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See here for the prehistory of the Pitt Rivers Museum up to about 1890

This document was written during the ESRC funded Relational Museum project between 2002 and 2006 by Alison Petch and Frances Larson (the researchers on the project). The project looked at the networkers of collectors and museum staff who had formed the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum up to 1945 and the history of the Museum up to 1945. This document reflects those interests.

This document has not been extensively revised since it was completed at the end of 2006, and may not reflect the fullest knowledge available to the Scoping Museum Anthropology full project team at the time of writing. AP has quickly reviewed its contents though to make it as consistent as possible with other pages as they were in April 2013, when this article was added to the SMA website.

Abbreviations used: Oxford University Museum of Natural History [OUMNH], PRM Pitt Rivers Museum; CUL Cambridge University Library; OUA Oxford University Archives

Balfour 1998.271.11Henry Balfour, first Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum until his death in 1939After a few years [in post], Balfour was shrewd enough to realize that he had become quite valuable to the University and the Museum, given that he had no responsibilities beyond organizing the Pitt Rivers collection, and he was accruing a considerable amount of practical experience and ethnological knowledge as a result:

Pray dismiss entirely from your mind the thought that I have felt in any way hurt or annoyed during the meeting yesterday. Believe me it is not so. I have thoroughly appreciated the kindness & consideration, which I have learnt always to expect from you, & which you shewed in taking the trouble to have me invited to the meeting. I think that I have some right, as you too have though, to represent the department which for the last few years has been practically entirely under my care, where any question involving the transference of collections is discussed. I have taken trouble to gain all the experience that I can as to practical museum managements, & though my voice may carry but little weight, such experience is to a certain extent of value. The legality or otherwise of may vote on that occasion I leave to others better qualified to discuss, & I am perfectly satisfied that with you presiding the course taken will be the right one. I sympathise with you in the pain you have felt at the discussion, & know how deeply you hold the Museum interests at heart, both for the subjects & for those working on them. I cannot help thinking that the outcome of the acceptance of such a motion as that of Thomson’s will tend rather to increase than diminish the feeling of good fellowship, and at the same time give stimulus to true scientific work. I hope my ideas do not stike you as revolutionary if so pray pardon me. Your advice on all subjects is of great value to me, & as you know I like to think that I can appeal to you for it. I shall have a hard struggle to have my position recognized, & with my present appointment ceasing with the year, I am specially anxious now to improve my position with regard to the Anthropological department, quite as much from regard to the collection at which I have worked, as my own personal interests. That the educational value of the collection can be greatly enhanced I have no doubt, and it is with a view to develop the latent wealth of such a collection that I claim the necessity of a working curator for the department. The whole of a man’s time & interest are required, as I know from having started at the very beginning, & my fears for the future of the collection are well founded, if some step of this kind is not undertaken by the University. The outside public fully recognize the value, & the people of other countries are expecting much of the outcome to science of General Pitt Rivers’ labours, which may influence the future as well as the present, if allowed to be properly developed. You will be tired of reading this & I will spare you more. I will only express my great approval & appreciation of the kindly course which you took with regard to me yesterday afternoon.’ [12 March [1887 written on letter by later hand, Balfour wrote letter] 1885/1 History of OUMNH 1874-1902 Box 2, HW Acland correspondence]

Balfour increasingly saw a place for himself alongside the other curators and heads of department at the University Museum, and he was given the opportunity to voice his interests in 1890 when the future of the Pitt Rivers collection came to the forefront of Museum, and University, politics.

One thing that has remained constant throughout the Museum’s history is the ‘crowdedness’ of the displays with many more objects per case (or per square foot) that is now accepted museum practise in most other museums. Beatrice Blackwood comments on this in the 1970s:

The Pitt Rivers Museum has always made a practice of collecting ‘ordinary and typical specimens’, although it also possesses many objects of rarity, beauty, and value. Again, and as a corollary of this, it has always exhibited far more specimens in a show-case than modern museum technique would consider either necessary or desirable. As a teaching Museum we have always maintained that students should see enough in any exhibition to enable them to make up their own minds about it, rather than a few special objects picked out for them. To some visitors, this gives an impression of over-crowding, but most like it ... It must, however, be admitted that there have been circumstances in which it has been necessary to display a notice reading: ‘This case is not intended to illustrate anything except our lack of space.’ [Blackwood, 1970:8]

The other constant is, of course, the arrangement of displays by typology rather than geographical provenance.

The working methods that Balfour employed at this time are alluded to in the 1888 annual report:

About 1500 of the specimens upon the screens have been fully catalogued; that is, a label upon each specimen refers by a number to a separate card, upon which is written an exact description of the specimen, with measurements, where necessary, locality, and all data, as well as references to literature. The cards are numbered and arranged in series in boxes.

This is the system that continued in practise until Balfour’s death in 1939. It is hard to know what happened to these card catalogues at a later date, unless they were subsumed within the geographical and typological card catalogues compiled during the Second World War and described later in this paper.

Perhaps because this was the first annual report that Balfour had written he provides more information in this annual report about every-day museum activity than he does in later ones:

The necessary reference to literature in the Radcliffe Library, Bodleian, and elsewhere, involves a very considerable expenditure of time, apart from the actual arrangement, etc. of the series. Besides this, a certain amount of time has been devoted to visitors, particularly those who are interested in special series, or the general methods of arrangement adopted.

These are all activities that present-day collections management and research staff will recognize. Balfour also provides (for the only time) an idea of the renumeration that staff received:

The staff consists of a Sub-Curator, with a salary of £200 per annum; and two Assistants, with wages £1 and 15s per week respectively.

Balfour was away for two months during 1888 in ‘Finmarken and Russian Lapland which introduced him to the Lapps, in whom he was always to take a great interest’. [Clarke, 1939:467]

In 1888 Edward Tylor wrote to ‘General Pitt Rivers’:

... If I remember rightly, I was beginning to speak to you about the idea of a 3d [ie threepenny] Guide to the Pitt Rivers Museum when something else intervened and the subject did not come up again. The idea arose from the old Strangers Guide to the University Museum being now out of print and the Delegates wishing me to make arrangements to get a new one into shape. As this would involve some pages about the Pitt-Rivers [sic] Museum, the possibility suggested itself of these pages being also issued separately for visitors. The space (perhaps 10 - 15 pages 8vo) would be too limited for anything of the nature of a Catalogue but a ground-plan might be given with directions to the stranger where to find some of the principal series. For instance, he might be informed that on entering, he would find in the Court Cases to right and left specimens illustrative of the development of fire-arms from the matchlocks to the wheel-flint, and percussion types. Further to the left, he would come to the wall-case showing the development of the shield from the parrying-stick, and of metal armour from ... [sic illegible] defensive coverings. When he gets this information, the large labels on the cases, so far as Balfour has done them, will tell him more about the meaning of the series. When Balfour returns I will let you know, and I feel sure that your going over the Series with him will promote their being arranged so as to be open to the public (I mean those in the Galleries.) You will be able to ascertain from him what prospect there is of the publication of a Catalogue. To me it seems distant from the amount of work involved and the cost of illustrations. I think your active cooperation would do more than anything else to push it forward. ... P.S. I have just seen Balfour returned from Finland and looking forward to your visit. [Tylor to Pitt Rivers, letter dated October 4 1888, L541 Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, Pitt Rivers papers]

Balfour’s close work with the collection led to his first paper, which he read before the Anthropological Institute in January 1888 and which was subsequently published in the Institute’s Journal. Called, 'On the Evolution of a Characteristic Pattern on the Shafts of Arrows from the Solomon Islands’. Balfour’s first paper owed great intellectual debts to General Pitt Rivers. Balfour’s publications in 1888 and 1890 signalled his growing confidence as a young museum professional and junior member of the prominent academic associations of the day. By late 1890, he had spent five full years devoted to the Pitt Rivers collections. His next full paper, read before the Anthropological Institute in June 1889 and published the following year was ‘On the Structure and Affinities of the Composite Bow’ [Balfour 1890]. Balfour was absent when his paper on composite bows was given at a meeting of the Anthropological Institute in 1889, and it was read by the Secretary, Frederick Rudler. However, Pitt Rivers was there to hear it, and he spoke in response afterwards and later supplied quite a lengthy discussion which was appended to Balfour’s paper for publication in the Journal. Pitt Rivers, in his comments on the paper, concluded that Balfour had added little to the debate regarding the diffusion of the composite bow, beyond confirming his own views on the matter and adding a significant amount of detail on the construction of the bows. He finished by reminding Balfour that Museum curators were blessed with an ‘almost unlimited’ range of material to work with – ‘in a museum so designed and arranged, no halting place is possible’ – and added, ‘I trust he [Balfour] will be encouraged to take up hereafter an original subject of his own’ [1890:250].

Funds for the Pitt Rivers collection were initially allotted by the University on a short-term basis. In January 1888 the Curators of the University Chest had allotted money for three years [Oxford University Gazette XVIII: 149] and the funds were due to expire at the end of 1890. No long-term provisions had been made for the collection beyond this date. This precipitated a flurry of correspondence concerning the proper future for the collection and Balfour’s place within the Museum. In 1888 the first full annual report of the Pitt Rivers Museum was published, written by Henry Balfour. It formed part of the overall University Museum (of Natural History) annual report as did the reports of departments such as Geology. It was about this time that the Pitt Rivers collection first became known as Museum. In this Annual Report, Balfour explained that ‘during Professor Moseley’s illness the entire responsibility of the arrangement, etc., has devolved upon me, and I have found it necessary to devote more of my time to the work than was originally contemplated’.

Moseley was still absent due to ill health, and his deputy, W. Hatchett Jackson, wrote to Bartholomew Price, Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy, explaining that ‘unless the University comes to some fresh arrangement, the [Pitt Rivers] Museum and Collection will be left without a separate staff, without means of maintenance, and in a state which can hardly be considered to be what is either desirable or suitable to its great value and importance’ [3 May 1890, PRM manuscript collections, foundation volume]. Jackson pointed out the need for a separate staff to look after the Pitt Rivers collection, a job that was now beyond the capacities of the Anatomical Department. He noted that the Readership in Anthropology was not at present a permanent position, even though the Deed of Gift of the Pitt Rivers collection provided that there should always be a person to lecture on anthropology at the University, and concluded that the University should maintain a curator ‘bound to residence and to devote his time to the Collection and its interests’. Jackson suggested Balfour for the post. ‘His intimate knowledge of the collection in its entirety, the manner in which he has fulfilled his duties beyond all praise and his knowledge of the literature which gathers round said collection, entitle him in all fairness beyond any one else to carry on the work with which he has been hitherto charged’ [ibid].

Jackson enclosed a progress report written by Balfour in his letter. Balfour stated that while the initial arrangement might be finished by the end of the year, there was much work still to be done cataloguing and arranging new series of objects, making drawings and maps and putting together a handbook for the general public. He outlined the need for a curator’s room for administrative work and a working room for storing and dealing with objects. He, too, pressed for a more permanent financial arrangement for the collections and the appointment of a curator and two trained assistants.

