Herbert S. Toms was one of Pitt-Rivers' assistants from 1893-1896. He left his employment to work at Brighton Museum. Find out more about him here.

On 29 April 1909, Herbert Toms gave a lecture about 'Some Marvels of Savage Art' in the art gallery at the Brighton Museum. It seems from the original typescript, held by Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, that he may have repeated it on 8 November 1919 (possibly at a venue outside Brighton) and possibly again in 1925 at the Brighton Grammar School. The original typescript has a new introduction and amendments and additions which suggest that whilst the overall lecture remained the same sections were updated.

Toms continued to write to Pitt-Rivers until his death in 1900, and it is clear both from this correspondence and from the account given by Merrifield (also held by Brighton Museum and Art Gallery) that Pitt-Rivers had a very strong influence upon him. For this reason a transcript of the original typescript as it appears it was given in 1909 is given below.

The lecture was transcribed for the Rethinking Pitt-Rivers project, and we are very grateful to Sarah Posey, Head of Collections at Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove, for allowing us to include it on this website. We are also grateful to Claire Wintle who provided us with photographs of the original typescript from which the transcription was made. If you want any more information about this lecture please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Lantern Lectures on

“Some Marvels of Savage Art,”

to be given by Mr Herbert S. Toms in the PERMANENT ART GALLERY, CHURCH STREET, BRIGHTON, on THURSDAY APRIL 29th, at 8.15 p.m.

Admission free by Ticket, to be obtained at the Brighton Public Library during the fortnight before the date of Lecture.

Synopsis:- Europe before the British Isles were formed --  Man’s first appearance in Great Britain. – The Stone Age, its extent and duration. – The past in the present. – The modern savage as an introduction to primitive man … -- The Maoris of New Zealand. – Types of the old and new schools. – Their war canoe.—The carving tools. – The making of a war canoe. – the tribal citadel. – Ceremonial houses, the Maori University. – The chief’s store house or treasury. – The treasures. – Maori tattooing … -- The Cook Islanders. – Their ceremonial paddles and adzes. – The missionaries’ reception. … -- The Indians of the North Pacific Coast. – Their carvings in stone and bone. – A curious form of greeting. – Gambling as a fine art … -- The Eskimos and their ivory carvings. – Conclusion.

Principal Authorities consulted:-

*J. Macmillan Brown “Maori and Polynesian” 1907

Augustus Hamilton “Maori Art” 1896

*C.J. Praetorius “Maori Wood Carvings” Studio, vol 21

Major General Robley. “Moko or Maori Tattooing” 1896

Direktor von Luschan. “Uber zwei alte Canoe-Schnitzwerke aus Neu-Zeeland”

*Franz Boas “The Decorative Art of the Indians of the North Pacific Coast” Bulletin of the American Museum of Nat. Hist. 1897

*Franz Boas “The Kwakuitl Indians” Smithsonian Report 1895

*Ensign A.P. Niblack “The Coast Indians of Southern Alaska and Northern British Columbia” Smithsonian Rep., 1888

Professor Friedrich Ratzel “History of Mankind” vol. 1

*W.J. Hoffman “The Graphic Art of the Eskimos” Smithsonian Report 1895

*These books may be consulted at Brighton Public Library.

Lecture on


Herbert S. Toms

To be given in the Permanent Art Gallery, Church Street, Brighton, Thursday, 29th April 1909.

‘Some Marvels of Savage Art’

Herbert S. Toms, Permanent Art Gallery, Church Street, Brighton, Thursday April 29th 1909, 8.15p.m.


I may remind you that my two previous lectures formed a popular sketch of the burial customs and hill-forts of the prehistoric peoples who lived in this district. Although we were then dealing with antiquities some two or three thousand years old it must not be thought our county can show no trace of still earlier remains. On the contrary, the Bronze and Early Iron Ages, dealt with in my other lectures, form but the latter and a comparatively insignificant portion of early man’s occupation of Sussex. How far back in the beyond man first trod our hills and dales no one can definitely say; but the latest [insert] and lowest [end insert] estimate is that it cannot have been less than 100,000 years ago.

It is difficult, if not impossible, for our imagination to map the extent of such an enormous period as this, but the following slide will give some idea of the wonderful transformation which this part of the world has undergone since those early days. It represents western Europe before the British Isles were formed. In it the land masses are black [insert] grey [end insert] and the seas white. The North Sea, the English Channel, and the Irish Sea, we observe as non-existent; and that we have England, Scotland, Ireland, and France, united to form a massive promontory projecting into the Atlantic Ocean. It may be asked How is it known that man had then arrived upon the scenes; and, also, What evidence have we of his occupation up to the time of the late prehistoric burials and camps.

The answer is that our fragmentary knowledge of those days is gathered almost exclusively from the study of the stone tools which are come down to us as imperishable witnesses of man’s activity during this very remote past.

