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Augustus Pitt Rivers

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Augustus Pitt Rivers
Augustus Henry Lane Fox

(1827-04-14)14 April 1827
Died4 May 1900(1900-05-04) (aged 73)
Scientific career
FieldsEthnology, archaeology
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1845–1882
RankLieutenant General
Battles/warsCrimean War

Lieutenant General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers FRS FSA FRAI (14 April 1827 – 4 May 1900) was an English officer in the British Army, ethnologist, and archaeologist.[1] He was noted for innovations in archaeological methodology, and in the museum display of archaeological and ethnological collections. His international collection of about 22,000 objects was the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford while his collection of English archaeology from the area around Stonehenge forms the basis of the collection at The Salisbury Museum in Wiltshire.[2]

Throughout most of his life he used the surname Lane Fox, under which his early archaeological reports are published. In 1880 he adopted the Pitt Rivers name on inheriting from Lord Rivers (a cousin) an estate of more than 32,000 acres in Cranborne Chase.[3]

His family name is often spelled as "Pitt-Rivers".[4] His middle name is sometimes spelled as "Lane-Fox".[5][6]

Early life and family[edit]

Born Augustus Henry Lane-Fox at Bramham cum Oglethorpe near Wetherby in Yorkshire,[7] he was the son of William Lane-Fox and Lady Caroline Douglas, sister of George Douglas, 17th Earl of Morton. The politicians George Lane-Fox and Sackville Lane-Fox were his uncles.

In 1880, Lane Fox inherited the estates of his cousin, Horace Pitt-Rivers, 6th Baron Rivers and with it the remainder of the Richard Rigby fortune. It was "an event that transformed his life." He was required to adopt the surname Pitt-Rivers as part of the bequest 'either alone or in addition to his or their surname'.[8] On 3 February 1853,[9] Pitt-Rivers (still under the surname Fox) married The Honourable Alice Margaret Stanley (1828–1910), daughter of the politician Edward Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley and of the women's education campaigner Henrietta Stanley, Baroness Stanley of Alderley. Alice had a slew of siblings active in the public issues of the day, several of whom married into prominent families. The Pitt Rivers Museum suggests that some of the founding collection, particularly some Indian items, may have come from John Constantine Stanley (1837-1878), younger brother of Alice.[10]


Augustus and Alice had nine children who reached adulthood; they were born between 1855 and 1866.[11] As they were all born before Augustus took the new surname in 1880, their births are registered under the name of Fox (or Lane-Fox).

  1. Alexander Edward Lane Fox-Pitt-Rivers, 2 November 1855 – 19 August 1927.
  2. St. George Lane Fox-Pitt, 14 September 1856 – 6 April 1932, electrical engineer, author, and student of psychic phenomena.
  3. William Augustus Lane Fox-Pitt, 9 January 1858 – 1945?.
  4. Ursula Katharine Lane Fox-Pitt, 1859? – 1942.
  5. Lionel Charles Lane Fox-Pitt, 5 November 1860 – 1937?.
  6. Alice Augusta Laurentia Lane Fox-Pitt, circa 1862 – 11 March 1947.
  7. Agnes Geraldine Fox-Pitt, 25 July 1863 – 7 December 1926.[12]
  8. Douglas Henry Lane Fox-Pitt, 17 December 1864 – 19 September 1922.
  9. Arthur Algernon Lane Fox-Pitt, 12 April 1866 – 6 November 1895.

Augustus' descendants include his grandson, anthropologist, eugenicist, and anti-Semite George Pitt-Rivers, who was interned in 1940 under Defence Regulation 18B.[13] George's children included Michael Pitt-Rivers, and his brother, anthropologist and ethnographer, Julian A. Pitt-Rivers. A further generation includes Augustus's great-great-grandson, equestrian William Fox-Pitt.

Military career[edit]

Lane Fox had a long and successful military career as a staff officer. He was educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, for six months at the age of fourteen and was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards on 16 May 1845 as an ensign.[14] In the course of a thirty-two-year military career, albeit much interrupted by leave, he only once saw major front line action, at the Battle of Alma in 1854. Soon after the battle, he was found unfit for active service and returned to England.[8] In 1851 he became a member of the committee to experiment and report on the respective merits of the army's smoothbore muskets. He was appointed to Woolwich to instruct in the use of the new Minié rifle in 1852. Subsequently, he was largely responsible for founding the Hythe school of Musketry in Kent and became its principal instructor, revising its Instruction of Musketry manual. The remainder of his service career revolved around musketry instruction and in 1858 he published a paper On the improvement of the rifle as a weapon for general use.[15][16] He bought a promotion to captain on 2 August 1850.[17] He was promoted to the brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel of the army "for distinguished Service in the Field" during the Crimean War.[18] On 15 May 1857, he bought the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Grenadier Guards.[19] 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]".[20] He was promoted to colonel on 22 January 1867[21] and major general in 1877.[22] Pitt Rivers retired in 1882 and was accorded the honorary rank of Lt General.

