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The following letters are held in the manuscript archive of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London. We are very grateful to Alice Stevenson and Jan Picton for the transcription of this correspondence. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you require any further information about these documents.

It is interesting to note that Balfour's poor relationship with the University of Oxford authorities (and Pitt-Rivers himself) was obviously common knowledge outside of Oxford (though Balfour himself does not appear to be aware that it was so). 1891 was one of the then common upheavals in Balfour's work life and was the year he was finally appointed as Curator of the Museum (before that he had been acting-up because of Henry Nottidge Moseley's absence on extended sick leave).

Folder: Henry Balfour

  • Note/draft of letter to Henry Balfour from FP undated, written on a slip ‘With D. Leitner’s Compliments’
  • Letter from Henry Balfour, Oxford, 15 Oct 1891 (lecturer in ethnology and curator Pitt Rivers). Refusing a job offer from FP ‘to become an archaeologist’
  • Letter from Henry Balfour, Oxford, 20.4.1892. To FP thanking him for congratulations on reappointment
  • Rough draft in pencil of a letter to Henry Balfour from FP offering archaeological employment, undated, written on a slip ‘With D. Leitner’s Compliments’ already written on the paper in ink.

    H. Balfour

    I have been sorry to hear that there was a prospect of your leaving Oxford; but it has occurred to me that it may be for the good of archaeology.

    There is much need of scientific excavations: in Greece [?], in Cyprus, or in Egypt, you would find an open field, & support for such undertakings. And I am particularly led to put this before you as I have just received an offer from America (on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum N.Y.) to provide me with "all or a portion of the funds for a winter's work". This offer I cannot take up; as whatsoever money I need for work is already at my disposal from two friends in England.

    The definite course I would lay before you is this.  [sentence deleted] To allow me to propose that this offer shall be taken up by you, assisted in every way that I can, short of spending time on your excavations. That you shall prepare for the details by some weeks study of the special [?] archaeology with Griffith from my collection in England & by coming to stay with me in Egypt for a few weeks in the Spring (well covered by £50). And then that you should [word deleted] make a start at a site next autumn. You personally [?] known in America would make matters […..?] to both sides. [Next sentence in ink and continues at bottom of page] Under the EEF you would … be incurably [?] worried by contradictory plans and lack of liberty of action. As to costs the Americans offer to take the place that my backers now occupy. I should recommend some such arrangement, as the best in all [….?].

    Terms are:

    I fund all my personal travelling & living and the backers supply the excavating & transport. I have 1/3 of all that is excavated from Egypt and they have 2/3. This has given a very fair division on the whole.

    My actual expenses vary from £60 to £100 for everything during 6 or 7 months absence, including all travelling stores. If you have a cook, instead of using personal things., you may add £30 or £40. If Mrs Balfour joins you there would be no difficulties as to tent [?] life, as many English ladies live for weeks in tents while travelling through Palestine. And there are plenty of hotels in Cairo & good society in Cairo for a change. The costs of excavating run from £150 50 600 for a season according to length & amount.

    I know no career so independent, so exciting and constantly awakening, and so pleasant in the way in which one meets with various living authorities on their own specialties. And I shall be glad to hear of your views as soon as I can in order to reply to America. It would perhaps [deletion] rather favour than impede your prospects at Oxford or elsewhere in future years. Ernest Gardner and Griffiths excavations counted for much in their present appointments.           

  • Letter from Henry Balfour Oxford, 15 Oct 1891 (lecturer in ethnology and curator Pitt Rivers). Refusing a job offer from FP ‘to become an archaeologist’
  • My dear Mr Petrie

    In answer to your very kind letter I have to say that at present I am not contemplating leaving Oxford, where, if the funds will continue to admit of the progress of Ethnology, I have a lot of work to do, and feel bound to stick to the work I have begun in the hopes that some good may come of it.

    I wonder how you got the idea that I am leaving, I have not intended to convey it to anyone, as I hope that I may be able to continue my curatorship of the Ethnographical Department (P.R. Collection) in which I am greatly interested, as I have had it under my care since its establishment in Oxford. It is very kind of you to have made me so excellent an offer, it is certainly most attractive and the terms seem very satisfactory as they would leave one fairly free and unworried. The active life moreover would suit me better than as sedentary one, and I know that one must derive great benefit from working under your auspices & system.

    As long as I am asked to continue in my present position I am afraid that I ought to do so, and I have of course trained myself rather in the study of living races, than of former & extinct civilizations and should need to good deal of special training for the latter. Savage life is what I am most interested in, but I am obliged to cover more ground than can be mastered by me as the idea of the museum is to run Modern Ethnology and Archaeology hand in hand. I am doing what I can by taking a series at a time. Your attractive suggestion certainly [?] almost tend to make me discontented with my lot.   Verily thou almost persuadest me to become an ….. archaeologist!

    For the present however I must content myself with my curatorship.

    With kind regards & very many thanks


    Henry Balfour 

  • Letter from Henry Balfour, Oxford, 20.4.1892. To FP thanking him for congratulations on reappointment
  • My dear Petrie

    Very may thanks for your letter and kind congratulations on my reappointment. I am glad to go on with the work as I think that the public appreciates the Museum, and so much can be done to improve it & make it more typical [?].

    I shall greatly look forward to your [?] this years exhibition and to learn your new results. The skin-vessel derivations of the Phoenician and Cypriote pottery shapes is most interesting and certainly, as you say, seems to suggest former migratory habits.  It is curious to see to what extent modern Savage or barbaric ceramics are obviously modelled upon earlier vessels of other materials, basketwork, gourd, shells, skin etc. It is very noticeable with the aboriginal N. American vessels, and I have a good many interesting cases from different regions. I shall much like to see your examples. I have been engaged upon a small popular book on the origin and evolution of Decorative Art, which I hope to emit for the autumn publishing season. I hope you will be able to pay us a visit here when you return. Is it possible to obtain any pieces of the very beautiful worked chert knives which are flaked in such [sketch of blade] a manner that the flakes appear in two series meeting along the middle line. These seem to be the most marvellous flint working extant, those in the B.M. & Ashmolean are perfect treats?   If you come across any fragments which illustrate this working would you mind annexing one or two for this Museum, that is if it won[']t be troubling you.  I can[']t expect whole specimen & I fear even fragments must be scarce. Tylor [?] is away just now but I will give him your message.


    Henry Balfour

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