5 - Balfour, Henry (1863-1939)

Date Range1863 - 1939

Balfour and the Westlake Collection

Professor Henry Balfour was Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum from 1891 until his death in 1939, although involvement in the Pitt Rivers Museum first began when he assisted Edward Burnett Tylor and others in arranging the Pitt Rivers collections on their donation to the University of Oxford in 1883.

While he wrote only one book, The Evolution of Decorative Art [1893], Balfour published many articles on a broad range of topics including musical instruments, archery, anthropology, and archaeology. From 1907 Balfour taught technology and prehistoric archaeology for the Oxford diploma course in anthropology and assisted in teaching various civil service courses. Keeping in contact with former students posted overseas resulted not only in lasting friendships but supplemented the Pitt Rivers Museum’s collections. Travelling widely, Balfour enriched the collections personally, always documenting and labeling his acquired materials in meticulous detail. On his death his collection of several thousand books formed the foundation collection of the Balfour Library.

Henry Balfour studied the Westlake Collection closely, if intermittently, from 1923, the year it arrived at Pitt Rivers Museum, until his death in 1939. This research resulted in two published papers [1925 and 1929] and an extensive unpublished manuscript [WEST00334, ‘Stone Implements of the Natives of Tasmania', Series 14, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections, Balfour Papers].

Balfour concluded that the Tasmanian Aborigines were not Eolithic, but had reached the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic level of human cultural evolution. Balfour organised the Westlake Collection into about 142 collecting sites, and catalogued and sketched over 12,000 of the artefacts in four Accession Books [WEST00341, WEST00341, WEST00343, 'Collections IX Westlake 1-3, 1934.83-85' and WEST00344, 'Collections X Westlake 4, 1934.86', Series 13, Pitt Rivers Museum].

Documenting the progress of his work on the collection is the correspondence between Henry Balfour and Aubrey Westlake from 1923-1929 [WEST00012, 'Aubrey Westlake Correspondence: Tasmanian Collection, 1923-1976', Series 2, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscript Collections, Westlake Papers, University of Oxford].

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

Hélène La Rue, 2004.

Henry Balfour, 1893, 1925 and 1929.

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
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Updated 14 February 2017

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