Hilda Petrie's trip to Rushmore in 1898

Artefacts on the table in the Billiard Room, Rushmore. 2002.73.14

The following extract from an account of a visit of Hilda Petrie's to Rushmore in 1898 is taken from MARGARET DROWER 'A visit to General Pitt-Rivers' ANTIQUITY 68 (1994): 627-30.

William Flinders Petrie and his wife Hilda stayed in Salisbury after attending a British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Bristol in September 1898. They took advantage of the proximity to Pitt-Rivers to call upon him on 17 September. The following account of the visit is taken from a letter to her sister from Hilda transcribed in the article.

'... Before long, we came on to Pitt-Rivers' ground, all the gates bright blue with yellow tops, like the covers of his archaeological pamphlets. I thought them ugly, but when we were driving back, they seemed nice, when one had spent all day in their fairyland, and seen the King of the place with all his magic things about him.

Pitt-Rivers is a great old man with a presence, and a long bushy beard, who rules absolutely, in a great domain which spreads all round him for many miles. He has the choicest best-arranged museums I have ever seen, right away among his hills ... thousands of people visit them every year. ... he is a wonderful inventor of things and does them on a surprising scale.
[After arriving at the house] ... A daughter was just leaving and Mrs P.R. seeing her off: she demanded of F. [Petrie] what he wanted, and who I was, and then we learnt that the Gen'l was unwell, but we were ushered in, and while he insisted on getting up to see F. we were shown round the great palatial house to see treasures. 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 vases,[1] ... these were shown us by a draughtsman whose sole duty it is draw accurately into a great book all the antikas which come there: he showed us beautifully painted facsimiles in the 5th great volume of this work. The workroom was crammed and crowded with every imaginable thing, great tables stacked with savage implements, and gods, and carvings of every sort, two large New Zealand busts finely modelled, [2] and quantities of things in metal-work, [3] all to be figured and sent down to the museum ... We saw also the Gainboroughs in the dining room ... and huge modern portraits in the drawing-room.

The General then came down, a very fine big old man, ... and then we looked over heaps of antika and curiosities in each of the rooms until lunch.

... [At lunch] There were silver plates, and 3 menservants to wait, yet it seemed a delightfully unconventional and casual household. We drove off to the museums directly afterwards and spent our aft. there with the Genl.

... I also forgot to mention ... Some of the cases contained a number of gold ornaments. There were huge Roman and Cypriote jars (1000 BC) in the hall and a wonderful great Ethiopic Bible [4] ...

We drove with the Genl. through miles of park avenues ... And first we saw a fine old hunting-lodge of King John's, which Pitt-Rivers has furnished mediaevally, and fitted in part as a sort of museum, with collections of pictures of every age and style, beginning with [Egyptian] and going on to Greek and mediaeval up to modern art. ... We drove on to the private park, or pleasure ground ... altogether everything is extraordinarily laid out for amusement of the public, as well as for training them in archaeology. The museum is a large building, some miles further on, 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 ... Also sheets of comparative drawings by children, by Dorset labourers, by unlearned-in-art but educated adults, also copies of the same picture one from another, each diverging more from the original. [5]

... We drove back a different way ... and had tea with the Genl. before driving over the downs and down to Tisbury [station] again ...'

Notes (added by the transcriber for the Rethinking Pitt-Rivers project):
[1] This may be found in the early pages of volume 9.
[2] Probably Add.9455vol6_p1789 /1 and Add.9455vol6_p1789 /2, 2 Maori heads made from gum bought from Webster and Stevens Auction Rooms in 1898.
[3] Possibly a reference to the Benin bronzes, though these are mentioned later by Petrie as already being at Farnham Museum.
[4] There appears to be no reference to this in the catalogue of the second collection held at Cambridge University Library or in the documentation that the Pitt Rivers Museum holds about possible items from the founding collection which have not yet been accessioned (and sometimes refer to items Pitt-Rivers did not include in the founding collection).
[5] Balfour too played both these games at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Beatrice Blackwood made a large collection of comparative drawings in the 1930s and 1940s during her own fieldwork. See here for more information.

Transcribed by AP, 2010. My thanks to Alice Stevenson for telling me about the Antiquity artlcle.

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