Posted by: travelrat | March 2, 2016

The Pitt Rivers Collection


When you visit the Natural History Museum in Oxford, you get ‘two for the price of one’ … that is, you would, if entry to the museum wasn’t free. Once you’ve admired the exhibits at the NHM, you just wander through a door and enter the Pitt Rivers Museum. If you’re looking for almost anything, from almost everywhere in the world, there’s a high probability you’ll find it here … somewhere.

This ‘museum within a museum’ is based around artefacts donated by Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers in the 19th Century. He’s described as an Army officer, ethnologist and archaeologist … in fact, he’s sometimes thought of as the ‘Father of modern British archaeology’. Although he served in the Army for 32 years, he didn’t see very much in the way of action, except at the battle of Alma in the Crimean War.

Much of his career centred around the development of weaponry, and this may well have been the basis for the nucleus of what was to become the Pitt Rivers Collection. But, it was constantly added to because of his interest in ethnology, and contributed to by friends from all over the world.

In 1880, he received a considerable inheritance from a cousin … on condition that he adopted the surname Pitt Rivers … up to then, he’d been simply Augustus Henry Lane-Fox. His new estate yielded a horde of archaeological ‘finds’ from the Roman and Saxon periods, and these, also, were added to the Collection, most of which is housed in the Wessex Gallery, at the Salisbury Museum.

In 1884, approximately 26,000 of the other artefacts in the Collection were donated to Oxford University … on condition that a museum be built to house them, the Pitt Rivers name writ large above the entrance, and staff be appointed to lecture about them. He had just retired from the Army, with the honorary rank of Lieutenant General … and, in those days, when Lieutenant Generals said ‘Let there be … ‘ … there usually was!

Those 26.000 objects, though, were only the start. It’s only a twelfth part of what’s in there now, and the collection is still growing. I’m not even going to attempt to list what’s in there, but I will make mention of a couple of outstanding exhibits in future posts. You’re just going to have to go and see for yourself. But, allow plenty of time!


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