While Balfour, Hatchett Jackson and others, such as Tylor, understood that the Pitt Rivers collection needed a permanent budget with permanent staff, they struggled to convince Price and those in power at the University that the project was not something that could simply be ‘finished’ and subsumed into the existing infrastructure at the University Museum. In Moseley’s absence, a move was made to make Tylor responsible for the Pitt Rivers Museum, with Balfour as his assistant. Balfour, in response to this proposal wrote to Price again, stating that he would only continue his work for another year if given the title and status of curator for the duration of that year (he was not requesting a permanent post). He added that since Tylor had admitted that he could not devote even a quarter of the time necessary to oversee the collection, and did not know how the department worked, ‘I am somewhat surprised that he should be so ready to accept the responsibilities’ [15 June 1890, PRM foundation volume]. He demanded the credit he deserved for the five years of work he had given to the collection, noting that as the election of the Deputy Linacre Professorship – which carried the ethnological curatorship with it – was due, this was a good time to make a change. He finished:

‘Tylor writes that a collapse must happen if I resign my post. I would be sorry for this, but it would underline the necessity and reasonable nature of my conditions.’ [ibid]

Eventually, over four months later, on 31 October 1890, Balfour’s persistence and stubbornness paid off, and he was notified in a letter from the Vice-Chancellor that a decree would be passed making him curator of the Pitt Rivers collection and giving him the same status as other professors at the University Museum. Just when everything appeared to have fallen into place for Balfour, a spanner was thrown into the works by General Pitt Rivers.

The founding collection was gradually being unpacked and merged with the new acquisitions (soon to be meticulously listed in each of the Annual Reports), and the transfers from other Oxford University museums. Balfour had explained to Moseley’s replacement, Dr Thomas Fowler, that he could not promise that the initial work on cataloguing and arranging the collections could be completed in three years and that ‘any attempt to fix a definite term for the work would be liable to create confusion, and would throw great responsibility on me’. He added:

‘It is greatly to my own advantage, as well as that of the University, that the work should be completed as soon as possible, and I am very anxious that this should be done, but, at the same time, if the time at my disposal is too brief to allow of the work being done as thoroughly as I am able, I would prefer to leave it in other hands.’ [Oxford University Gazette XVIII: 149]

Interestingly this letter was written by Balfour from the Anatomical Department, where presumably he was still based. Each annual report from this point on records the new displays and cases that have been added and the older displays that have been amended, altered or added to. Rather than listing here, for each year, what work had taken place I refer you to Appendices 1 and 2 which detail these changes in tabular form. A second attendant (for whom no name can be found) was appointed in this year.

In 1889, Balfour (described as ‘sub-curator’) reported in that year’s annual report (the full text of which is given as it is one of the shortest recorded):

"The work of the past year [1889] has been largely confined to the classification and arrangement of specimens in the lower gallery, and of these considerably more than half are now so classified. The series upon the screens along the western wall are in continuation of those in the upper gallery, while in the table cases are arranged numerous large and small series, chiefly of such objects as it is absolutely necessary to place under glass. The table cases are supplemented by screens upon which are placed the larger and less perishable specimens. Very little outside labour has been employed, as the servants of the department have been trained to execute nearly all the ordinary woodwork and other fittings. There have been very numerous additions to the department, and considerable attention has had to be given to these, so that some delay has been caused in the work of arranging the original collection. It is necessary to give immediate attention to fresh additions, in order that no information concerning them may be lost. The additions have been made chiefly by donation, but also partly by purchase from the Museum Maintenance of Collections Fund.  

In 1889 Balfour requested from William Gamlen approval to install a new door at the top of the stairs to maximise space for storing duplicate specimens. This was agreed and in June 1889 Symm and Co provided an estimate for this work. [University Archives, UC/FF/60/2/3]

Balfour proposed to Gamlen, Secretary of the University, that J.[T.] Long's wages be increased on 23 January 1890, ‘I can only hope that his appointment here may be considered a permanent one as he is indispensable to the department.’ His wages were increased. [University Archives, UC/FF/60/2/3]

According to Chapman, a Committee of Council was formed on 16 May 1890 to look into the possibility of the transfer of responsibility for the Museum from Balfour ‘to the Reader of Anthropology’ [that is, Tylor] [Chapman, 1981:520] Balfour, in a letter to Professor Price, of the Committee, stated:

I have for some years performed the duties and assumed the responsibilities of executive curator, without having the privileges or title. In view of the fact that Dr Tylor, as he fully admits to me, could not possibly devote to the collection one quarter of the time required for its management, and as he has not studied the system of working the department, I am somewhat surprised that he should be so ready to accept the responsibilities. [Letter dated 15 June 1890, Balfour papers PRM, quoted in Chapman, 1981:688]

In December 1890 a University decree was passed that Henry Balfour be appointed a Curator of the Pitt-Rivers Museum (as it appears to have been spelt at that time), to hold office for one year and it was reported in the Gazette that ‘during that period he have the same status in regard to the University Museum with the Professors teaching in the Museum.’

During 1890 the additions and rearrangements of series carried on in the Upper Gallery and the Court, and the Lower Gallery remained closed to the public. In the annual report for that year Balfour suggested that a ‘small hand-book of the whole [displays] may be prepared for the use of ordinary visitors.’ (This presumably is the same handbook as Tylor referred to in 1888). If this had ever happened it would have been of immeasurably value to the Museum now as it would have provided a snap-shot of the museum’s physical arrangement at that time, in the same way that the catalogue Pitt Rivers published [1874] of the displays at Bethnal Green does of that arrangement. The hand-book was again mentioned in the following year’s annual report but thereafter is never mentioned again.

During the whole of the 1880s, [and beyond?], it seems that the status of the Pitt Rivers collection as a separate institution from the OUMNH was unclear. In fact no University statute has ever been found that clearly makes the separation. In June 1889, Acland wrote to the Dean of Christ Church about the natural history collections 'so far as they progress study in Oxford'. Within natural science collections he includes zoology, comparative and human anatomy, ethnology and geology. He excluded mineralogy:

'‘It is therefore necessarily the centre from which the other departments branch – viz the study of extinct flora and fauna, in Palaeontology; with their relation to evolution and classification, in zoology and botany, and the wide range of Comparative & Human Anatomy, with Ethnology.

‘The vast array of Fact & Law exhibited in series by each collection is therefore important for the Human Anatomist, the Physiologist, & the Geologist.

‘It would therefore be fatal to the study of the organic world in Oxford should the collection be divided.’

[HWA to Dean of Christchurch, 16 June 1889 1885/1 History of OUMNH 1874-1902 Box 2, HW Acland correspondence]

A year later, Balfour in a letter to Alfred Cort Haddon at Cambridge University comments:

I have seen very little of ERL [must be Edwin Ray Lankester] he does not disturb me and I have been appointed Curator of the Ethnographic Department for a year so I “run the show”. [Letter dated 13.1.1891, CUL: Manuscript collections: Haddon 3]

Balfour wrote in 1890 that Museum work could never be ‘completed’ and that it was ‘fatal to assign a term to the growth and improvement of any collection’ [1 June 1890, PRM foundation volume].

Since his collection had been donated to the University Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers had had relatively little to do with the new displays or the rearrangements of his series necessitated by the new objects which had been acquired. In a letter to Alfred Cort Haddon written probably around 1890 or 1891 (it is sadly undated) Balfour says:

I have written to Pitt-Rivers [sic] asking him for the reference to his original paper on the “Loop Coil and Fret”, but as usual though he sends a rambling letter purporting to be a reply, he gives no answer to this or any other question contained in mine. [CUL: Manuscript collections: Haddon 3]

In another letter, this time merely dated Tuesday 17th [but probably 1891], again to Haddon, Balfour remarks:

He [Pitt Rivers] is amusingly though amazingly jealous of my work in the growth of art, regards it, Heaven knows why, as trespassing on his preserves and is altogether in a cantankerous state. I want to fill up the gaps which he has left and present something a little more connected than the isolated and more or less discontinuous series, which good and very instructive though they are do not give the public a general view of the subject. [CUL: Manuscript collections: Haddon 3]

Pitt Rivers was due to give a lecture at Oxford introducing his collection to the University, but a date had not yet been decided. He told Balfour that he objected to anything at all being published about the Museum or any part of the collection before he had explained its principles, arrangement and history to the University. Although he acknowledged that Balfour had added to the collection in the intervening years since 1885, he voiced some concern that it should be successfully developed along the same lines as his originating collection and stated that he must speak on the original collection before Balfour took any further action. He added that he considered ‘6 years an unreasonable time for it to have been kept in the background at Oxford’ [PRM, foundation volume]. Pitt Rivers seems to have been both fearful of losing control of his collection and, simultaneously, irked that it was not enjoying a higher profile. Having encouraged Balfour to take up some interest other than weapons, he now refused him the right to publish on any aspect of the original series until further notice. He claimed he had not had access to the collection since its arrival in Oxford, and added that ‘it is necessary I should speak upon the original series before you do’. Pitt Rivers then brought up Balfour’s composite bows paper:

‘Your paper on my series of composite bows, as at first submitted to the Anthropological Institute, was not at all flattering to the original collection or to me, and I have to guard against a recurrence of anything of the kind.’

Balfour was extremely upset, and wrote a long, honest and disgruntled letter in reply. In the end the letter was never sent, but it survives at the Museum. From Balfour’s letter, it emerges that Pitt Rivers had not been fully acknowledged in the original composite bows paper when it was read before the Institute. In this first version, Balfour had only mentioned the General’s work in a footnote. He had sent the paper in hurriedly before revising it, and since he was not there to read it in person Pitt Rivers’ work had not been properly noted, ‘a misfortune which I have only too great cause to deplore’, Balfour wrote.

‘I added a very full acknowledgement for publication, and thought that you would then, as you said, allow the matter to drop, but I am doomed to disappointment.’

Balfour claimed that he had not intended to write a paper on Pitt Rivers’ series of bows. It had begun as a distinctive study discussing ‘the ‘complex structure of the higher types’ by means of dissection’, prompted by the fact that Tylor had given him a fine, old bow from Persia that had already been broken, leaving Balfour free to cut it up further [ibid; Balfour 1890: 221]. But as his research progressed he had found it necessary to broaden out his comparison and consider a range of different composite bows, so found himself following more closely Pitt Rivers’ previous work on the subject. He had chosen an area closely associated with Pitt Rivers, both professionally and intellectually, and what had begun as a complimentary piece of research was eventually perceived as an affront. 

