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The Department of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum (University of Oxford) holds a large archive of correspondence and working papers from R.F. Ovenell. Here are transcriptions of three printed pamphlets included in the Ovenell papers at the Ashmolean Museum RFO/A/3/11. These printed pamphlets were published around 1880 and discuss in great detail the correspondence that arose from two incidents:

1. The preparation of a catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum collections made by George Augustus Rowell and carried on by Edward Evans

2. The discovery of objects from the Ashmolean Museum collections in an out-house by Edward Evans and the ensuing public scandal.

We are very grateful to the Ashmolean Museum for allowing us to place these transcriptions on this website and wish to thank Alison Roberts in particular for her help in this matter.  The transcriptions were done after the Scoping Museum Anthropology project had concluded. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you wish to see any of the material. 

Two of these three pamphlets were privately printed for John Henry Parker, (1806-1884)  the Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum. The third was published by George Augustus Rowell who had been his assistant Keeper. Many of the letters printed in the pamphlets are now held in the Ashmolean Museum manuscript collections.

These pamphlets tell us a great deal about the way the Ashmolean Museum was organised in the nineteenth century. They also tell us a lot about the Ashmolean's care of ethnographic objects and also the interest in them at the University. They are also interesting because they tell us a great deal about museology at the University up to 1880. This in turn sets the context for the foundation of the Pitt Rivers Museum as it was into this febrile mix that Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers decided to donate his large collection. His own discussions with the University of Oxford about this eventual donation began shortly after the episodes discussed in these pamphlets. You should also read Ovenell's transcriptions of other relevant letters from this correspondence, here.

 Printed pamphlet 1

This is the pamphlet privately published by George Augustus Rowell.

The Assistant Keepership and the New Catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum

As the following correspondence has led to the resignation of my office in the Ashmolean Museum, under a reiterated charge of neglect of duty; for my own credit,--and as an act of respect to the Delegates and Visitors of the Museums, the Delegates of the Press, and other members of the University, whose good opinions I would gladly retain,--I respectfully submit the letters for consideration, to show that I have not given up an occupation to which I have so long been attached, or left the catalogue, on which I was engaged, unfinished, without sufficient cause.

As Mr. Parker’s principal charge, as Keeper of the Museum, has been that I have had the type of my catalogue in ‘slip’ sheets for two years, and made no further progress with it, I feel it is, in the first place, necessary for me to give a plain explanation on this subject and some points connected with it.

The catalogue in type is not one of those hereafter referred to as prepared during Professor Phillips’ keepership, but was only begun in the Long Vacation of 1877, when it came to my mind that, from some cause which I cannot now remember no catalogue had been made of the pre-historic and Anglo-Saxon collections, although the greater part of these, i.e. the Hutchings, Wylie, Rawlinson, and the Brighthampton collections, with other articles, had  been received into the Museum and arranged by myself only. Under these circumstances I felt it as an especial duty on my part to make a catalogue, and, considering my age, that I should begin it at once. This I did; and also, to ensure its permanency, ventured on my own responsibility to have it set in type, with the intention to publish it myself, if it was not taken up by the University authorities. [1]

[page 2] At this catalogue I worked with all earnestness, both early and late, not only in the summer, when my duties were in the Ashmolean, but also during the winter, when my daily employment was in the University Museum. The first portion was set in type in August of that year; this was merely a sheet of eight pages, on British mortuary urns, set up for consideration on the form and arrangement of the catalogue, and afterwards taken into it; but nearly the whole was set up in the winter of 1877-78. This I kept in ‘slip’ copy for convenience in correction, and in that state I submitted it to the consideration of Mr. Franks, Sir John Lubbock, and the Professor of Anglo-Saxon and other members of the University. [2]

Mr. Parker was well aware that the catalogue was in that form, and during the whole of the summer of 1878 made no suggestion that it should be altered; but, as shown in the letters, when in my usual winter employment at the University Museum, on a charge of neglect, procrastination, and having kept my catalogue in ‘slip’ copy for two years, it was taken altogether out of my hands, and this in a manner that compelled me to resign my office in which I had hoped to continue as long as I could perform the duties of it. [3]

As regards Mr. Parker’s repeated allusions to my having consented to Mr. Chester and Mr. Vaux being engaged to make the catalogue of the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman articles, and to Mr. Vaux being editor of the whole, I simply made no objections when I was informed that these arrangements had been made. I was in no way interested in them, as, from the first, I had stated that I could not have anything to do with those catalogues.

G.A. Rowell.

Notes by transcriber

[1] Line beside text from start of last paragraph on page to end, marked 1 and 2.

[2] The end of this para is lined, and numbered 3.

[3] The end of this para is lined, and numbered 4.


NB from this point the opening and closing double quotation marks used in the original for the start of each paragraph and at the end of each letter have been omitted for ease of reading.

 [Letter I]

Ashmolean Museum,

February 13th, 1879.

Dear Mr. Rowell,

With this I send you a copy of the official instructions of the Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum respecting the catalogue, &c., which I received in March last, and which, to my great surprise, you told me you had never seen and knew nothing about. It was in consequence of these instructions that I requested you to let Mr. Franks see that part of the catalogue which is in type. You readily agreed to this, and he kindly gave up an afternoon to me in going through it and agreeing upon the suggestions to be made, which he [Page 3] wrote out and sent to you. I also proposed to employ Mr. Greville Chester and Mr. Vaux to make other parts of the catalogue which you could not do yourself. To this also you readily agreed; but because these gentlemen took three weeks each in making the part of the catalogue assigned to them, you now make the excuse for having done nothing to it for ten months.

I have been very seriously ill again, and the idea of the utter confusion in which this matter will be left, if it had pleased God to take me away, worries me extremely. Prof. Westwood tells me that the work you have undertaken in the New Museum, and said that you could finish in a week or two, is more likely to take you a year or two.

It appears to me that your first duty is to complete the catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum which you have begun, part of which you have had in type for the last two years, but in slips only, the most inconvenient form in which type can be left standing.

Mr. Bartholomew Price, the manager of the Press, wrote to me to complain of this two or three months since, as I told you at the time; and I must say I think we have all reason to complain of your leaving it so long in this unfinished state.

Yours truly,

John Henry Parker, C.B.


[Letter II.]

47 Woodstock Road,

February 17th, 1879.


I received your letter of the 13th instant, and the copy of the resolutions of the Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum (at their meeting on the 15th of March of the past year), and I have read them with much surprise.

I again assert that, till Professor Price called on me some few weeks back about the printing, I had no idea that the University authorities had undertaken to print the catalogues of the Ashmolean collections. I had not till now seen or heard what these resolutions were. I am not aware of any estimate having been made of the probable cost of the catalogues, in accordance with the fifth and the last of the resolutions; or that any vote had passed the Hebdomadal Council for the printing of them. [*]

At some time during the last sprint (1878) I waited on [page 4] the Vice-Chancellor, who informed me that it had been decided, by whom I did not ask, that I should go on with the catalogue as I thought best and then, when finished, the University authorities might alter it as should be deemed necessary, and print it or not, as may then be decided on.

This was all I wanted, and I should have gone on with the catalogue at once, but it was then full Term, with a busy time coming, and, as it is awkward having the cases open with articles about at a time when there are many visitors in the Museum, I was obliged to put off the catalogue till the Long Vacation; but in the meantime a catalogue was made of the marbles in the basement, which I had long found to be necessary. [*]

In your letter you state that I readily agreed that Mr. Chester and Mr. Vaux should make out that part of the catalogue which I could not undertake. I was well aware that some others must do so, and I could have no objection to these gentlemen being selected to do it; but I believe the first I heard from you on the subject was, that you had arranged with Mr. Chester, and that he would begin his part early in July. It certainly was not my place to object to your arrangements, but, if my opinion had been asked, I should have suggested that the catalogue I had begun should be completed in the first place.

You say that ‘because each of these gentlemen took three weeks in making the part of the catalogue assigned to them, I now make that an excuse for having done nothing to it for ten months.’ In this you misstate the case, and must have forgotten the circumstances; but, in the first place, I may state that it is not my wont to make unfair excuses. I believe my fault, if it is one, has been in speaking my mind too freely, and acting up to it.

Just at the time when I was about to resume my work at the catalogue, Mr. Chester came, and, from his at once taking up a large portion of the Museum, and requiring continual assistance, I told you that it would be useless for me to attempt to go on. To this you did not object, but said that Mr. Chester’s catalogue would not take more than a fortnight about. You seemed to think it absurd when I said it would be nearer four months, but I was about right; for, although these gentlemen were only here at times, the work had to go on the whole of the time, and was not completed till the middle of November. I worked three weeks after I became [page 5] lame, and had not finished arranging the Etruscan pottery and mounting the Greek articles in the glass cases, after Mr. Vaux had left, when I was obliged to leave, from the wound in my leg becoming worse.[*]

If there is any doubt on this statement, the dates in the bill you sent a cheque for on Thursday will decide the question, as the first blocks and tablets (420) were made and sent in for Mr. Chester’s use on July 12th, a few days after he came to the Museum; the last (16) for my use were sent in on the 5th of November; and the others (950) at intervening dates.

If you had not been in Oxford during the last summer I should not have been surprised by your letter, as, although you were frequently in the Museum during the time when the work was about, you did not even suggest that I should go on with my catalogue, which in the state of the Museum you could hardly have done, and now you charge me with making an unfair excuse for not doing so.

If I was at home a few weeks, it was my misfortune and not my fault. As soon as possible, and before I ought to have done so, I got back to the University Museum, where I could go on with my shell-work and rest my leg at the same time. The work I am about is much needed, and at this time of the year I have always considered my duties were in this Museum; but, apart from that question, my leg is not well, although much better than a few weeks back I expected it ever would be. [*]

I have been doing my best with the task I have in hand, with hopes to again go on with my catalogue, and you may readily imagine that I wish to do so, when I inform you that the manuscript catalogues now in the Museum were got up by myself, not in Museum hours, but almost entirely in my own time, and they are not mere lists of the articles, but the result of much reading and research. During months and months, or I may say years, in the summer time I have been at that self-imposed task at four or five o’clock in the morning, and again in the evening till dusk; and in the winter season I was usually at the Ashmolean Museum till nine o’clock, or at times later, till, from my one day fainting in the Museum, my family objected to my being there alone so late, and I thought it prudent to accede to their wishes. [*]

I may also state that, at my own cost, I have made several journeys to London with articles from the Museum, [page 6] to ascertain their localities or names by comparisons in the British Museum, the Christy collections, and, when it existed, in the Museum of the London Missionary Society. [*]

I hope when I again go on with the catalogue, to do so as instructed by Dr. Sewell, that is, uninterrupted by any one, and to print no more. I shall then consider that I have done my duty as regards the Museum. The authorities can do with the catalogue as may then be thought best; and as regards that set in type, I would rather pay the cost at once than hear any more about it. [*]

Trusting that from this explanation you will see that, however blameable I may have been in having the first part set in type, I am in no way the cause of recent delay,

I remain, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

G.A. Rowell.

To J.H. Parker, Esq., C.B.

Notes by transcriber

[*] Lines beside text from start to end of letter, marked 5, 6. 7, 8, 9 [which does not have a line besides], 10,11,12 [later half of para only].


[Letter III.]

Ashmolean Museum,

February 19th, 1879.

