Report of the Acting Curator of the Pitt-Rivers Museum for the year ending 31 July 1939

Professor Henry Balfour, F.R.S., Assistant Curator of the Pitt-Rivers Museum from 1885 to 1891, and Curator since 1891, died peacefully at his home at Langley Lodge, Headington on 9 February 1939, after a long illness. His many friends throughout the world will be glad to know that until the last, he was, as always during an illness, planning to return to the Museum and continue and develop the work to which he had given his life. 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, and also by the many friends and pupils throughout the world who were inspired by his teaching and example to collect for the Museum. Thanks to his austere devotion to scientific accuracy, the Museum is one of the best documented in the world, and this, and its unique arrangement by arts and industries rather than by areas, the invention of the founder, developed and modernized by the late Curator, have drawn research students and Museum Directors from all parts of the world to study, and the Museum has taken a definite place in national life, attracting annually large bodies of teachers and pupils sent by various Boards of Education.

Besides the many gifts which he made during his lifetime, he left a library of 3,000-4,000 books and 6,000 pamphlets, collected over a period of fifty years with a view to illustrating and explaining the origin, development, geographical distribution and variation of the principal arts and industries of primitive peoples as shown in the Museum. A large and beautiful collection of musical instruments, fire-making apparatus, and general ethnographical specimens including an Hawaiian feather cloak, were also designed to augment or complete collections in the Museum, but these collections and the library were kept in his house because of severe congestion in the Museum. After his death, his son, Mr. Lewis Balfour, generously gave these to the Museum, on condition that they should have a suitable temporary house, and one day be placed with the rest of the collections. With the co-operation of the University Chest and the Professor of Botany, the Acting Curator was able to secure a house, 9 Crick Road, and to display the collections temporarily. The library is being arranged and catalogued with the help of Mr. R.J. Bates and Mr. R.C. Gurden of the Radcliffe Science Library, and books will be accessible on certain days to Diploma and research students during the coming academic year. It is worth adding that the Balfour gift is probably the largest single donation since that of the founder, and that when it is finally housed in the Museum, the library and the musical and fire-making series will be equal to any of their kind in the world.

Dr. L.H. Dudley Buxton, Reader in Physical Anthropology, died on 6 March 1939, of pneumonia, shortly after his wife. He too had been a generous friend of the Museum, and at the request of his brother, Dr. St. J. D. Buxton, his general anthropological library of about 800 books and 1,100 pamphlets, together with various ethnographical specimens collected by himself, are placed on loan in the Pitt-Rivers Museum. These also are temporarily housed at 9 Crick Road.

Mr. F.C. Whiting, for many years an employee of the late Professor Balfour, has been chosen by the Acting Curator as caretaker of 9 Crick Road, and has given valuable service in repairing, preserving, and arranging the collections. He is employed by the Museum for part of each week, and is learning museum technique with a view to becoming ultimately a full-time member of staff. He is being trained by Mr. H.J. Walters, for 45 years head-technician, and his son Mr. H.F. Walters, both highly-skilled men, whose long and steadfast service and devotion to the Museum cannot be too highly commended.

The Acting Curator took charge of the Museum on 24 January 1939 at the request of Professor Balfour and the Board of the Faculty of Anthropology and Geography. Apart from the establishment of an annexe at Crick Road, various necessary alterations and repairs have been made in the Museum. In the Court the glass roof has been thoroughly overhauled and made sound against the weather, and the ventilating fan has been put in order and fitted with a louvre to keep out the rain. Curtains on runners have been fitted over cases containing materials which fade or otherwise suffer from light, and certain screens with perishable specimens have been glassed over. Three modern cabinets with metal runners and padded drawers have been fitted in the Top Gallery so that heavy and delicate specimens can be inspected easily without jarring or chipping, and the old drawers have been placed in new ‘carcases’ and used in the storage rooms. The heating and drainage systems in the work, reception and Curator’s rooms have been modernized, so that floors, exhibition cases, and specimens are now safe from damage by water. The same rooms have been cleared of accumulations and fitted for work, reception and preservation, and cataloguing of objects. The card catalogues have been collected into the Curator’s room, and work resumed on them. A filing system has been installed.

