Artists of the Catalogues

Who drew the magnificent illustrations in the catalogue of Pitt-Rivers' second collection?


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It seems that Pitt-Rivers had three sorts of assistants. Firstly he had secretarial assistants of which Harold St George Gray is the best known, he became Curator at Taunton, Somerset. Frederick James was his predecessor as secretary, he left and became Curator of Maidstone Museum, and a F.S.A., on the back of his experience with Pitt-Rivers. They assisted Pitt-Rivers with his correspondence (and as he aged, often took direct correspondence on his behalf too). There was overlap, particularly between the first and second category. Gray described what being an assistant entailed:

'Three, and often four, assistants were on the permanent staff, and necessarily they were men of different qualifications; all were more or less specially trained by the General, and no excavation was allowed to proceed unless one at least of the assistants was present for the whole of the time to supervise the workmen closely; to record everything, whether of momentary interest or not; to mark every relic discovered, on plans and sections kept for the purpose with other impedimenta in a temporary hut on the ground; to ticket objects and pottery as found; to sketch and photograph interments, masonry, hypocausts, hearths, graves, etc.; to train the most intelligent of the workmen ... [they] served not only in the work connected with "Excavations" [in Cranborne Chase, Pitt-Rivers accounts of his excavations] but also in the arrangement of the famous Pitt-Rivers Museum at Farnham ...' [1905: xxvii-xxviii]

Then there were the assistants who were employed mostly for their archaeological skills or who at least acquired these during their time at Rushmore. These are discussed much more fully by Thompson and particularly by Bowden, see also here for a list of these assistants. According to Bowden, Pitt-Rivers appointed assistants, or clerks as they were mostly called by Pitt-Rivers, almost as soon as he had decided to carry out archaeological investigations in the area around his country estate, Rushmore. Pitt-Rivers himself stated that he employed 'such a staff of assistants as would enable me to complete the examination of the antiquities on the property within a reasonable time' [quoted in Bowden, 1991: 104]. The assistants oversaw the more lowly archaeological labourers who were most often also agricultural labourers on Pitt-Rivers' estate. The assistants also helped Pitt-Rivers in his duty as Inspector of Ancient Monuments.

The remaining category is the one this article is mostly concerned with, the assistants who were employed principally for their artistic abilities. They had two functions, to provide illustrations for the private publications by Pitt-Rivers and to prepare the catalogue of the second collection.

The overall duties of all the assistants were to ensure that the archaeological excavations proceeded to plan, that Farnham Museum was run efficiently under Pitt-Rivers' general control, that all the objects bought and donated to Pitt-Rivers were recorded in the catalogue and to prepare Pitt-Rivers' publications to his instructions.

Most of the applicants (or at least those whose correspondence has survived in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum's Pitt-Rivers papers) seem to have been Londoners (certainly Peacock and Johnson were). They must have found Rushmore, ten miles from the nearest railway station at Tisbury, very remote.

The Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum's Pitt-Rivers papers contain several letters from a George Grahame who negotiates with Pitt-Rivers to become one of his assistants. During this correspondence it becomes clear the salary that Pitt-Rivers paid, at least in 1888. Grahame's proposed pay was  different from other assistants, he was offered accommodation at Rushmore and for that he received a reduction in weekly salary whilst there:

... I therefore accept your terms viz 30/- [30 shillings] a week and house-room while at Rushmore, when elsewhere the same sum with an additional 2/- per day ... [ 9.11.1888, L581, S&SWM Pitt Rivers papers]

He does not seem to have served as an assistant.