Looking back upon this 100,000 [insert] million [end insert] [insert] 100,000 [end insert] years in which our ancestors knew of no materials other than stone, bone, wood, or shell, from which to make cutting and piercing instruments, how comparatively recent seems the introduction of the use of metals into these islands some 3,000 years ago. The appearance of [insert] the first [end insert] bronze tools of course brought the true Stone Age to an end as far as England is concerned. It may, however, surprise us to learn that not only did this primitive phase of human culture – the Stone Age – survive outside and on the borders of the Old and New World’s wonderful civilisations, but that [insert] today [end insert] it is still in a flourishing condition among many savage races. Even more surprising may be the statement that, as late as the year [unreadable, possibly 1750 or 1850] one third of the habitable globe had not advanced beyond it. At that date the use of metal was practically unknown over the whole of Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. It was equally unknown to many of the aboriginal tribes of North and South America, and also in parts of Africa and Asia.

It thus becomes evident that by far the greater part of mankind’s existence on this earth has been passed under the apparently barbaric conditions of the Stone Age. How ancient it is has yet to be determined; but we are fortunate to live at a time in which, although rapidly vanishing before civilisation, the Age of Stone has not completely disappeared.

As Brightonians [insert] In Sussex [end insert] We have every facility for pursuing the study of this important and fascinating story; for not only does our immediate neighbourhood abound in antiquity, but we possess a Museum which contains a wealth of material illustrative of primitive man. Relics of prehistoric man we find in the adjoining archaeological rooms, whilst of his modern savage representatives we may learn much from the museum’s truly magnificent ethnographical collections. The words Archaeology and Ethnography are written up in the museum, and I have mentioned them to explain that both subjects embrace the study of the arts, manners and customs of primitive man. They differ only in that Ethnography deals with peoples of to-day, whereas Archaeology has for its object the investigation of the remains of past races.

Ethnography is, however, more than a mere relative of Archaeology. As a study of the present it has in numerous instances proved an invaluable key to problems connected with the past. Take for example our prehistoric hill-forts. What a mine of information as to their purpose we obtain from an examination of the earthworks of the modern savage. Think, too, what savage burial customs of to-day reveal as to early man’s belief in the world of spirits. In fact the study of the modern savage is [insert] becomes [end insert] imperative if we desire to obtain an idea as to those primitive conditions of life which gave birth to the Arts, Sciences, and Religions we now enjoy.

As I have already stated [insert] we learn from Mr Smith [end insert] The evidence of man’s great antiquity consists largely of his stone tools and weapons. About these ancient tools I have little to say this evening [insert] afternoon [end insert] my object being merely to stimulate your interest in the subject [insert] and in the museum collections [end insert] by showing a few illustrations of the marvellous results the modern savage has obtained by the use of such simple instruments of stone.

The Maoris of New Zealand

Slide (Maori Art, A. Hamilton. Frontispiece)

This individual is one of the chiefs of the New Zealand natives – wonderful people, known as the Maoris, whose art has furnished most of the material for my lecture. For many reasons I wish this old man were the lecturer before you, for he could well describe what dire effects the march of our civilisation has had upon his native race. The advent of the white man has resulted in the destruction of practically all their ancient customs; their old arts and industries have become well nigh extinct; and, saddest of all, native families with no strain of white blood in their veins are extremely rare. Therefore, in lecturing upon the subject I have chosen, he would of necessity have to take us back to the period of his youth and early manhood when some of the glories of his national art were still attained. A reflection of that high standard of art is to be seen in the intricate tattooing with which his face is covered; but I have brought him forward rather as a representative of the old school of Maoris, whose patience and artistic abilities you will have occasion to admire in subsequent slides

Slide “Maori Art,” pl LIII

Here we have a group of Maoris belonging to a small settlement near Dunedin. Although it includes promising examples of the rising generation, we have to bear in mind that these handsome and well-built people belong to a rapidly disappearing race. In 1840 the natives of New Zealand numbered about 120,000. In 1898 or roughly 59 years after the census showed the total to be about 40,000 for figures indicate that, during the comparatively short interval the native population had been reduced to three-quarters.

These ornamental garments are of a kind no longer made, and were obviously lent to the natives employed to pose for the picture. Such cloaks or mats were usually made of flax, and, as some very fine examples are to be seen in our museum I may explain that, long before Captain Cook and other voyagers appeared off the coast of New Zealand, the making of flax into all sorts of articles was one of the chief native industries. For mats of people of rank specially-selected varieties were grown and prepared with infinite labour until the resulting fibre was as soft and lustrous as silk. And, when we rad that some fifty to sixty kinds of flax were known, and that the special qualities and strengths of each were all recognised and allotted to suitable and specific purposes, one cannot but wonder at the observant and discriminating powers which these old savages possessed.

Some of the old cloaks, covered with dog skin, are said to have been impervious to spear thrusts and that they were worn as fighting garments by the old warriors. A somewhat similar dog-skin cloak the old man is wearing and it has quite a history attached to it. It was made in 1890 as a “garment of pain,” on account of the slaughter of a large number of chiefs. One of the widows – a woman of high rank – offered the cloak to another great chief, and sat covered up in it several days fasting in his village till his sympathies were so [illegible] that he consented to avenge the wrongs of her tribe. After this the cloak passed through the hands of many Maori celebrities, [illegible] finally presented to an Englishman, Captain Mair, in the year [illegible].

