Christy, Henry (DNB00)

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CHRISTY, HENRY (1810–1865), ethnologist, second son of William Miller Christy of Woodbines, Kingston-upon-Thames, well known as the inventor of receipt-stamp, was born 26 July 1810. Trained to business by his father, he became a partner in the house of Christy & Co. in Gracechurch Street, and succeeded his father as a director of the London Joint-Stock Bank, showing the same indomitable energy in commerce as in science.

In 1850 Christy began to visit foreign countries with the object of studying the characteristics of their inhabitants. His inclinations were strongly towards ethnology, and among the fruits of his first expedition to the East were an extensive collection of primitive Eastern fabrics, and a large series of specimens of native ligures from Cyprus, which are now in the British Museum.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 powerfully influenced Christy's mind, and he began the study of the primitive habits and customs of tribes. In 1852 and again in 1868, he travelled in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The fine public collections of antiquities at Stockholm and Copenhagen were in revelation to him, and from this time he strove to collect the objects in use by savage tribes of the present day and of prehistoric periods. The year 1856 was devoted to America. Traveling over Canada, the United States and British Columbia, Christy met in Cuba a congenial companion in Mr. E. B. Tylor. The pair proceeded to Mexico, where Christy added very largely to the riches of his cabinet. Their Mexican travels were described by Mr. Tyler in his ‘Anahuac’ (London, 1861). In 1858 the high antiquity of man was first clearly proved by the discovery of flint implements in France and England. This doubtless led to Christy joining the Geological Society in 1868, and from this time his work was connected as much with geology as with archæology or ethnology. He now joined his friend the well-known French palæontologist M. Edouard Lartet, in the examination of the caves along the valley of the Vesere, a tributary of the Dordogne, in the south of France. Numerous remains are embedded in the stalagmite of these caves. Their thorough excavation was a long, difficult, and expensive work, but Christy ungrudgingly devoted to it both time and money. Thousands of interesting specimens were obtained, and many of these were at once distributed to the museums and scientific societies both of England and the continent, the remainder being added to a collection which was fast becoming unrivalled. In 1864 he wrote some account of the great work which was being carried out at his expense in the Vezere Valley; these notices appeared in the 'Comptes Rendus,' 29 Feb. 1864, and the 'Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London,' 21 June 1864. They referred chiefly to the reindeer period, as the time of the cavemen in southern France now came to be styled. He began preparations for an exhaustive book which was to describe all that he and M. Lartet had been able to ascertain about these early savage tribes. A large number of drawings from the implements and bones were made under his direction, and he had written descriptions of some of them to accompany the plates, together with a general notice of the relationship of these old tools to those in use by existing races of savages. This great work, which unfortunately he did not live to complete, was entitled 'Reliquiæ Aquitanicæ, being contributions to the Archæology and Paleontology of Perigord and the adjacent provinces of Southern France.' It was issued in parts, and completed at the expense of Christy's executors, first by M. Lartet, and after his death in 1870 by Professor Rupert-Jones. It is a large quarto volume, containing three maps, eighty-seven plates, one hundred and thirty-two woodcuts, and nearly five hundred pages of letterpress, and is everywhere recognised as a principal work of reference on pre-historic man.

In April 1865 Christy left England with a small party of geologists to examine some caves which had recently been discovered in Belgium, near Dinant. While at work he caught a severe cold. A subsequent journey with M. and Mme. Lartet to La Palisse brought on inflammation of the lungs, of which he died on 4 May 1865.

Christy was a warm philanthropist. In the Irish famine of 1847 he was especially active, but throughout his life his benefactions were large and continuous. By his will he bequeathed his magnificent collections illustrating the history of early man, together with the equally large series of articles representing the habits of modern savages, to the nation. He also left a sum of money to be applied to their due care and public exhibition. As there was then no spare room at the British Museum, the trustees secured the suite of rooms at 118 Victoria Street, Westminster — in which Christy himself had lived — and here the collection was exhibited, under the care of Mr. A. W. Franks, until 1884. In that year the removal of the natural history department to South Kensington made room for the collection at the British Museum. The work of Christy's life has been well summed up as establishing the close resemblance between the last races of primitive man and the savage life of our own time, and in showing that humanity has in its incipient stage exhibited a singular harmony of expression, not only in its habits and wants, but in the fashioning and ornamentation of its weapons and utensils, quite irrespective of zone and climate.'

[Geological Magazine, ii. 286; Quart. Journ. Geological Society, xxii. pres. address, p. xxx; Guide to the Christy Collection.]

W. J. H.