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 a serving military officer. His interest began with the evolution of the rifle, which extended to other weapons and tools, and he became a collector of artifacts illustrating the development of human invention. His collection became famous, and, after being exhibited in 1874–1875 at the Bethnal Green Museum, London, was presented in 1885 to the University of Oxford.[23] 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).

In 1867, Pitt Rivers left full-time military service and went on half pay.[24] The same year, he visited an archaeological excavation being carried out in the Yorkshire Wolds by Canon William Greenwell, librarian of Durham Cathedral and an established archaeologist, to whom he may have been introduced by mutual friends George Rolleston or Albert Way. Pitt Rivers received his first instruction in excavation from Greenwell, and later described himself as Greenwell's pupil.[24][25] Greenwell viewed archaeology as a serious scholarly process of assembling evidence on periods which lacked written records, contrasted to the "ignorant and greedy spirit of mere curiosity-hunting"; views that would influence Pitt Rivers' own approach.[26][24]

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. He viewed archaeology as an extension of anthropology and, as consequence, built up matching collections of archaeological and ethnographic objects to show longer developmental sequences to support his views on cultural evolution.[27] This style of arrangement, designed to highlight evolutionary trends in human artefacts, was a revolutionary innovation in museum design.

Pitt Rivers' ethnological collections form the basis of the Pitt Rivers Museum which is still one of Oxford's attractions. His researches and collections cover periods from the Lower Paleolithic to Roman and medieval times, and extend all over the world.[28] The Pitt Rivers Museum curates more than half a million ethnographic and archaeological artifacts, photographic and manuscript collections from all parts of the world. The museum was founded in 1884 when the university accepted the gift of more than 20,000 artifacts from Pitt Rivers. The university awarded him the Doctorate of Civil Law in 1886, and he was later named a Fellow of the Royal Society.[22] The collections continue to grow, and the museum has been described as one of the "six great ethnological museums of the world".[29]

Pitt Rivers' Wessex Collection is housed in The Salisbury Museum, not far from Stonehenge. The Wessex Gallery of archaeology opened in 2014, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and other sources. Pitt Rivers and other early archaeologists such as William Stukeley who first investigated the prehistory of Wiltshire, Cranborne Chase, Avebury and Stonehenge, are celebrated in the gallery.

The estates Pitt Rivers inherited in 1880 contained a wealth of archaeological material from the Roman and Saxon periods. He excavated these over seventeen seasons, from the mid-1880s until 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 earlier archaeological practice, which verged on treasure hunting. It is Pitt Rivers' most important, and most lasting, scientific legacy. His work inspired Mortimer Wheeler, among others, to add to the scientific approach of archaeological excavation techniques.

Following the passage of the Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882, Pitt Rivers became the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments: a post created by anthropologist and parliamentarian John Lubbock who married 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. On the advice of Pitt-Rivers, Kit's Coty House and Little Kit's Coty House, Kent, were among the first ancient British remains to be protected by the state. Railings were erected around the stones there to prevent vandalism.[30]

Pitt Rivers was a leading member of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, and was president of the society from 1890[31] to 1893.[32]

Other interests[edit]

The Rushmore estate near Tollard Royal in Wiltshire was part of his 1880 inheritance, and there he created the Larmer Tree Gardens, a pleasure garden which was opened to the public in 1885.[33]

In 1884 he served as High Sheriff of Dorset.[34]

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

Pitt Rivers was an advocate for cremation. Even though many people believed that it was immoral to destroy a corpse, the cremation movement favoured a practical way to dispose of bodies. Pitt Rivers was cremated after his death in 1900.