The composite bows work may have piqued Pitt Rivers, but his exchange with Balfour was the result of deeper misgivings about his donation to Oxford and its future. Reading between the lines, Pitt Rivers felt isolated from the work that was going on in Oxford and threatened by Balfour’s precocious research and successful publications. It is telling that Pitt River wrote,

‘I of course object to anything whatever being published about the Museum or any part of it by any of the officers charged with the arrangement of it, until I have had the opportunity of describing the collection and explaining to the University its principle of collection, arrangement and history.’ [28 November 1890, PRM manuscript collections foundation volume]

Pitt Rivers was not used to Museum staff who researched his collections and presented their findings at the Anthropological Institute. Balfour, meanwhile, did not see himself as an ‘officer’ charged with arranging the collection on Pitt Rivers’ behalf, but as a member of an academic community. He was perplexed and annoyed by Pitt Rivers’ attitude. The General had presented the collection to Oxford as an educational resource, to be developed and researched, and it was the possibility of expanding and exploring the collections that had attracted Balfour to the job. ‘Had I supposed the work was to be of a purely mechanical nature, to be finished and done with, I should never have undertaken it, but should have continued to pursue the study of Animal Morphology in which I was then engaged, and which offers a wide scope’ [Balfour, 2 December 1890, foundation volume]. How could Pitt Rivers complain that the collection had been ‘kept in the background at Oxford’ (a claim Balfour fervently denied) while simultaneously preventing Balfour from publishing his research on the series of art objects? Balfour enjoyed his work, ‘but if my position as curator is to hamper rather than give me scope for useful work…my only course is to dissolve my connection entirely with the collection, and to assume an entirely independent position, a course which I should be extremely sorry to adopt as my interests are so completely centred in the collection’ [ibid].

Pitt Rivers’ letter left Balfour seriously considering his position at Oxford. The day before he penned his response to Pitt Rivers (which was never sent), he wrote to the Vice-Chancellor, Henry Boyd, who had played an active part in negotiating for Balfour’s new position as curator, stating that he would only accept the new curatorial position if he could reserve the right to resign. He cited the lack of permanent provisions for the Museum’s maintenance, the department’s irregular management structure and the General’s ‘strange attitude’, as reasons for his decision. The Vice-Chancellor was, perhaps understandably, disappointed and annoyed. Having helped to secure the terms of employment that Balfour originally asked for, he stated that Balfour should now accept these terms, adding that a more permanent arrangement for the Museum ‘is a different matter’. When he heard about Balfour’s proposed response to Pitt Rivers, and read the angry letter which ran onto a seventh page, Boyd asked Balfour to meet him for ‘a chat’.

Boyd’s term as Vice-Chancellor was ‘a model of commonsense and good temper’ and he clearly brought his considerable tact and diplomacy to bear on this situation [Cochrane 2004]. As a result of their meeting, the letter that Balfour actually sent to Pitt Rivers, the following day, was in complete contrast to the one his initially drafted. This time, he was perfectly measured and deferential, confirming that he would not write on the objects until Pitt Rivers had given his lecture at the University, and adding that he did not think the collection had been kept in the background, ‘except to an unavoidable extent’ while the objects were catalogued and arranged (3 December 1890, PRMMC foundation volume). Boyd may well have been in touch with Pitt Rivers also, since Balfour wrote, ‘I learn from the Vice-Chancellor that you are going to give your public lecture up here early next term and am very glad that this is so…’ (ibid). Thus, the Vice-Chancellor’s negotiations prevented a major dispute from erupting between Oxford University and one of its major benefactors. Balfour took up his curatorship, and General Pitt Rivers arrived in Oxford on 30th April 1891 (a term later than originally planned) to lecture on ‘The Original Collection of the Pitt-Rivers Museum: its Principles of Arrangement and History’ [Oxford University Gazette XXI:414].

Balfour delayed publishing his short monograph on the evolution of decorative art until after Pitt Rivers had delivered his lecture, but he did not refrain from reminding the General of the risks of this approach, informing him in a letter in March 1891 that the delay made it increasingly likely that someone else would publish on the subject first. ‘Your work in the subject will of course be always referred to by anyone who write upon ‘art evolution’…but I hoped that the first general account for the public might emanate from Oxford, in connection with your collection…in order to emphasize the educational value of the collection as much as possible, and keep it before the public, and also to popularize the subject’ [4 March 1891, PRM foundation volume]. Balfour wrote that he had given up drafting the paper, ‘until I have some definite idea of what you wish done with regard to your series’ [ibid]. Balfour was also interested in writing about the series of musical instruments, but this part of the collection had arrived in Oxford in complete disarray and so he asked Pitt Rivers whether he had already written up the subject (presumably this was a courtesy as Balfour would have known of any relevant publications by Pitt Rivers) and what his views were with regard to the arrangement of this groups of objects. Balfour was clearly seeking the General’s sanction before progressing with his publication plans, or with some of his work at the Museum.

Pitt Rivers’ response to this enquiry has not survived, but his outburst the previous year, brought on by the composite bows paper, had realigned the relationship and Balfour now deferred to the General before publicising his own research on the collection, even if this was out of a sense of duty rather than by natural inclination. The generation of Oxford scholars who had negotiated Pitt Rivers’ donation in the early 1880s--George Rolleston, Henry Moseley and John Westwood--had either passed away (Rolleston, in 1881) or been forced into retirement (Moseley and Westwood) by the late 1880s. Henry Acland was still active, albeit in his mid-seventies, but he seems to have had a more distant relationship with Pitt Rivers and with the collection once it had arrived in Oxford. Pitt Rivers had been used to dealing with senior academics at the University, and Balfour was probably someone whose work had hardly concerned him in the past. To him, Balfour was an ‘officer’ in charge of arranging the collection and assisting Moseley and Tylor, not necessarily someone with academic pretensions (never mind academic promise). In fact, of course, Balfour was a highly trained and competent scientist, who not only emulated Pitt Rivers as a scholar, but brought to his studies a whole range of methodological (and professional) skills that Pitt Rivers did not share. Under Balfour’s care, Pitt Rivers’ collection was not just a gift, simply to be ‘finished’ and completed, it was to become the heart of a new, working, scientific department. Even years later, Pitt Rivers continued to refer to Tylor rather than Balfour.

By the time of the official opening of the Pitt Rivers collection at Oxford in 1891, the status both of the collection and of the staff associated with it were still unclear. A letter from Balfour to Pitt Rivers highlights this:

'Dr Tylor has sent me in a letter which he received from you relating to your series illustrating the peculiarities and distribution of the Kopis blade. I am writing in answer to this as I am solely responsible for the disposition and arrangement of the specimens in this Museum. After the death of Professor Moseley, the original Curator of the collection, whose assistant I had been, The University appointed me to the ‘Curatorship’ and I therefore have the entire control over the Ethnographical Department, which is your own magnificent collection together with the Ethnographical additions to it, which are I am glad to say numerous. I mention this because I do not think that you are aware of it as you seem to think that Dr Tylor is the official head, which is not so. Dr Tylor is Professor of Anthropology where as I have charge of the Ethnographical Museum, just as Ray Lankester has change of the Zoological Department etc. I am therefore entirely responsible for the whole of the arrangement and am glad of the responsibility, as I am devoting my whole time to the progress of the collection so magnificently presented by you to the University. ... If at any time you should wish to know anything relating to your collection I shall always be very pleased to tell you what has been or is being done. Much progress has been effected and the Museum is greatly appreciated by all who visit it. ' [SSWM L1811 HB 30.4.1897]

At this time it seems clear that the Pitt Rivers collection was considered a department or annexe of the larger museum rather than a separate entity. It is not clear when the museum did become separateno University decree to that effect has been found to date and there was certainly no such decree up to the end of 1945. In his 1991 re-publication (and updating) of Blackwood’s Origin and Development of the PRM Schuyler Jones states:

‘From the early days of the Museum, when we were a Department of the University Museum (Natural History) next door ... In early Annual Reports the Museum was referred to as the ‘Ethnological Department’ and later as the ‘Ethnology Department’, being formally designated as the Department of Ethnology and Prehistory in 1958. [1991:17]

Up to 1939, Balfour wrote direct to the University Chest (and Registrar) about building maintenance and costs within the department. After 1939 Penniman also wrote to the University Chest directly about financial details, showing that the Museum’s accounts were separate from the Museum of Natural History. The Museum began to post annual reports of its own from the late 1970s, arguably 1974-1975. It is clear that the Museum did not post separate annual reports up to 1945 (so in that respect at least it must have been considered still to be an adjunct of the Museum of Natural History) throughout this period. In 1957 Council promoted legislation to change the title of the Department of Ethnology to the Department of Ethnology and Prehistory, and stated that the Pitt Rivers Collection formed part of the said Department and the building in which the main part of the collection was housed would be named the Pitt Rivers Museum. Fagg was both Curator and Head of Department of Ethnology and Prehistory. During the 1960s a separate Board of Delegates or Visitors for the PRM was established and separate annual reports from this group were agreed in 1966, although the academic side of the museum was still associated with the Faculty of Anthropology and Geography (itself established in 1938). In March 1964 the Delegates for the University Museum (which had also covered the Pitt Rivers Museum, up to that date) changed their name to the Delegates for the Science Area.

On 30 April 1891 Pitt Rivers gave a public lecture entitled ‘The Original Collection of the Pitt-Rivers Museum: its Principles of Arrangement and History’ in the Museum Theatre, by appointment of the Delegates of the Museum (of Natural History). [Oxford University Gazette XXI: 414] According to John Linton Myres, speaking at the 500th meeting of the Oxford University Anthropological Society in 1953:

'When I came into residence in 1888, the Pitt Rivers Museum, acquired by the University in 1883, was nearly ready to be opened. General Pitt Rivers himself came to inaugurate it, with a vivid account of his own introduction to technology, through his membership of the Small Arms Committee after the Crimean War [sic], when he observed that devices not acceptable themselves, became the starting points of other lines of invention, and so explained the numerous discontinuous series. Lantern-slides were still rather magical, and his lecture was illustrated by large drawings on cartridge paper, which are reproduced in the Oxford edition of his essays. [Myres, 1953:5]

It seems likely that Myres actually misremembered the date and this is the lecture that Pitt Rivers gave in 1891.

A month later, a proposed decree was published in the Gazette asking that:

‘the Curators of the University Chest be authorised to spend a sum not exceeding £1300 upon additions and improvements in the Departments of Ethnology and Geology at the University Museum.’

‘Note – The whole of the space in the Pitt-Rivers Museum is required for the exhibition of specimens. Hitherto the work of unpacking and arranging has been done in the galleries at considerable inconvenience, and with considerable risk of damage to the cases and specimens. It is now proposed to provide two rooms, one 22 ft. x 22ft. and the other 23 ft. x 28 ft., for the use of the Curator and the servants of the Museum.’

