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Peter Rivière

Archibald Henry SayceArchibald Henry Sayce (from his German wikipedia entry)Among news items contained in the 1867 volume of The Anthropological Review, the journal of the Anthropological Society of London, was the following notice:

Oxford Anthropological Society.--We announce with pleasure the formation of a young and vigorous society for the promotion of our science which has been established at Oxford. Quietly as this little society has arisen, and unostentatiously as it holds on its course--being for the most part composed of the younger members of the university whose taste has led them in a scientific direction--the subjoined list of papers read will appear highly creditable. A paper contributed by a member of this society is prevented only by want of space from appearing in our present number, but we hope to present it to our readers on a future occasion. The following notice will be read with interest:-

"Oxford Anthropological Society.--A society has been founded in Oxford for the furtherance of anthropological objects. Mr. A. H. Sayce, Mr. R. Robinson, and Mr. H. G. Sharp having been successively elected Presidents. Since the first meeting of the Society at the beginning of the Easter Term for 1866, the following papers have been read: 'The Influence of Wyclifism on the National Development’ by Mr. C. W. Tait; ‘Comparative Mythology’ by Mr. A. H. Sayce; ‘The Science of History’ by Mr. A. C. Hamilton;  ‘Poetry’ by Mr. W. Danks; ‘Connexion between the Revolutions of the Moral and the Physical World’ by Mr. A. H. Sayce; 'Education, Ancient and Modern’ by Mr. R. Robinson; 'Law and Equity’ by Mr. J. W. Browne; 'Feudalism’ by Mr. C. W. Tait; 'The Relations of Woman to Man’ by Mr. C. Churchill; 'The Functions of the Brain’ by Mr. H. G. Sharp; 'Comparison of the English Rebellion and the French Revolution’ by Mr. J. Greenwell; 'The Phenomena of Sleep’ by Mr. C. Babington; 'Greek Civilisation’ by Mr. A. H. Sayce; 'Government’ by Mr. H. Bromley; 'The Principles of War’ by Mr. W. Morris; ‘Colonisation’ by Mr. J. Cotton; 'Rent’ by Mr. H. L. Browne; 'Scepticism’ by W. M. Hatch; 'The Relation of Poetry to Philosophy’ by Mr. H. C. James, and 'The Statistics of Crime’ by Mr. C. W. Fowler. Attention has also been drawn to the light hair and complexion of the natives of Oxford and its neighbourhood; characteristics more plainly marked than even in Saxon Somerset- shire.” [1]

This short news items appears to have been the only public notice that the Society received and contains all we know about it. It does, however, contain enough information to make it worth closer investigation. First, there is no evidence of how long it existed. The fact that there had been three presidents by July – October 1867, the date of the Anthropological Review that carried the news item, suggests that either the society had been going three years or three terms. The evidence points towards the latter because Sayce, who was the first President, only came up in 1865. It is unlikely that he became President of a newly founded society on his arrival at Oxford, so it is possible to surmise that the Society was active in the academic year 1866-67, but we do not know how long after that it continued

Second, the intention expressed by the editors of The Anthropological Review to publish in a future issue a paper contributed by a member of this society does not appear to have been fulfilled, at least as far as we can tell, since the full membership of the Society is unknown. Third, perhaps what strikes one most is the disparate range of subjects that are regarded as falling under the rubric of anthropology. Unfortunately our knowledge of the papers is restricted to their titles, and these provide only the most general indication of their contents. With one exception there is seems little here that we today would recognise as anthropology. Furthermore the topics have nothing in common with the papers read at the contemporary meetings of the Anthropological Society of London or the Ethnological Society of London or published in their journals. The exception relates to the last sentence of the news item concerning the comparison of hair and complexion between the natives of Oxford and Somerset, a topic which firmly fits with the interests of mainstream anthropology of the time.

What we are left with are the names of some of the members of the Society who presented the papers. The intention is to look a little more closely at these individuals in order to see what they can tell us about the nature of the Society. This will be done in the order which their names appear in the notice.

