Augustus Pitt Rivers

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Augustus Pitt Rivers
Born Augustus Henry Lane-Fox
(1827-04-14)14 April 1827
Bramham cum Oglethorpe, Wetherby, Yorkshire
Died 4 May 1900(1900-05-04) (aged 73)
Rushmore Estate, Wiltshire
Nationality English
Fields Ethnology, archaeology

Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers (14 April 1827 – 4 May 1900) was an English army officer, ethnologist, and archaeologist.[1] He was noted for his innovations in archaeological methods, and in the museum display of archaeological and ethnological collections. His collection of about 22,000 objects formed the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford.[2]

Early life and family[edit]

Born Augustus Henry Lane-Fox at Bramham cum Oglethorpe, Wetherby, Yorkshire,[3] he was the son of William Lane-Fox and Lady Caroline Douglas, a sister of George Douglas, 17th Earl of Morton. George Lane-Fox and Sackville Lane-Fox were his uncles.

In 1880, Lane-Fox inherited the estates of a cousin: Horace Pitt-Rivers, 6th Baron Rivers and consequently the remainder of the Richard Rigby fortune. It was "an event that transformed his life."[2] He was required to adopt the surname Pitt Rivers as part of the bequest.[2] Pitt Rivers was married to Alice Stanley (1828–1910), daughter of the politician Edward Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley, and the women's education campaigner Henrietta Stanley, Baroness Stanley of Alderley. Three notable descendants of Augustus are his grandson, the notorious anthropologist, eugenicist, anti-Semite and detainee in 1940 under Defence Regulation 18B George Pitt-Rivers,[4] his great-grandson, the anthropologist and ethnographer, Julian A. Pitt-Rivers, and his great-great-grandson, William Fox-Pitt, the equestrian. Another grandson was Michael Pitt-Rivers who gained notoriety in Britain in the 1950s when he was put on trial charged with "buggery".[5]

Military career[edit]

Lane-Fox had a long and successful military career, primarily as a staff officer. He was educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, for six months at the age of fourteen and commissioned into the Grenadier Guards on 16 May 1845 as an Ensign.[6] He immediately bought his promotion to Lieutenant.[6] He bought a further promotion to Captain on 2 August 1850.[7] He was promoted to the brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel of the army "for distinguished Service in the Field" during the Crimean War.[8] On 15 May 1857, he bought the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Grenadier Guards.[9] He was promoted to colonel on 22 January 1867.[10]

The then Brevet-Major Lane-Fox, was appointed a member of the Fifth Class of the Order of the Medjidie in 1858 for "distinguished services before the enemy during the [Crimean War]".[11]

Archaeological career[edit]

Pitt Rivers' interests in archaeology and ethnology began in the 1850s, during postings overseas, and he became a noted scientist while he was still a serving military officer. He was elected, in the space of five years, to the Ethnological Society of London (1861), the Society of Antiquaries of London (1864) and the Anthropological Society of London (1865). By the time he retired he had amassed ethnographic collections numbering tens of thousands of items from all over the world. Influenced by the evolutionary writings of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, he arranged them typologically and (within types) chronologically. This style of arrangement, designed to highlight the evolutionary trends in human artefacts, was a revolutionary innovation in museum design. Pitt Rivers' ethnological collections today form the basis of the Pitt Rivers Museum which is still one of Oxford's leading attractions. His Wessex Collection is housed in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, which faces the front of Salisbury Cathedral. A new Wessex Gallery of archaeology is due to open at the Salisbury Museum in 2014, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the Pitt Rivers collection forms a major part of the display. The story of Pitt Rivers as a man along with other archaeologist such as William Stukeley will also be celebrated in the new Wessex Gallery.

The estates that Pitt Rivers inherited in 1880 contained a wealth of archaeological material from the Roman and Saxon periods. He excavated these over seventeen seasons, beginning in the mid-1880s and ending with his death. His approach was highly methodical by the standards of the time, and he is widely regarded as the first scientific archaeologist to work in Britain. His most important methodological innovation was his insistence that all artefacts, not just beautiful or unique ones, be collected and catalogued. This focus on everyday objects as the key to understanding the past broke decisively with past archaeological practice, which had often verged on treasure hunting. It is Pitt Rivers' most important, and most lasting, scientific legacy. Moreover his work inspired Mortimer Wheeler among others to add to the scientific approach of archaeological excavation techniques.

Pitt Rivers created the Larmer Tree Gardens, a public pleasure garden, on the Rushmore estate near Tollard Royal in Wiltshire.

From 1882 Pitt Rivers served as Britain's first Inspector of Ancient Monuments: a post created by anthropologist and parliamentarian John Lubbock who was married to Pitt Rivers' daughter, Alice. Charged with cataloguing archaeological sites and protecting them from destruction, he worked with his customary methodical zeal but was hampered by the limitations of the law, which gave him little real power over the landowners on whose property the sites stood.

In 1884 he served as High Sheriff of Dorset.[12]

Memorial to Augustus Pitt Rivers in St Peter's Church at Tollard Royal.

Advocate for cremation[edit]

Pitt Rivers was an advocate for cremation at a time when such a practice was illegal in England.[13] Even though many people believed that it was immoral to destroy a corpse, the cremation movement favored a practical way to dispose of bodies.

Pitt Rivers was cremated after his death in 1900.


  • Excavations on Cranborne Chase (4 volumes)
  • Excavations on Bokerly and Wansdyke.


  1. ^ "Excavating Pitt-Rivers project". Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. Retrieved 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Hicks, Dan (2013). "Characterizing the World Archaeology Collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum". In Hicks, Dan; Stevenson, Alice. World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum: a characterization (Oxford: Archaeopress): 1–15. "It was founded in 1884 with a donation of a collection of c.22,092 archaeological and ethnological objects, which had been assembled between c.1851 and the early 1880s by General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900) – who was known until 1880 simply as Augustus Henry Lane Fox....The PRM founding collection was donated to the University four years after Pitt-Rivers had inherited a large estate (and his new surname): an event that transformed his life." 
  3. ^ "Pitt Rivers and Yorkshire". Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. Retrieved 2012. 
  4. ^ Griffiths, Richard (1998). Patriotism Perverted: Captain Ramsay, the Right Club and British Anti-Semitism 1939-40. Constable. pp. 54, 65. 
  5. ^ "Michael Pitt-Rivers". LGBT History Project. 
  6. ^ a b The London Gazette: no. 20471. p. 1472. 16 May 1845. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 21123. p. 2132. 2 August 1850. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: no. 21640. p. 4052. 12 December 1854. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  9. ^ The London Gazette: no. 22002. p. 1734. 15 May 1857. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  10. ^ The London Gazette: no. 23223. p. 1025. 26 February 1867. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  11. ^ The London Gazette: no. 22107. p. 1258. 2 March 1858. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  12. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25325. p. 1117. 4 March 1884.
  13. ^ Bryson, Bill (2010). At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday. pp. 341–342. ISBN 978-0-7679-1938-8. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Waterfield, Herminone; King, J. C. H. (2006). Provenance: Twelve Collectors of Ethnographic Art in England 1760–1990. Paris: Somogy éditions d'art. ISBN 978-1903470961. 

External links[edit]