Dear Mr. Rowell,

I was certainly very much surprised when you told me you had not had any notice of the meeting of the Visitors of the Ashmolean on March 15th, because I know that Dr. Sewell officially as Vice-Chancellor, and therefore the proper person to do so, informed you of it at the time, but you mistook this as a notice of a private friend only. No doubt he gave you the notice in the kindest manner (he is always kind), and it was the wish of the Visitors that you should be spoken to in the kindest manner, but still firmly, that you should understand that it is your duty to finish the catalogue you have so long had in  hand. [*]

It was announced by Professor Phillips, before I was appointed Keeper, that you had prepared the catalogue, much to your credit. It is now more than two years since you had the greater part of it put into type; it still remains in ‘slips’ only, to the inconvenience of everybody. You are mistaken in thinking this is only a question of cost; it is not one of cost, but of convenience. Everybody wants to see the catalogue out as soon as possible, and surely twelve months was quite long enough to have got that part into sheets, instead of ‘slips’ only. This ought to have been done before March last, and would make it quite clear of any interference from [page 7] Mr. Franks, Mr. Chester, or Mr. Vaux. All that I have done, I have done with your consent. We are all aware of your merits, your industry, and your zeal, and we are anxious that these should not be throw away by your leaving everything unfinished. If you had given your mind to it, and had given your time to it, that you have given in writing long letters to the Oxford newspapers, it certainly might have been finished in a twelvemonth from the time it was first put into type.

I am held responsible by the authorities of the University, as Keeper, to see that a proper catalogue of this Museum is made, and one that shall do credit to the University. I have only employed persons to do those things which you could not do yourself, and I did so with your consent. I must now say that a catalogue must be made, and if one person cannot do it another can. I wish it to be made while I am Keeper, and a man who is over 70 years of ago cannot afford to wait year after year for no apparent reason but that you undertake too many things at once, and do not finish one before you begin another.

I must now beg that something definite may be done before the end of March, and that by that time the ‘slips,’ or sheets, or MS. may be sent to the Ashmolean Museum for me; if you cannot do this, I must apply to the Visitors for permission to employ some one else who can and will do it. Mr. Vaux has agreed to act as general editor, with your consent, and wishes to do it in the most friendly manner with you. Every one will allow that he is the most fit person to do it, and I shall propose to the Visitors to leave it entirely in his hands, to use his own discretion, and to get it done in the best way that he can.[*]

I am sorry to appear to write in an unfriendly manner, but I am sure that it is better for yourself, as well as everybody else, that this shilly-shally should be put an end to, and something definite should be done.

Yours sincerely

John Henry Parker, C.B.

Notes by transcriber

[*] Lines beside text marked 13 against top of first para, and top of penultimate paragraph marked 14.


[Letter IV.]

47 Woodstock Road,

February 21st, 1879.


In your letter of the 13th instant you charge me with neglect of duty during the last ten months, and now you [page 8] would make it appear that my neglect had extended over a much longer period; as you state that at their meeting on the 15th of March last, the Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum expressed a wish that the Vice-Chancellor should ‘speak to me kindly, but firmly, that I should understand that it is my duty to finish the catalogue I had so long had in hand.’ This is at the least strange to me, as it was well known to Dr. Sewell, and I believe to all the Visitors, that I had only been waiting for permission to go on with it.

I can freely accede to all you state as to the kindness of Dr. Sewell. I know I have good cause for doing so, and I also feel assured that he is well satisfied that in all relating to the Museum I have done my duty. He seemed well pleased when he informed me that I might go on with the catalogue, and that permission I had been anxiously wishing for.

You allude to Mr. Franks, Mr. Chester, and to Mr. Vaux, as if I had a dislike of these gentlemen having anything to do with the catalogue; whereas I had been promised the assistance of Mr. Franks, and had even sent a part of my catalogue to him some time before you saw him in Oxford. I could have no objection to Mr. Chester, and my part of the catalogue would not be likely to come under his notice; and, as regards Mr. Vaux, I believe he could not be unfriendly to any one, even if he wished to be so, and long since I had his promise of assistance with my catalogue when needed.

You say it was announced by Professor Phillips, before you were appointed keeper, that I had prepared this catalogue, but the catalogues Professor Phillips alluded to were not prepared for printing, being only in manuscript for the use of visitors in the Museum, and the first suggestion for the printing was from myself. I also wish you to understand, that although Professor Phillips was much pleased with them, they were got up, at least several of them, without his knowledge or instigation. They were written, as stated in my last letter, almost entirely in my own time, when I had no assistant, and an excess of work in both Museums. The paper was my own, my journeys to London in reference to them were at my own expense, and the only cost to the Museum was that of the books into which they were copied, and the payment to Mr. Bailey for copying them. Yet you now treat me as if I had committed some great fault, and been neglectful of my duties; and this simply from the fact, that by your own arrangements I was prevented from going on with the catalogue during the last Long Vacation.

Within a few days I will send, as you desire, all I have in connection with the catalogue to the Ashmolean Museum. [*]

I am, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

G.A. Rowell.

To J.H. Parker, Esq., C.B.

Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum.

Notes by transcriber

 [*] Lines beside two last paragraphs marked 15 and 16.


As at that time I could not leave the work I had in hand at the New Museum [Oxford University Museum of Natural History], even if my health had permitted, and as from Mr. Parker’s letter I thought he was about to place the whole in the hands of Mr. Vaux or some one else, I sent my catalogue to the Ashmolean Museum with the next following letter. My object being to give up all responsibility with respect to the catalogue which was thus taken out of my hands; but at that time I had no idea of resigning my appointment in the Ashmolean Museum, or my connection with the catalogue, and I cannot see that my letter will bear the construction Mr. Parker has put upon it, i.e., that I “returned the catalogue to the Ashmolean in a huff, and said I would have nothing more to do with it.”


[Letter V.]

University Museum,

February 26th, 1879.


I have this morning sent to the Ashmolean Museum the copies of the catalogue as far as it is in type, and also a few sheets marked with corrections still to be made. It will be well that whoever you engage to finish it should look over the whole of the articles, as some changes have been made in the collection, and additions to it also since the catalogue was so far set up. As it is in ‘slip’ copy only, any alterations can easily be made; and I do not now consider myself responsible for any part of it.

The numbering of the articles should also be carefully looked to, as at present they can in no way be depended on.

I remain, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

G.A. Rowell.

To J.H. Parker, Esq., C.B.


[Letter VI*.]

Ashmolean Museum,

February 25th, 1879.

Dear Mr. Rowell,

What I have said to you on the subject of your catalogue seems to have hurt your feelings, which I am very sorry for, and it was not my intention. It is quite as much for your sake as mine that I urged you to get your catalogue finished. We are neither of us young, and cannot afford to wait year after year for a thing to be done which we both acknowledge ought to be done. You should consider if your illness had terminated fatally you would leave nothing behind you as the result of your forty years’ labour in the Ashmolean. It is true that all who know you are aware of your indefatigable labour and zeal, but when we are gone there will be nothing to show what you have done. In employing Mr. Chester and Mr. Vaux to prepare parts of the catalogue that you could not do yourself, I thought I was assisting you, not impeding you. It is notorious that when a MS. is set up in ‘slips’ it is usual to make up into sheets in the next week or two, and twelve months was very ample time to do it.

I did not know until you told me, that Professor Phillips spoke only of the MS. catalogues, and not of one to be printed; I only heard that he had spoken in words of warm commendation of your industry and zeal in making the catalogue, and I naturally supposed it was the same catalogue that you had begun in print, but alas! begun only, and then let it stand still for two years. [*]

Yours truly,

John Henry Parker, C.B.

*Footnote by Rowell: This was received after my letter of the 26th had been sent off.

Notes by transcriber

[*] Line beside last paragraph marked see No 1 and 15


[Letter VII.]

47 Woodstock Road,

April 26th, 1879.


Having finished the arrangement and catalogue of the Barlee collection of shells in the University Museum, with this care off my mind, I could now have returned to my duties in the Ashmolean Museum as usual at this time of the year; but as I am informed to-day, that a considerable alteration, of which I had no previous knowledge, has been made in my catalogue, I can only consider this, together with other circumstances, as an intimation that my services are no longer needed, and I beg to inform you under these conditions [page 11] I will gladly withdraw from the Museum at the end of my present year, i.e., on the first of June.

From the catalogue being thus taken out of my hands I can no longer be responsible for its contents, as my manuscript catalogues, although they may be useful, were not prepared for printing; but, if required, I will very gladly give any information I can on subjects connected with the collections. [*]

I remain, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

G.A. Rowell.

To J.H. Parker, Esq., C.B.

Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum.

Notes by transcriber

[*] Line beside last paragraph marked 18


[Letter VIII.]

Ashmolean Museum,

April 28th, 1879.

Dear Mr. Rowell,

That I have offended you is very evident, though I certainly had no intention of doing so, and do not think that you have any just cause for offence. I saw, after waiting for two years, with the type of your catalogue locked up in ‘slips’ and not one sheet made up, that there was no chance of your catalogue being finished in my time or yours, unless some further help was given to you. You cannot be in two places at once, nor can Evans, and, as it is evident that your heart is in the Natural Science department, I arranged with Mr. Smith to give you an assistant in that department, and let me have the whole of Evans’s time in the Ashmolean. I did not take the catalogue out of your hands. With your own consent I got Mr. Chester and Mr. Vaux to prepare parts of it that you could not do yourself, and Mr. Vaux agreed to act as general editor. You returned the catalogue in a huff to the Ashmolean, and said you would have nothing more to do with it. At the same time you said that ‘the numbers could not be depended upon, and must be verified.’ The only person who could do this was Evans, who has assisted you in it for some years, and I gave it him to do. He has done the first part of it, and I have left it with Mr. Vaux to look over. What you call ‘considerable alterations’ in the arrangement is merely adopting the suggestions of Professor Westwood to which you had objected, we do not know why; and if you had gone on with it yourself, Professor Westwood, as one of the Visitors of the Museum, would have seen that his suggestions were attended to. [*]

[page 12] At their meeting the Visitors ordered me as Keeper to have the catalogue completed and published. You acknowledge that it was not in a state fit for publication, and as I wish to see the orders of the Visitors obeyed whilst I am in office, and saw no prospect of doing this so long as it remained in your procrastinating hands, I was obliged to obtain other assistance. [*]

Yours truly,

John Henry Parker, C.B.

Notes by transcriber

[*] Two lines beside first paragraph marked 19 and 20. Last para marked 21


[Letter IX.]

47 Woodstock Road,

May 3rd, 1879.


In reply to your letter of the 28th ult., as regards the first paragraph a reference to your own letters is sufficient, but I will offer a remark on two or three points.

You must know that it has been usual, and in fact my duty, to give my services to the University Museum in the winter season, and if you had arranged with Professor Smith for Mr. Evans to be altogether at the Ashmolean, I could not take upon myself to be there also; and still on these grounds you charge me with neglect and procrastination.

You state that I returned my catalogue to you in a huff; but it was in consequence of the following command from yourself: ‘I must now beg that something definite may be done before the end of March, and that by that time the ‘slips,’ or sheets, or MS., may be sent to the Ashmolean Museum for me. If you cannot do this I must apply to the Visitors for permission to employ some one else who can do it and will do it.’ In returning the sheets I merely stated that the numbers of the articles would require correction.[*]

My keeping that now in type in ‘slip’ sheets was for convenience in alterations, and those you are now making must be less costly or troublesome than if it had been paged.

