modern times, the Tasmanian with the Westlake collection and Bock’s paintings and Woolley’s photographs from life, the Eskimo section, in which Miss Blackwood had the advantage of a good collection from early explorers of the North-West Passage, and the Mexican, for which we were able to buy a good archaeological series from the excavator.

To find out more information about Rebe Taylor's work on the Westlake collection see http://www.australian.unimelb.edu.au/aboutus/people/taylor.html

It is hoped in the near future to add a link here to the Archive Guide on the Westlake Collection.

Stone Implements of the Tasmanians

Balfour must have been working on (or intending to carry on working on) the Westlake collection when he died. Sadly his posthumous work on the 'Stone Implements of the Natives of Tasmania', highlighted by Haddon is his obituary, was never actually published. This would have been based upon his work on the collection of stone tools made by Ernest Westlake. However it does exist in manuscript form with an introduction by Penniman and Blackwood. [PRM ms collections, Balfour papers: Miscellaneous] It was intended to have an introduction by the editors, and an appreciation of Balfour by Haddon (who had written his Royal Society obituary). A digital copy of the paper is in the Westlake Archive guide which will soon become available via the web.

It is not clear why it was not published in the Occasional Papers in Technology Series' as it was obviously worked on to some extent by Tom Penniman and Beatrice Blackwood. A typed note in front of the manuscript notes:

'This paper on Stone implements of the Tasmanians by the late Henry Balfour F.R.S., develops the Aurignacian and Moustierian comparisons published in Proc. Prehist. Soc. East Anglia, V, pt [Part] I, in 1925.

[in red ink] It is not ready for publication as work on the 12,000 or so implements in the Westlake collection shews forms like almost every industry into the Neolithic period, and the comparison with two styles only would be misleading.

T.K. Penniman

The actual manuscript is not typed but handwritten. Balfour's handwriting, in pencil, is clear, there are amendments in pen, possibly by Penniman, which mostly expand abbreviations.

See the Introduction by the Editors here.

Balfour states in his preface:

'I began to make a collection of Tasmanian stone impl. some 40 years ago, but the few hundreds which I was able to acquire [insert] from friends and correspondents [end insert] did not amount to a truly representative series, from which generalizations could with confidence be drawn made. Still, even the limited series proved very suggestive and indicated the gave promise of important results when a larger mass of material became available for close examination. The views which I can now confidently state put forward and the lines of enquiry which should be pursued were suggested very forcibly by some of the implement types which I had acquired.
The much desired opportunity of examining at leisure a very extensive series derived from various parts of the island came when, through the great kindness of the executors of the late Mr Westlake, of Fordingbridge, Hants, the whole of the collection of 12,000 Tasmanian impl. acquired by that indefaticable collector, as a result of his visit to Tasmania in [blank, filled in by ?Penniman 1906-1908] was placed in my hands for purposes of research. This collection was amassed from 123 sites upon the main island ... a list of these sites is given in an appendix. This covers a very wide area of Tasmania ...
It may in general be said that, throughout the area represented, there is a general close resemblance in the types and technique of the implements, pointing to a uniformity of cultures over the island.

Balfour's collection of stone tools from Tasmania

Balfour states that 'I began to make a collection of Tasmanian stone impl. some 40 years ago, ... the few hundreds which I was able to acquire...' (around 1892). However, he donated only 31 items to the Museum from Tasmania, not all of which are strictly 'stone tools' in the archaeological sense:

1893.80.5-9 5 Tasmanian stone implements loaned in February 1893
1913.25.31-38 8 Stone implements with bevelled edges, Tasmania Donated August 1913
1917.9.50 Specimen illustrating patination, glazing etc. of flint, viz: .... 1, Tasmania. Donated 1917
1938.35.252-3 934-935 Gun-flints. TASMANIA bequeathed 1939
1938.35.254 36 BRANDON gun-flint found near HOBART, TASMANIA

Rather than hundreds of Tasmanian stone tools, we have a total of 14 donated / loaned / bequeathed by him to the Museum. Rather than talking about himself when he says 'I began to make a collection', I think that he is referring to himself as the embodiment of the Museum because there are a total of 1,936 stone tools from Tasmania in our collections omitting those donated by Aubrey Westlake.