‘The rooms referred to in this Decree will stand on the north and west sides of the space between the Pitt-Rivers Museum and the house of the Keeper.’ [May 26 1891]

This decree was carried on June 2 1891. Until the new accommodation had been built, all display work and curation had to take place in the Lower Gallery, which had obviously meant it could not open to the general public. Work on the new areas began in June 1891. The annual report for 1892 records that the completion of the annexe containing the Curator’s room, workshop, and store-rooms on the south-west side of the museum meant that the Lower Gallery could be opened to the public in the October Term 1892. Because of work on the new accommodation relatively little new or rearranged display work was possible in 1891. It is possible that the work referred to as being funded for Geology in the end benefited the Museum as well as it must have been the building of an extension, ‘consisting of two floors and an attic, which were added to the east end of the University Museum for the use of the Department of Geology. When the department moved to new premises in 1948, a part of the extension was devoted to housing the Balfour Library.' [Berry, 2003:256] 

In 1892 with the opening of the Lower Gallery to the public several series in that space were re-arranged, labelled and catalogued. For the first time, all the display space in the Museum, as it is known in 2004, was open to the public. At some point the following text was prepared for display in the museum. At the present moment in time it is not known whether this dates from before 1884 and was written under Pitt Rivers’ instruction or whether it was written after 1884 by ?Balfour [NB image available]:


The specimens, ETHNOLOGICAL, and PREHISTORIC, are arranged with a view to demonstrate, actually or hypothetically, the development and continuity of the material arts from the simpler to the more complex forms.

To explain the CONSERVATISM of savage and barbarous Races, and the pertinacity which with they retain their ancient types of art.

To show the VARIATIONS, by means of which progress has been effected, and the application of VARIETIES to distinct uses.

To exhibit SURVIVALS, or the vestiges of ancient forms, which have been retained through NATURAL SELECTION in the more advanced stages of the arts, and the REVERSIONS of ancient types.

To illustrate the arts of PREHISTORIC times, as far as practicable, by those of EXISTING SAVAGES, in corresponding stages of civilization.

To assist the question as to the MONOGENESIS or POLYGENESIS. of certain arts; whether they are exotic or indigenous in the countries in which they are now found; and, finally,

To aid in the solution of the problem whether MAN has arisen, from a condition resembling the brutes, or fallen from a high state of perfection.

To these end, objects of the same CLASS from different countries have been brought together, but in each Class the Varieties from the same localities are usually placed side by side, and the geographical distribution of various arts is shown in distribution maps.

SPECIAL FINDS, serving to illustrate the correlation or the arts, or of forms, have been kept together.

The collection was commenced in the year 1851, and has accumulated gradually.

Moseley, until that time putatively in charge of the Pitt Rivers collection, had become ill in 1887, effectively having to leave work to his various assistants and died on 10 November 1891. Following his death, in February 1892 Balfour was appointed Curator for seven years until December 31 1898 and given £150 per year for ‘assistance and current expenses’.

On 15 March 1892 Balfour wrote to Gamlen, Secretary to the University, requesting that maintenance money for the museum be deposited in the bank so that he could draw directly on it rather than having to apply to the University Chest each time. At present he could only get money on Saturdays and had to borrow from other departments or draw on his own private account if the petty cash ran out. Other departments drew their own cash. The work on the new rooms [Curator’s room, workrooms, see annual reports] had gone on for 9 months now. Balfour would be happy to put £5 towards matchboarding the curator’s room. He would also be happy to take £50 from the Chest and see that the work was finished himself, because it was taking so long. He is hoping to open the whole of the Museum by next term but ‘hardly sees how this is possible’ at the present rate of work. [University Archives, UC/FF/60/2/3] Obviously Gamlen was not convinced because Balfour wrote again on 21 March 1892. [University Archives, UC/FF/60/2/3] and on 31 March 1892 saying that he would be happy to submit an account of the expenses each year, and therefore requested a cheque for the first half of the year so that he could bank it. At present he was drawing on his own account at considerable inconvenience. He also supposed he was empowered to spend the remaining £40 for fittings for new rooms. He would like to use a cabinet from the main Museum for the new rooms [probably the Curator’s room?], presently full of ‘rubbish’, which would save considerable expense, but Tylor had refused, saying it would be used for bird skins. Balfour thought bird skins would be better in the large cabinet that was purchased from Moseley. [University Archives, UC/FF/60/2/3] Tylor on 3 June 1892, then in Antibes, wrote to Gamlen saying that he thought the cupboard in question should be retained for geological collections. [University Archives, UC/FF/60/2/3]

Until 1893 Tylor had been giving all the Anthropological lectures at the University. In that year Arthur Thomson[1], the lecturer in Human Anatomy began lecturing on physical anthropology and Balfour began to give lectures on ‘the various Arts of Mankind, as illustrated by the series in the collection’ [1893 Annual Report]. During 1893 work continued on systematically arranging and labelling various series of objects, incorporating new acquisitions such as the Burmese material from Richard Carnac Temple.

In 1894 there was a good deal of change in other museums in the University as the Ashmolean finally transferred from its original site in Broad Street to its new site in Beaumont Street. Evans had persuaded the University to erect new premises for the collection, added to the rear of the University Galleries, a handsome neo-classical structure in Beaumont Street in which the University's art collections had been housed since its opening in 1845. The transfer of material to the new extension was completed in 1894 and in 1908 the two collections were merged to form the institution which survives in those premises to the present day, the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology.

However, 1894 was not a good year for the Pitt Rivers Museum as Balfour was ill throughout that year and the earlier part of the next year, resulting in a single annual report combining an account of the limited activity in the two years. Although he was ill during the year he did manage to lecture ‘... on ‘Progress in the Arts of Mankind, particularly as illustrated by the Pitt-Rivers Collection’ during Hilary and Easter and Trinity Terms, 1894, and during Michaelmas Term of the same year gave a series of six lectures upon ‘Primitive Musical Instruments considered especially in their relation to the early development of the higher forms.’

A major problem had been experienced with the glazed roof of the museum which had been letting in water to the detriment of the displays and the objects, during these two years the glazing was renewed though sadly the Annual Reports make it clear that this did not solve the problem. Similar problems are experienced to this day caused by the glazed roof in the Museum of Natural History.

In 1895 the Museum suffered its second death when William Beale, the attendant, died. Although it is not recorded in the Annual Reports, around 1895 Henry John Walters was first appointed to the museum’s staff. He would later become the Head Technician and the first of a remarkable three generations of Walters men to hold this post at the Museum (the others were his son Henry Frederick Walters and his son Kenneth Henry (known as Ken) Walters), ‘the Walters dynasty has thus given 121 years of service to the Pitt Rivers Museum, serving all five Curators [at the time of writing, the serving Director has not had a Walters on his staff] from the beginning to the present’. [Blackwood/ Jones, 1991:13]

In a reverse of the expected evolution pattern for museum labels, the Annual Report for 1894-5 reports that the older printed labels were being replaced with painted ones. This curious reversal of technology was later set aside when the Museum went back to labels printed in the University Museum in 1897. This arrangement continued until the 1960s at least [Bob Rivers, pers. comm.]

In June 1895 a statute was approved to establish a Professorship of Anthropology tenable by E.B. Tylor during his tenureship of the Readership. In the same year ‘[the] move to make Anthropology a degree course within the NSS [Natural Science Final Honour School] was defeated ... because some classicists wanted instead to make it a Special Subject within Greats.’ [Howarth, 2000a:482, quoting from Tylor to Acland 17 June 1875 [sic] Acland MSS d 95 Bodl]. An alternative reading of this same event is given by Chapman (in the same volume): Tylor blamed an ‘unholy alliance between Theology, Literae Humaniores and Natural Sciences’ identifying W.A. Spooner of New College, who spoke against the proposed school in Convocation as ‘the arch-villain’ ... In 1904, having opposed according Anthropology the status of an honour school, Spooner was urging the claims of Anthropology for fuller recognition by the University. [Chapman, 2000:502] In 1926 Balfour refers again to this subject:

I am always rather sceptical about the scientific method as a product of “Greats”, and am in favour of the Scientific Mill for science workers—and particularly the Biological Mill for Anthropologists [Letter from Balfour to Alfred Cort Haddon, 13 February 1926: CUL Manuscript collections: Haddon 7: ‘Dudley Buxton’]

Although, of course, both Haddon and Balfour are bound to agree with this statement as this is the training they undertook!

In 1896 an unnamed attendant was appointed to fill William Beale’s post. It was remarked in the Annual Report of 1896 that a number of large painted labels describing the general nature of the various series of objects had been provided.

One of the parts of the collections that Balfour had always taken a special interest in was the musical instruments. In 1896 he published an article about the collection called ‘A primitive musical instrument’ in the Reliquary. This gives some indication of his collecting working practises. In her paper on the PRM musical collections, Hélène La Rue makes the point that Balfour remained a follower of Pitt Rivers’ theories of evolutionary typology and that he believed:

.... the absence of meagreness of historical record makes it necessary for us to depend largely upon such survivals from primitive times as we have, from various causes continued more or less unchanged in form, side by side with the often highly specialised forms which actually descended from them, having been evolved, one may say, from these primitive types. [La Rue, 1984:37]

La Rue points out that such articles not only brought publicity to the museum’s collections but were also ‘a means of acquiring more information and instruments. In each of them Balfour inserts a plea for ‘further information as to types and localities ... would be most grateful for any assistance in matter of procuring specimens for the University Museum at Oxford[2] ...’. [La Rue, 1984:38] La Rue relates how in response to these requests information and specimens were sent from all over the world.

Throughout his life Balfour built up a large correspondence with travellers, colonial administrators, ethnographers and ethnomusicologists as well as keeping in touch with his own pupils. Many of these correspondents would write to Balfour asking for his advice and guidance and sometimes he would write asking them to look out for specific examples. One such correspondent was D.J. Kipling, Curator of the Museum in Lahore, India, father of a more famous son. Kipling wrote to many friends trying to find evidence on Indian bagpipes for Balfour. His first letter tells that he has not heard of them in the North-west, the Himalayas, Shan States, Assam, among the Karen or in the Indian Plains; his next begins with triumph: ‘I have found a bagpipe at last and I think it is unmistakably indigenous!’ It is certain that Balfour’s charm encouraged many donations to the Museum. As he realised the importance of recordings and photographs, as well as field-notes, these also accompanied the gifts. [La Rue, 1984:38]

In 1897 the concerns of Balfour are shown by the introduction to the Annual Report:

The progress in the Museum during the year has chiefly been of a general kind, calculated to increase its educational value, and to give greater facilities to the general public for seeing the specimens and learning from them. To this end special attention has been given to increased labelling, and the possibility of having satisfactory labels printed in the University Museum has greatly facilitated this work.   Hitherto these printed labels can only be produced a few at a time, and it is greatly to be hoped that some means may be found in the future whereby their production may be more continuous.  Numerous sketches, photographs and diagrams have been added to explain the nature of exhibited specimens.