A Report on the Present Position and Immediate and Future Needs of the Museum has been placed before Council by the Acting Curator, recommending the appointment of a permanent Assistant Curator, an increase in the technical staff with higher wages, and a larger annual grant. It asks that the present Geology Department and the original Lanchester and Lodge site behind the Museum should be allotted for immediate expansion and future building, in return for giving up Museum House for the use of Physical Anthropology, and puts forward a plan for building an annexe in sections. It would be most appropriate if this annexe could be named after Professor Balfour and stand as a memorial to his life-work for the University.

Should the University appoint a permanent Assistant Curator to help with the work of the Museum, a portion of the annual grant ought to be used to employ a full-time Librarian, who could assist the Curator with his over-heavy secretarial work and in labelling specimens for exhibition. At present, a very valuable library of 14,000-15,000 items is hardly in use at all, for want of regular attention. If this were collected together in the Museum and regularly attended, its value to the staff and students working the Museum is almost beyond calculation, since the subjects of the Library and the Museum are the same.

The Museum has been in daily use by research workers and museum directors from all parts of the world, and has been frequently visited by parties of teachers and students sent by various Boards of Education. The management of these conducted tours with information, and of providing for the needs of research and museum workers at the same time, requires a larger staff than we have at present if we are to bring to each student or group of students the interest and freshness which the work deserves.

During the past term the Chancellor of the University visited the Pitt-Rivers Museum, and showed great interest in the subjects of exhibition and the method of their arrangement.

Arrangements are being made with the Musée de l’Homme of Paris to exchange some of our duplicates for prehistoric series from various parts of the world. Our own series has large gaps, which can partly be filled by the valuable collections in the French Museum. The Acting Curator has taken advantage of Miss Blackwood’s visit to the Pacific Sciences Congress in San Francisco, and a northern and southern route have been worked out so that Miss Blackwood can buy or arrange exchanges for representative specimens in a large number of American museums and Indian reservations. An attempt will be made to collect material from the Phillipines during the American trip, and arrangements are about to be made with Dutch museums to exchange duplicates for other Indonesian material, of which we have very little. Exchanges with Russia for Siberian material are contemplated.

Lectures on Archaeology with modern ethnological parallels, and on the Useful and Aesthetic Arts of Primitive Peoples have been given to Diploma students and others by the Acting Curator and Miss Blackwood. A Practical Museum course has been started, and certain working models purchased. Several volunteers have been found to assist next year in showing students how to make flint implements, and in teaching them to use the various appliances in use among primitive peoples. Such work is a most important preliminary to a study of their ethnological significance, and leads to a deeper understanding of peoples, especially among those being trained for field-work.

The Acting Curator has also lectured on Race, Culture and Environment, The Ecology and Ethnology of the Near East, and Current Theories in Anthropology. An account of Caves and Shell-Heaps of West Gower is about to be published, and an edition of Balfour’s important unfinished work on the Stone Implements of the Natives of Tasmania with an introduction by Dr. A. C. Haddon and a bibliography is being prepared by the Acting Curator and Miss Blackwood.

In addition to the routine lectures mentioned, Miss Blackwood has given her usual lectures on Melanesian Ethnology, and the Ethnology of the North American Indians, and of the Polar Regions, as well as a short course on Burmese Arts and Crafts to Burmese Colonial Service students. Outside lectures have been given at the Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences at Copenhagen in August 1938 on ‘Artificial Cranial Deformation in New Britain’, at the Royal Geographical Society in April 1939 on ‘Life in Upper Watut, New Guinea’, and to the Folk-Lore Society in June 1939 on ‘Folk-Stories of a Stone Age People in New Guinea.’ She has also lectured before the Pacific Sciences Congress in San Francisco this summer.

Dr. H. Meinhardt has continued to give temporary assistance in entering collections in the accessions books, research in Museum matters, and photography for the Museum. He has lectured before the Oxford University Anthropological Society and the Royal Anthropological Institute on the Javanese Wayang and its Indian Prototype.

Sir Francis Knowles has continued to give valuable voluntary assistance in making card catalogues of the collections.

A portrait with the inscription ‘Henry Balfour, F.R.S., Curator of the Pitt-Rivers Museum 1891-1939’ has been placed in the Exhibition Court, near the entrance.