Slide. Miniature Maori Canoe

With Maoris of the old and new schools in your mind, let me introduce you to their wonderful carvings in wood and stone. Of such objects probably the most beautiful, and upon which the greatest amount of time was expended, were their war canoes. For many years it has been impossible to see a first-class canoe in battle order, and it is now only in the Auckland Museum that a specimen can be seen in any way representing the old war canoe of the Maoris.

This evening I can only show you the carved prows and sterns of the real canoes, but the small native-made model now on the screen will afford a good illustration of the parts, and of the beautiful shape and proportions, of the actual specimens. The figurehead, it will be seen, consists of a demon-like head and neck. In the real canoes this was apparently intended to awe any adversaries to whom it might be directed. The carved slab running across the back of the prow, decorated with feathers, was another feature of many fighting canoes, and I take it that its purpose was to shield the crew from the grimaces of their opponents, or to protect them from ill-chosen epithets and other objects which the enemy hurled at [this sentence does not appear to have an ending]

The carved ornament above the stern obviously served as a narrative balance to the design of the canoe as a whole.

It is on record that the Maoris built canoes of this kind as long as 110 feet, with prows and sterns from 6 to 10 feet high. From this well-authenticated remark it will be seen that, if some old friend had offered to lend one of these huge war canoes for exhibition this evening, it would have been impossible to put it on [illegible]; for, presuming the canoe had been pushed into the entrance and this gallery till the carved prow touched the corner of the platform, the stern ornament would still be in the street. We should therefore be faced with the alternative of running the canoe back in or of getting ourselves run in for obstructing the pavement outside.

In all cases the body of these immense canoes was hewn from solid tree trunk, generally the trunks of the large New Zealand [illegible] The prow and stern were carved from separate blocks which, as seen in the model, were lashed to the body of the canoe. Before the small canoe passes off the screen, just fix in your minds the general form of the carved stern and prow, for the next slide will show you the real figure-head of a war canoe.

Slide. Figure-head of War Canoe. (‘Maori Art,’ p. 68]

This figure-head, probably the finest in existence, is now in the Otago University Museum, Dunedin. In front we observe the same conventional head with its tongue stuck out as an expression of defiance. Of these protruding tongues you will hear more later, and I would ask you to note them whenever they occur in the specimens I have to show. This magnificent example of Maori art is typical of what the old carvers were capable of doing. As I remarked just such prows were carved out of solid blocks of wood. The block of this I imagine to have been part of a tree trunk 9 or 10 feet long and from 3 to 4 feet in diameter.

Even if the old Maori carver had our modern steel chisels to help him in the execution of the figures and perforated spirals, we should credit him with having turned out a real marvel of savage art. And the miracle is that he had none of these modern appliances. His tools were simply of stone, bone or shell. Rule and compasses were not known to him, and, owing to the absence of paper or other similar …wing [illegible] material, the design had to be thought out and carried in his mind.

Slide Adzes  Ancient British, Maori, and Ancient Danish

That we may the better appreciate the efforts of the Maori artists, let us devote a few minutes to the consideration of the tools they used in carving canoes, houses, and other objects to be ..tioned [illegible] this evening. The most important and highly prized tool was the adze, made from jade or some other equally hard stone. The ..en [illegible] cutting edge of such tools may be gathered from an examination of the very fine specimens presented to the museum by the late Mr Henry Willett. The central object on the slide is [insert] the stone head of [end insert] one of these Maori adzes. That on the left is an Ancient British specimen found in Sussex, and the other a prehistoric adze from Denmark. Both the British and Danish adzes are made of flint.

Among the Maoris the adze was undoubtedly the principal tool used in felling trees and in roughly hewing them into the semblance of canoes, canoe ornaments, and other pieces of carving. But the delicate and elaborate piece of work we have just viewed must have …red  [illegible] additional and much finer tools.

Slide. Maori Carving Tools

Drawings of these are now on the screen, where we see gouges, [illegible] chisels and other cutting instruments of stone; a mallet of  [illegible] bone, also two drills, with stone tips, whose improved relative  [illegible] we see either used or exposed for sale every day. The stone weights attached to the shafts of these two drills supply the necessary pressure to the stone point when in use. They are revolved by twisting the string round the stick, holding the ends in the  [illegible] and then working the hand up and down whilst the string winds and unwinds itself again and again.

Slide. Bow Drill and Pump Drill

Another form of ingenious drill still used by savages and Brightonians, I shall have occasion briefly to refer to later on. By this the string is attached to a separate stick known as the “bow” to rotate the drill the string is given a turn round the shaft and the bow then worked to and fro with a sawing motion. My illustration shows models of both bow and pump drills – one as used by the Esquimaux in North America, the other being a copy of that used by the natives of an island in the Pacific Ocean. What tedious and difficult tasks the Maori undertook with his primitive pump drill, you will observe in the jade ornaments I have to show.