You allude to a preference on my part to the Natural Science department, but to this I may reply that it has been my wont to give my mind to my duties, be they what they may, and I think that my catalogues in the Ashmolean, which were got up as a labour of love, almost entirely in my own time, and at a time when I had no assistant, ought to be a sufficient proof of the interest I take in that Museum. [*]

I remain, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

G.A. Rowell

To J.H. Parker, Esq., C.B.

Notes by transcriber

[*] Line beside end of third para marked 22, and against last para marked 23


[page 13] [Letter X.]

Athenaeum Club, London,

May 6th, 1879.

Dear Mr. Rowell,

The misunderstanding which has arisen between us is certainly unfortunate, and not at al intended on my side. I believe we are both over seventy years of age, and when the Visitors of the Museum ordered me as Keeper to have the catalogue which you had begun completed and published, I considered it my duty to have this order attended to at once, and certainly wish that it should be done in my time. I pointed out to you that the part which you had prepared had been set up in ‘slips’ in the University press for more than two years without a single sheet being made up; it is not usual to keep type in ‘slips’ for more than a week or two before it is made up into pages, and it is a most inconvenient way of keeping type.

Mr Bartholomew Price, the manager of the Press, wrote to me to complain strongly of this inconvenience, and called upon me as Keeper to see that the catalogue was gone on with; it had been standing still for two years. I was obliged to apologize, and say that I could not help it; that your manuscript had been put into type without my knowledge, and that I had tried every means in my power to induce you to go on with it, but hitherto without success. I therefore thought it necessary to fix a certain time by which something should be done, and at that you took huff and sent all that you had prepared to the Ashmolean, with a letter to say that you would have nothing more to do with it.

With your own consent, and partly I believe at your suggestion, I had engaged Mr. Greville Chester to make a catalogue of the Egyptian objects, and Mr. Vaux of the Italo-Greek vases, &c., neither of which you could do yourself, and both of which were necessary to complete the catalogue of the Museum. I also agreed with Mr. Vaux, with your consent, that he should act as general editor of the catalogue; but now these arrangements seem to have given you offence, I do not know why.

When you sent your ‘slips’ to the Museum, you stated that the numbers required to be revised and corrected. The only person who could do this was Mr. Evans, who has been your assistant for the last seven years. He knew that some suggestions of Professor Westwood had not hitherto been attended to. [*] The Professor is one of the Visitors of the [page 14] Museum and has a right to expect that his suggestions should be attended to.

Dr. Sewell also, as one of the Visitors, stated it to be the opinion of the Visitors generally that the long extracts from books which were easily accessible should not be printed, but reference given to them only, as filling up the catalogue with these long extracts would have the appearance of book-making.

I have endeavoured to carry out what appears to be the instructions of the authorities of the University, and I am sure that on consideration you would wish to do the same. That a great deal of your work has been a labour of love I do not at all doubt; everybody gives you credit for your zeal and assiduity and constant attention, and I should be very sorry to lose your services at the Ashmolean.

When I asked Professor Smith to appoint another person to assist you in the New Museum in the Natural Science department, in order that Mr. Evans might be given up entirely to the Ashmolean as your assistant there, I thought that this would enable you to get on faster with the catalogue, which I have said I wish to be finished in my time. Your letter shows that you have entirely misunderstood me, and I am sure that we both had the same object in view, to do our duty to the University to the best of our ability. I am an old man and an invalid, and am obliged to employ others to do for me the work which as Keeper I perhaps ought to do with my own hands; but no one can be acquainted with all the subjects in such a Museum as the Ashmolean, and I believe the work is better done by employing different persons, each to do the work with which he is acquainted.

Yours truly

John Henry Parker, C.B.

Notes by transcriber

[*] Line at end of page 13 marked 24.


[Letter XI.]

47 Woodstock Road,

May 8th, 1879.


I received your letter of the 6th instant, and beg to state that I much regret the misunderstanding with regard to the catalogue, as my wish has been that I might continue to the end of my days in the occupation to which I have devoted so large a portion of my life; but after what has passed, there are several points for consideration before I consent to continue my services in the Ashmolean Museum.

[page 15] As I have no knowledge of the alterations which have been made in my catalogue on the suggestions of Professor Westwood, I shall be glad to have a copy of the printed sheets, with the proposed corrections and all the extracts from books which are considered objectionable marked out. There is enough in print, if fully corrected, to form a guide for the remainder of the collection, and I might then see whether I could work in accordance with it. [*]

I believe you are much mistaken as to the state of my manuscript catalogues, as they were written for use in the Museum, and in accordance with the arrangement in the cases; they will therefore require much alteration for a published catalogue, with the insertion of recent additions, and must occupy some time in their preparation for the press. I regret that this part of the catalogue has been so long in type, as it certainly must have been some loss; but one advantage will arise from it, in its affording means for deciding on the best manner for the completion of the whole.[*]

I remain, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

G.A. Rowell

To J.H. Parker, Esq., C.B.

Notes by transcriber

[*] Line for last 2 paras marked 25


[Letter XII.]

47 Woodstock Road,

May 9th, 1879.


When I wrote to you yesterday, in answer to yours of the 6th instant, it was under the impression that the alterations to my catalogue had been made on Professor Westwood’s suggestions, but from information after my letter was written, I was led to believe that they were not so, and I called on Mr. Evans at the Ashmolean Museum for information on the subject, when, after some trouble, I found that the alterations had been made on his own suggestion and with your consent. [*]

It seems from your letter that the alterations were made to carry out Professor Westwood’s suggestions; but Evans must know that in the first place they were carried out n a very great degree; all the bronze implements and almost all the flints were distinctly named, described, and their localities given, but, when in print, the repetition of ‘chipped flint,’ ‘bronze celt,’ &c., was so much objected to that I at once reduced the catalogue to its condition as in type when returned [page 16] to you. You know that in this state it had been carefully gone over by Mr. Franks, who expressed his approbation of it. This also was the case with Sir John Lubbock, and several members of the University who have, with my wish that every fault should be pointed out, generally approved of it.

I think, as author of the catalogue, I ought to have known of these changes, and yet you have set Mr. Evans to make them without my knowledge, and apparently with the intent that it should be so. Under these circumstances I leave the Museum, with the catalogue in your hands; but still will gladly give any information in my power on points connected with it.

I remain, &c.,

G.A. Rowell.

To J.H. Parker, Esq., C.B.

[N.B.—This letter was not sent till after the reception of Mr Parker’s letter as follows:--

 Notes by transcriber

[*] Line alongside para 1 marked 26, line alongside start of para 2 marked 27, and second half of same para marked 28, line beside para 3 is marked 29.


[Letter XIII.]

Athenaeum Club, London,

May 13th, 1879.

Dear Mr. Rowell,

Mr. Vaux has now returned me the small portion of your catalogue in which Evans had supplied the numbers as you said was necessary. Mr. Vaux says that he considers the catalogue as very well done, and has made only a few suggestions in pencil. As you agreed that Mr. Vaux was to act as general editor, this portion may be considered as done, and so far as it goes I do not think you can find anything to object to in it. No doubt Professor Westwood will put it in your hands, and if you will only look at it calmly and quietly you will see you have frightened yourself without any cause. Professor Westwood is the Acting Visitor of the Museum, the other Visitors always agree to what he proposes, because they know that he is a sensible well-informed man, and has a general knowledge of the subject. There is a difference between a catalogue that is to be used in manuscript only and none that is to be printed and published by the University Press; this must be revised by competent persons for the credit of the University. You have frequently acknowledged this, and that you were not competent to prepare it for publication yourself, and that you had confidence in Mr. Franks and Mr. Vaux, both of whom have now looked it over.

*               *           *               *     *               *    *               *

Yours truly,

John Henry Parker, C.B.

[page 17] [N.B. – The latter part of this letter is omitted, as it had reference only to woodcuts for the catalogue, and in no way to the general purport of these letters.]


[Letter XIV.]

47 Woodstock Road,

May 14th, 1879.


I received your letter of yesterday’s date, and send you my letter written on the 9th instant, but retained for special reasons.

I now see no cause for adopting any other course than that stated therein, and intend withdrawing from the Ashmolean Museum at the end of the present month.

I remain, &c.,

G.A. Rowell.

To J.H. Parker, Esq., C.B.


On the 20th of June I sent to Mr. Parker my statement of payments, &c., and offered to make up the Museum account as usual for the past year. My offer was accepted, but with remarks that again brought up the points in dispute between us, with repetitions which I do not think necessary to print. Soon after this, Professor Westwood, having undertaken to make up the accounts, sent me a letter of which the following is the conclusion:-- ‘The question whether the Ashmolean Museum is to be charged with so many months of your salary during the time you have been employed at the New Museum, must be settled between the New Museum Delegates and the Ashmolean Museum Visitors.’

This led to the following correspondence:--


[Letter XV.]

47 Woodstock Road,

July 4th, 1879.


As from Mr. Parker’s treatment, I declined returning to the Ashmolean Museum as usual about the first of May, and this so far was my own act; to prevent trouble or confusion on that account I beg that you will deduct my salary for the month of June.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

G.A. Rowell

To Professor Westwood


[page 18][Letter XVI.]

University Museum,

July 5th, 1879.

Dear Sir,

In the summer of last year you told me repeatedly that if you were interfered with you would throw up the Ashmolean Museum with its catalogue; and I cannot learn that you have done any work at the Ashmolean Museum for at least nine months past, having been continually employed here on the Barlee collection of shells before and since Christmas last.

Yours truly

J.O. Westwood.

P.S.—As I said before, the matter must be left for the decision of the Curators and Visitors.


[Letter XVII.]

47 Woodstock Road,

July 8th, 1879. [1]


Although you intimated on Saturday last, that you had no desire to have any letter from me on the subject of yours sent in the morning, I submit the following for your consideration, not only as it will enable you to correct some errors in your letter, but also as, in self defence, I intend sending copies of this and yours to the Delegates and Visitors of the Museum.

You certainly are much mistaken in your statement that “in the summer of last year I told you repeatedly that if I was interfered with I would throw up the Ashmolean and its catalogue.” I hardly remember speaking to you on any subject during that time, and there was nothing in my occupation which could have led to anything of the sort. [*]

In the summer of 1877, when I first began to rearrange my manuscript catalogues with the hope that they might be printed; I first took that of the African collection;* [*footnote: At that time the catalogue now in type was not begun: it was quite an afterthought] you then came to the Ashmolean Museum to see how I was going on with it, but nothing seemed to accord with your wishes. My first entry was:-- [*]

“A native-made figure of a Caffir Chief in war costume; with shield, assigais, [sic] knob-kerrie, war feathers &c. And of a Caffir woman in winter dress.

Capt. H.F. de Lisle 1827” [2]

This you objected to and said that every article should be entered separately, thus taking up more space, whereas [*] [page 19] my object was to make the catalogue as concise as possible consistent with a fair description of the article referred to. My next entry was :--

“Six Assegais. These weapons are about five feet six inches in length; the heads being of iron, variously formed, and the shafts of wood tapering to the end. They are thrown with great dexterity, and were used by the Caffirs as their principal weapons till guns were introduced amongst them.