We are lucky with the first name, Archibald Henry Sayce, who was the first President and contributed three papers, because we know a lot about him as he has a full entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [ODNB]. Indeed he may well have been the inspiration for and driving force behind the Society. If so, it is an early indication of a later brilliant career. Born in 1833, Sayce, despite being plagued by ill health all his life, led an extremely energetic one. At a young age he started to develop an interest in Middle Eastern and Indian languages, beginning at school to learn Hebrew, Assyrian, Persian Arabic and Sanskrit. He learnt the hieroglyphic ‘alphabet’ and studied cuneiform. He went up to Queen’s College, Oxford with a Taberdar scholarship in 1865. Despite continuing ill health and eye sight problems he obtained a First in Classics in 1868, but further illness made him withdraw from the Honour School of Law and Modern History the following year. In that year, however, he took his BA, and became a Fellow and Classical Lecturer at Queen’s. In 1870 he became a college tutor and was ordained. During his undergraduate years he came under the influence of Max Müller, the Sanskrit scholar, and was a contemporary of John Rhys, the Celtic scholar and later Principal of Jesus College. Sayce’s subsequent career was very wide ranging, but he is best known as an Assyriologist and he held a personal chair in the subject at Oxford from 1891 to 1915. He became a Fellow of the Anthropological Institute in 1876. Throughout his career he travelled widely; Europe, Middle and Far East, Africa, and North America. He died in 1933. He left his oriental books to Queen's College, his notes, correspondence and transcriptions to the Bodleian Library, and his collections of Middle and Far Eastern antiquities and ceramics to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. 

About Richard Robinson much less has been discovered. He was an undergraduate at Worcester where he obtained a First in Classics in 1865 and a Second in Law and Modern History in 1866, by which year he was a Fellow of Queen’s where he remained until his death in 1870. [2]

Nor do we know much more about Henry Glanville Sharp, who was a scholar at Queen’s in 1864-6. In the latter year he obtained a Second in Classical Moderations, and received his BA the following year. He subsequently joined the Indian Civil Service.

William Chapman in his 1981 doctoral thesis, 'Ethnology in the museum', makes the following claim: 'R. Robinson and H.G. Sharp, both members of the first Anthropological Society, spent most of their time at the University Museum working with scientists such as Rolleston, Westwood and Acland'. Unfortunately the source for this interesting information to which he refers makes no mention of this. [3]

Charles William Adam Tait, born in 1846, was a Taberdar Scholar at Queen’s who got a Second in Classics in 1869. In 1873 he was an Assistant Master at Clifton College and later a House Master. He stayed there until 1904. His 31 years there are commemorated today by a school house named Tait’s Town. He died on 17 January 1913. [4] 

Alexander Chetwood Hamilton was an Heron’s Exhibitioner at University College who obtained a Third in Classics in 1870. He had been a student of the Inner Temple before coming up to Oxford and was a law lecturer at Brasenose in 1881-3.

William Danks, born in Nottingham in 1845, graduated at Queen’s in 1868. He went into the church and his career is particularly well documented in local newspapers. He was ordained deacon in Lincoln Cathedral on 20 December 1868 and priest a year later. [5] His first curacy was at Basford, Nottingham from which he resigned in 1870. [6] He presumably did this to become Vicar of Rainhill, Lancashire as this excerpt from a piece on St Margaret’s, Ilkley indicates:

In June 1874 the patrons appointed The Revd. William Danks as Vicar Designate of the new church. he was a graduate of Queen’s College, Oxford, and previously had been Vicar of Rainhill in Lancashire. The Revd. William Danks was in his thirties when he took up his appointment and soon made himself a reputation as the young man at “the Church on the Moor” who preached strange doctrines.

A vivid account of William Danks was given many years ago by the Revd. W. H. Shaw which reads:-

“In 1877 I came to Ilkley and used to listen every Sunday, in a temporary church on the hillside, to the young incumbent of St. Margaret's Church with his strange unforgettable voice, his stern note against conventional Christianity, his quotations from John Stuart Mill, and Huxley and Ruskin and all the heretics: his strong undercurrent of tender religiousness and Christian worship. His doctrines, shocking then, almost orthodox now, scared old women out of their wits. They gave new life and inspiration to us younger folk.” [7]

He remained at Ilkley for five years then in 1879 ill health forced his retirement and he travelled to North America for its sake. [8] In 1883 he became Vicar of New Basford, Nottingham, but only remained there a few months before being invited back to Ilkley. [9] By 1888 he was continuing to gather a reputation as a preacher and was chosen to substitute for the Bishop of Ripon when the latter was indisposed. [10] By this time he had also been appointed rural dean for Keighley. In 1889 the Bishop of Ripon offered him the richer living of Bingley, [11] but he declined it to become Rector of Richmond, Yorkshire the following year. [12] In 1894 he was promoted to Archdeacon of Richmond. [13] He moved to the parish of Bishop Monkton, Leeds in 1899. [14] In July 1907, he was appointed to the Canonry of Canterbury. [15] He died on 4 April, 1916 and received a brief obituary in The Times. [16] He wrote a number of books, published sermons and descriptions of Ripon and Canterbury cathedrals. The authors he quoted in his sermons in Ilkley that so shocked the women of the parish give us some indication of his interests and why he may have joined an anthropological society.

