Lt. Gen. Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers was born on the 14th of April 1827 at Hope Hall, Yorkshire to a wealthy land owning family. He was the son of William Lane Fox and Lady Caroline Douglas. He was an English army officer, ethnologist, and archaeologist. He was noted for his innovations in archaeological methods and in the museum display of archaeological and ethnological collections and became known as the ‘Father of British archaeology.’

He entered the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst Military College in 1841 and was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards in 1845. Lane Fox had a long military career, primarily as a staff officer. He fought in the Crimean War for a short time and served in Malta, England, Canada and Ireland. He retired in 1882 with the honorary rank of Lieutenant General. Two years before he retired he inherited Cranborne Chase in Dorset from his great uncle, Lord Rivers. He adopted the surname Pitt Rivers in his honour.

Pitt Rivers became interested in archaeology and ethnology in the 1850s during his military postings overseas and he is revered more for his work as an anthropologist and archaeologist than for his work in the military. At the time of his retirement he had amassed collections of tens of thousands of items from all over the world. He was influenced by the writings of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. He developed the idea of typology – the classification of artefacts in a chronological sequence grouped by form or purpose rather than by geographical or cultural origin, showing development over time. At the time, his type of arrangement was considered revolutionary in museum design. Pitt Rivers’ collections are the basis of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

From 1851 he was interested in researching the replacement of muskets by rifles, and this led to an interest in the development of firearms. In 1852 he travelled to France, Belgium and Italy to study their methods of musketry instruction. In 1867 he published an article about primitive warfare entitled Primitive warfare: illustrated by specimens from the museum of the institution. He was largely responsible for starting the Hythe School of Musketry, which was founded in 1853. The new School was founded to study military rifle shooting and to pass on the necessary knowledge to regimental instructors.

The estate that he inherited contained a wealth of archaeological material from the Roman and Saxon periods. He excavated these over 17 seasons, and the excavations ended with his death. He was methodical, and was regarded as the first scientific archaeologist to work in Britain. His most important innovation was his insistence that all artefacts, not just the spectacular examples, be collected and catalogued. The focus on everyday objects was key to understanding the past, but this broke with past archaeological practice.

He was elected to the Ethnological Society of London, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Anthropological Society of London, and was elected President of the Anthropological Institute. Pitt Rivers was a Fellow of the Royal Society.

In 1882 Pitt Rivers served as Britain’s first Inspector of Ancient Monuments after the passing of the Ancient Monuments Protection Act in 1882. He was charged with cataloguing archaeological sites and protecting them from destruction.

General Pitt Rivers died at the Rushmore Estate on the 4th of May 1900. General Pitt Rivers was married to Alice Stanley and they had nine children.

Did you know?

Longest-range gun ever built

During the First World War, Germany built the longest-range gun ever. Its 100 kg projectile travelled 122km, and left the muzzle at 1500 metres per second reaching a height of about 40 km. This is higher, and about 6 times faster, than a transatlantic jet