Slide. Central Boards of War Canoe Prows

Bearing in mind these simple stone tools, and also the fact that the Maori artist had no rule and compasses to aid him in the preparation of his designs, let us look at this slide which shows two central boards of another type of war canoe. These are from 5 to 6 feet high. I have introduced them as examples of that beautiful spiral decoration which occurs in most of the best pieces of Maori wood carving. Regarded by themselves the general form of these …es [illegible] may not seem very graceful. But let us imagine them attached to the prows of the huge war canoes of whose graceful designs they formed an important part.

Running our eye from such a prow along the body of a canoe till it reached the stern, our attention would there be arrested by another piece of elaborate carving some 6 to 7 feet high.

Slide. Stern Ornaments of War Canoes ('Maori Art,' Pl.   )

Two such stern ornaments are now before you, and my first remark about them has to be that they are the most marvellous Maori wood carvings I have ever seen. The left figure formed part of a …e [illegible] canoe, which, with many others, was employed in a big native war in the years 1831-32. Even then native tradition stated that this truly wonderful specimen of savage art was from 130 to 150 years old; so we may take it for granted that it was executed entirely with tools of stone. In their elaborate ornamentation both these forms evidently received the highest powers of the Maori carvers’ skill.

By this time the slides will have given you some conception of old war canoes of the Maoris. I am only sorry I cannot put on the screen an animated representation of one of these picturesque spectacles which might have been frequently witnessed in New Zealand (say) a 100 years ago. That is a whole fleet of these big canoes, all in battle array, with its full complement of highly tattooed warriors.

It is said that none but men of rank were allowed to work on the making of a war canoe, and that they laboured like slaves at the …ry [illegible] task of shaping from the rough log with fire and stone tools the various parts of the whole. The Tchunga, or priest, of the …be [illegible] – a most important individual – always directed the work. The launching of the canoe on completion was apparently a grand event, for a priest’s sprinkling of the canoe with holy water was of no avail unless accompanied by the sacrifice of a slave.

The completion of the canoe, however, evidently meant that the stage reached was something equivalent to that of our large ships when they are christened and launched. A great deal remained in the way of finishing touches; for one learns from other sources that the Figureheads and Stern Ornaments were fixed in position for use immediately they were roughly hewn into shape. The elaborate details of their decoration were afterwards executed by the chief for whom the canoe was built. A chief frequently spent the spare moments of his life in producing a figurehead or stern ornament such as those you have seen this evening; and, if he died before finishing the task he had set himself in youth or early manhood, the carving as left to his heirs to complete. Further elaboration would  [illegible] be given it by subsequent heirs. Thus we see that, in the case of these prows and sterns, very few can be considered to have ex..ted [illegible] the artistic powers of the race. The Maori loved his work and took a personal and national pride in it. The desired result was not easily arrived at; and, therefore, was highly prized when achieved.

Slide. Ceremonial Paddles

No sails were used in their canoes. They were propelled by paddles something after the style of those before you. These, in which the blade as well as the handle is ornamented, were, however, not intended for paddling purposes. They were principally weapons of ceremony and used by the chiefs in their war dances. These two interesting specimens of Maori art belong to the museum.

Slide. Gateway of Pa, or Hill Fort

Those who were present at my lecture on Hollingbury Camp will recollect I then had something to say about similar hill forts erected by the Maoris in New Zealand. In view of this, this slide may be of interest, for it shows the gateway of a Maori fort which stood on the hill overlooking Rotorua. The aperture forming the entrance is large enough for a man to walk through very comfortably. The height of this wooden slab is 12 feet 6 inches and the greatest width 4 feet. The original is now in the Auckland Museum, but the next slide is taken from a sketch made when the gate was in its original position at the fort.

Slide. Gateway

We are told that the two centuries preceding the arrival of the Europeans were times of constant warfare among the Maoris, and that the natives, as a rule, slept in their hill forts with closed gates, bridges over trenches removed, and ladders drawn up. Even when peace prevailed the Maori looked upon it merely as a convenient time to prepare for war; and the great hill fort or citadel of the …e [illegible], was the most important feature of their daily life and had to be kept in order and [insert] in [end insert] readiness for instant use.

Slide. Ceremonial House. “Maori Art” Pl. XII.

Let us now show you what the Maoris could do in the way of architecture. In every group of houses of any importance there was one distinguished from the others in being highly carved, which served in the first place as a council chamber. It was also often regarded as a memorial of some great event, such as the birth of an heir to the principal chief, or of a special assembly of tribes to discuss questions of war or peace. The picture shows a fairly recent example of these ceremonial houses. It was erected for a chief  [illegible] the Thames, Auckland, in 1875, after a large number of natives had been employed upon the preparations of the carvings for three years. With bills for spring renovations and other preparations [illegible] the summer demanding attention. It may be interesting to note that when these native builders and decorators had finished their …uous [illegible] tasks, and were about to return to their own settlement, they would accept no payment beyond the food and presents they had received from time to time during the course of their work. The length of this house is 80 feet, the width 30 feet, and the height  [illegible] feet. That is to say it is about the same size as the Gallery in which we are at the present moment.