James William Browne was a Hunt Scholar at University College who graduated with a First in Classics in 1869. He became a Fellow of Worcester College in 1870, leaving again in 1877. During the period of his fellowship he turned to medicine, obtaining a BMed in 1876.  

Charles John Scott Churchill of Corpus got a Third in Classics in 1869. It may be noted that his paper, ‘The relations of woman to man’ seems the closest fit with the interests of anthropology. In the year he graduated Churchill was appointed Assistant Master at Shrewsbury. [17] He became a housemaster in 1875, a position he retained for the next 35 years. His time there is commemorated by house called after him, Churchill’s Hall. On his resignation in 1910 he accepted the living of Ford, near Shrewsbury, and retired from this to die in Shrewsbury in 1918. [18]

William John Greenwell, an Exhibitioner of New College obtained a Third in Classics 1870. He was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1872, [19] and the notice of his marriage on 2 April, 1877 indicates that he was practising in Newcastle-on-Tyne. [20] He had been a friend of William Warde Fowler (see below) at Marlborough College and they had come up to New College the same term, Michaelmas 1866. [21] This William Greenwell is not to be confused with the Canon of Durham and archaeologist of the same name who was a friend of Pitt-Rivers.

There is no record of a C. Babington ever having attended Oxford University. On the assumption, however, that, just as today, societies invited guest speakers, there are two obvious candidates, cousins and both at Cambridge. One is Churchill Babington, the Professor of Archaeology, the other Charles Cardale Babington, Professor of Botany, although ‘it was said of them that each might fill the chair of the other’. Charles joined the Anthropological Society of London in1864, which may suggest it was he, but we cannot be certain. [22]

H Bromley is someone else who appears never to have been at Oxford, but in his case it has not been possible to identify anyone who he was likely to have been.

Information on William Robinson Morris is scant. He matriculated at Queen’s in 1862 but there is nothing on when he graduated. He was vicar of Low Wray, Westmoreland 1869-77, and Lindale, Lancashire 1877-9. 

James Sutherland Cotton, born in India, was a scholar at Trinity who obtained a First in Classic in 1870. The following year he became a Fellow of Queen’s where he stayed until1874. He became a barrister, editor of The Academy, wrote and edited various books on India and many entries for the DNB. He was Secretary of the Egyptian Exploration Fund. [23] This is someone who clearly carried an early interest in anthropology into his later career.

Henry Llewelyn Browne, Jesus, got a First in Classics in 1863. He was a Fellow of Queen’s in 1866 -76 and for a period Fellow Librarian. He was rector of Hampton Pyle, Oxon, 1875-6 and in the latter year became vicar of Monk Sherborne, Hampshire, a living in the gift of Queen’s. [24] He remained there until his death on 25 April 1886. [25] In 1886 he published an essay on reason and religious belief which is still in print. 

Walter Mooney Hatch, New College, obtained a First in Classics in 1866, having won the Stanhope Historical Essay Prize, on the rise of Russia, the year before. He was a Fellow of New College 1867-1877. In the early 1870s he became involved with a scheme for a college at Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire, but left it in January 1874 owing £3000. He then attempted to set up a college at Knutsford, Cheshire. He was at the time described as a schoolmaster of Great Budworth, Cheshire. This scheme went bankrupt in 1876. [26] He became rector of Birchanger, Essex in 1877 and died on 2 December the same year. 

Although his second initial is given as ‘C’ this is almost certainly Herbert Armitage James, an undergraduate at Lincoln who obtained a First in Classics in 1867. He was President of the Oxford Union. He was a Fellow of St John’s from 1869 to 1886. He was in succession Assistant Master at Marlborough College, Headmaster of Rossal School, Dean of St Asaph, Principal of Cheltenham College, and Headmaster of Rugby School. In 1909, he became President of St John’s, Oxford, and remained so for 22 years until his death in 1931. [27] He showed no obvious interest in anthropology after his undergraduate days but he must have been acquainted with many in Oxford who were directly involved, such as Marett and Myers, and those less directly so like Warde Fowler.

