Pitt-Rivers seems to have been a natural conservative, sometimes venturing to become a 'Conservative' with a large 'c'. According to Bowden, 'Inevitably as a landowner Pitt-Rivers became involved in local politics. His political affiliations were deliberately ambiguous and when he stood for election to the newly created Dorset County Council in 1888 it was as an independent. By upbringing and temperament he was a conservative but he had married into one of the great Whig families and many of his friends and colleagues were of a liberal frame of mind. The only political views which he could not accept were those of Radicals and Socialists'. [1991: 40]

In Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum's Pitt-Rivers papers there is a press cutting from Romeike and Curtice Press Cutting Agency from the Dorset City Chronicle of 29 November 1888 when Pitt-Rivers gave a speech in support of his candidacy to be a Dorset County Councillor, transcribed below. A broadly very similar account was published in the Wiltshire County [illegible name] of 23 November 1888:


The Candidature of General Pitt-Rivers - A largely attended meeting in support of the candidature of General Pitt-Rivers was held here on Wednesday evening, and passed off with great enthusiasm. General Pitt-Rivers, in the course of a lengthy address, remarked that several influential members of the division had done him the compliment of asking him to stand as a County Councillor, and he ascertained it was the wish of the majority of the labouring class of the neighbourhood that he should do so. He made a point of not coming forward until he was asked to do so, because he thought that, living so constantly in the neighbourhood, and being well-known by the inhabitants, it was better not to anticipate their wishes, and to give them the opportunity of considering the claims of other candidates before making up their minds as to the person whom they might think it advisable to select as their representative. It was possible he might be placed at some disadvantage on this account, but if he had no better claims upon their votes than that of being first in the field he should not consider himself in any way a proper person to be put forward as a candidate for their suffrages. (Applause) His opinion was that all who were in any [way?] connected with the Local Government Act should never forget that the old system was admitted on all sides to have been honestly and ably administered, and that the new officers, whoever they might be, would be considered to have earned the thanks of their constituencies if they only emulated the example that had been set them by their predecessors. (Applause) His advice to electors at these county elections would be to beware of "clap-trap" and humbug. The speaker then dwelt as [sic] some length upon the County Council and the mode of electing it. The County Councils would have the power of taking land for allotments under the new Act. On that subject he might make a few remarks in reference to his own property. His predecessors always encouraged allotments for the working classes, and he had added to their number. (Applause) He had now about 800 allotments on different parts of his property, and he had reduced their rents, so that even the richest land near Sturminster, the highest were not rented at more than £3 an acre, out of which he had to pay rates and taxes and all out-goings. (Loud applause) There was no demand for allotments on any part of his property that was not supplied. (Applause) The speaker, in conclusion, said the personal question he would ask them to consider was - who provided allotments for every man that wanted one; who built recreation grounds and provided bands and museum for the amusement and instruction of the people; who found work for the people that were out of employ; not at particular periods of a county election only but every year; and then the further question that they would have to consider was whether the person who did these things of his own accord was the person they wished to represent them on the County Council?

Also in Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum's Pitt-Rivers papers are two drafts of political addresses which being from the 'horse's mouth' allow him to speak, politically, for himself. They appear rather poorly punctuated and incoherent and must, I think, have been early drafts. It is clear that the drafts were written for himself. We apologise that so much of it is illegible, both Rachel and Alison have tried to fill in the gaps several times but have been unsuccessful. The general tenor of his views is discernable however, despite these deficiencies.


In presenting myself as a candidate for the honour of representing you in Parliament * I cannot but feel sensible that I am under the disadvantage of being personally unknown to the majority of the electors. Circumstances you are aware have prevented my addressing you sooner but my present connection with the county renders it imperative that I should take a deep interest in local affairs

Under these circumstances it is the more necessary that I should explain clearly the principles by which I shall be guided in the event of your honouring me with your votes.