The purpose of such ceremonial houses was somewhat analogous to the Council Chambers of our Town Halls; but, in the old days, they were what we might term the Maori Universities, for here it was that the religion, history, genealogies, and the wonderful poetry of the tribe were taught by the priest whose special function it was to preserve this lore.

In this illustration we see the end of the house with its porch or verandah, and the door leading into the large inner chamber. Another view of this and other doorways will be put on the screen after.

Slide. Verandah of Carved House. “Maori Art,” Pl. XIII

Here we have part of the verandah of another of these ceremonial houses. It shows that even the rafters did not escape the artistic attention of the Maori decorator. The rafter patterns are painted in red, white and black; and their effect must be far more striking than that conveyed by the slide. Art students may be interested in the three ornamental stripes of white paint on the boss rafters, for these represent decoratively the lashings of flax formerly used.

The conventional figures one sees in the carved slabs are doubtless intended to awaken in the native mind sentiments similar to those one feels when viewing ancestral portraits, say, of the Duke of Norfolk at Arundel Castle. In this connection it is curious to relate that some of the old Maori chiefs possessed [insert] very lengthy [end insert] genealogies many as long as that of the Duke. These pedigrees, as I have said, were taught by the priests, and, in the absence of writing of any kind, it is pretty safe to assume that they were often much exaggerated. Probably we have a parallel to their reliability in the  [illegible] of certain Welshman, for half way down the family tree of that [insert] the [end insert] gentleman there appeared this remark: “Here occurred the Flood.”

Slide. Doorways of Maori Houses “Maori Art” Pl. XVI

These are four doorways of Maori Houses. That in the upper  [illegible] corner is of the first house thrown on the screen. Figure 2 is undoubtedly the finest piece of carving, and the two figures on the … tel  [illegible] call to mind the deities assigned by the Greeks and Romans to  [illegible] parts of a door or entrance, more particularly the Greek demons that were assigned to the door on the east or sunny side of the house.

Slide. Lintels of doorways. “Maori Art,” Pl. facing page 130

The time spent on carving doors of this kind, especially the lintels, one can well imagine must have been very considerable. The lintels now before you are undoubtedly executed with stone tools; for, since the natives came into the possession of iron and steel tools, the carvers have ceased to labour, and the individuality and excellence of their work has rapidly disappeared. Only a little inferior carving is now done, and that obviously for the market.

Slide. Carved Storehouse. “Maori Art,” Pl. XIV

Ceremonial houses such as those we have just considered, may be seen as the Palace, the House of Parliament, and the tribal University combined. In this illustration we [insert] see [end insert] something even more beautiful. It is a chief’s Treasury or Storehouse which has found a resting place in Auckland Museum. These storehouses, of which the illustration before you is a typical example, were raised on legs and have the whole of their carvings and other ornamentation on the outside, thus differing from the ceremonial houses in which it is the interior which is mostly carved and decorated. The figures on the houses are intended to illustrate the genealogy of the chief to whom it belongs.

Slide. Storehouse. “Maori Art,” Pl. XV

This is my last slide dealing with Maori architecture, and those who read the “Illustrated London News” for October 2nd, 1896, will probably recognise it as [insert] an illustration of [end insert] the celebrated Maori Foodhouse or Storehouse the property of Sir Walter Buller, which was erected on the shore of a beautiful New Zealand lake. It [insert] This hovel [end insert] has an interesting history, for it was built out of a large war canoe which was drawn overland from the coast to Rotorua Lake – a distance of 30 miles – by the chief when he attacked an island in the lake in the year 1822.

On the ceremonial houses and on the chiefs’ storehouses, most of the best art workmanship of the Maoris was bestowed, and I think the lesson these carvings and buildings convey is that, notwithstanding the apparently insuperable difficulties of his task, the Maori’s determination and love of art enabled him to produce results which are marvellous even to our civilised eyes.

Slide. Carved Chests. “Maori Arts,” Pl IX

Having mentioned that these storehouses were also the chiefs’ treasuries, the question may arise as to the nature of the valued articles which were kept in them. The elaborately carved boxes now ..own  [illegible] must, I imagine, have been seen in the treasury when they were not in use. They are each about two feet long, and although treasures in themselves, they were intended to hold other valuable property, such as the chief’s much-prized war-clubs of jade, and also his carving tools.

Slide. Carved Bowls and Boxes. “Maori Art,” Pl. LXIII

Here are other treasures. The two largest objects are bowls belonging to the [insert] chief’s [end insert] best dinner service, and are said to have been used only for the purpose of serving up preserved birds to visitors of rank. Water fowl, and other birds preserved in their own fat were great delicacies with the inland tribes and, as showing the superiority of their food to that of the coast natives, one of these tribes were very fond of saying “What good is there is your fish? One is always spitting out bones; but our birds – ah – we eat [insert] them [end insert] straight away.”