A complete list of this or any other year’s accessions would fill many pages of the Gazette. Students wishing for information refer to the Museum catalogues, accessions books, or attendants, rather than to past files of the Gazette, and are unlikely in any event to know in what year an object or collection was published in that periodical. Donors who so desired have already been given an official printed receipt with a list of their gifts. It seems best, therefore, to discontinue the printing of a full list in the annual report, and to substitute a brief summary of the principal gifts in order to give the Museum Delegates and Congregation a general idea of the growth and scope of the annual accessions.

Apart from the gifts made by the late Professor Balfour through his son, and the collections lent by Dr. Buxton’s executors, the following may be mentioned:

Miss Blackwood, one of the most generous donors the Museum has ever known, has given a large representative collection of specimens showing the material culture of peoples on the north-east coast of New Guinea (Madang District), and on the lower stretches of the Ramu River, in particular from the Bosmun group of villages about 25 miles from its mouth. There are also a few objects from the middle course of the Ramu. The principal items are a large collection of stone implements, some hafted, a few with blades made of shell; scrapers and other tools for making sago; representative collections of bark cloth with painted designs, tools for preparing it, and specimens of trees used; weapons; Lower Ramu pottery and tools used in its manufacture; personal ornaments, musical instruments, masks, wood-carvings, toys, fish-traps and baskets. Ornaments of turtle-shell filigree on light background from New Ireland, the Admiralty Islands, Manam Island, and the Lower Ramu, the last three forming important cultural links not hitherto represented in the collections. Specimens collected by E.W. Leggatt and Michael Leahy in the Mt. Hagen district. Specimens collected by Frl. Hausknecht on the Ogowé River, French Equatorial Africa.

With the collections Miss Blackwood has presented cinematograph films showing the arts and crafts of the people of the Upper Watut in S.E. Central New Guinea, of the Arawe of S.W. New Britain, and of tribes of the Upper Purari and elsewhere. These include the making and use of stone implements and weapons, making and painting of bark cloth, use of the blow-gun, the process of binding the heads of infants to produce the deformation customary among the Arawe, and the cane-swallowing of natives of the Upper Purari. These films will form the nucleus of a larger collection which we intend to make for the Museum.
 Other collections received in 1938 include: Specimens collected in the Lake Tanganyika region by Dr.W. A. Cunnington. Specimens collected in southern Angola by Mrs. Tucker and Miss Powell-Cotton. A considerable number of specimens collected in the New Hebrides by Captain G.C. Frederick. An important collection of ancient and modern ear-picks and vanity cases from all parts of the world, presented by L.C.G.Clarke, Esq., Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Specimens received in I939 include: A Bari ancestor figure collected by Mansfield Parkyns, and given by his daughter Mrs. Buckland. A model in ox-scapula of the 'marble boat' of the last Empress of China, and Indian ivories, presented by Mrs. Kirkness. A large and important representative collection of objects illustrating the material culture of natives of Nyasaland, collected in the Kota Kota district by the Rev. W.C. Piercy, and bequeathed by him to the Museum. A model of a canoe with outrigger, and various other ethnographical specimens collected by her father, presented by Dr. Ruth Turner. A collection made and presented by H.S. Edwardes, Esq., from Nigeria, mainly the Bauchi district. Specimens from the Malay region and British Guiana, presented by G.B. Moullin. A collection of Ashanti gold-weights, from Mrs. G. de B. Stock. A flail, sickle, hay-band twister, and wheelwright's planes from Minster Lovell, presented by Gordon Busby, Esq., and a wheelwright's plane from G.H. Dennis, Esq. Two Neapolitan figurines from Colonel Gosset. A collection of Eocene fractured flints, goniometer and other measuring tools from Professor A.S. Barnes. A microscope, and ship in bottle from the late Miss Kirkaldy. A large collection illustrating the material culture of natives of Uganda and Ruanda, made and presented by A.C.A. Wright, Esq. A collection from the Kiberege area of Tanganyika, made and presented by Mr. and Mrs. A.T. Culwick. A toad-stone presented by J.C.B. Gamlen, Esq. An olive-wood stick etched by a Bushman boy, and sherds of Bushman pottery presented by Miss L.G. Dunn. Spear-throwers and spears collected and presented by A.J. Arkell, Esq., from the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and Lake Chad area. These are being published by the donor, and will then be placed on exhibition. Ancient tin figures and ingots from the Malay Peninsula, deposited on loan by A.S. Haynes, Esq.


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