I consider that a policy of isolation on the part of a nation as of an individual cannot be persued [sic] without loss of [illegible, possibly caste] with its attendant dangers & inconveniences. While every effort should at all times be made to secure the [illegible] of all honourable peers this object is best promoted by being prepared on every [illegible] to take a proper place in the councils of Europe. [illegible] in our own in occasional resort to wars is unavoidable and economy is best secured by being prepared at all times to conduct warlike operations with urgent[cy] and promptitude. I include the late campaign in Afghanistan & South Africa under the category of necessary wars The former has been admirably conducted and successfully concluded whilst the latter has been needlessly protracted owing to the Government having been unable to take [illegible] notice of an appeal for reinforcements. I am averse from the policy of Home rule which I believe would endanger the [illegible] of the Empire at the same time I consider that much of the business of Parliament might with advantage be delegated to local bodies. I shall be prepared to support [illegible] these [illegible] my become uphold the dignity of Parliaments discussion and to put down useful obstruction.

As a land owner I cannot fail to take a deep interest in all that affects the interests of the agricultural class. As regards the representation of the people [illegible] there are  adjustments which [illegible] but I consider that the suffrage has been lowered to the utmost limits that are advisable unless the education of the masses has become more widely extended. I consider that the grave yards should be open for the burials of all denominations & that the church are retained for them [insert] illegible] religious [illegible] for which they have been entitled. I am in favour of the [illegible] of the colonies by means of such [illegible] as may hereafter be devised for the  [illegible] at the same time calling upon them to take a fair share in the defence of the Empire. I consider the promotion of science is an important duty of the state and that the grants for scientific [illegible] ought not to be sacrificed for the purpose of preserving temporary expedients. Whilst party warfare must be regarded as inseparable from constitutional government I consider that the [illegible] of late have exceeded the bounds that are either legitimate of authority in this country for this [illegible] the constituencies have it in their power to [illegible] by returning to Parliament men of independent character to support a guarentee that national interests shall not be sacrificed to party ends.


Having been asked to take the Presidency of the Handley branch of the Primrose League ** I wish to state briefly my reasons for doing so

As my time is much occupied in other persuits [sic] which are of much greater interest to me I should not meddle with political matters unless I felt that it was to some extent the duty of persons in a certain position in the county to endeavour to guide & enlighten the working classes in their neighbourhood [insert] by talking to them [end insert] as to their own interests & those of others in the present critical state of affairs.

I confess that I am not enamoured of political life at the present time it never was at a lower ebb than now. So long as party was subservient to political principle party government went to work enough but of late principle on both sides has been made acutely subservient to party interests & I believe the country will be ruined if it goes on much longer

as I am addressing conservatives I will speak of the shortcomings of conservatives in this respect. We all know what scoundrels our opponents are but we are not always impressed with the fact that we are great humbugs ourselves. The proper functions of conservatives is conservation how are we performing this function?

The progress of the world is regulated and properly so by antagonisms as Darwin, Huxley, Herbert Spencer & quite recently Sir William Grove has impressed upon us. This is an age of science & we should liken [insert] the voice [?] [end insert] to scientific men they are our instructors they see the affairs of the world from a higher standpoint than political men who are merely wire pullers & self interested partisans. The proper function of conservatism is to serve as a check upon violent changes great changes always upset some important interests even when they are necessary changes & when they are always taking place security is ruined & the community suffers this has been one of the chief causes of the depression of trade throughout the world of late years. The conservatives should regulate this by opposing violent & unnecessary changes. Instead of doing so they have of late been competing with the radicals to obtain popularity by introducing the most radical measures, they should act as the pendulum of a clock to regulate its progress what is the use of a clock in which the hour hand is constantly competing with the minute hand to see which can go fastest yet this represents the condition of parties of late years. the possession of power & not the interests of the nation have been alone considered. Consider the various measures which have lately been before the country. The extension of the franchise if done gradually is a good & necessary measure yet the conservative in competing for place has lately introduced more radical reforms than the liberal had previously proposed what has been the result of this to [illegible] the English Parliament which had been the pride of this country has become the contempt of all Europe whilst the newly empowered class not yet qualifies for the great power [insert] large [illegible] of power [end insert] which has been suddenly placed in their hands have been putted hither and thither by paid political agitators. there is not one honest cobler [sic] in any village who has not more reason to be proud of his calling than the political agitator.