The two smaller boxes are commonly called “feather boxes;” and, as the details of their beautiful carving are here badly portrayed, I am showing another slide which has been taken from an old example in my possession.

Slide. Feather box

Among the Maoris it was the custom on special occasions to wear in the hair the feathers of the sacred Huai bird, and, when these feathers were not in use, they were most carefully preserved in wooden boxes of the kind before you. To their decoration the Maoris paid considerable attention. All the outer surfaces of these boxes were ornamented, and they were generally cut from a solid piece of wood.

Slide. Carved Heads of Chief’s Staffs, “Maori Art,” Pl. XXVII f.2.

The chief’s staff of rank was another valued article kept in the treasure house when not in use. The carved heads of a few examples of such staffs are now shown. Some admirable examples are to seen in the museum, [illegible insertion] and I may explain that this was the most characteristic weapon of old New Zealand and that it was almost constantly in the hands of persons of distinction.  Not only was it a weapon capable of scientific use, but it was indispensable to the native orator as he delivered the flowing periods of his speech. As a fighting weapon the management of the staff was studied with as much care and attention by a Maori warrior as ever a swordsman gave to the mastery of his glittering blade; and its etiquette, as aiding force to an argument, or accentuating an oratorical flourish, was well understood by the leaders of the people.

An inspection of the museum specimens will show you that the head only of the staff is decorated. The carving in each case represents a conventional human head with a greatly enlarged protruding tongue. This again is the “tongue of defiance;” and, when the staff was in the hands of the chief during his popular lectures on the subject of his enemies, the head of the staff was pretty frequently thrust forward in the direction of the hostile camp, the idea being that, through the medium of the protruding tongue, there would be conveyed the greatest insult known to the orator and his audience.

If during your visits to museums you make a special point of examining the heads of similar staffs, you will find that, although no one of them are exactly alike, yet there are very few in which there are any radical departure from the characteristic pattern. The interesting reason of this, and of the marked similarity of design which we observe throughout their carvings in general, is that Maori art is enveloped in a rigid conservatism. Tradition says that their peculiar style of carving was invented by one Rauru, a son of Toi, who lived 26 generations ago. This style has survived throughout their carving from the beginning, and the Maori has the greatest reverence for it. Were he to deviate from the accepted style, the vengeance of the gods would fall upon him; and instances are remembered where distinguished men have lost their lives for leaving the beaten track of the true style.

One may well ask “To whom were such violations of the national art submitted for judgement?” I imagine it was the priest; for he it was who, in ancient days, was not only the healer and inflictor of diseases, but the principal artist of his tribe as well. And, when one remembers that the rank of priest could not be attained unless the candidate for holy orders gave visible proof of his power to kill a man by mere force of mind (and this is no exaggerated remark), one can well understand the lack of originality in  [illegible] carvings, and why there were so few departures from the art created by Rauru the son of Toi.

Slide. Greenstone and Bone Tikis

My brief sketch of Maori art would probably be incomplete without a mention of the objects now shown. The one made of greenstone in the museum, and the other of bone belongs to Mr. F.W. Lucas are a personal ornament, worn round the neck, the Tiki, as these objects are called, was one of the Maoris most prized possessions, and nearly all those now in museums were at one time heirlooms in  [illegible] Maori family. The museum example which is made from extremely hard stone [insert] & about seven inches long [end insert] is a good example of the Maoris skill in cutting and finding such stones, and also of his patience and industry before the work was finished.

The drilling of the hollows [insert] holes [end insert] between the arms was probably accomplished by the usual savage method – that is by twirling a stick between the hands against the stone, the spot to be drilled being constantly sprinkled with water and fine sand. As the Maoris knew the pump drill, it is very likely that this, with a wooden point, was used to facilitate and hasten the otherwise long and tedious process of drilling. The little projecting cylinders forming the pupils of the eyes, together with their surrounding ring-shaped hollows, indicate that the Maoris were acquainted with another form of drill point which was also known to our Ancient British tribes. This drill had for its business end a hollow stick like a miniature pop-gun; and, in drilling with this, there was obtained a result such as we see in the eyes of the Tiki on the screen.

Slide. Carved slab. Male and female tattooing. “Maori Art,” Pl LII

My remarks on the works of the Maoris must be brought to a close by a brief note on the subject of their face tattooing. The illustration on the screen was taken from a slab carved by a noted native artist with the intention of showing more minutely the details of the leading designs made use of in adorning the face of a chief – as in the two upper heads, and also the full-face tattoo of he female of high rank. Maori tattooing was practically a bade of honour; and, among the men, it betokened that the individual so adorned as a chief or warrior. The common men of the tribe had no rights to it, and the women only when they were about to become the wife of a warrior. As the lower figure shows, the female tattooing was confined to the lips and chin. Occasionally an additional pattern was …t [illegible] in over the eyebrows.

On this face tattooing the finest art of the race seems to have been concentrated. The patterns are infinitely varied and especially marked by the beauty and delicacy of their details and of the grace of their general effect.