Again Balfour was lecturing, this time upon ‘Realistic and Decorative Art of Primitive Peoples’. In 1897 Tylor wrote to ‘General Pitt Rivers’:

I am sorry to hear of your having been out of health of late, but at any rate you manage to keep up your work, which is the greatest of consolations. I speak feelingly having had a long and severe illness last year and though better now, finding work no longer easy. In writing about the kopis series I had better not trust to memory, but in a week or two I shall be back in Oxford and will go over them with Balfour. My impression is that the series is much or altogether on the original lines, and that the drawings go with the specimens. No doubt the geographical continuity in such series is as important as it would be to a zoologist. Indeed the problem which most occupies me is to trace inventions etc from their geographical origins, especially because ideas and customs are so apt to follow the same tracks. In working out the whole course of culture, it seems to me that to follow the diffusion of such a thing as a special weapon, is to lay down the main lines of the whole process, so that I should be among those most interested in the travelling of the Kopis. [Tylor to Pitt Rivers April 13 1897, L1788 Salisbury and South Wiltshire Pitt Rivers papers]

Obviously this was plaguing Pitt Rivers mind because later in the same month Balfour also wrote to Pitt Rivers:

“Dear General Pitt Rivers, Dr Tylor has sent me in a letter which he received from you relating to your series illustrating the peculiarities and distribution of the Kopis blade. I am writing in answer to this as I am solely responsible for the disposition and arrangement of the specimens in this Museum. After the death of Professor Moseley, the original Curator of the collection, whose assistant I had been, The University appointed me to the ‘Curatorship’ and I therefore have the entire control over the Ethnographical Department, which is your own magnificent collection together with the Ethnographical additions to it, which are I am glad to say numerous. I mention this because I do not think that you are aware of it as you seem to think that Dr Tylor is the official head, which is not so. Dr Tylor is Professor of Anthropology where as I have charge of the Ethnographical Museum, just as Ray Lankester has change of the Zoological Department etc. I am therefore entirely responsible for the whole of the arrangement and am glad of the responsibility, as I am devoting my whole time to the progress of the collection so magnificently presented by you to the University. Now as regards the kopis blade ... [Balfour’s ...] Let me hasten to assure you that that series is absolutely intact, its component specimens have never been distributed, and it is and always has been arranged according to your own original disposition. ... I have in fact from the beginning seen the importance of this series and shall always keep it together. I have added drawings to it, and widened the geographical distribution by the inclusion of a Chinese knife [etc] ... I hope that my paper (a copy of which I sent you) describing a very interesting Assyrian composite bow, was of interest to you. I have given this bow with its arrows and also an Egyptian bow and arrows to the Museum and it now forms part of your series of composite bows. I regard it as a very important find and was delighted to have the opportunity of describing it and of purchasing the whole equipment. ... If at any time you should wish to know anything relating to your collection I shall always be very pleased to tell you what has been or is being done. Much progress has been effected and the Museum is greatly appreciated by all who visit it. Yrs very truly Henry Balfour” [Balfour to PR letter dated 30.4.1897 Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum PR ms collections L1811]

In 1898 there is one of the earliest references to the developments of the photographic collections when Balfour wrote to his old friend, Walter Baldwin Spencer that ‘photos I find are so important an adjunct to a museum that I try and beg all I can for a series I am making for the Museum’. [quoted in Berry, 2003: 256]

In October 1898 Balfour was re-appointed Curator to hold the office until 31 December 1905. Tylor was also reappointed Reader for five years from December 1898. J.T. Long, Balfour’s assistant who had been in post since 1884, resigned. This year was probably the last year in which Pitt Rivers himself expressed his views about the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford:

‘I hardly think that the system [PR’s 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 ...’ [PR letter to FW Rudler 23 May 1898, S&SWM quoted in Chapman, 1981: 535]

In 1899 Balfour had the following exchange with General Pitt Rivers:

“Very many thanks for the new volume of excavations, which has duly arrived. It is a truly splendid work, and I look forward to reading its contents, particularly the parts referring to Bronze Age. I have for a long time been anxious to place in this Museum some portrait of yourself, but I have so far not come across any published engraving, or other representation which I could purchase so I am writing in the hopes that you may have one which you could spare, and which you would be kind enough to give to the Museum. I am anxious in every way to identify as fully as possible your name with the Museum and I am sure that some portrait would greatly further this object. I am sure that you will forgive me asking you ...” [letter dated 4.1.1899 from Henry Balfour to PR, Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, PR ms collections L2312]

Pitt Rivers obviously responded speedily with a reply, Balfour’s response was: “Pray accept my best thanks for the excellent lithograph of yourself, and also for having had it framed. I shall have it hung in the main court of this Museum, and it will prove a welcome addition.” [letter dated 24.1.1898 [sic - actually 1899] from Henry Balfour to PR, Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, PR ms collections L2043]

In 1899, Harold St George Gray started in J.T. Long’s old post as Balfour’s chief assistant. Balfour was again ill during 1899 which delayed the publication of the 1898 annual report. Balfour records in the Annual Report for that year:

The annual grant for the general working expenses was increased in 1899 from £150 to £200, enabling a higher rate of wages to be paid to the new assistant. By a grant of Convocation, about sixty feet of wall-cases for the exhibition of specimens were purchased, and the cases erected in the galleries at the end of 1899, enabling certain important series to be properly displayed and cared-for for the first time. It is much to be desired that other such wall-cases may be erected, in order that many specimens of great value may be preserved from perishing, and that the series may be rendered more readily accessible for scientific use, and be displayed in a satisfactory manner. A few other exhibition cases have been purchased, and two six-drawer cabinets ordered for the galleries. Two of the new wall-cases have been fitted with false backs, with doors, so that the backs of the cases are available for storing reserve and research material in immediate connexion with the exhibited material of like kind, a matter of considerable importance and convenience. It would be of great advantage if this scheme could be carried out throughout the Museum.

Balfour gives an insight into how his research and publishing interests meshed with the on-going redisplay work:

In the ground-floor court an important series dealing with the “Geographical Distribution and Development of the Musical-bow,” and illustrating a chapter in the early development of stringed instruments of music, has been arranged in a special case, labelled in detail, and furnished with a distribution map, sketches and photographs. The Curator has published a monograph upon the subject to be followed by one dealing with the later development of the derived forms of instruments.

In 1884 another part of the University had also developed, whose collections, in later years, would be transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum. Monier Monier-Williams, Boden Professor of Sanskrit, gave a speech at the opening of the northern half of the Indian Institute on the corner of Holywell Street and Catte Street when he said:

With regard to the Museum, I have obtained grants of objects, illustrative of the industries, products, and natural history of India, and of the religious and social life of its inhabitants ... [Berry, 2003: 277].

Berry describes the Museum as containing ‘objects ranging from painted clay figurines representing Indian racial types, tot small-scale models of temples, palaces, villages etc. It also housed textiles, utensils and musical instruments.’ [Berry, 2003: 278] Apparently ‘Mr Long’ from the PRM helped with the installation of objects between 1896 and 1898. According to Berry in the 1920s the Indian Institute items were offered to the PRM ‘but were refused on account of a lack of space. Nonetheless a number of objects (including arms and armour) were transferred there over the succeeding years’. [Berry, 2003: 279]

In 1900, the Museum erected two pictures of Lieutenant-General Pitt Rivers on either side of the entrance door. Sometime around this period, possibly after 1901, photographic images of the museums displays were taken on glass plates (now in the Museum’s photographic collections) and these show the displays as they appeared at this time, including much detail which would allow many individual objects to be identified and therefore displays at that time to be reconstructed. These images also show such information as the museum Court without the temporary exhibition area (constructed in the second half of the twentieth century), and the Lower Gallery being of equal width on all four sides (it was extended on the west side when the temporary exhibition area was installed). Other features familiar from 2004 were missing, the museum was without the doors between the Court and the tearoom area (though the door from the museum stairs to the tearoom area could have been there) and the fact that muslin blinds were hung over the south-facing roof windows presumably to reduce light damage.

A great change to the appearance of the Museum took place in 1901 when the totem pole, acquired by Edward Burnett Tylor, arrived in Oxford. After it had been treated with preservative it was erected in the Court, again mostly at Tylor’s expense. The raven’s six foot long beak had to be detached for shipment ‘but was skilfully replaced in the Museum’. [Blackwood, 1970:11] The work involved in erecting this large object was undertaken by Symm and Co. (the original builders of the annexe). They needed to dig down to gravels below the museum floor to give the totem pole a secure footing. Balfour remarked:

The post, as now placed, forms a most conspicuous feature, being well seen from the entrance. In England there is but one other example of a totem post of anything approaching the dimensions of this example. Professor Tylor procured the post through the kind agency of Hudson’s Bay Company. It had to be sawn into two pieces for transit. It may be regarded as a very typical and fine example of a class of symbolic insignia which is rapidly dying out, and the Museum is greatly indebted to Professor Tylor for his generous gift.

In the Annual Report Balfour discusses the benefits of glass enclosed cases rather than the screens which Pitt Rivers had employed at the South Kensington Museum:

In the Upper Gallery, to which portion of the Museum most of the attention has been given during the year, the work begun in the previous year upon the large series of bows, cross-bows, blow-guns and quivers has been completed. ... With the exception of some of the bows (which cannot yet be placed under glass for want of the necessary cases), the whole of these series is now arranged in the new wall-cases erected in the N.W. corner of the Gallery. The reserve non-exhibited specimens are stored behind the double-backs fitted to these cases for the purpose, and it is now hoped that these important series, in addition to being more satisfactorily exhibited, may, now that they are at last placed under glass, be preserved from the sources of injury and decay to which the other specimens still exhibited upon screens are inevitably exposed. Scores of valuable specimens are deteriorating for want of the protection which glass cases would afford.

In March 1901 Balfour’s assistant, Harold St George Gray left to become Curator at Taunton Museum, before his departure he took part in the many redisplay activities that were recorded for that year. Balfour used the monies that had funded his post to purchase new exhibition cases, with the obvious effect upon the progress made. The Annual Report for 1902 records that Gray’s post had still not been filled, Balfour uses this to bring the inadequacies of the University funding of the Museum to readers’ attention:

The annual grant from the University for the maintenance of this Museum is still quite inadequate to meet even the necessary expenses, and the financial situation cannot but be regarded as highly unsatisfactory, in view of the very important position which the Museum is called upon to occupy among the Ethnological Museums of the world. The value, both intrinsic and scientific, of the collection has greatly increased, and the generosity hitherto shown by the numerous donors has been fully maintained.

In the same report Balfour makes one of the few overt references to the processes of colonialism made in the Annual Reports:

In the Court a case has been assigned to some important West African fetish figures and objects associated with them, presented by the Rev. W. Allen, D.D. Apart from their scientific importance, these objects are of historical interest in connexion with the opening up of Southern Nigeria, and the suppression of the gruesome practices connected with the superstitious beliefs of the natives of the region.

In March 1902, Tylor resigned as Keeper of the University Museum, a year later he was re-elected as Professor of Anthropology. The funding set aside for Balfour’s assistant’s post (unfilled following Gray’s resignation from 1902-4, until Bayzand was appointed in 1905) was used to purchase new cases in 1902. In this year the first electric light in the Museum was installed, in the Curator’s office, workshop and other rooms. The museum itself remained without artificial light which must have substantially affected both visitors and the work of staff during the winter months. In 1902 a ‘Memorandum on Anthropological Needs’ was prepared for presentation to the University Committee of Council. Those students whose needs were identified were mentioned in the 1902 annual reports:

Increasing use is made of the collections by students engaged in research, and a considerable amount of time is devoted by the Curator to visitors interested either in General Ethnology or in special subjects for the study of which the material in the Museum is of importance. Information is also furnished by correspondence, and there is an increasing demand for photographs of specimens, a demand which with the present arrangements it is difficult to meet.