Although his first initial is given as ‘C’ this is probably William Warde Fowler of Lincoln who got a First in Classics in 1870. Among his contemporaries at Lincoln whom he mentions in his Reminiscences were James Cotton and Herbert James. [28] He became a Fellow of Lincoln in 1872, Tutor and Dean the following year and remained there until retiring in 1910, and dying in 1921. He was an authority on ancient Rome. Among his academic circle was Baldwin Spencer and he certainly knew Rolleston, and he is likely to have been at least acquainted with everyone in Oxford concerned with anthropology and the Pitt Rivers Museum. [29]

We may note the following features of the members of the society who read papers: there were senior as well as junior members of the university; the majority, including the three presidents, was at Queen’s College; and although, as was required they all read Classics, none of them appears also to have been examined in Natural Science, an option available from 1850 onwards. A large proportion of the members got first class degrees but there is not exact correlation between quality of degree and later success. The two highly successful schoolmasters, Tait and Churchill, got a Second and Third respectively, whereas Hatch with his First had a disastrous financial career.

It is also possible to identify three members whose undergraduate interest in anthropology carried on through their careers, two of them, Sayce and Fowler, remaining with close ties to Oxford, and Cotton almost certainly had close contacts with the university. Otherwise a livelihood in church or school was the most common occupation.

If we can speculate on who else was a member of the Society both Müller and Rhys are strong contenders. It has already been noted that Sayce was close to both of them and the three of them had similar interests. It is probably to this trio that one must look for the Oxonian concern with anthropology in the 1860s. It is also important to remember just how small Oxford University was in the second half of the 19th century and that almost everybody would have known or known of everybody else. In other words, those most commonly associated with the setting-up of the Pitt Rivers Museum such as Henry Acland, George Rolleston, John Westwood and Henry Moseley, would almost certainly be acquainted with people such a Sayce and Fowler.


[1] The Anthropological Review, Vol. 5 (1867), pp. 372-3.

[2] Throughout information that is not referenced is taken from various editions of the Oxford University Calendar or Alumni Oxonienses

[3] See William Chapman, here, Chapter VIII, p. 4.

[4]The Times (London, England), Saturday, Jan 18, 1913; pg. 9; Issue 40112.

[5] Nottinghamshire Guardian (London, England), Friday, December 25, 1868; pg. 5; Issue 1192. The Morning Post (London, England), Thursday, December 23, 1869; pg. 6; Issue 29966.

[6] Nottinghamshire Guardian (London, England), Friday, May 13, 1870; pg. 5; Issue 1264.


[8] Cheshire Observer (Chester, England), Saturday, November 02, 1889; pg. 8; Issue 1943.

[9] Nottinghamshire Guardian (London, England), Friday, August 24, 1883; pg. 5; Issue 1996.; Friday, February 08, 1884; pg. 8; Issue 2020.

[10] The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Friday, April 06, 1888; pg. 3; Issue 10477.

[11] Manchester Times (Manchester, England), Saturday, December 14, 1889; Issue 1690.

[12] The Standard (London, England), Thursday, January 16, 1890; pg. 2; Issue 20444.

[13] The Standard (London, England), Thursday, July 12, 1894; pg. 8; Issue 21848.

[14] The Standard (London, England), Thursday, February 09, 1899; pg. 7; Issue 23282.

[15] The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Jul 30, 1907; pg. 8; Issue 38398.

[16] The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Apr 05, 1916; pg. 4; Issue 41133.

[17] Jackson's Oxford Journal (Oxford, England), Saturday, January 29, 1870; Issue 6092.

[18] The Salopian, 9 November 1918, pp.40-1. I am grateful to the present housemaster of Churchill’s Hall, Mr Richard Hudson, for providing me with information about Churchill. He tells me there is a framed portrait photograph of him hanging in the Hall.

[19] The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), Friday, June 7, 1872; Issue 2282.

[20] The York Herald, Friday, April 06, 1877; pg. 4; Issue 6289.

[21] Fowler, W. Warde, Reminiscences. Oxford, 1921. There are hints that Greenwell fell into bad company which may account for this Third (see pp. 24-5).

[22] Both men have entries in the ODNB. See Journal of the Anthropological Society of London, 2 (1864), p. clvii. He later became an Honorary Fellow of the Anthropological Institute.

[23] Who’s who 2012 & who was who.

[24] The Wrexham Advertiser, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Merionethshire, and North Wales Register, Saturday, June 17, 1876; pg. 4.

[25] North Wales Chronicle (Bangor, Wales), Saturday, May 8, 1886; Issue 3047.

[26] Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Friday, February 25, 1876; Issue 5499.

[27] Who’s who 2012 & who was who.

[28] Fowler, Reminiscences, p. 25.

[29] ODNB.

March 2013, Updated April 2013

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