The assistants were part of Pitt-Rivers' household. They were expected to live 'in' at Rushmore, 'Living in my house they must necessarily be men of good character as well as energy'. [Pitt-Rivers, quoted in Bowden, 1991: 106] In a letter to John Sparkes, who worked at the Royal College of Arts (who Pitt-Rivers seems to have been using as an intermediary to acquire a new draughtsman), Pitt-Rivers makes it clear that though the draughtsmen were skilled they were still underlings. They were currently allowed to eat in the Housekeeper's room (i.e. were ranked as senior servants) though this privilege might be withdrawn in future. [L2075 26.4.1898 S&SWM PR papers] Bowden therefore speculates that the assistants probably ranked above the household servants in the internal Rushmore pecking order. Thompson believed that they were paid more than the servants and that they could be considered well-paid if the fact they had free board and lodgings is taken into account. [Thompson, 1977: 94] A letter from Pitt-Rivers to Alexander Peacock (one of his paid assistants) in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum's Pitt-Rivers papers says:


Mar. 18/95
Your testimonials being satisfactory and your character or discharge from the Army "Very Good", I shall be happy to engage you as one of my assistants, and shall be glad if you will come here as soon as possible as my work is somewhat in arrear. Your work for the present will probably be indoors, but excavations will be going on shortly. When you are away on excavation duty, you receive 2/- a day in lieu of board and lodgings and find yourself, but in all probability the others will go out at first and you will remain here.
There will be a month's notice on either side on the completion of the engagement, but I see no prospect of the work terminating for some time. There must also be this additional provision that if you give me notice to quit, you will remain to finish the particular plate or drawing that you may be about at the time, otherwise the plate would be lost. I think that no plate usually occupies more than a week's time.
For the present you will have a bed-room to yourself, but when the house is full, or if I obtain another extra clerk you may have to be in the same room as one of the other clerks. We have not had to do this for some little time, but there is a prospect of it.
A. Pitt Rivers

Another letter from 1898 set out the benefits afforded to the assistants:

After having seen the drawings and decided upon the man, it will be best for him to come down here on trial for a month. I cannot go to London to see the man not being well enough to do so. His salary will be 28/- a week & lodging at the Museum. He will have to find his own board, when he is at the Museum two miles from here. But when the clerks are here I allow them to dine in the housekeeper's room. That, however, is extra and not a permanent arrangement, though my present clerks have done so for a long time. When I take them out for a month or a fortnight or more on an excavation expedition I allow them 2/- a day extra they finding their board & lodging at some neighbouring cottage or public house.

It is quite necessary that apart from their qualifications as clerks & draughtsmen they should be men of good manners & willing, as living so much in the house & frequently doing their work there, it would be quite impossible to tolerate any difficulty of that kind.

Pitt-Rivers' first three assistants were Frederick James, W.S. Tomkin and F.W. Reader. Frederick James was the head assistant and stayed at Rushmore from 1881-1891. He became curator of Maidstone Museum in 1891. Tomkin prepared many drawings for Pitt-Rivers' excavation publications and accompanied Pitt-Rivers on his Inspector's tours. He worked for the General for eight years. Reader also acted as a draughtsman, made models for the museum and arranged the museum exhibits, he stayed for four years when he was asked to leave without notice (for reasons unknown). Harold St George Gray took over from Frederick James as Pitt-Rivers' secretary and stayed until the late 1890s. His elder brother, Claude, also worked for the General but left in 1892, find a letter from him about his appointment here. Herbert Samuel Toms arrived in 1893 and stayed for three years before leaving to take up a post in the Brighton Museum. He was replaced by G. Waldo Johnson who remained until Pitt-Rivers' death in 1900.

His view about the importance of his assistants was not shared by his family, his third daughter Agnes apparently remarked '.. a whole heap of clerks came yesterday. Three - and the money the Man gives them and the food they eat, if only we could have it we should be quite rich. Oh it is a wicked waste of money and they do no good. Drawing old stones and bones and skulls etc.' [Bowden 1991: 105]

To find out more about which assistants worked when see here.

To find out more about the individual artistic assistants see Charles Flower, Alexander Peacock, G.F. Waldo Johnson, Courtenay Shepherd, and other possible artists.

Bibliography for this article

Bowden, Mark 1991. Pitt Rivers: The Life and Archaeological Work of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pitt-Rivers, A.H.L.F. 1884 'Address delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Dorchester School of Art, February 1884'

Thompson, Michael and Colin Renfrew. 1999. ‘The catalogues of the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham, Dorset’ Antiquity vol. 73 (no. 280) pp. 377-392

AP, April - June 2010, updated September 2010, July 2011.

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