...an effective lecturer, very genial outside the classroom, and a staunch friend. [Dictionary of National Biography]

Baldwin Spencer, and Henrys Balfour Moseley and Acland in the University Museum [1998.267.85]

Henry Nottidge Moseley was a naturalist, educated at Exeter College at Oxford from 1864 where he started working with George Rolleston, Linacre Professor of Human Anatomy, Physiology and Comparative Anatomy. He later studied as a medical student at the University College, London and Leipzig. In 1871 he was invited to join the expedition of the Eclipse to Ceylon. A year later he was appointed to be one of the naturalists on the scientific staff of the Challenger, and travelled for four years around the world, mostly working as a botanist. Returning to England he was elected to a fellowship at his old college, Exeter, and wrote up his findings. In 1877 he visited North America, especially the NW Coast. In 1879 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and also an assistant registrar of the University of Oxford. In 1881 he succeeded his mentor Rolleston to the Linacre chair now of human and comparative anatomy.

His Dictionary of National Biography entry says:

Moseley was a tireless worker. He put enormous effort into his research and teaching. In addition his administrative duties were daunting. Within Oxford he worked tirelessly at the Sisyphian task of reviving the natural science schools, and he secured the Pitt-Rivers anthropological collection for the university, which he then took on the task of housing and organizing.

The same entry records that the pace of Moseley's life damaged his health which in 1887 gave way, in 1891 he died of bronchitis in Somerset. In the first image he is the one in the centre of the middle row with a large, droopy, moustache.

In 1881 Moseley became involved in the offer of the Pitt-Rivers' founding collection to the University of Oxford, remarking to a friend, A.W. Franks:

I think the collection would be a splendid gain to Oxford and would do much in the way of letting light into the place and would draw well. Besides of course it would act as an introduction to all the other art collections & about to be made and would be of extreme value to students of anthropology in which subject we hope to allow men to take degrees very shortly. [PRM ms collections Box 1, 1-33: 5-6]

Moseley also took part in the various University committees with Acland, which oversaw the decision to agree to the donation from Pitt-Rivers, for further information about this see here. Edward Burnett Tylor was invited to lecture in Oxford in November 1882 by twenty prominent fellows of the University, including Henry Moseley. He delivered the lectures in early 1883, and was almost immediately appointed Keeper of the University Museum. Simultaneously, negotiations were taking place between Pitt-Rivers and the University of Oxford regarding the donation of his collection.

Walter Baldwin Spencer 1998.356.30

It was at this time that Pitt-Rivers inserted a clause into the Deed of Gift of his collection to the University of Oxford, specifying that 'a Lecturer shall be appointed ... who shall yearly give Lectures at Oxford on Anthropology'. Tylor was duly appointed to his post.

It was Tylor and Henry Nottidge Moseley who were responsible for the practical aspects of transferring the Pitt-Rivers collection from London to Oxford, employing Walter Baldwin Spencer (Moseley's assistant) to carry out the work. He later wrote to Balfour of this time:

.... I was much interested in your lecture to the Somersetshire Society more especially because it was the old Pitt Rivers collection that first gave me my real interest in Anthropology. It was I think in 1884 or 5 that Moseley asked me if I would spend the vacation in helping to pack up the collection which was then housed at South Kensington. I did a great deal of the packing up and it was intensely interesting to have Moseley and Tylor coming in and hear them talking about things. I remember well that Moseley seemed to know a great deal more than Tylor in regard to detail and of course after his experience on the ‘Challenger’ he could speak of many things with first hand knowledge but Tylor with his curious way which you may remember of every now and then as it were ‘drawing in his breath’—I don’t know how otherwise to express it—simply fascinated me. It was intensely interesting to a young man like myself and also a great privilege to come into such personal contact with two such workers. Of the two it struck me at that time that Moseley had the greater technical knowledge but Tylor the wider outlook. [PRM Archives, Spencer papers, Box IV: letter 21, 24 September 1920]

Moseley and Tylor were also involved in the minutae of arranging the new building at Oxford which would house the founding collection, as usual with building work progress was traumatic. In addition, Moseley felt it important to get advice from the South Kensington Museum staff during the transfer. [University Archives, UC/FF/60/2/3] All the arrangements must have occupied a great deal of Moseley's time from 1884-1887. In 1885-6 Moseley also had to organize the transfer of other artefacts from the Ashmolean and University Museums into the Pitt Rivers Museum. Like Tylor Moseley also corresponded with Pitt-Rivers about individual objects though usually more about returning them than in intellectual debate.

In 1898 Pitt-Rivers reflected on the collection at Oxford and his relationship with Oxford and Moseley and Tylor:

I hardly think that the system [Pitt-Rivers' own system of typological arrangement] has been favourably tried at Oxford. Mr Tylor and Mr Balfour have done their best no doubt, but they do not have the means, the materials, or the funds to work the system thoroughly, and as I soon found out that it was quite impossible that a method communicated by one person should be worked out effectively by others. Some of the series have not been developed at all, and others very imperfectly. the whole collection was out of sight for a long time, five years, I think, whilst the building was being erected, and my health has not allowed me to go there much since. It is not the kind of a building for a developmental collection, which would be better in low long galleries well lighted from above and without pretention; the large and lofty space was not wanted. Rolleston and Moseley were the heads when I gave the collection to Oxford, and Tylor though the best man possible for Sociology, had at that time but little knowledge of the material arts. Balfour, though hard-working, does not, I believe know fully to this day what the original design of the collection was in some cases. I do not however complain of the men. They have done their best to carry out an idea which was an original one at the time, and circumstances have been against it. Oxford was not the place for it, and I should never have sent it there if I had not been ill at the time and anxious to find a resting place for it of some kind in the future. I have always regretted it, and my new museum at Farnham, Dorset, represents my views on the subject much better. I shall write a paper about it before long if I live ...’ [Pitt-Rivers to F.W. Rudler 23 May 1898, Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum Pitt Rivers papers, quoted in Chapman, 1981: 535]

Bibliography for this article

Brown, Alison, Jeremy Coote and Chris Gosden 2000 'Tylor’s Tongue: Material Culture, Evidence and Social Networks'.Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 31(3):257–276.

Chapman, William Ryan 1981. ‘Ethnology in the Museum: A.H.L.F. Pitt Rivers (1827–1900) and the Institutional Foundations of British Anthropology’, University of Oxford: D.Phil. thesis.

Gosden, Chris , Frances Larson and Alison Petch 2007  'Origins and survivals—Tylor, Balfour and the Pitt Rivers Museum and their Role within Anthropology in Oxford 1883–1905'. In A History of Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Peter Rivière ed. Oxford, U.K.:Berghahn.

Larson, F.  2008. 'Anthropological Landscaping: General Pitt Rivers, the Ashmolean, the University Museum and the shaping of an Oxford discipline' Journal of the History of Collecting, vol. 20, no. 1. pp. 85-100

2004 ‘Moseley, Henry Nottidge (1844-1891)’, rev. Terrie M. Romano, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , Oxford University Press

See here for a letter from Moseley to A.W. Franks

AP, April 2011.

prm logo