In 1903 Balfour still had no replacement for Gray in post, and bemoaned the impact this had had upon ‘the progress of the Museum’. In the same year the continuing problems with the glazed roof was discussed and Balfour suggests that easier ways of inspecting the roof would make life simpler.

In 1904 the Committee for Anthropology was established ‘to make further provision for the teaching of anthropology and for a diploma [in that subject]’. The Committee consisted of the Vice-Chancellor, the Proctors, the Professor of Anthropology (Tylor), the Linacre Professor of Comparative Anatomy, the Professor of Human Anatomy (Thomson), the Waynflete Professor of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, the Wilde Reader in Mental Philosophy , the Corpus Christi Professor of Comparative Philology, the Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, the Curator of the Pitt-Rivers Museum (Balfour), and six other members, two appointed by the Board of the Faculty of Arts (Literae Humaniores), one by the Board of the Faculty of Arts (Modern History), one by the Board of the Faculty of Arts (Oriental Languages), and two by the Board of the Faculty of Natural Science, for periods of four years (OUA, Paper 3, file DC/1/2/3). Curiously the official history of the University gives the date for the establishment of the Committee for Anthropology as 1905 and states that John Linton Myres was its first secretary [Murray, 2000:357]

In essence the Committee existed to coordinate teaching and examinations for the Diploma in Anthropology. It appears that much of the 'behind the scenes' work during 1904 and 1905 was taken on by John Linton Myres, then lecturer in Classical Archaeology, who wrote letters to all the key supporters of the Committee canvassing opinions on the proposed curriculum for the Diploma and rules governing student eligibility, and requesting information on what provision already existed for teaching the anthropology in various departments (including, for example, assessing the relevant departmental and college library holdings). Using this information as a basis, the Committee prepared a syllabus, formulated a list of lectures and created a reading list for the students.<

Balfour was unwell again during 1904, he was described in the 1904 Annual Report as suffering ‘prolonged ill-health’. In 1953 Penniman remarks that, ‘... from [1891] until his death in 1939, in spite of frequent and painful crippling illness which increased with the years ...’ [Penniman, 1953: 13] We can find little information about what condition(s) he was suffering from but Hélène La Rue believes that it was some form of arthritis (possibly rheumatoid) [Hélène La Rue, pers. comm]. In addition he seems to have suffered from serious bouts of gout, which caused him great pain. In the 10 years from 1894 he was absent for long periods during 1894, 1899 and again in 1904. These periods of absence were long enough to seriously effect his work output. Penniman, in the Museum’s annual report for 1939, says, 'Under his direction the Museum grew to many times its original size, augmented largely by his own long and often hazardous journeys, many of them undertaken after he was seriously crippled.'

A major change to the appearance of the Museum took place in 1904 (at least in the winter and outside office hours). Electric light was installed in the Museum itself. As usual for the parsimonious University of Oxford, this was not paid for by them but through the ‘generosity of the Executive Committee of the British Medical Association, ... in recognition of the facilities and hospitality accorded by the University on the occasion of the meeting of the Association held in Oxford during the summer of 1904’ [Annual Report, 1904]. This event was commemorated by a plaque in the museum which was installed in 1905 (so far as the author knows, this no longer exists, it is certainly no longer on display). The Museum displays have always included an element of what would now be called ‘visible storage’ and Balfour presents this as ‘in both Galleries a number of drawer cabinets with glazed doors have been erected underneath the table-cases, and these will be of great use in providing space for specimens, which, while not exhibited to the public, can be kept in proximity to their respective series, and can be classified in connexion with the exhibited specimens, for use as research material’.

In 1905 the Diploma in Social Anthropology was sanctioned by Convocation in June [Murray, 2000:356]. Historians have commented that ‘R.R. Marett, who followed [Tylor] as Reader, developed the Diploma in Anthropology after 1905 as a training in research’ [Howarth, 2000a:468]. Symonds explains that ‘... Marett was a skilful University politician who shrewdly played the imperial card; he justified a diploma course by the needs of the [Indian Civil Service] probationers and Rhodes scholars; he obtained the support of the Greats teachers by persuading them that anthropology was an extension of their subject. The diploma’s curriculum was aimed at missionaries and census officials as well as colonial administrators. In 1913 out of forty-one students studying for the diploma, twenty were officers, serving under the Colonial Office and ten were seeking similar posts’, [Symonds, 2000:703-4] Symonds also comments that:

The pupils of Marett and of Henry Balfour ... remained their pupils for life. Among those who consulted them on leave or persuaded Balfour to visit them in the field were a remarkable succession of Oxford scholar-administrators in the ICS who had mostly come to anthropology through study of the classics and then through writing census reports and working with primitive tribes. As one of them said, what an amateur anthropologist needed was training and encouragement, and above all someone to answer letters and give a welcome when he came on leave, [3]> this was exactly what Balfour and Marett provided over some forty years. While most of the anthropologists had read Classics, the interests of others was derived from studying Zoology and Botany with the Darwinists of the University Museum. [Symonds, 2000:704]

The same year also saw the first appearance of a volunteer in the Museum who over the next 40 or so years provided much needed (un-paid) assistance to Balfour and his successor - this was Francis Howe Seymour Knowles, fifth baronet, (1886-1953) who is first remarked on in the Annual Reports, whilst still a student of law at Oriel College, studying boomerang flight in the Museum (a study that lasted 3 years until 1906). Later Knowles was to write many catalogues of specific collections, work and publish on the stone tool collections etc. Another form of assistance was also offered Balfour in that year, F.C. Carter began taking object photographs and preparing lantern slides for teaching. This must partly have ameliorated the problems Balfour had identified in previous annual reports.

In 1905 E.F. Bayzand was employed as Assistant to Balfour, he had previously worked in the Geological Department (part of the University Museum of Natural History), he was described as having ‘experience in draftsmanship [sic], photography and various handicrafts, [which] should prove a useful accession to the Museum staff. The necessity for having a photographer on the spot is an increasing one, developing with the increasing use which students and researchers, often at a distance, make of the material comprised in the Museum, and with the frequent requests received for information on Ethnological and Archaeological matters’. The financial position of the Museum improved as an annual grant of £50 was made to the Museum by Magdalen College. Balfour was obliged to give a course of lectures for Tylor who was unwell during the Summer Term. He gave a course of six lectures on “The Origin and Early Development of Human Industries and Appliances.”

Henry Balfour was absent for six months of 1905 on a trip to South Africa, during which he did some field collecting in the Zambesi River district. He wrote a diary on all of his long travels during his Curatorship, ... [see PRM ms collections here] He visited South Africa again during the Long Vacation of 1906.

In 1906 the Museum’s input into University teaching increased as the first Diploma students were admitted. Space in the museum was still tight, and an application was made for extension to the working rooms, to be used for storage of non-exhibited specimens, sorting room for new acquisitions, and a fuming room. It was hoped that it would be possible to utilise the duplicate room for exhibition purposes. In 1907 the funds for this extension were granted by the University. These funds included provision for a water-supply, fittings and electrical fittings for the new rooms. The new rooms were erected along the south side of the Museum and provided space for unpacking, sorting, labelling and storage. The upper portion of the room was used for storage. A small ‘fuming and disinfecting’ room was also built, only accessible from outside. Finally a new entrance lobby was provided. The first Diploma students had ‘worked regularly in the Museum and have received courses of instruction from me in the subjects of Prehistoric Archaeology and Comparative Technology. Some material has been added specifically with a view to improving the series for teaching purposes’.

The role and purpose of the so-called duplicates in ethnographic collections at this time was a curious one. They have now been subsumed into the general collections but at the time they were seen as a useful resource for exchanges with other museums etc. In addition much more could be said about the role of personal relationships in accruing new accessions. Perhaps an extract from one letter will show Balfour’s attitudes to duplicates, exchanges and new accessions:

“I remember you saying that you wanted one of the Murut circular wicker shields, N. Borneo. Well I have one that I could swap if you have something good to spare. I bought it some while ago. [Description and drawing follows] Do you want it? If not I am sending it to another chap who will give me a good swap for it. This one was in the Bartlett coll. Have you a deformed (artificially) skull to spare among your treasures?” [Letter from Balfour to Alfred Cort Haddon, 16 January 1901 [CUL Manuscript collections: Haddon 27 ‘Sarawak’]

It is interesting to note that there is only one shield from Borneo (which sounds similar to the one described in the above letter) listed as being accessioned in the PRM collections from the Bartlett collection [1900.63.8] but this has the reference to Murut crossed out and is still part of this Museum’s collections.

Later in the museum’s history, the next Curator of the Museum expanded on this theme:

I would like to take this opportunity to correct the impression that because I often divert material to other museums, we are ceasing to collect specimens. We are not ceasing to collect. But the [card] catalogue to which I have referred has gone so far that we now are able to see, when offered material, whether it is a duplication of what we have in abundance, or whether it fills serious gaps among our areas or subject. We never cease trying by exchange or other means to collect specimens from areas or subjects not well represented, and this in spite of our overcrowded condition. [Penniman, 1953:243-4]

Later still, and really beyond the time frame of this paper a Curator / Director of the museum restated the case, it is likely that in fact he was just stating the policy that had been accepted for many years:

The Museum has an active collecting policy, a basic principle of which is that nothing offered which would be a valuable addition and is of a type not likely to be available in the future should be refused simply because of lack of space. The latter criterion applies to most ethnographic material. Of course a degree of realism is necessary: the offer of a canoe or a totem pole would have to be considered carefully, and in such cases another appropriate museum may be suggested. The preservation of material rapidly becoming obsolete, however, is a major duty of ethnographical museums. Real duplication is avoided, but apparent duplication can show the distribution of a trait in time and space, and is then acceptable.

The Museum does not compete with local museums for archaeological or ‘folk’ material of local origin; nor does it normally compete with a national museum for material of importance lacking in the national collection. A valuable degree of co-operation exists between the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of Mankind (London). Material is not accepted if there is doubt as to the legality of its original acquisition or export; but especially in the case of items bought at auction or from dealers, this may be difficult to establish.

Cultural change is a proper study for a museum, both as a historical process of universal application and when accelerated by Western contacts. The recording of such change, for example the adaptation of traditional techniques to introduced materials, is a relevant museum subject, but collecting to illustrate it is ‘open-ended’ and, despite what has been said above, limitations of space and other resources have to be considered. Pieces made primarily for sale to Europeans and not reflecting indigenous values are not normally acquired.