Capt. H.F. de Lisle, 1827”

“Eleven assegais arranged on the wall” [*][3]

This entry you also objected to and insisted on every article being separately named. You then would insist on the old numbers being followed in the catalogue; but I could not do this, as the articles were arranged in the cases as space would admit and I had numbered them as they were placed, without strict regard to geographical order otherwise than that all were African. I then told you that I would do my best with the catalogue if permitted, but that if I was so interfered with I would give it (i.e. the catalogue) up altogether; and I may have added the Museum also, as I was much vexed with your abrupt interference with a work which had been exclusively my own, and especially with your manner in doing so. [*]

I am much surprised by your statement, that you cannot learn that I have done any work at the Ashmolean Museum for ‘at least nine months’, and to make this and other matters clear I will commence with the early part of 1878, when, as all that had been done with the Catalogue had been by myself and on my own responsibility, I was anxious for some sanction from the authorities for what I had done, and for permission to go on with it. I was therefore well pleased when the Vice-Chancellor (Dr Sewell) [4] informed me that I might do so; not only as this was my wish, but also as it was some relief to find that my doings on this subject had not been disapproved of. Still there were various causes which prevented my going on at once with the catalogue, the principal one being the difficulty of having the cases open, and articles about at the time when the Museum is most frequented by visitors. But I had arranged to begin in earnest as soon as the commemoration was over; [5] this, however, was effectually put a stop to by Mr. Chester taking up so much of the Museum in cataloguing and rearranging the Egyptian and Roman articles; [6] and how fully this was the case is shown by the fact that Mr Parker, throughout the whole of the Long Vacation, [*]  [page 20] did not once ask me to go on with my catalogue, although he several times expressed his regret that I could not do so. [7]

Still, although I was prevented from going on directly with the catalogue, I had other work to do in connection with it, the principal being in cleaning and arranging the Polynesian portion of the Ramsden collection. [8] This necessitated the removal and rearrangement of a large number of the articles on the Museum staircase; and in this I could have no help from my assistant, whose time was fully taken up by Mr. Chester’s work. [9] [*]

I could go further into particulars if necessary, but will merely state that the latter part of my time in the Ashmolean Museum, was taken up in mounting and arranging the Greek articles catalogued to Mr Vaux, [10] at which I was employed till the middle of November, when I was obliged to leave the Museum from the breaking out of a wound in my leg consequent on the bite of a dog 56 years ago.

Now I can assert that, from the time of my resuming my duties in the spring till about the 16th of November, I was not absent a single day from the Ashmolean Museum, or work in connection with it, except a week spent in London, and this may be said to have been on the Museum account, as my chief object was to ascertain localities and particulars for articles such as the remainder of the Ramsden Collection; the only places I visited being the British, South Kensington, and Bethnal Green Museums, and the Christy Ethnological Collections.

The wound in my leg kept me a prisoner for three or four weeks, and then I went, as usual in the winter season, to my duties in the New Museum, where I once more resumed my task of arranging the Barlee collection of British shells; which in fact was the only work I could then do, as I was obliged to rest my leg and frequently bathe it with cold water.

While I was thus employed you came to my room to know what I was then doing, and within a few days (on February 13th) I received a letter from Mr. Parker, who in addition to very unfounded charges of neglect, stated that you had informed him ‘that the work I had undertaken in the Museum, and said I could finish in a week or two, was more likely to take me a year or two.’ I do not know on what grounds you asserted that opinion; but I gladly inform you that I finished my work with these shells before my usual time for returning to the Ashmolean Museum, and this quite to [page 21] my own satisfaction, as I believe it would be to any who may inspect them. – The Collection as British shells is nearly complete, and, as I understand from, I believe, the highest authority, contains on the whole finer specimens than any other collection. It is now about seventeen years since it was bequeathed to the University, since which time it has been altogether under my care; and I may now say that I am glad that even a bad leg has enabled me to complete, at last, a duty I have long felt to be due to the Museum, and to the memory of the donor of the collection. [*]

I make this statement to show that I had other duties to perform besides those of the Ashmolean Museum; and, leaving out all consideration of the state of my leg, which at that time would have prevented my going on with the work in the Ashmolean, I was only acting in accordance with ordinary rules; it was not for me to make any change on these points; no rearrangement had been made for my doing so, and I am not aware of Mr. Parker’s having proposed that there should be; yet, with these facts, I have been charged with neglect of duty and procrastination, and the catalogue, solely my own work, has been withdrawn from my hands, and the alterations made and still being made in it altogether kept from my knowledge.

Under these circumstances I declined resuming my duties in the Ashmolean Museum; and from the first of May, about my usual time for doing so, you may fairly deduct my salary from that still due to me.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient Servant

G.A. Rowell.

To Professor Westwood. [11]

Notes by transcriber

[*] Line besiden second para and marked ’30 See p. 19; lIne by 3rd para and marked 31; line by fourth para and marked 32, after reference to 11 assegais it is marked ‘Above the case’: middle of next para it is marked X See p. 18; past para at base of page 19 is marked 33, all paras on page 20 marked 34-38; the end of the penultimate para is marked with a line and 37 39 and at the top of page 21 it is marked ‘Mr Rowell sayid that Mr Jeffreys said that he wished these shells arranged according to his own book.

[1] Note that in Ovenell’s notes RFO/A/3/11, this letter is dated July 9th. It is not clear at this juncture which date is correct.

[2] H.F. de Lisle cannot be identified further, though it is clear from the records that have survived and are retained by the PRM that he lived on Guernsey. His sister was Louisa de Lisle and also donated material to the Ashmolean in 1827 from southern Africa. These objects are now in the PRM, the first (the Chief figure) is 1886.1.426, the second 1886.1.427.

[3] It is difficult to identify exactly which spears Rowell is referring to here, in the de Lisle / Ashmolean collection now at the PRM there are a total of 21 spears (assuming both the six and the eleven were from de Lisle that only makes a total of 17), the 21 are numbered 1886.1.239, 431-50.

[4] James Edward Sewell (1810-1903) Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford from 1874 to 1878.

[5] Presumably Commemoration week, which takes place in 9th week of Trinity Term. Obviously following this week there would be fewer students in residence.

[6] Greville John Chester, see G. Seidmann, 2006. The Rev. Greville John Chester and ‘The Ashmolean Museum as a Home for Archaeology in Oxford’. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology 16(1): 27-33, DOI: see especially page 31 with reference to the catalogue Chester prepared in 1878.

[7] John Henry Parker (1806-1884) Keeper of Ashmolean from 1869 ?to 1884.

[8] The collection was purchased in 1878, some sources suggest that the items actually went to the Oxford University Museum rather than the Ashmolean (see biographies file PRM), it is not certain which Ramsden is referred to but it has been suggested Robert Henry Ramsden (?-1865?), of Carlton Hall, Worksop. There are 73 Polynesian items from Ramsden listed in the Pitt Rivers Museum documentation.

[9] This is probably a reference to Edward Evans who compiled the 2 volume catalogue of the items transferred from the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1886.

[10] William Sandys Wright Vaux (1818-1885) antiquary, who worked in the Dept. of Antiquities at the British Museum until 1870, from 1871 to 1876 he catalogued coins at the Bodleian Library and prepared the catalogue of Greek and Etruscan objects for the Ashmolean Museum.

[11] John Obidiah Westwood (1805-1893) Hope professor of zoology from 1861.


Since the date of the letters herein printed, several others have passed between Mr. Parker and myself, on two of which I beg to offer a few remarks.

I had consigned Mr. Parker’s charge of having kept the catalogue two years in type, as a vague charge of neglect and that the last two years included the time up to the present; but, since the foregoing has been in type, on reading Mr. Parker’s letters with more care, I find that in one dated the 18th of August, the time is more distinctly stated as follows:--

“I did not interfere with your catalogue at all, until I [page 22] was called upon officially to have it printed and published; you had given part of it out to be printed before that time ... the two years I refer to were before I was desired to get the catalogue finished.”

The date to which Mr. Parker alludes was the 15th of March, 1878, and I can assert, that eight months previous to that date I had not written a line of the catalogue now in type; a small part, as already stated, was printed in August, 1877, as a specimen, but the catalogue was chiefly set in type during the winter preceding the date to which Mr. Parker refers, and my last corrections, I believe, were made a month after that time. Doubtless the exact dates may be obtained from the Clarendon Press; and how the delay with the catalogue was caused in the summer of 1878 I have already shown.

On the 29th of August, I received from Mr. Parker “a final proof (to me the only one) of the first sheet of the catalogue,” with an intimation that I should find it “practically my own catalogue with some amendments.”

Doubtless my catalogue was faulty, and would have been so; but, from the circumstances under which it was begun, it might have passed as my work, and no one would have expected it to be faultless. If, however, the errors introduced into the first sheet, some of which I have pointed out to Mr. Parker, may be taken as indicating what the whole catalogue will be, I can only say that I am thankful that I can no longer be held responsible for its contents. [*]

Opinions differ widely as to how a catalogue should be made out; and, apart from the errors to which I allude, changes have been made in the catalogue which I cannot look upon as amendments. Bringing forward the implement of conglomerate gravel, the flint saw, &c., from the articles connected with them, and the accounts of their discovery in the Standlake British village, takes away much of the interest which attaches to them, and necessitates a second description with double numberings, which can only tend to confusion. The introduction of the articles 245 to 327 in this part of the catalogue, for comparison with the prehistoric implements of Europe, is open to a like objection, as a reference to them, if necessary, without interference with the geographical arrangement in which they are placed, would have been sufficient for all purposes.[*]

Other alterations may be open to objections if time would [page 23] permit; but I will only state that, in my opinion, crowding the catalogue with minute measurements of unimportant articles is objectionable, as they cannot be needed by those who have knowledge on the subject, and to those who have not, they only render the reading tiresome and uninteresting. [*]

It may perhaps be said that these measurements are necessary for the identification of the articles, but the mere length and breadth of a flint implement would hardly be enough for that purpose. Some years since, Professor Phillips decided that a MS. catalogue, or rather two catalogues, should be made, one for the Museum and one for the Bodleian Library, in which every article in the Museum should be entered with all necessary descriptions, and where practicable shown in outline or sketch. [*]

Of the advantage in this mode of identification I had good proof, when in 1867-8 a large number of articles from the Museum were lent by the University to the Art Exhibition at Leeds. These I was directed to take to Leeds and to fetch them back after the exhibition was over; when it occurred to me that I might not sufficiently remember the articles (especially the flint implements) as to be certain of bringing back the same I had taken, or, in case of a mistake, that I should not be able to prove there had been one. I therefore made a rough sketch or outline of every article, and these I have still kept.

I did not show the sketches when I delivered the articles, as all were so much engaged; I merely had the reception list signed. I did not intend showing them when I went for the articles, but finding there were mistakes about the flint implements, the production of the sketches set matters right at once with these and other flint implements which had been wrongly labelled from the hurry at the time of their reception.

Many years since, I have wished for something of this sort, when endeavouring to identify articles in the Museum with entries in Tradescant’s catalogue of 1656, although they are doubtless of that time; and there are but few articles in the Museum the identity of which could be proved by entries in the Ashmolean catalogue of 1836.

Notes by transcriber

[*] Fifth para with line beside, marked 38 40; sixth lined and marked 41; seventh lined and marked 42, eighth lined and marked 43 and final para lined and marked 44.