Naturally the heads of chiefs and warriors were considered masterpieces of art, and one can understand why they were carefully reserved as heirlooms in Maori families. On great occasions these treasured heads were brought out to be wept over. Needless to say the heads of enemies were also eagerly sought after to grace the family art gallery. These, however, were not wept over; for, whenever they were brought forth it was to receive all sorts of taunts and indignations. In this connection we read [insert] It is significant [end insert] that, before these dried heads, the young men made their first attempts at eloquence. The desire of the first European visitors to procure examples of these dried tattooed heads soon absorbed the best specimens, and [illegible] inferior article was soon thrown on the market in the roughly tattooed heads of slaves and persons of inferior rank. An old publication states that “one head was brought on board our ship, which was ultimately bought by the doctor for a very small blanket and an [illegible] shirt. Even the chief offered to tattoo a slave and to have the head ready in three days, the price demanded being a cask of powder.”

Slide. Portrait of Maori Chief “Moko,” frontispiece

It is worth remembering that, like all the wood carving designs by the Maoris, each of the various tattoo lines had a special value and significance. But the tide of our advancing civilisation has swept away such traditional knowledge, and now neither we nor the Modern Maori can penetrate the veil of imagery and allegory which envelopes the details of his forefathers’ art.

Time does not permit me to enter into the terribly painful process by which this tattooing was produced. Of the national art of the chief before you, sufficient has been said to convince one that through suffering, patience, and fixed determination, its high state of development was attained.

Slide. Ceremonial Paddles. Cook (Hervey) Islands

I have five other slides to show you before reaching the end of my remarks. Two of these deal with the art of the Cook or Hervey Islanders, who live on a small group of islands north-west of New Zealand, and in the middle of the southern Pacific Ocean.

When the missionaries made their first attempt to land on these islands in 1823, they had apparently anticipated a friendly reception. Among other property which they took with them in their toolkits was a metal saw. Now, as the native tools at that time consisted of bits of shell, sharks’ teeth and stone, one assumes that the arrival of that saw gave rise to universal excitement. Excitement there was; for we read that immediately the saw reached dry land it was snatched away by the savages, broken into bits forthwith, and the fragments made use of as the latest thing in ear ornaments. This was not the end of their pranks. A box of bonnets intended for the chief’s wives was dragged through the water; the missionaries’ bedsteads were made into mincemeat and the pieces run off with; and two pigs, animals unknown to the savages, were commandeered by the chief who decorated them with his own insignia and dedicated them to the gods.

The objects on the screen are two ceremonial paddles made by these islanders. The originals may be seen among the fine group of similar paddles now on the walls of our ethnographical room.

Slide. Ceremonial Adzes. Mangaia, Cook Islands

This illustration, also taken from very fine specimens in our Museum, shows two of their ceremonial adzes in which the adze head is of stone. These, and especially the paddles we have just seen, are covered with delicate patterns. At one time each of these patterns had a special meeting, the significance of which is now lost. But we do know that, formerly, the wooden handles of these adzes from the island of Mangaia, might only be carved with sharks’ teeth, that the openings of the carvings were called eel-borings, [illegible] projections [insert] ditto [end insert] and, in fact, that the whole ornamentation is one [illegible] of symbols.

Slide. Map of North America

Although this map shows the distribution of all the North American Indian tribes, I only ask you to note the shaded portions bordering the north and north-west coasts. All along the northern coast, from Alaska to Labrador, live the Eskimos, many of whom may still be described as “men without metals.” From Alaska down the north-west coast to British Columbia, we meet with tribes who are not only entirely distinct from the Eskimos, but who differ from their neighbours on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. Of these N.W. Coast tribes the principal is the Haidah; and with a very brief mention of these two interesting races, the Haidah and the Eskimo, I shall have reached the end of my tether.

Here too, before the wave of civilisation had influenced their arts and customs, the industrial implements and weapons of the N.W. Coast natives were of stone. With these primitive tools the Haidahs produced carvings in wood and stone which in variety and artistic merit surpassed even those of the Maoris. Geographically the Haidahs and the Maoris are very remote; but it is worthy of mention that, between the arts, manners, and customs of these two races of the northern and southern hemispheres, there are so many points of resemblance, that serious students of the migration of races are inclined to regard these resemblances as of no mere fanciful significance.

Slide. Haidah Dish of slate or shale

For the object shown in this slide Brighton Mus are also indebted to the generosity of the late Mr Henry Willett, for he it was who presented it to the museum. It is a large dish cared out of black slate or shale by the Haidahs, and, as an example of what they could turn out in this way, it is one of the finest the museums of the world can show. I cannot guarantee that this and the next object I shall show [insert] to appear on the screen [end insert] were carved entirely without metal tools, But, [illegible] the very reason of their excellence, I think they must have been made in the old days; for, as in the case of the Maoris, so it is with the Haidahs. Contact with the white man meant the destruction of their old arts and industries and, along with it, the utter demoralisation of themselves.