At a time when the record price for a piece of ethnographical art (a Hawaiian wood sculpture) is £250,000, the Museum’s very small purchase funds exclude it from competing in this field; but the Pitt Rivers is not an art museum. The General’s insistence on collecting the ordinary and average as well as the exceptional is still a guiding principle. It is possible to buy, at auction or from dealers, reasonably-priced pieces which fill gaps in the collection. Private owners, too, are still a useful source, either by gift or by purchase. There are many, often now elderly, who have served in former colonial territories or who travelled before the days of mass tourism. However the preferred method of collecting is by giving relatively small sums to the graduates of this or other departments when they undertake research in the field. Their expenses are paid from other sources, so all the Museum’s contribution can be spent on collecting, and being trained in anthropology or archaeology they are able to provide the essential documentation. [Cranstone and Seidelberg: 1984:2-3]

Although Balfour did publish throughout his period as Curator he relatively infrequently refers to the publications in the Annual Reports. In 1907 he reports that he had ‘published monographs upon the “Fire-piston” (in the presentation volume to Dr. E.B. Tylor) and upon the “Friction-drum” (Journal of the Anthropological Institute), dealing in both cases with the geographical distribution, varieties, and probable origin of the objects comprised within the two groups’.

In 1908 Balfour gained more useful assistance when Barbara Freire-Marreco (1879-1967), began work on the Amulet and Magic objects catalogue as a volunteer. She was a member of the first class of anthropology students to graduate from Oxford, taking the Diploma with distinction in 1908 (the topic of the paper she submitted for the Diploma was “Notes on the hair and eye colour of 591 children of school age in Surrey”). After completing her diploma she worked in the Pitt Rivers Museum, as a volunteer. For the first time, examinations for the Diploma in Anthropology were held. Preparations were made to convert the “Duplicate Room” [4] on the stairs into space for exhibition and new cases were ordered for this space. For the first time (that we are now aware of, at any rate) the museum visitors were helped to orientate themselves in the Museum when E.F. Bayzand prepared plans of the Court and the two galleries, showing the positions of the various ‘series’ and these were suspended in the museum. Despite some efforts, it has not been possible to locate these plans now. They would be very useful for identifying which cases were used for which objects in 1907 and therefore how the use of the museum had changed.

In 1908 the Museum’s resources were in use by the colonial authorities, Balfour explains that ‘I delivered during each University Term courses of demonstration-lectures to the students for the Anthropological Diploma, the subjects being Prehistoric Archaeology and Comparative Technology; and a special course on the Comparative Technology with special reference to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudân was given to the Probationers for the Sudân Civil Service’.

The official history of the University edited by Brock and Curthoys [2000] suggests that the development of anthropology in Oxford owed much to the classicists [see Murray, 2000: 356]. Myres was succeeded [as Secretary of the Committee for Anthropology] by the first lecturer in the subject, R.R. Marett in 1907, and formal teaching began the next year with a set of six public lectures on ‘Anthropology and the Classics’, delivered under the auspices of the Committee and organized by Marett; the lectures were given by Arthur Evans, Andrew Lang, Gilbert Murray, F.B. Jevons, J.L. Myres, and Warde Fowler. The diploma was first examined in 1909.’ [Murray, 2000:356]

In 1909 F.H.S. Knowles was appointed assistant to Arthur Thomson in teaching physical anthropology. Barbara Freire-Marreco continued work on the amulet and magic catalogues (helped by three Japanese students). In March 1909 E.F. Bayzand died and Balfour again lost one of his assistants. He was replaced, in December of the same year, by George Kettle. 

In December 1910 Tylor finally retired as Professor (becoming Emeritus Professor) and Reader in Anthropology after a tenure of 26 years, he was knighted in 1912. According to Evans-Pritchard in 1953:

When Tylor retired in 1908 [sic], Dr Marett, later Rector of Exeter, took over the teaching of the subject, and in 1910 he was appointed to a University Readership in Social Anthropology ... [t]hat social anthropology was a subject in its own right ... was further emphasised in 1914 by its activities being officially recognised as ‘The Department of Social Anthropology’ with administrative and financial autonomy. [Evans-Pritchard, 1953:18]

For the first time, courses were offered to the burgeoning colonial Civil Services with probationers from the Sudan Civil Service attending courses. According to Chapman [2000:502] ‘by 1910 the committee listed over twenty teachers in allied subjects offering instruction relevant to the needs of anthropology students’. Henry Balfour again visited South Africa, on a lecture tour at the invitation of the South African Association. After his visit the Gazette of 14 June 1911 recorded that the ‘archaeology of the Victoria Falls regions is now represented by far more complete collection at PRM than anywhere else.’

In 1911 the Committee for Anthropology accepted the loan of a considerable portion of Tylor’s anthropological library (around 1000 titles) and it was housed at Acland House, 40 Broad Street for the use of University members (during the nineteenth century the property had been used as a doctor’s surgery by Henry Wentworth Acland (1815-1900), William Bailie Skene, Treasurer of Christ Church, occupied the building from 1902 to 1911, when it was taken over by the University and named Acland House. They housed the School of Geography there for ten years and then various small departments until 1936, when they demolished it to make way for the New Bodleian Library’ [,40,41.htm]).

Also in 1911, work began (‘and was far advanced’ according to the annual report) on a card-catalogue of the extensive collection of musical instruments (this card catalogue seems no longer to exist [5]). Balfour was assisted in this work by Melville William Hilton-Simpson (1881-1938) who worked almost every day for over six months as a volunteer. Balfour hoped that the completion of this catalogue would ‘lead to a re-classification of the whole series of musical instruments, which is a very fine one, although the space available for its exhibition is very inadequate. An extension of the Museum to accommodate this instructive series is greatly to be desired, both as a means of adequately displaying this section of the Museum collection, and to enable the general congestion of the Museum to be relieved’. A Mr. R. Poulton had also been working on ‘the important collection of palaeolithic flint implements’ discovered on the Isle of Wight and donated by Edward Bagnall Poulton. Barbara Freire-Marreco had continued to volunteer at the Museum, now working on cataloguing and labelling her own field collection. A large number of the weapons and armour in the Museum had been photographed and described by Charles John ffoulkes (1868-1947) for a work on ‘European Arms and Armour in the University of Oxford’ which was published shortly after. This is one of the few years when the early annual reports record visits to the museum by school parties, around 150 children in total visiting the museum in 1911, ‘in response to a request from the Mayor’.

The role of volunteers in collections management continued with George R. Carline (who later worked at the Bankfield Museum in Halifax) volunteering to re-draft the list of accessions on or before 1912. Winifred Blackman (1872-1950), another volunteer and student of the Department, started work on the fire-making and music catalogues. They both continued this work during 1913 when Balfour announced, in the Annual Report, that the card catalogues for musical instruments, fire-making, charms and amulets had been completed. During the Easter Vacation of that year he visited the Dordogne where he collected some stone tools. In 1913 Balfour relates the work he has done outside the museum, ‘I have also given special lectures to societies upon the following subjects connected with the Museum—" The Early Stone-age Cultures of South Africa " (to the African Society), "Evolution of Stringed Instruments of Music" (at Norwich and in Oxford), "The Gun-flint Industry" (to the O.U. Junior Scientific Club), and two demonstration-lectures were given to University Extension Students’.

In 1914 Winifred Blackman continued her cataloguing work and Balfour reported that the following areas had been catalogued: ‘Fire-making appliances, Musical Instruments, primitive Food-vessels, &c., Currency, Agricultural Appliances and those used in the Preparation of Food, Magic and Charms, Basketry, Toys and Games, Tattooing appliances, and the series of Artificial Cranial Deformations. The classification of the cards is in progress, and special cabinets are used for this purpose.’ Balfour acknowledges in the Annual Report the important donation of material by John Henry Hutton:

Especial mention should be made of the important series of Naga objects collected by Mr. J. H. Hutton in the Naga Hills, and presented by him with full information, the cost of freight having also been defrayed by this generous donor. Many important gaps in the series have been filled through his help.

He little realised the huge eventual extent of this donation as Hutton continued to give large numbers of items for many years, and encouraged other fellow members of the Indian Civil Service, like James Phillip Mills, to do likewise. In June 1914 Balfour set off for Australia to attend the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, stopping at Java, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. He returned at the beginning of November 1914. Sadly 1914 was the first time that the Annual Reports record an attempted theft from the museum when cases were forced. The following year attempts were made to improve security with new locks being fitted to the main and workroom doors. Cases in the Upper Gallery (presumably where the attempt had been made) were ‘more effectively protected against theft’.

In 1914, according to Evans-Pritchard (later Professor of Social Anthropology) the Department of Social Anthropology was established. [Evans-Pritchard, 1953:18] According to Chapman [2000:503] ‘the Department (later the Institute) of Social Anthropology was founded in 1914. Its initial funding came from the Drapers’ Company, mainly through the work of Tylor’s successor, R.R. Marett, who became Reader in Social Anthropology in 1910’. Howarth states that ‘That astute academic entrepreneur Marett, Reader in Anthropology, first persuaded Asquith of the importance of his subject in the training of colonial civil servants and then extracted a benefaction from the Drapers’ Company on the grounds that many of his students were ‘officers of the public service whose duties bring them into contact with peoples of lower culture in various parts of the British Empire’ [Howarth, 2000:640 quoting Marett, A Jerseyman at Oxford: 294; Athenaeum 27 June 1914,891]

The shed at the south side of the museum, recently vacated by the Professor of Engineering, was brought into museum use during 1915 as a working room and store room.[6] This had been the first Department of Engineering at the University and in 2004 is scheduled to be demolished to make way for the new office etc development for the Museum. Drawer cabinets were erected in this building to contain an interesting collection of quivers, for which exhibition space was lacking in the Museum. The roof was overhauled and ‘glazing repacked with asbestos’. Winifred Blackman continued cataloguing, now working on spear-throwers and lighting appliances. Arthur Maurice Hocart (1884-1939) catalogued part of the head-rest series but did not complete this work.

For the first time, in 1916, the effects of the First World War were felt (or recorded in the annual reports), when work in the Museum in winter was hampered by Police regulations regarding lighting. In addition the suggestion that the Royal Flying Corps take over the museum space was fortunately not adopted. It was Balfour’s belief that ‘[had] it been carried out, it would have entailed enormous loss, and would certainly have resulted in extensive and irreparable damage, in addition to undoing completely the work of thirty years.’ Winifred Blackman continued her work on the catalogues, working on spoons, ornaments involved in artificial deformation and lighting. The ‘iron shed’, later known to members of staff as ‘the Green shed’, proved very useful, being furnished with sets of drawers etc, purchased secondhand. A large number of phonograph records, chiefly of native music, were arranged in this shed. In this year Beatrice Blackwood first makes her appearance in the Pitt Rivers Museum story, as she started the diploma in Anthropology, she completed in 1918.

