Pitt-Rivers' Pinnacle?

It can be argued that 1872 was the peak of Pitt-Rivers' career as a mover and shaker in nineteenth-century British intellectual life. Pitt-Rivers' (or as he then was Lane Fox's) address to the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science Anthropology Department is as good a summary of his interests as could be written, indicating not only his past interests in the development of weapons, and the use of ethnographic specimens to illuminate archaeological speculations, but also his involvement in a series of important events.

In 1872 he was involved in:

  • just returned from a surveying trip to Normandy in France (one of several surveying expeditions which culminated in his appointment as the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments)
  • organizing the Bronze Age exhibition at the Society of Antiquaries with John Evans (and others). He was at the time the vice-President of the society
  • first loaned a series of musical instruments to the South Kensington Museum [SKM]. This loan leads two years later to his first public museum display at Bethnal Green Museum (a branch of SKM)
  • carrying out an excavation of 'Black Burgh' in the Brighton suburbs after the BAAS meeting was finished.
  • the first production of Notes and Queries, a manual for anthropological fieldworkers.

1872 therefore is a year which demonstrates both his involvement in the key activities that mark his public career and esteem but also the start of his most active period. Within two years he will have his first public museum display open, he would have returned to active service for the last time, moved to Guildford in Surrey (his last move outside London before inheriting Rushmore) and most of the items in his founding collection would have been acquired.

Or was it 1880?

On the other hand it can be argued that 1880 was the key year of Pitt-Rivers' life. It is certainly a crucial turning point when much of his life changed radically. In this year he inherited his large estate and income from his great-uncle enabling him for the first time not to require paid employment at all, and allowing him to lead the life of a moneyed gentleman connoisseur. Although his relationship with South Kensington Museum, where his objects were then on loan and on display, was unravelling fast, he now had the expertise, money and will to find a new permanent home for it. He also had the money not only to acquire a second collection equal in size and importance, but also to start to think about setting up a public museum and art gallery of his own.

AP, October 2010, updated December 2010

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