Take again the case of Local Government I see no great objection to the present measure as it stands, but where was the demand for it surely before any great radical change is introduced by professed conservatives it should be ascertained that somebody wants it. there should be some crisis need to be addressed yet in this case all parties are agreed that the old system worked perfectly well but what will be the result of the measure ostensibly introduced for the purpose of settling this question even now before it is passed it is [insert] beginning to be [end insert] spoken of only as a first installment & there is no knowing how far it may go ultimately If the conservatives always outbid the radicals by introducing the most radical measures what is left for the radicals to do when they come into power. It is almost impossible to devise any [insert] reasonable [end insert] measure in which they have not already been forestalled by conservatives & nothing is left for them but to break the law whatever it may be & this is what they have been doing for some time past.

then again take the question whether real or personal property land or other investments are to bear the greatest burden of taxation. of late no measure has been introduced [illegible] by Conservatives which has not been in some form or another an attack upon land owners. the question is not whether any particular tax is born [sic] more heavily by one than the others but whether considering the immense burden that the land has to keep in other ways it is not unfairly based I believe it is we will not [illegible] to some consideration will be part up to [illegible] Remember that free imports. I am not going now into the question of free trade has been simply an [illegible] tax upon real property for the benefit of consumers by which many landowners [illegible] been completely ruined. nearly all legislation of late has been for the benefit of consumers at the expense of producers but there are the class of agricultural producers the landowner the tenant farmers & the agricultural labourers [insert] between [end insert] these there is a certain amount of friction as there always ought to be in a free country [insert] which interests that they hold in common are much greater than those in which they are antagonistic [end insert] but they have their greater interests in common & the agricultural labourer would do well to bear in mind that real property the property of the Land owner contributes the wage fund of the agricultural labourer money taken out of the pockets of the land owner deprives him of the means of employing labour in the part of the country which he resides it is money taken from the country & sent to the towns for the benefit of the consumer only who resides chiefly in towns. the interest of all these class of agricultural producers is in in the main identical [insert] there is a special [illegible] between the land owner and the agricultural lab [end insert]  the land owner lives amongst the people that he employs he knows them personally and knows their wants he is concerned for their interests It falls of his wife in how [sic] & welcomed in the cottages the [illegible] on the other hand never sees the face of a working man from year to years end [insert] [illegible sentence] [end insert] he knows no more of the machinery by which he receives the interest of their money than the man who puts his pay into an automatic box at a railway station & [illegible] I would [illegible] impress upon the agricultural labourer that he is in the same boat with [insert] the landowner [end insert] & the tenant farm & that it is in the interest of all these to work together & [illegible] as to socialism I have no belief in it. self interest has always been the main spring of [illegible] & must always continue to be so. It is the function of conservatives to see that it is made subservient to the interests of all. Where is the man who works for the community only & not for himself or his family certainly not amongst the socialists themselves I have read much that has been written on this subject & I feel that it is simple [illegible] robbery. I have not come [illegible] to [illegible] a long speech [illegible] the Presidency of the Handley branch of the Primrose League in the hope it may be the means of promulgating so and [illegible] opinion in the interest not of any particular clan but of the country at large

M36 is his address as prospective county councillor, M37a his speech presiding over Handley friendly societies, these have not been transcribed

* It is not clear which election Pitt-Rivers was contesting, Bowden does not appear to mention him standing as a candidate for Parliament.

** Primrose League: An organization for spreading Conservative principles in the UK, it was founded in 1883 and finally disbanded in 2004.

AP August 2011

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