Unlike that of the Maoris, however, the subjects of the decorative art of the N.W. Coast Indians were almost exclusively animals. In this dish we see the heads and arms of two such animals. These and the other patterns on the dish of course have a symbolical meaning; but I am entirely ignorant of the story they were intended to convey to the native mind. I may say, though, that each of these N.W. Coast tribes believed they were descended from or connected with family ties with certain objects – more particularly animals and birds. This particular animal or bird was known to them as their totem. In addition to this the tribe usually had one or more animals, birds, or fish, which they used as crests; and, in their carvings these crests and totem animals, etc., are generally so intermingled that it is extremely [insert] most [end insert] difficult for anyone but a native to distinguish between them.

Slide. Haidah Pipe in slate or shale

This, for instance, is an interesting slate pipe of the very best period of their carving. On it we see the figures of a bird, fish, two men, a bear and cub, together with a plant design on the stem and bowl. The totem here is the bird: A raven, which, by the Haidahs, is supposed to be the creator of all things. The fish is the Killer Whale and was evidently the crest of the owner of the pipe. The other figures represent a scene in some old Haidah legend about which I am still anxious to gain information. A hint as to the legendary incident these figures portray has been very kindly given me by the Rev. J.B. McCullagh, who has been living with the Haidahs for over twenty years. In the first place Mr McCullagh says he has never seen a piece of carving like it in the hands of the modern Indians. Formerly the Haidah cultivated tobacco, and, as the practice of smoking did not become general until some time after the advent of the whites, the questions is what did they do with their tobacco? The answer is that they were chewers of the weed which was prepared by pounding the leaf in a large stone mortar and then pressing it into plugs or cakes.

The two figures on the pipe are shown in the act of pounding the old tobacco, the object they are grasping being the large stone pestle. It is thought that the female bear is a woman turned into the form of this beast, and the kneeling man, whom she has approached, is her husband or a near relative. Their attitude suggests kissing; but neither in this form of greeting nor in the rubbing of noses did the Haidahs indulge. The Rev. McCullagh assures me that, in former years, the customary mark of respect with which the ladies and gentlemen greeted each other, was to exchange mouth to mouth the tobacco they were actually chewing.

The Haidah love of art was probably only equalled by his love of gambling. In fact gambling was such a fine art that they indulged in it for several days on a stretch without rest or interruption. One Haidah chief we read of continued gambling for three days without eating a mouthful, but perpetually losing. By the fourth day he had parted with the blanket on his back, when a woman of his tribe, taking pity on him, loaned him her only blanket. With it he renewed the contest, this time successfully, not only winning back what he had lost but finally getting all his opponent’s property as well.

Slide. Eskimo Ivory Carvings

Marvels of savage art in wood and stone you have already seen. One or two ivory objects carved by the Eskimos, and decorated by them in their own peculiar style, are shown on this slide. As we saw on the map, the Eskimo inhabit the dreary and desolate shores of the Arctic Ocean, where trees are conspicuous by their absence and there the only wood obtainable for carving and other purposes is that brought down by river waters or cast up by the sea. Therefore, for a substitute for wood from which to make his tools and appliances, the Eskimo has to rely largely on the bones and ivory tusks of the animals he hunts. The objects shown are the ivory bows of his bow-drills, his pipes, and the spear-rest which is attached to his canoe. These objects belong to Mr F.W. Lucas, to whom I would like [illegible] to express my gratitude and thanks for the generous way in which he has placed most valuable books and specimens at my disposal during the preparation of this lecture.


The subject of Savage Art is of vast extent. About it much remains to be learnt, though by far the greater portion of the materials for its study has for ever disappeared. Unfortunately its importance has only been recognised during the last few years, and, owing to the destructive agency of civilisation, its study in many instances is now impossible outside the ethnographical collections in our museums.

This evening [insert] afternoon [end insert] I have only dealt with a very small aspect of the subject by showing you what marvels the savage produced with the aid of his primitive stone tools. I wish all those marvels belonged to our [insert] Brighton [end insert] museum. But, although our ethnographical collection cannot compete with the national museums of the world, it is one of which we should be [insert] are [end insert] extremely proud. In no other provincial museum will you find a collection of over a thousand specimens from the Pacific Islands alone. Of course it has been impossible for me to talk about a thousand specimens this evening. I must ask you to inspect them yourselves, and I hope their interest will be considerably impressed by the thought which [insert] and [end insert] my lecture is intended to impress upon you, namely [insert] the fact [end insert], that in nearly every instance these savage weapons and utensils were made without the use of a metal tool.


Further Reading

Holleyman, G. A. 1987. Two Dorset Archaeologists in Sussex: Lieut. General Pitt-Rivers in Sussex, 1867-1878 and Herbert Samuel Toms, Curator of the Brighton Museum, 1896-1939, by G. A. Holleyman, F.S.A., to which is Added Some Personal Memories of H. S. Toms by Ralph Merrifield, F.S.A. and a Chronological List of Published Papers, Reports, and Miscellanea by H. S. Toms, Henfield, West Sussex: privately printed.

Transcribed by AP November 2011

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