[page 24]

The Turl

October 2nd, 1879.

Dear Mr. Rowell,

There has been an unfortunate misunderstanding between us, and I am sorry for it, as I have said repeatedly. I could not see how this had arisen until now, when the printed letters you have sent me show me how it occurred. I had always supposed that the catalogue which you gave out to be printed at the University Press in my absence and without my knowledge, was the same catalogue for which Professor Phillips gave you credit when he was Keeper ten years ago. It is a catalogue of the same objects by the same person, but it now appears that you consider this as quite a distinct thing; it seems to me that it must be practically the same, only written out for the printers, and some of the long extracts from books, easily accessible to members of the University, omitted, as useful for visitors in the Museum, in manuscript, but not necessary to be printed.

Yours truly

John Henry Parker, C.B.

P.S. – As there is a blank page at the end of the correspondence that you are printing, I shall be glad if you will put this explanation at the end of it.



Printed Pamphlet 2

This was published by John Henry Parker.

Ashmolean Museum

The Keeper’s Correction of some Misstatements in London Newspapers in November, 1880.


The article which follows appeared in the Standard of Nov. 26. Directly that I read it I saw it was necessary for me, as Keeper, to take some notice of it, and I sent a letter to the Editor immediately, pointing out the errors that had been made; but I believe it is not etiquette for a London newspaper to allow a correspondent to point out errors in a leading article, even although he may consider the article as a libel upon him, therefore my letter was not inserted. If it had been true that articles of value belonging to the Tradescant collection had been “long hidden away in a sort of outhouse easily accessible to passers-by in the street,” this would certainly be a serious charge against the Keeper: so far however from being easily accessible from the street, there is no access to the area into which the outhouse opens without passing through the principal rooms of the Museum, where the Assistant Keeper is always stationed when it is open; and this is a very important point, because, if the valuable articles in that Museum were so carelessly guarded, as is stated in that article, no one possessing similar articles is ever likely to give them to the Ashmolean Museum in future; the fact is entirely the reverse, there could not be a more safe place for keeping such objects. It is a massive stone building of three storeys, built of solid ashlar masonry, and with a stone vault over the lower storey, so that it is fire-proof. There is a narrow area round it at too great a depth to be accessible from the street, and the only entrance is through the Museum from the east end, opposite to the Sheldonian Theatre, within a lofty iron railing, which [page 2] encloses both buildings. It was originally quite detached, and about thirty years ago the late Sir Thomas Philipps [sic] [1] told me that he thought of giving his valuable collection of MSS. to the Ashmolean Museum, because it was the most safe place he knew of for preserving them.  But a few years afterwards he changed his plan, and left them to his son-in-law, Mr. Halliwell-Philipps. [2] Any person having any collection of articles of virtú, which are often easily portable, would naturally look out also for some safe place for preserving them. In this Museum all such articles are kept under glass, and cannot be handled without the consent of the Keeper or Assistant Keeper on the spot.

I see that the writer of the article in the Standard has been misled by the following passage in a letter of Professor Sayce [3] in the Academy of Nov. 20:--

“Next door to the Bodleian, in the Ashmolean Museum, an interesting find has been made this summer. The museum originally grew out of the collection of ‘rarities’ which Mr. John Tradescant, [4] a worthy merchant of South Lambeth in the time of Charles I., had got together, partly be inheritance, partly by his own purchases. A catalogue of his curiosities, entitled Musaeum Tradescantianum, [5] and published in the year 1656, still exists, and it has long been known that many of the objects described in it are no longer to be found. Some of them, however, have turned up this summer, hidden away in a sort of outhouse easily accessible to passers-by in the street. How or when they were put there is quite unknown. Among them are several engraved gems, a globe of crystal, pieces of carved ivory and amber, and the like, not to mention a gorgeous Persian hookah, made of silver, inlaid with turquoises. One of King Henry VIII.’s hawking-gloves, both of which formed part of John Tradescant’s collection has also been brought to light; and the Museum has obtained, in addition to other interesting objects, a brick of Gudea, the son of Dungi, one of the earliest Chaldaean monarchs of whom we know.”

[page 3] The Professor has made the extraordinary mistake of saying that the outhouse is “easily accessible to passers-by in the street.” This it the more extraordinary, because the Professor is frequently in the Ashmolean Museum, and must know the contrary; he could only have fallen into this error by writing in too great haste, and under strong excitement on another subject. I believe he has already left Oxford for the East, or I would have sent to him about it.

In his letter, after mentioning that the articles which had been hidden in this outhouse for half-a-century had formed part of John Tradescant’s collection, he goes on to say that the Museum has also obtained, that is recently obtained, in addition to other interesting objects, a brick of Gudea, the son of Dungi, one of the earliest Chaldean monarchs of whom we know; but he does not say that this was one of the objects hidden for a time in an outhouse, as he quite well knows the contrary. Numerous additions have been made to the Egyptian collection, especially of small objects, some of which Mr. Greville Chester, [6] who goes to Egypt every winter, has purchased for me, and others he has himself presented. I have also recently had glass-cases made to cover over all the portable objects.

The Museum has also obtained a plaster cast of the second part of the great Egyptian sarcophagus, of which the first piece has been in the Ashmolean for more than a century, the other portion is in the British Museum; neither could part with the portion which belonged to it, but Dr. Birch kindly consented to exchange plaster casts, so that those who can read the hieroglyphic language can now read the whole, either in Oxford or in London. [7]

This article in the Standard was followed by one in the Daily Telegraph of Dec. 4, which is only a further misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and caricature of the words of Professor Sayce in the Academy of Nov. 20. The Professor himself in the first instance must have understood what Evans, the Assistant Keeper, [8] had told him about the articles, [page 4] found in an outhouse. The Ashmolean practice of going round with visitors and talking to them, was, I believe, introduced by Mr. Rowell; [9] it is not the practice in any other Museum. Rowell has made large extracts from books relating to the more important objects, and read these to the visitors. When he made his Catalogue, for which he was complimented by my predecessor, Professor Philipps, [10] he considered these extracts as the most important part of it; but as these books were well known and easily accessible, when he gave out his Catalogue to be printed at the University Press, Dr. Sewell as Vice-Chancellor, [11] naturally objected to their being published in an official Catalogue of the University, after they were in type. Rowell had given out his Catalogue to be printed in my absence, and without my knowledge, and before it was in a fit state for printing; the consequence is that the Delegates have been compelled to stop it altogether, after £40 have been thrown away upon it.

Notes by transcriber

[1] Thomas Phillipps, (1792-1872) English antiquary and manuscript collector.

[2] Halliwell-Philipps, possibly James Halliwell-Phillipps (1820-1889), Thomas Phillipps son-in-law, Thomas carried out a lifelong vendetta against Halliwell according to">here.

[3] Archibald Henry Sayce (1845-1933) orientalist and philologist, in 1876 he became deputy professor of comparative philology, he resigned the post in 1890 although he returned to Oxford in 1891 for a personal professorship in Assyriology.

[4] Tradescant Collection.

[5] Musaeum Tradescantianum

[6] Greville Chester (1830-1892) Clergyman, collector.

[7] Samuel Birch (1813-1885) British Egyptologist and antiquary, he worked at the British Museum from 1836.

[8] Edward Evans, first Rowell’s assistant and later Assistant Keeper at the Ashmolean Museum.

[9] George Augustus Rowell

[10] John Phillips, Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum from 1854-1870.

[11] James Edwards Sewell (1810-1903) Warden of New College and Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1874-1878.

Leader in the “Standard,” Nov. 26.

“The Ashmolean Museum, at Oxford, has received an addition to its treasures in a manner which perhaps the pious founder did not contemplate, when, two centuries ago, he presented to his Alma Mater the collection which bears his name. In 1682, Elias Ashmole formally made over his museum to the University, and ten years afterwards he died. Yet it is only this week that the legatees will come into complete possession of the gift of this strange recluse, who, beginning life as a sharp attorney in Chancery-lane, closed it searching for the power of transmutation and the Philosopher’s stone. The museum was gathered in reality not by Ashmole, but by the Tradescants, and long before it came into the hands of the wealthy alchemist, was familiarly known to the naturalists of Carolinian times by the catalogue which the original owners published. In this work, which is still in existence, various ‘curiosities’ [page 5] are recorded, but of which, until lately, the Museum afforded no trace. Among these were several engraved gems, globes of crystal, pieces of carved ivory and amber, and among other objects of greater antiquarian interest, though of less intrinsic value, a gorgeous Persian hookah, made of silver, inlaid with turquoises, and King Henry VIII.’s hawking-glove. Most of these articles have now been discovered hidden away in ‘a sort of outhouse easily accessible to passers-by in the street.’ How or when they were tossed into such a place there is no record. But, at all events, the gems, the globes, the carvings, the hookah, and one of the hawking-gloves, not to mention a brick of Gudea, the son of Dungi, the Chaldean king, have been turned out of the shed, and been duly restored, with all honour, to Elias Ashmole’s treasure-house. This curious recovery of lost articles is, of course, not unprecedented in the history of Museums, and it is just possible that had the silver pipe with the Persian turquoises been hid for two centuries in a part of the University less accessible than an outhouse open to any one, the Ashmolean Museum might to-day not have been the richer by its possession. Such accidents are not unknown. The Crown Jewels of Scotland lay for more than a century in a dirty oak chest in a guard-room of Edinburgh Castle, and the annals of painting and sculpture could supply many similar instances of the hiding, loss, and recovery of articles the existence of which had been almost forgotten. Elias Ashmole would, indeed, have shared the same fate had it not been for the Museum; and even the Museum itself, in spite of the improvements it has undergone within the last few years, would have barely deserved remembrance at the hands of the scientific were it not that it contained a complete specimen of the Mauritian Dodo, and still preserves the precious relics of another, which had escaped the sacrireligious hands that destroyed its duplicate. Hence, to the Ashmolean all good Ornithologists must, once in a lifetime, make a pious pilgrimage.