5 were donated from various sources in the 1880s and 1890s
75 were donated in 1900s,
1,585 in the 1910s
136 in the 1920s
121 in the 1930s
Total donated during Balfour's curatorship: 1,922
It is probably some or all of these artefacts that he was talking about when he talked of making a collection, meaning making a collection for the museum.

These arefacts were donated by people like:
Elsie Dry Beech
Alexander James Montgomerie Bell
Archibald Colquhoun Bell
Louis Colville Gray Clarke
A.W. Clemes
E.A. Elliott
S.G. Hewlett
Alfred Stephen Kenyon
Edward Burnett Tylor
J.J. Walker

In addition there are the following items, found unentered and assumed to have been donated by Henry Balfour, from Tasmania:
2008.77.1-14 [1944.1.7 .1-14] Day book entry - TASMANIA. Series of fourteen watercolour paintings. Previously assigned accession numbers 1944.1.7 - .12a. However, it has been decided to assign 2008 accession numbers to all fourteen paintings in order to clarify earlier confusion over the 1944 accession numbers. Please note, the 1944 accession numbers were assigned to the frames which contained pairs of paintings. The original pairings have been retained in the 2008 sequence of accession numbers. [MdeA 22/05/2008]
Accession Book Entry - January 1944. The late Henry Balfour, F.R.S. (found unlabelled and entered under his name). - Tasmania. Coloured portraits of natives, two in each oak frame. Names and information about each one are given in pencil, and one picture gives the date 1839, pictures are numbered in pencil, and the pair 7-8, which makes a 7th frame, is missing found and is 1944.1.12a.
Additional Accession Book Entry - [on facing page in pencil] 1944.1.7-12a. These are the originals by Bock, of which all others are copies. [illegible signature].
Added Accession Book Entry - [on facing page in blue ink 1944.1.7-12a. The watercolours are by Mr J. Bock apparently done while the natives were on tour with Mr G.A. Robinson c. 1831-1834 (See Penny Mag. 1834 at end of Ling Roth’s Aborigines of Tasmania 1899). The blue-wash drawings (one) may be dated about 1839.
Additional Accession Book Entry - [on facing page in black ink] These are mounted framed and placed in solander boxes in the Curator’s room. 1980.
Additional Accession Book Entry - [on margin of facing page in black ink] Refs. Plomley N.J.B. in JRAI Vol 91.2 (1961) and in Records of the Queen Victoria Museum Launceston (1965); Ann. Bull. of National Gallery of Victoria 1961 (copy in RDF).

Further Reading

Balfour, Henry. 1893 'The Evolution of Decorative Art: An essay upon its origin and development as illustrated by the art of modern races of mankind. London: Rivington, Percival and Co.
Balfour, Henry. 1903. ‘35. On the method employed by the natives of N.W. Australia in the Manufacture of Glass Spear-Heads’ Man vol. 3 p. 65
Balfour, Henry. 1906. ‘Note upon an implement of Palaeolithic type from the Victoria Falls, Zambesi’ JRAI vol. 36 (Jan-June 1906) pp. 170-1
Balfour, Henry. 1912. ‘Notes on a collection of ancient stone implements from Ejura, Ashanti’ Journal of the Royal African Society vol. 12, no. 45, pp. 1-16
Balfour, Henry. 1925. 'The Status of the Tasmanians among the Stone-Age peoples'. Presidential Address for the year 1924 Prehistoric Society of East Anglia vol V part 1
Balfour, Henry. 1929. ‘Stone Implements of the Tasmanians and the Culture-Status which they Suggest’ Australian Association for the Advancement of Science, Hobart Meeting 1928
Haddon, A.C. Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol. 3, No. 8 (Jan., 1940), pp. 109- 115


[1] Both the French and Tasmanian collections went to the museum in entirety in 1923 and stayed there. The Tasmanian collection was not properly paid for until 1934, hence the accession file number with that year

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