Among the publications of August Pitt Rivers are:

  • Fox, Lane (1858). On the improvement of the rifle, as a weapon for general use. London: W. Clowes and Sons. OCLC 85009924 (all editions). Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  • Excavations on Cranborne Chase (4 volumes)
  • Excavations on Bokerly and Wansdyke


  1. ^ "Excavating Pitt-Rivers project". Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  2. ^ Green (2014).
  3. ^ Bowden, Mark (1991). "Reviewed work: Pitt Rivers. The Life and Archaeological Work of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, DCL, FRS, FSA, Mark Bowden". Journal of Field Archaeology. 21 (2). Cambridge University: 249–251. doi:10.2307/529871. ISBN 0-521-400775. JSTOR 529871.
  4. ^ Spelling as "Pitt-Rivers" e.g. in Tylor 1901, Green 2014, "RPR", Excavating Pitt-Rivers.
  5. ^ Spelling as "Lane-Fox" e.g. in Chisholm (1911) and in Pitt-Rivers (1906) – The Evolution of Culture.
  6. ^ See also: "What's in a name? Or a hyphen?". web.prm.ox.ac.uk. Rethinking Pitt-Rivers. May 2011. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  7. ^ "Pitt Rivers and Yorkshire". Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. Archived from the original on 20 January 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
  8. ^ a b Roberts, Alice (2021). Ancestors. Simon & Schuster UK. p. 212. ISBN 978-1-4711-8804-6.
  9. ^ http://www.freebmd.org.uk/ – search on Fox or Stanley
  10. ^ "Stanley family's collection of ethnographic objects". web.prm.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  11. ^ Burt, Daniel. "Biography of General Pitt-Rivers". web.prm.ox.ac.uk. Rethinking Pitt-Rivers. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  12. ^ Schneller, Beverly E. (2004). "Grove, (Agnes) Geraldine [née (Agnes) Geraldine Lane Fox; afterwards (Agnes) Geraldine Fox-Pitt], Lady Grove (1863–1926), essayist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/55591. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  13. ^ Griffiths, Richard (1998). Patriotism Perverted: Captain Ramsay, the Right Club and British Anti-Semitism 1939–40. Constable. pp. 54, 65.
  14. ^ "No. 20471". The London Gazette. 16 May 1845. p. 1472.
  15. ^ Evans, Christopher (30 January 2014). "Soldiering Archaeology: Pitt Rivers and 'Militarism'". Bulletin of the History of Archaeology. 4 (24). Archived from the original on 28 April 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  16. ^ Pitt-Rivers, Augustus Henry (1858). On the improvement of the rifle, as a weapon for general use. London: W. Clowes & Sons. OCLC 85009924.
  17. ^ "No. 21123". The London Gazette. 2 August 1850. p. 2132.
  18. ^ "No. 21640". The London Gazette. 12 December 1854. p. 4052.
  19. ^ "No. 22002". The London Gazette. 15 May 1857. p. 1734.
  20. ^ "No. 22107". The London Gazette. 2 March 1858. p. 1258.
  21. ^ "No. 23223". The London Gazette. 26 February 1867. p. 1025.
  22. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  23. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Pitt-Rivers, Augustus Henry Lane-Fox". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 21 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 678.
  24. ^ a b c Petch, Alison (March 2009). "Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers and Yorkshire". England: The Other Within. Oxford University. Retrieved 6 February 2023.
  25. ^ Petch, Alison (March 2009). "Pitt Rivers' excavations in Yorkshire". England: The Other Within. Oxford University. Retrieved 6 February 2023.
  26. ^ Burns, Arthur (23 September 2004). "Greenwell, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33542. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  27. ^ Bowden, Mark (1991). Pitt Rivers; The life and archaeological work of Lieutenant General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. Cambridge: Cambridge University. p. 65. ISBN 0-521-400775.
  28. ^ Penniman, T.K (July–August 1946). "General Pitt Rivers". Man. 46: 73–74. JSTOR 2793146.
  29. ^ Petch, Alison (March 2007). "Notes and Queries and the Pitt Rivers Museum". Museum Anthropology. 30 (1): 21–39. doi:10.1525/mua.2007.30.1.21.
  30. ^ "History of Kit's Coty House and Little Kit's Coty House".
  31. ^ "Annual General Meeting, 30 July 1890". Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine. 25 (75): 235. 1891 – via Biodiversity Heritage Library Open access icon.
  32. ^ "Annual General Meeting, July 1893". Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine. 27 (81): 194–196. 1894 – via Biodiversity Heritage Library Open access icon.
  33. ^ Historic England. "Larmer Tree Grounds (1000478)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 25 November 2023.
  34. ^ "No. 25325". The London Gazette. 4 March 1884. p. 1117.


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]