Pitt-Rivers, Augustus Henry Lane Fox (DNB01)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement
Pitt-Rivers, Augustus Henry Lane Fox

by Edward Burnett Tylor

PITT-RIVERS, AUGUSTUS HENRY LANE FOX (1827–1900), lieutenant-general, anthropologist, and archæologist, son of William Augustus Lane Fox of Hope Hall, Yorkshire, and his wife Lady Caroline, daughter of John Douglas, eighteenth earl of Morton, was born on 14 April 1827. He was known by his father's surname of Lane Fox until 1880, when he assumed the name of Pitt-Rivers on eventually inheriting the estates of his great-uncle, George Pitt, second Baron Rivers (1751-1828). He was educated at Sandhurst Military College, and received a commission in the grenadier guards in 1845. His subsequent commissions were dated: captain 2 Aug. 1850, brevet-major 12 Dec. 1854, major 15 May 1857, lieutenant-colonel 22 Jan. 1867, major-general 1 Oct. 1877, lieutenant-general 1 Oct. 1882. He soon showed a talent for organisation and experimental research, which led to his being employed in investigations as to the use and improvement of the rifle in the early times of its introduction into the British army. These investigations were carried on by him at Woolwich, Enfield, Hythe, and Malta, between 1851 and 1857. He may be considered the originator of the Hythe school of musketry, of which he brought the first plans before Lord Hardinge, and for which he organised the system of practice and the education of musketry instructors. When stationed at Malta he had the duty of superintending the training of the troops in the new musketry practice, at the critical moment when his successful trials had led to their being armed with the Minié rifle in place of the smooth-bore percussion musket known by the name of 'Brown Bess.' This antiquated weapon was finally discarded towards the end of the campaign, the new Enfield rifle coming into general use. Lane Fox served with distinction in the Crimean war, where he was present at the battle of the Alma and the siege of Sebastopol, was mentioned in despatches, and placed on the staff. He remained on the active list till his death, and from 3 March 1893 was colonel of the South Lancashire regiment.

By the time of his return home, however, the unconscious training in precise methods which he had acquired in the course of his professional work was already leading him into the scientific career which henceforth took the largest share of his life. In examining the firearms of various pattern which came under his notice to be reported on, he became aware that their successive changes did not result from far-reaching steps of inventive imagination, but from long courses of minute and even accidental alterations, taken advantage of to render the new model an improvement on its predecessors. The intermediate stages he found were apt to disappear and be forgotten after having led to fresh changes, only such models becoming established as reached a temporary limit of excellence, while often they branched off in useless directions and became abortive. About this time of Colonel Fox's life the tide of scientific thought in the direction of biological evolution had fairly set in, and the analogy of the doctrine of development of species to what he perceived to be the normal course of human invention more and more impressed his mind. In order to follow out this line of thought, he collected series of weapons till they lined the walls of his London house from cellar to attic. The method of development-series extending itself as appropriate generally to implements, appliances, and products of human life, such as boats, looms, dress, musical instruments, magical and religious symbols, artistic decoration, and writing, the collection reached the dimensions of a museum. It was at first housed by government at Bethnal Green and South Kensington, and an illustrated catalogue was drawn up by Fox (Science and Art Department, 1874). At length, the available accommodation no longer sufficing, it was presented in 1883 to the university of Oxford, who built for it the Pitt-Rivers Museum in connection with arrangements for a lectureship of anthropology. Under the charge of the curator, Mr. H. Balfour, the collection has since then doubled, while the soundness of its system has been verified by the manner in which the main principle of stages of development has been adhered to. Though it might not be desirable that the development method should supersede the geographical or national arrangements usual in museums of human art and history, it has already had a marked effect in promoting their use as means of instruction, and superseding the mere curiosity cabinets of past centuries.

In connection with these studies, anthropology and archaeology naturally divided his attention. Among other contributions to the study of palaeolithic stone implements, so important in Europe from their belonging to the remotely ancient period of the extinct mammoth and rhinoceros, he confirmed the discovery of Lord Avebury that similar implements characterised the earliest stages of culture in Egypt. On General Pitt-Rivers removing his home in 1880 to Rushmore, in the midst of his newly inherited estates on the Wiltshire downs, which had been deer forest till two generations before, he found himself the owner of many prehistoric monuments scarcely interfered with since the ages when this frontier-ground between the Romano-British and West Saxons had been the scene of their long struggle for possession. He devoted himself to the congenial task of exploring villages, forts, and burial-mounds scattered over Cranborne Chase and along the Wansdyke. With his usual thoroughness he purged himself of the great fault of the older antiquaries, that of destroying in the quest of antiquities the ancient structures themselves. The large illustrated volumes, with exact drawings and tables, in which he records his excavations, would enable a modern contractor to refurnish the tombs and forts with their contents in place. The carrying out of this work raised English archaeology to a new and higher level. In addition, accurate models of the interments, &c., were placed in the local museum of Farnham, Dorset, not far from Rushmore, which General Pitt-Rivers built ; there also he made the experiment of collecting, as a means of popular instruction, series of specimens illustrating the development of common appliances, such as ploughs, looms, and pottery. General Pitt-Rivers published no works on a large scale except 'Excavations in Cranborne Chase, near Rushmore, on the borders of Dorset and Wilts;' and 'King John's House,' privately printed in 5 vols. 4to, 1887-98; but his lesser writings, 'Primitive Locks and Keys' (London, 1883), 'Antique Works of Art from Benin' (privately printed, 1900), and numerous contributions to scientific periodicals are full of valuable scientific observation. He was elected F.R.S. in 1876, and in 1886 received from the university of Oxford the honorary degree of D.C.L. He was a vice-president of the Society of Antiquaries, and in 1881-2 president of the Anthropological Institute, of which he was an energetic supporter. On the passing of the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act (1882), he became the first inspector of ancient monuments.

Pitt-Rivers died at Rushmore on 4 May 1900. In 1853 he married the Hon. Alice Margaret, daughter of the second Baron Stanley of Alderley, and had issue six sons and three daughters, of whom the second, Alice, became in 1884 the second wife of Sir John Lubbock (now Lord Avebury).

[Journal United Service Institution, 1858, &c.; Journal Anthropological Institute; Journal of Royal Institution, 1875; Archæologia; Proceedings of Royal Soc. of Antiquaries.]

E. B. T.