But if Ashmole is but a shadowy memory, John Tradescant [page 6] is still more a nominis umbra. Yet to him we are indebted not only for the apricot, which he stole at the risk of life out of Morocco, but for the first Museum in England, and for one of the earliest of its now numerous Botanic Garden. It was he who founded the Ashmolean Museum; for the titular donor of the collection was presented with it by the heirs of the younger Tradescant, whose name he contrived not to associate with the gift. * [Footnote: * This is not correct, as there is an entry in Ashmole’s printed Diary to the effect that the Tradescants left him by deed-of-gift their collection.] The Tradescants were men of note, and at this time a memento of their lives still more interesting than the jewelled hookah and the Chaldean brick is on the point of disappearing. The railway traveller, hurrying from Clapham to Vauxhall station, cannot fail to notice in South Lambeth-road a quaint, old-fashioned house, with hammered iron gates, standing apart from the noisy street, as if conscious that it embodies in its bricks and mortar and narrow windows the well-to-do gentility which is vanishing from around it. Close by is a fine park, with old yew-trees and great shady elms, which seem strangely out of place in a neighbourhood where every rood of ground is worth a poor man’s ransom. This was the home of the Tradescants, the elder of whom was gardener to Charles I. Here they accumulated their famous museum, and in the park adjoining they cultivated their ‘Physic Garden,’ and held learned discourse with John Evelyn, Izaak Walton, John Ray, and Francis Willoughby, who were their friends and brother naturalists. But to that old house in Lambeth came company even more illustrious in rank. Charles I. and his Queen, Henrietta Maria, visited their opulent gardener, and contributed to his collection; and in their train came Laud, not then dreaming of the death he was doomed to die; Buckingham, in the heyday of his prosperity, and Robert and William Cecil, Earls of Salisbury; and among ‘much other good company,’ Evelyn tells us that in Tradescant’s house he supped with Archbishop Tenison, the Bishop of St. Asaph, and Lady Clarendon. In those days the collection [page 7] was considered a wonderful sight. none such existed. Ashmole, who lived in Tradescant’s house, added little to it except books. Sir Hans Sloane had not then begun to accumulate the omnium gatherum, which formed the nucleus of the British Museum; while Sir Ashton Lever, whose rich collection in Leicester-square was subsequently disposed of by lottery, was stimulated to begin his labours by the example of the Tradescants. A site more suitable could not well be found for the South London Museum, sometimes talked of, than this quaint house and quondam ‘Physic Garden.’ But already both are doomed. Last summer a part of the house, which had been occupied by Dr. Ducarel, the historian of Lambeth, was pulled down, and still more recently the walls of the park were placarded with the announcements of the auctioneer, ‘prepared’ to dispose of it in lots suitable for the erection of highly desirable residential mansions. From John Tradescant to the jerry builder is a long step. But, undoubtedly, one of the most scientifically interesting of transpontine spots will soon be undistinguishable. Then, amid the jangle of tramway-bells, and cries of “Twopence all the way,’ the passer-by will cease to remember that here John Evelyn, Izaak Walton, and King Charles ‘of blessed memory’ hob-a-nobbed with John Tradescant, who founded the earliest of English museums.

The ‘Museum Tradescantianum’ was possibly, according to nineteenth-century notions, a rather jumbled collection of ‘Curiosities,’ more akin in its character to the museum of Mr. Phineas Barnum, of New York, or his prototype, Don Saltero, of Chelsea, than the sternly scientific instrument we now understand by that word. Like the chip from Noah’s ark, and the peg from General Washington’s boot, some of its contents appealed less to the intellect than to the imagination, a scientific use of which was requisite for their due appreciation. It was a rude groping after the ideal now developed in Kensington and Bloomsbury, and its ‘survival’ may be seen in any country town. There, like circulating libraries, the local ‘Museum’ is considered a receptacle for rubbish of which [page 8] the previous owners had grown tired, or had not room for. Hence the club that killed Captain Cook, a snuff-box made out of a bit of dried navy junk, or a bit of the wood of the ‘Royal George,’ may be curious, but they are not educational. Those who remember Humphrey Cheetham’s ‘Museum,’ now in the Royal Park, Salford, must have had a ludicrous experience of the kind of articles which Tradescant and Ashmole thought worthy of preservation. But, good or bad, the Ashmolean Museum once having been accepted, ought to have been looked after better than it was. The donor did not endow it, while Dr. Rawlinson, who bequeathed seventy-five pounds per annum to the Keeper, shrewdly presaging that in time his money might be used to ‘endow research,’ carefully stipulated that the recipient should be an Englishman, not in Holy Orders, nor a Fellow or the Royal or Antiquarian Societies. Indeed, the fate of the collection of Sir Andrew Balfour, Sir Robert Sibbald, and Dr. Walker, in Edinburgh, and of those of Tradescant and Ashmole, during the earlier years of their existence, proves that a University, the members of which are for the most part ignorant of, and therefore careless about Science, is not the best custodian of such a Museum. Times have doubtless changed since Cambridge declined Smithson’s magnificent gift for the promotion of Science. Still, those who remember the history of various bequests which were accepted, who know that the Dodo was thrown out of the Ashmolean Museum long after the bird had been exterminated, and that for two centuries (!) part of the collection was permitted to be among the lumber of an outhouse, will not regret that the Smithsonian Institution has its home in a more sympathetic city.

[page 9] ‘A sort of outhouse, easily accessible to person in the street (?),’  does not seem the most likely place in the world in which to discover a valuable treasure-trove of engraved gems, globes of crystal, pieces of carved ivory and amber, and other costly and curious objects; yet it was in such an unpromising locality that a great find was lately made in the vicinity of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. It appears that it has long been known, from an ancient catalogue, that many interesting objects which figured in the collection of the founder of the Museum more than two hundred years ago were nowhere to be found, although diligent search has been made for them. Now some of them have turned up in a shed exposed to the depredations of any feloniously-minded persons existing in the academic city (?), and it may be supposed that the spirit of discovery once set to work will not rest until the other curiosities anciently in the possession of the worthy Lambeth merchant who founded the ‘Ashmolean’ have been unearthed. Among the rarities already bought to light is a splendid Persian hookah, of antique shape, made of silver, inlaid with turquoises. A brick, supposed to have belonged to one of the earliest Chaldean monarchs, is another antiquarian gem; but perhaps the most interesting object of all is a hawking-glove, once worn on the hand of King Henry VIII., which has lain for three centuries (?) mouldering under a heap of rubbish in a forgotten corner of an Oxford shed.” [1]

Notes by transcriber

[1] Note that the punctuation of the original marks each paragraph with opening quotation marks, but the transcriber has followed current punctuation and just marked the beginning and end with quotes.

[page 10] Reply of Mr. J.H. Parker, C.B., as Keeper.

To the Editor of the “Standard.

Sir,--Your amusing article on this subject on Saturday last is unfortunately full of misrepresentation and exaggeration. That certain small articles supposed to be of little value, all of which might have been contained in a box a foot square, were recently found in an outhouse is true, and that outhouse had no door to it when I was appointed Keeper; one of my first acts was to have a door put to it, although no one had any idea that it contained anything of any value. To say that this outhouse “was easily accessible to passers-by in the street” is quite erroneous, it opens into a narrow area at the back of the building, ten or twelve feet below the level of the street, from which there is no access to it. Instead of having been there for an indefinite length of time, as is assumed in your article, they were placed there by Mr. Rowell, who had been Assistant Keeper for about forty years before my appointment; they were accompanied by a memorandum in his handwriting. When I enquired how they came there, he said they were placed there by the order of Mr. Duncan, one of my predecessors in the office of Keeper, for what purpose he could not remember, and it is certainly difficult for any one to guess. The list of objects that you give as found there is only partially correct; Henry the Eight’s hawking-glove ad the Chaldean inscription certainly never were in the outhouse at all, nor had the latter article anything to do with Ashmole or Tradescant; it was purchased by myself last year, at the suggestion of Professor Sayce, in order that young men might have an opportunity of seeing a Chaldean inscription. Your article certainly implies excessive carelessness on the part of the Keeper, which is a libel upon me; during the winter months I am confined to a warm room and to my sofa, by order of my doctor, but I do my utmost to take care of the [page 11] treasures entrusted to me, although I am partially obliged to do so by deputy. I had almost forgotten to say that when the University built a new Museum in the Parks for Natural Sciences, about twenty years since, all articles relating to that subject were removed from the Ashmolean Museum, including the remains of the Dodo; so that if any one goes to the Ashmolean Museum to look for that, as you direct him to do, he will find that he has gone to the wrong place.

This attack on the Ashmolean Museum comes at an unfortunate time, just as a friend of mine is proposing to send a very valuable collection of articles of virtú to the Ashmolean Museum, so soon as the Public Examiners give up the charge of the upper room of the Museum, of which they have kept possession for the last dozen years. When I was appointed Keeper I was told that the new Schools would be ready for use next year, but next year is like tomorrow, which never comes, and the time for them to give up possession has not come yet.

Your obedient Servant,

John Henry Parker, C.B.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Nov. 22, 1880. [1]

Notes by transcriber

[1] Presumably page 12 is the empty back page of this pamphlet, as page 13 is the first, unnumbered page of Printed Pamphlet 3, again published by Parker.

Printed Pamphlet 3

This pamphlet was also privately printed by John Henry Parker.


Ashmolean Museum


Ashmolean Museum, Jan. 11, 1881.

As Mr. Rowell considers himself aggrieved by my printing this correspondence, and charges me with being the person for giving publicity to the circumstances, I think it better to make the correspondence complete, so as to give a full and explicitly statement of the case to the Visitors of the Museum, who certainly might have thought there had been great carelessness on my part for not better looking after the security of the valuable objects preserved in that Museum. To charge me with being the person to give publicity to it, after three London newspapers of large circulation had each amused their readers with an absurd caricature of what had taken place, is really rather too bad; it is probable that at least a thousand persons had read these caricatured accounts of it for one who will see this pamphlet, which I have merely printed in self-defence for private circulation, not for publication. I had not attached the slightest importance to the matter until these articles appeared, and I see that I had forgotten Mr. Rowell’s letter of April last, and thought he had told me the circumstances verbally only. Of course, the newspapers that have published these caricatures and misrepresentations will not acknowledge that they have done this, and no one would be likely to buy a pamphlet on the subject, so it would be useless to publish it. My object in printing it at all is only to explain the circumstances to those whom it concerns.

John Henry Parker, C.B.

NB from this point the opening and closing double quotation marks used in the original for the start of each paragraph and at the end of each letter have been omitted for ease of reading.

[page 14] [1]

47, Woodstock-road, April 5, 1880.

Sir,--A recent visitor to the Ashmolean Museum has informed me that Mr. Evans entered into many particulars with him on errors or neglect on my part as regards the Museum, and especially dwelt on my having omitted several articles of agate, &c., from my Catalogue, which he seemed to think of great value, as they had (probably) belonged to the Tradescant Collections, and also that I had carelessly put them away in the outhouse.

Now, considering what I had to do in arrangements in the two Museums, and this without an assistant, when I could hardly ever finish any task before I had to take some other in hand, it is very probable that some articles may have been put away and forgotten; but if so, in common fairness it would only have been right that I should be acquainted with the particulars, and enabled to explain matters, if I could, before such apparent neglect should be made a subject for conversation with visitors to the Museum.

As it is, I have no doubt that you have been informed of this case, but I beg to state that these articles, with many others, were turned out of the collections by Dr. John Shute Duncan, on his renovation of the Museum more than fifty years ago; and although all were stowed away, in accordance with the then regulations of the Museum, not one of them is entered in the Catalogue of the Museum published in 1836, with the making of which I was in no way connected. As the time, I merely did the work of the Museum, and know nothing more than that the articles were so put away. But on the Museum coming under my care, I brought them under the consideration of Professor Phillips, who at once objected to their being exhibited in the Museum, on the grounds that the materials were not rare or the workmanship remarkable, and also as there was no history of importance connected with them. But on the rearrangement of the Ashmolean, consequent on the opening of the New Museum, as there was then more spare space, Professor Phillips consented to the [page 15] readmission of some of the articles into the Museum, where they still remain. As to the articles being stowed away in the outhouse or storehouse, it was, I believe, the safest place, and where they were the least likely to be meddled with, being locked up in a strong box or cupboard.

I do not think that you can have any desire that I should be thus unfairly spoken of, and now if there be any charge whatever against me on any point connected with the Ashmolean Museum, I beg that I may at once be informed of it, and that thus this unseemly squabble might cease.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

G.A. Rowell.

To J.H. Parker, Esq., C.B.

Notes by transcriber

[1] It is likely that this pamphlet starts out at page 14 because it continues after the printed pamphlet published in Parker in 1880 [called Pamphlet 2 here].