As a future member of staff made her first appearance an older member made his farewell, Tylor died in 2 January 1917 at his home in Wellington, Somerset. Back in Oxford, the War was still affecting the work progress according to Balfour in the Annual Report. Shortages and the high costs of material and labour prevented the much needed extension of exhibition and storage space for specimens. Presumably because of the effect of the war upon staffing Balfour was involved in the administration of the University Museum (of Natural History) and was also temporarily absent abroad on Red Cross duty. A room in the ‘iron shed’ had been used to temporarily house books from the Tylor library. Winifred Blackman continued cataloguing, working on rosaries, including the large collection given by Tylor.

In 1918 there was good news concerning the staffing at the Museum when Hebdomadal Council granted £150 for an application for a Scientific Assistant or Demonstrator by the Curator:

4 June 1918: Registrar to Secretary of University Chest ‘The Hebdomadal Council yesterday considered an application by the Curator of the Pitt-Rivers Museum for a Scientific Assistant or Demonstrator. They granted the application, and resolved that, subject to the approval of the Curators of the University Chest, a sum of £150, from the Residue of the Common University Fund, be devoted to this purpose in 1919. Would you kindly lay this before the Curators?’ [University Archives, UC/FF/60/3]

Lady Tylor donated a large number of volumes from Tylor’s library to the Museum and cataloguing of these commenced. Winifred Blackman completed the catalogue of rosaries and brought the existing card catalogues up to date. George Kettle was absent for most of the year serving with the Navy.

In 1919 Balfour was reappointed a Fellow at Exeter College. George R. Carline took up his duties as Assistant Curator, mainly concerning himself with labelling and cataloguing new acquisitions. Winifred Blackman continued compiling the card catalogues and completed the series for weighing appliances, mirrors and combs. Louis Colville Gray Clarke, volunteered in the museum. According to the Dictionary of National Biography:

In 1919 [Clarke] matriculated as a candidate for the diploma in anthropology at Exeter College, Oxford, attracted by the opportunity of studying under R. R. Marett ... Arthur Thomson ... and Henry Balfour... Balfour was his tutor in archaeology and technology; under his guidance Clarke did valuable work as a volunteer in the Pitt Rivers Museum, of which he remained a benefactor throughout his life. In 1922 Clarke was elected to succeed Baron Anatole von Hugel as curator of the University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Cambridge.

Balfour obviously found this new volunteer very congenial, remarking in the Annual Report that ‘[he] has been a considerable benefactor and has secured and presented a large number of valuable specimens, besides interesting himself in the Museum's welfare in a variety of ways.’ Two other prominent ethnographic collectors and writers are mentioned in the 1919 annual report, John Henry Hutton for giving a large collection of Naga objects and Henry Ling Roth for working on the Maori cloak collection for a monograph. That year saw the visit of the Museums Association to Oxford for its annual meeting, Balfour gave ‘an account of the Museum’ and ‘a special demonstration of the Museum was also given’.


[1] ‘An Edinburgh graduate, Arthur Thomson, appointed in 1885 as lecturer and in 1893 Professor in Human Anatomy ...’ [Howarth, 2000:473]

[2] This is odd, the article is dated 1896 [some 12 years after foundation and when the museum appeared to have a separate identity but still the Curator is referring to the museum as an integral part of the University Museum.

[3] JP MIlls ‘Anthropology as a Hobby’ JRAI 83 (1953): 1-8.

[4] This was probably be the small office which was later used for visiting researchers to work on collections as reference is made to the need to add a new top light, which now exists in this space.

[5] Note that the geographical catalogue card for 1887.32.1 [an English staff from Moseley] makes reference to 'Card. cat. of staves No lxxiii' and adds note 'A catalogue now non-existent, presumably added when the card was typed so either added by Penniman or Blackwood. This suggests that the hint that Balfour might have worked on card catalogues with his volunteers (?and staff) which later disappeared might be correct

[6] ‘This [the use of 18 Parks Road for specimens] freed ‘the tin shed’ (a corrugated iron structure built in 1906 as a temporary building to house Oxford University’s Engineering Department) which later, after repainting, became known as ‘the green shed’. [Blackwood / Jones, 1991:13-14]


Henry Balfour. 1896. ‘A primitive musical instrument’ Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist XI pp 221-4

....     1899. The Natural History of the Musical Bow Oxford Clarendon Press

David A. Berry. 2003. Collecting at Oxford: A history of the University’s Museums, Gardens and Libraries. Unpublished D.Phil. Oxford University

B. Blackwood. 1970. The Classification of Artefacts in the Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford. Occasional Papers on Technology, no. 11, Oxford.

B. Blackwood. Revised and updated by Schuyler Jones. 1991 The Origin and Development of the Pitt Rivers Museum, PRM Oxford

M. Bowden. 1991. Pitt Rivers: The life and archaeological work of Lieutenant- General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, DCL, FRS, FSA. Cambridge University Press

M.G. Brock and M.C. Curthoys. 1997 The History of the University of Oxford: Volume VI Nineteenth Century Oxford, Part 1 Clarendon Press Oxford

.... 2000. The History of the University of Oxford: Volume VII Nineteenth Century Oxford, Part 2 Clarendon Press Oxford

W.R. Chapman. 1981. Ethnology in the Museum. Unpublished D. Phil thesis, vols I and II, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

....     1984. ‘Pitt Rivers and His Collection’ in Cranstone and Seidelberg, ‘The General’s Gift’ Oxford

....     1987. ‘Arranging Ethnology’, in ‘Objects and Others’, History of Anthropology Series [ed] G. Stocking 1987. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison Wisconsin

.... 1989. The organisational context in the history of archaeology - Pitt Rivers and other British archaeologists in the 1860s Antiquaries Journal 69 23-42

.... 1991. ‘‘Like a Game of Dominoes’: Augustus Pitt Rivers and the Typological Museum Idea’ in S. Pearce Museum Economics and the Community vol 2 New Research in Museum Studies Athlone London

....     2000. ‘The Pitt Rivers Collection’ in Brock and Curthoys 2000.

L.C.G. Clarke. 1939. ‘Professor Henry Balfour’ [obituary] in Geographical Journal vol XCIII no 6 June 1939 pp. 465-7

Cochrane, Alfred 2004 “Boyd, Henry (1831–1922).” Rev. Roger T. Stearn. In H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: OUP, 2004. (accessed December 12, 2005).

Jeremy Coote; Chantal Knowles, Nicolette Meister, and Alison Petch.

2000. 'Computerizing the Forster ('Cook'), Arawe, and Founding Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum', Pacific Arts, nos. 19/20 (July), pp. 48-80.

Jeremy Coote. 2004 Curiosities from the Endeavour: A forgotten collection: Pacific Artefacts given by Joseph Banks to Christ Church, Oxford after the First Voyage Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby

Julia Cousins. undated. ‘The Pitt Rivers Museum: A Souvenir Guide to the Collections PRM Oxford

B.A.L. Cranstone and Steven Seidelberg [eds] 1984. ‘The General’s Gift: A celebration of the PRM Centenary, 1884-1984’ Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford Occasional Paper 3

Elizabeth Edwards, 1984. ‘Collecting with a Camera: Pitt Rivers Museum Photographic Collections’ in Cranstone and Seidelberg 1984 pp26-35

Robert Fox. 1997 ‘The University Museum and Oxford Science, 1850-1880’ in Brock and Curthoys 1997

Harold St. George Gray. 1905. ‘A Memoir of Lt-General Pitt-Rivers’ [sic] in Excavations in Cranborne Chase vol V. Somerset [privately published]

..... 1953 [no title] in ‘Anthropology at Oxford: the proceedings of the five-hundredth meeting of the Oxford University Anthropological Society ... February 25th, 1953.

Janet Howarth. 2000a. ‘‘Oxford for Arts’: The Natural Sciences, 1880-1914’ in Brock and Curthoys 2000.

.... 2000b. ‘The Self-Governing University, 1882-1914’ in Brock and Curthoys 2000.

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Alison Petch. 1996. ‘Weapons and the "Museum of Museums".' Journal of Museum Ethnography. 8: 11-22.

.... 1998 '"Man as he was and Man as he is": General Pitt Rivers' collections.' Journal of the History of Collections. Oxford

.... ‘Cataloguing the Pitt Rivers Museum founding collection’.  Journal of Museum Ethnography 1999, no. 11 pp 95-104

.... ‘AMS25 Anthropological Catalogue (1886): List of Anthropological Objects Transferred from the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1886 (compiled 1884) / List of Anthropological Objects Transferred from the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers Museum’, in Arthur MacGregor, 2000. pp. 255–413.

.... 2002. Assembling and Arranging: Pitt Rivers’ collections from 1850 to now’ in ’Collectors: Expressions of Self and Other Occasional Papers Series: Horniman  Museum and Museu Antropologico of the University of Coimbra

.... 2003 'Documentation in the Pitt Rivers Museum’ Journal of Museum Ethnography, No. 15 pp 109-114

Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard. 1953. [no title] in ‘Anthropology at Oxford: the proceedings of the five-hundredth meeting of the Oxford University Anthropological Society ... February 25th, 1953.

Barrie Reynolds 1984 ‘Material Culture and Anthropology’ in Cranstone and Seidelberg 1984. pp 61 - 67.

A.H. Lane-Fox [Pitt Rivers] 1874. Catalogue of the Anthropological Collection lent by Colonel Lane Fox for exhibition in the Bethnal Green branch of the South Kensington Museum June 1874 Parts I and II. London, Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education HMSO [Re-issued 1879]

... 1883. On the development and distribution of primitive locks and keys. London

.... 1891. ‘Typological museums as exemplified by the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford and his provincial museum at Farnham Dorset’ Journal of the Society of Arts, 1891:115-22

.... 1906. The Evolution of Culture and other Essays Oxford Clarendon Press [includes ‘Primitive Warfare’]

Hélène La Rue. 1984. ‘The Natural History’ of a Musical Instrument Collection’ in Cranstone and Seidelberg, 1984 pp 36-40

N.A. Rupke, ‘Oxford’s Scientific Awakening and the Role of Geology’, in Brock and Curthoys, 1997: 541-562.

Richard Symonds. 2000. ‘Oxford and the Empire’ in Brock and Curthoys 2000.

Keith Thompson. [article on Huxley / Wilberforce debate]

M.W. Thompson 1977. General Pitt Rivers: Evolution and Archaeology in the Nineteenth Century. Moonraker Press.

Pitt Rivers Museum annual reports from 1888-1945

University [of Oxford] Gazettes 1884-1945

See here for the next chapter in the PRM's history

Added to SMA website April 2013 

Additional information added post April 2013:

Collections of Anthropological Photographs:

Box 1 Spencer papers G10 Miscellaneous Letter from S J Hickson to Spencer dated 25 November 1894

... I am trying to form a collection of photos of natives for the Museum similar to the one we had at Oxford & should consequently be glad to receive any photos of ‘blacks’ you can send me. I think that Anthrop & Ethnol, have been rather neglected here & it might be well to start an interest in it.'   
This is very early on, I assume that the 'we' refers to the OUMNH (as they were both natural historians) ... [AP May 2015]

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