2 - Pitt Rivers Museum (1884- )

Date Range1884 -

The Pitt Rivers Museum cares for one of the world's great collections. It is equally famous for its celebrated displays and its leading role in contemporary research and museum curatorship. The Museum was founded in 1884 when Lt.-General Pitt Rivers, an influential figure in the development of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology, gave his collection to the University. His two conditions were that a museum was built to house it and that someone should be appointed to lecture in anthropology.

The Museum displays archaeological and ethnographic objects from all parts of the world. The General's founding gift contained more than 18,000 objects but there are now over half a million. Many were donated by early anthropologists and explorers. The Museum's manuscript collections comprise the papers of notable early anthropologists and curators associated with the Museum, and the extensive photographic and sound archives contain early records of great importance. Today the Museum is an active teaching department of the University of Oxford. It also continues to collect through donations, bequests, special purchases and through its students, in the course of their fieldwork.

The Westlake Collection of Tasmanian stone artefacts came to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1923 on the application of Henry Balfour, the museum’s Curator. Balfour, who, with Professor W. J. Sollas of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, made a joint request to Aubrey Westlake for Balfour to study Westlake’s Tasmanian artefacts, and Sollas his French eoliths.

Westlake's Tasmanian collection was officially acquired the Westlake Collection in 1934 when Henry Balfour gave Aubrey Westlake an initial payment of £100. A second, final payment of £50 was made to Aubrey by Balfour’s successor, T. K. Penniman in 1939, the year of Balfour’s death [WEST00338, 'Tasmanian Collection: Related Documents. 1934.83 - 86, part 2', Series 13, Pitt Rivers Museum].

Rhys Jones [1971, 39], who examined Westlake's Tasmanian Collection and Papers in the 1960s, concluded that Westlake helped lay ‘the foundations for Tasmanian field archaeology'.

In 1988 substantial parts of the Westlake Papers were copied, as part of the Australian Commonwealth Government’s Bicentennial Joint Copying Program, and placed in the National Library of Australia and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in microfilm format.

In 1991 N. J. B. Plomley edited and published Westlake’s interview notes as The Westlake Papers. Unfortunately, Plomley edited these notes without indicating where he had excised the original, often substantially, making his publication a somewhat unreliable source.

ReferencesFull references are available in the Bibliography included in this Guide:

Pitt Rivers Museum web site

Rhys Jones, 1971.

N. J. B. Plomley, 1991.

W. J. Sollas, 1924.

Rebe Taylor, 2004.

Published by the The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre and the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, August 2010
Listed by Rebe Taylor, with Michael Jones and Gavan McCarthy
HTML edition
Updated 14 February 2017

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