To the Editor of “The Oxford Times.”

Sir,--The article on the above subject in your last “Local Note Book,” quoted from the Daily Telegraph, is similar to articles which have recently appeared in the Academy, the Standard, and, probably in other papers; and as I believe that no one, knowing how long I was at the Ashmolean Museum, can have read them with a belief in their truth, without thinking I have been guilty of gross neglect, I now beg an insertion of the following explanation on the subject, which appeared in the Standard of the 13th inst.:--

“To the Editor of ‘The Standard.’

Sir,--The statement in the Standard of November 20th, respecting the recent discovery of valuable articles in an out-house in the Ashmolean Museum, would, if correct, shew a strange degree of neglect in the management of it, for which, in my long connection with the Museum, I, and I alone, could be held responsible. I therefore beg the insertion of the following explanation:--

The ‘engraved gems, globes of crystal, pieces of carved ivory and amber, and other objects of great antiquarian interest,’ which are now said to have been discovered, are simply [page 16] a number of articles which were set aside by Dr. John Shute Duncan, on his renovation of the Ashmolean Museum in 1823-26, as unworthy of exhibition or case room; as although they were, perhaps, doubtless a part of the Tradescants’ Collection, nothing more was known about them; not one of them could be identified by any entry in their Catalogue, and there was nothing in the working or material which could give value to them.

In 1836 a Catalogue of the Museum was published by Mr. Philip Bury Duncan (who was then Keeper), when these articles were again examined and rejected.

On my re-arranging the Museum after the changes consequent on the opening of the New Museum, the Keeper (the late Professor Phillips) looked over them, and again they were to be put aside, except a few which, on my request, he consented to have placed on view.

I will merely say that they were locked in a strong cupboard, or box, and the outhouse, which had recently been made in the deep area at the back of the Museum, was the only place within the limits where I could put it, and the only way to this place is through the Museum itself.

The gorgeous Persian hookah was ‘discovered’ locked up in a drawer beneath the central table case in the Museum, where I had put it away, as it is imperfect, there being a complete one exhibited, and neither glass-case or space to spare for another. [1]

The only hawking-glove which belonged to King Henry VIII., and now in the Museum, has been there probably from the time of its foundation. And the brick alluded to was purchased for the Museum some two or three years back, and has not since been out of it. [2]

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

G.A. Rowell.

I intended that the foregoing should suffice, but the Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum (J.H. Parker, C.B.) has now issued [page 17] a pamphlet on this subject (thus making it a public question), in which allusions are made to myself, and on these I beg to offer a few remarks. Those on page 4, having no relation to the subjects under consideration, I pass by, although I believe they will be read with surprise by those who know most on the subject to which they refer.

In page 10, in reference to the articles being put away in the outhouse, Mr. Parker says, ‘Instead of having been there for an indefinite length of time, as is assumed in your article, they were placed there by Mr. Rowell, who had been Assistant-keeper for about forty years before my appointment; they were accompanied by a memorandum in his handwriting. When I enquired how they came there, he said they were placed there by the order of Mr. Duncan, one of my predecessors in the office of Keeper, for what purpose he could not remember, and it certainly is difficult for any one to guess.’

Mr. Parker has made some mistakes in this statement; the outhouse did not exist till since [sic] he became Keeper of the Museum, when a part of the back area was covered in, on the last spare room within the building being taken up by the architectural casts. As to my answer to his enquiries, this also is a mistake, as not a single question has been put to me relative to these articles, nor has the subject been named to me either by the Keeper or Assistant-keeper of the Museum.

The only information I have had of their being found was, several months since, from a visitor to the Ashmolean Museum, who said that when there, almost the sole topic of conversation with the Assistant-keeper was his neglect in putting these things away, the importance of the discovery he had made, and the great value of the articles. On this I wrote to Mr. Parker, stating what the articles were, and why they were put aside; and at the same time I expressed my opinion that if there was any charge against me for neglect of duty when in the Ashmolean Museum, I certainly ought to be acquainted with it, before it was made a subject for conversation with visitors to the Museum.

To this letter I received no reply, and had ceased to think of it, or the subject, till the appearance of the articles in the papers; and these seem to shew that my neglect in the case has continued to be a subject for conversation with visitors, as it is certain that Professor Sayce could not have written the article in the Academy—which has given rise to all this unpleasantness—except on information from some one connected with the Ashmolean Museum.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

G.A. Rowell

December 20, 1880.

To the Editor of “The Oxford Times.”

Sir,--Although I am the person who accidentally made the discoveries respecting which you inserted a communication from Mr. Rowell in your issue of the 24th ult., I should not think it necessary, or even permissible for me in my position, to intermeddle in a newspaper controversy on the matter, only Mr. Rowell has made personal allusion to my conduct in connection with it, and that it has been authoratively suggested to me that I should reply to his letter.

I really did find in an outhouse attached to the Museum (but not as has been stated “accessible to passers-by in the street”) a number of articles, of which I append a list.

List of articles found:-- [3]

a. A necklace of 49 large milk-white cornelian beads, now restrung. (The only specimen in the Museum.)

a. Two ditto of 79 and 88 smaller, semi-transparent cornelian beads, restrung. (The only specimen.)

a. One ditto, of 57 large mixed cornelian and jasper (?), now restrung. (The only specimen.)

a. One ditto, of 49 crystal and glass (?) and a large crystal pendant set in silver. (The only specimen.)

a. Twenty-one beads of amber, some of them very large. (The only specimens.)

a. Necklace of 44 oval-shaped amber beads. (The only specimen.)

a. Five rosaries, or necklaces, of bone and wooden beads. (The only specimens.)

a. String, or necklace, of 96 beads of a wax-like substance. (The only specimen.)

[page 19] Necklace of shells, South Sea Indian (?). (The only specimen.)

Two strings of dark brown wooden beads. (The only specimen.)

Six strings of long, square-shaped beads of coloured glass; probably modern Egyptian or Arabic. (The only specimens.)

a. Thirty miscellaneous beads and pendant ornaments, made of jasper, agate, & ancient glass. (The only specimens.)

a. A string of minute wooden beads. (The only specimen.)

a. Two small strings of jet and black glass beads. (The only specimens.)

a. Three Burmese bracelets of ornamental gilt, and gilt-and-black beads. (The only specimens.)

a. One ditto, of a grass-like material. (The only specimen.)

a. Burmese necklace or rosary of sacred seeds. (The only specimen, now cleaned and re-strung) [4]

a. Ditto of similar, but much smaller seeds. (The only specimen.)

Four carved wooden spoons, probably Oriental (The only specimens.) [5]

Bracelet of shells, South Sea Indian. (The only specimen.)

a. Part of a silver hookah, or tobacco-pipe. Old Persian, set with green and blue turquoises, portion of which was also found in a drawer, in a dirty state, in the Museum room. (The only work of its kind in the Museum). Unfortunately this article is not perfect; most of the small turquoises have been removed, but enough are left to show the richness of the work. [6]

b. A small silver box, enamelled, which contains eleven out of twelve little silver medallions, representing the heads of the Apostles. (The only specimen.)

b. A silver-gilt perfume box, with six sides. (The only specimen.)

b. “Hand of jet, usually given to children in Turkey to preserve them from witchcraft;” broken, perhaps when put away. (The only specimen.)

b. “Several curious paintings in little forms, very ancient” (one only of these, a circular miniature on ivory, is in good preservation, the others seem to have been injured by the damp; the only specimens.)

b. “Divers figures cut on shells.” There are three only of these very pretty cameos. (The only specimens.)

b. “Variety of figure cut in crystals”. Five of these little intaglios have been found, and with them five others of cornelian and lapus-lazuli (the crystal and cornelian are the only specimens).

Trophy of lion’s teeth, duplicate. Given by Mrs Birkbeck, 1869. [7]

Model of Caffir man & woman, native made. Burchell Collection,1865. (This pair is rather different to the one in the Museum, & has been injured by moth since put away?) [8]

A pair of North American Indian garters (these have been almost destroyed by moth since put away. Part of the same collection is in the Museum room). [9]

Nubian woman’s apron, of leather, ornamented with shells, beads and small bells. (There is another specimen in the Museum, but not exactly like this one). [10]

Medal of New Haven, 1838, and some miscellaneous coins.

A Thermometer used by Dr. Burchell during his African travels.

Two fish-hooks, from the South Pacific Islands; Captain Cook’s and Captain Beechey’s Collections. Duplicates. [11]

b. A small hollow ball, apparently made of brass, having some hard substance inside, which rattles when shaken. Perhaps the article entered [page 20] in Tradescant’s Catalogue, p. 43, as “A brazen ball to warm the nunnes hands.” (The only specimen.)

An article of black glass, round on the top and flat on the bottom. Formerly used for smoothing linen by rubbing it, which operation is now performed by mangling. (The only specimen.)

A few small remains of the Douglas Anglo-Saxon Collection, one, at least, of which is figured in the Nenia Brittannica. [sic] Given to the Museum by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, Bart., 1829.

b. A carving on a plum-stone, representing S. James.

Carved article of bone, probably African, use unknown, the upper portion of it representing grotesque figures of animals; very curious. (The only specimen.)

N.B. The articles marked ‘a’ are probably of the Tradescant Collection--those marked ‘b’ certainly belong to that Collection, and are entered in their catalogue of 1656.

During ten years that I had  been employed at the Museum, including the whole period of Mr. Parker’s Keepership, I had never seen the articles in question. The cupboard or box containing them might have been in the Museum before the outhouse was built, but it was not under my control, or accessible to me, until Mr. Rowell resigned the charge of the Museum eighteen months ago. Desiring to ascertain the contents of the cupboard, and having no key for it, I forced it open and found a number of articles which I thought of sufficient importance to bring before the Curator’s notice; when I found, as I had every reason to suppose, that he had been as ignorant of their existence as I had.

He and other authorities thought them valuable, interesting, and important enough (especially as some of them were included in the Tradescant Catalogue of 1656) to be replaced on exhibition in the Museum.

The decision which Mr. Rowell states former Curators of the Museum to have deliberately come to with respect to these articles would, of course, during their tenure of office, justify his disposal of the things as described; but the fact nevertheless remains, that during the ten years of Mr. Parker’s Curatorship, he had been afforded no opportunity of expressing his judgment with regard to them, until I discovered them and brought them before his notice.

As to my having furnished, in conversation with visitors, [page 21] the information upon which public statements have been made in the newspapers, I have accepted it as part of my duty to describe the objects exhibited in the Museum, and to call attention to new acquisitions, especially for the information of authorities and members of the University; it is only natural, therefore, that the discovery in the outhouse should have been alluded to as a matter of some importance. As such it was mentioned to Professor Sayce, who thought it of sufficient interest for publication, but who certainly misapprehended some details connected with the matter, which was further misrepresented in some of the newspaper articles.

I am, Sir, yours respectfully,

E.C. Evans,

Assistant Keeper, Ashmolean Museum. [12]

Notes by transcriber

[1] 1886.1.168 at PRM

[2] Hawking glove is AN1685 B.228 [Ashmolean] other item not identified

[3] by side of this line, handwritten ‘tr’g [?] top 21’

[4] 1886.1.62

[5] there are 14 spoons which might match this entry

[6] 1886.1.168

[7] 1886.1.527

[8] 1886.1.428 & 1886.1.429

[9] 1886.1.831 & 1886.1.832

[10] 1886.1.577 or 1886.1.578

[11] Large number of potential matches now in the PRM.

[12] There is a handwritten ‘X’ alongside the gap between this letter and the next.

After this was in type, but before it had been issued, I saw it announced that Rowell had put an answer to Evans’s letter in the Oxford Times of Jan. 22. He has accordingly sent a long and angry letter, but the substance of it is merely a repetition of what he has said repeatedly before, that these objects were shewn by him to three of my predecessors in the office of Keeper, the two Mr. Duncans and Professor Phillips, and they all agreed that there was not room for them in the Museum; they were therefore locked up in a box, of which Rowell himself had the key, and put aside. This may have been the case in the first instance; the Ashmolean Museum at that time continued to be of the old mediaeval character, a medley of what are called “curiosities,” including Natural History and Archaeology. In this one comparatively small building were specimens of birds, beasts, fishes, reptiles, and insects; dresses and implements of the South Sea Islanders, collected in Captain Cook’s celebrated voyage of the last century; together with flint implements, Egyptian sarcophagi with hieroglyphic inscriptions; Etruscan, Greek and Roman painted [page 22] vases; a model of a British village in Oxfordshire, and objects found there; the celebrated jewel of King Alfred, a sword of Henry VIII., and a variety of all sorts of things that go under the general name of curiosities: and Rowell had practically the sole charge of the whole of them, and was indefatigable in giving viva voce lectures upon any of them to all comers, but it was evident that his heart was in the Natural Science department.

Not one of my three predecessors whom he mentions took the slightest interest in Archaeology; the two Mr. Duncans were gentlemen of property living at Bath, who thought it a great compliment from the University to give them the name of Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, and they came to Oxford once a year to see that it was “all right,” leaving the entire management to their assistants; first Kirtland with Rowell, then Rowell only, who soon took Evans as his servant; and when he resigned Evans succeeded him, and has young Norris for his boy. In the time that the Mr. Duncans were Keepers, Mr. Nathaniel Strickland, of Lincoln College, took great pains in arranging the Natural History department; this he did as a volunteer, without pay, and everybody said that it did him great credit.

Professor Phillips was a great Geologist, but also cared nothing about Archaeology, and did not wish to interfere with any arrangements that had previously been made. In his time the Natural Science department was transferred to the New Museum, and then there was abundance of room in the Ashmolean for all that remained; so much was this the case, that the authorities of the University thought it would be long before they had objects enough to fill it. Want of room was therefor no excuse for keeping these curiosities locked up in a box, and stowed away in an out-house; they are now on the table before me, and are all contained in a drawer three feet long and two feet wide; double that space would perhaps be necessary to display them, and a sheet of glass should be put over them, both to keep them [page 23] from the dust and from the chance of a pickpocket. Some of them are real curiosities, and interesting to many people. The Persian hookah, of silver, with enamel, of the time of our Charles I., is a really curious and interesting object; the model of a Caffir man and a Caffir woman, made by the Caffirs themselves, are certainly curiosities. These were from the Burchell Collection, given to the Museum in 1865, and not entered in the printed list of donations to the Museum, 1836-1868. Some of the gems are really very beautiful works of art, as is seen more clearly by the impressions from them.

Rowell makes a mistake in saying that the outhouse was built by me, and it can hardly be said to have been built by anybody; it is part of the original construction, and is in the deep area around the building, covered over by the stone steps that lead up to the door, the lower part of which is closed at the end next Broad-street, but the space was open at the other end until I put a door to it, which I did as a security, not against “passers-by in the street above.” but in case some sneak of the pickpocket class should hide himself in the lower part of the building while it was open to the public, and steal anything he could lay his hands upon when the building was left at night. This outhouse would have been a very convenient place for such a person to hide in, and we found that an attempt had been made to force open the door of one of the cases in the lower part of the building, at the foot of the staircase.

The mistake was, in continuing Rowell as practically the sole manager of the Ashmolean after the Natural Science department had been removed to the New Museum. In his too great zeal he undertook more than it was possible for him to do, and some part of his work was of necessity done in a slovenly manner. He acknowledges that he had forgotten all about these things that were put in the outhouse, and had not given the key of the box either to me or to Evans. I find that Evans broke it open without saying anything to me about it.

[page 24] I agree with Rowell that in this matter “mountains have been made out of mole-hills,” but this was done by the London newspapers for the amusement of their readers, and it was necessary for me to shew that valuable objects entrusted to my care were not left in an outhouse open to passers-by in the street.

Evans makes a mistake in following too closely the example of his predecessor, Rowell himself, who set the bad example of talking to all the strangers who came into the Museum, without waiting to be asked, the consequence of which was that both Rowell and Evans have often exposed themselves to ridicule for supposed knowledge and real ignorance, and for often telling well-informed people what is popularly called “Queen Anne is dead.” [1] If Evans had not made a fuss about his find to Professor Sayce, who thought it would make an amusing story for the readers of the Academy, no one would have paid any heed to it any more than I did myself, until the newspapers compelled me to do so. It may perhaps be fairly said, that he only did his duty in shewing the Professor, when he came to the Museum, what he had found. It is unfortunate that he did not also shew the Professor the outhouse, this would have prevented the mistake of saying that it was “open to passers-by in the street,” which has been the real cause of all the fuss. I could not allow this great mistake to be made without contradicting it.

Evans has found that some of the objects were moth-eaten, and were better out of the Museum; others may very well now be exhibited, as there is room for them, and I have had glass-cases made to protect small objects from pickpockets. I can assure those who are interested in the Ashmolean, that although I am an old man and an invalid, and not able to go there myself in the winter, it is thoroughly well looked after. Evans brings me the key every night, and the book with the names of visitors, and tells me if anything has occurred during the day; and his boy, young Norris, fetches it every morning at five minutes to nine, punctual as clock-work, so that the door [page 25] may be open at nine, to light the fires and dust the room, so that it may be ready for Evans to receive visitors at ten.

I take this opportunity of explaining what my plan was when I was appointed Keeper in 1870. It was to establish a connection between the Archaeological Museum and the Archaeological Society; the one was a place for preserving objects of interest for study, the other to supply a succession of young men to study them. Each successive set of Undergraduates may well become members of the Society during their passage through the University course. Archaeology is a very comprehensive term; the French generally use it in the sense of Architectural History, and many of our own county societies are called indifferently Archaeological or Architectural. The Oxford society, to which I refer, is called Architectural and Historical, being a combination of the long-established Architectural Society, of which Dr. E.A. Freeman was long a prominent member, the other the Historical Society, established at a subsequent period by Professor Goldwin Smith; the union was made with the cordial consent of Dr. Freeman, who said that the object of the Architectural Society had always been Architectural History, it was not intended for apprentices to architects or clerks of the works. For that purpose an excellent museum was established by Sir G. Gilbert Scott, with the help of Mr. Beresford Hope and others, near Westminster Abbey. The object of the Oxford Society was to make Architectural History part of the education of gentlemen who were likely to be the future employers of architects, and to remedy the ignorance of this subject, which had been pointed out by Goldwin Smith himself as a blot upon the system of education in Oxford. His very true and important words were, “The buildings of every nation are an important part of the history of that nation, but one that has been neglected by all historians, because the historians themselves have been entirely ignorant of the subject.” To remove this ignorance is the great object of our Society. It appears to me that the Ashmolean Museum is admirably calculated to [page 26] assist in this object, whenever the Society can have the use of the upper room for its meetings, and for the exhibition of drawings, photographs, &c., and of a small room at the back of the upper storey for its excellent architectural library. The plaster casts belonging to the Society, which shew the characteristic features of each successive style or period, are at present stowed away in a small back room on the ground-floor, not in any order, because there was no room to display them or arrange them. Originally they were arranged in chronological order, which made them very useful. Dr. freeman acknowledges that when so arranged he learnt a great deal from them in his youth; many others might say the same. I have no doubt that Mr. James Park Harrison, the architect of St. George’s church in Oxford, would be one to acknowledge this. Some of the leading members of the University have said that photographs now answer all the purpose, and that casts are no longer necessary. Dr Freeman has pointed out that this is a mistake; to distinguish the age of a Gothic building, it is often necessary to use the fingers as well as the eyes; the deeply undercut mouldings of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries cannot be distinguished by a photograph of the surface only, yet these are often the most characteristic features for deciding the century to which a building belongs.

I have mentioned the numerous provincial Societies; they may all be said to have originated in the Oxford Society. When this was first established, Mr. Manuel Johnson, afterwards Radcliffe Observer, who was one of the founders of it, and the first Secretary, when he wrote the original prospectus, suggested that the field was so large that it was impossible for any one Society to work it properly, there must be many sub-divisions or local Societies. This prospectus was issued, and the first meeting of the Society was held in May, 1838. The idea was immediately taken up at Cambridge, and six months afterwards the Cambridge Camden Society was started; but there was a wide distinction between the two Societies. [page 27] In Oxford, a large proportion were senior members of the University, who gave ballast to it, the Cambridge Society consisted almost entirely of young men, and rather wanted ballast, almost the only exception was their President, Archdeacon Thorpe, and he was so enthusiastic and youthful in his ideas that he could hardly be called an exception. The consequence was that the Cambridge men began to teach before they had learned, and to restore ancient churches before their employer, architect, builder, or workman, knew how to set about it: there was therefore more zeal than discretion; many fine old buildings were seriously injured under the name of restoration.

Some will say that all this is gone by, the Society has done its work, and is no longer necessary, but this is a great mistake; there is a constant succession of men in Oxford, not of Undergraduates only, but of Tutors also. If the Society had done its work, we should not have had the mess that has been made about the New Schools, in which, after applying for designs from two principal architects, rejecting both (but having to pay for the drawings), the University then employ the Fellow of a College to make a bad copy of the Old Schools of the time of James I., and put them up in the most conspicuous place in Oxford, in the High-street, opposite Queen’s College, on the site of the old Angel Hotel, as expensive a site as could well have been suggested. If Architectural History had been properly understood, we should not have had such caricatures of mediaeval Gothic as the new buildings of Christ Church and Merton, towards the meadow, on the south, or the New Museum and Keble College on the north. It is just because Architectural History has not been studied that these things can be done. Yet no place better suited than Oxford for that study could well be contrived; we have in Oxford buildings of every period, from the time of William the Conqueror to our own days, but nobody takes the small trouble that is really required to see the characteristics of each period.

Let us hope that the Ashmolean Museum will become the centre of a new start of the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society, or a Society for the study of Architectural History, and will set an example from which all England  may benefit.

One more addition I may make without breach of confidence. In the early days of the Architectural Society, John Henry Newman was a member of it, and he said “it was the only neutral ground in Oxford.” May we not hope that the upper room of the Ashmolean Museum, a building in a very convenient central site, may become such neutral ground, which is certainly as much wanted in Oxford now as it was forty years ago. Angry debates on politics, or on religious matters, are just as prevalent now as they were then, and Archaeology remains as strictly neutral. When members of an Archaeological Society meet, they generally do so in good humour, and are disposed to be on friendly terms with each other; and such meetings tend to soften the bitterness of Politics or Polemics.

Notes by transcriber

[1] “Queen Anne is dead” equals stale news.

[End of pamphlet]

Transcribed by AP January 2014.

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