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Illustrating 'savagery': Sir John Lubbock and Ernest Griset.

'Utopia, which we have long looked upon as synonymous with an evident impossibility, which we have ungratefully regarded as 'too good to be true', turns out on the contrary to be the necessary consequence of natural laws, and once more we find that the simple truth exceeds the most brilliant flights of the imagination' (Lubbock 1865: 492).

'Reading Malthus, he [Wallace] grasped that living nature was in effect the workhouse world writ large. Ruthless struggle was everywhere the law, not just among London's starving poor. Adaptation comes through competition. Progress costs lives' (Moore 1997: 293).


Much has been written about the extraordinary impact of Darwinism during the mid- to late nineteenth century, expressed in the scholarship of 'reception studies' (see for example Ellegard 1958; Glick 1988; Numbers & Stenhouse 1999). A significant focus has been on developing an understanding of the impact of Darwinian thinking on just about every aspect of Victorian society, particularly on literature, science, politics and social relations (see for example Beer 1983; Frayter 1997; Lorimer 1997; Moore 1997; Paradis 1997; Browne 2001). A great deal of attention has also been paid (by historians and philosophers of science) into the specifics of how the Darwinian message was disseminated so quickly and so broadly. Here the interest lies in the links between the rhetoric of scientific naturalism and the politics of the day, be it Whig-Liberal or Tory (see for example Clark 1997; Barton 1998, 2004; Clifford et al. 2006). A consequent interest lies in the ways in which science was popularised in Victorian Britain (see especially Lightman 1997, 2007).

Historians of archaeology have generally been slow to incorporate the tenor of this research into their accounts of the rise of prehistoric archaeology during this period, though there are notable exceptions (see for example Stocking 1987; Owen 2000; Patton 2007). Taking into account this recent work, and the solid contribution of older accounts (see for example Hutchinson 1914; Duff 1924; Pumphrey 1958; Murray 1990), I attempt here to delve deeper into these complexities, by publishing and analysing a suite of pictures commissioned by the pre-eminent prehistorian Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913), populariser of Darwinism, tireless advocate for the importance of science in society and Liberal social activist. The analysis will not be straightforward, if only because of the sheer breadth of Lubbock's interests within science, not to mention outside it. Clark (1997) among others (such as Stocking 1987), has noted the great ambiguities that lie within him, and the probability that Lubbock's polymathy will resist simplistic rendering.

Nevertheless the use of the pictures is revealing. The visualisation of human ancestors has been a particular focus of past and present research, if only because it is abundantly clear that 'ways of seeing' our ancestors are very much a product of the ways we see ourselves (see for example Moser 1998; Milner 2007). At the same time archaeologists have also begun to explore the histories of collections that lie at the heart of museums great and small all over the world, and to work out what these histories might contribute to the history of archaeology itself (see for example Owen 2006; MacGregor 2007, 2008).

The pictures to be considered in this essay come from a suite of 20 created for Lubbock by the Victorian illustrator Ernest Griset (1844-1907). Nineteen are currently housed in the Museum of the London Borough of Bromley at Orpington (some are on display in its Avebury Room). The remaining picture is in private hands in Sydney, Australia, gifted by Lubbock's grand-daughter to a friend. Only two are dated, Griset 18 painted in 1869, and Griset 20 painted in 1871. We know from oral histories and the observations of visitors to Lubbock's house at 'High Elms' in Kent that the paintings were originally associated with Lubbock's museum there, and were subsequently distributed throughout the house. Griset 20 was painted as a gift from Lubbock to Charles Darwin, though never presented to him, and it seems it was not displayed with the other 19 paintings. In a historiographical note at the end of this article, I determine the provenance of the pictures and try to solve the mystery of how images of this age, quality, subject-matter and association with one of the founders of prehistoric archaeology can have been hidden from the history of archaeology for so long.

Griset's images are the visual equivalents of information created directly through archaeological and natural historical research, and its interpretation through inferences drawn from ethnographic analogies. Lubbock's own very forthright statements in Pre-historic times (1865) make this clear enough:

'Deprived then, as regards the Stone Age, of any assistance from history, but relieved ar the same time from the embarrassing interference of tradition, the archaeologist can only follow the methods which have been so successfully pursued in geology--the rude bone and stone-implements of bygone ages being to the one, what the remains of extinct animals are to the other.... and in the same manner if we wish clearly to understand the antiquities of Europe, we must compare them with the rude implements and weapons still, or until lately, used by savage races in other parts of the world. In fact, the Van Diemaner and South American are to the antiquary, what the opossum and the sloth are to the geologist' (1865: 336).

Lubbock's Grisets prompt other objectives too: an exploration of the social and political context of Lubbock's advocacy of natural law in human history, and of Griset's other works illustrating 'savage life' that were executed before and after he was commissioned by Lubbock. Here the social consequences of Darwinism and scientific naturalism, of Lubbock's adherence to Whig-Liberal politics, and of the reception of the 'savage other' in a society where the struggle for existence and the struggle between the races was becoming more symmetrical, provide a richer context within which historians of archaeology during the mid- to late nineteenth century can begin to produce accounts that are more sensitive to the complexities of the social and political roles of their discipline. Last, but by no means least, we also have the chance to look a bit more closely at the relationships between archaeology and anthropology during this formative period, especially the construction of the category of 'savagery' within a broader inquiry into the history of hunter-gatherer studies (see for example; Schrire 1984; Barnard 2004; Yengoyan 2004).

The Lubbock commission

The images that comprise the Lubbock commission can be found in low resolution format online at (

Three images from this group are reproduced with this essay and are broadly representative of the group in both theme and treatment (Figures 1, 2 & 3). Griset's subject matter ranges from portrayals of the struggle between humans and animals in prehistoric times, to animals (without people) in typical environments, images of site types, humans making tools and boats, and people fishing and hunting. Figure 1 (Griset 9), a cave, and Figure 2 (Griset 14), a highly detailed close-up of a Lake Village, represent archaeological contexts that had been visited by Lubbock and which were extensively discussed in Prehistoric Times (1865). It is also worth noting that the Griset images differ substantially in treatment from two paintings by August Bachelin commissioned by the Swiss Confederation in 1867: Village lacustre de l'age du bronze (used to represent Switzerland at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867), and Village lacustre de l'age de la pierre (in the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum). Figure 3 (Griset 1), a dramatic re-imagination of a clash between mammoth and humans, is indicative of other clashes with bears, bison and stags portrayed by Griset. All but two of the images showing people have more than one person in view. In the two with people acting alone, one (Griset 2) has an individual pursued by a pack of wolves and possibly only minutes away from death, the other (Griset 11) a lone hunter sneaking up on some seals. Several images represent social action outside of the business of slaughtering wild beasts (either in self-defence or as food). Griset 4 represents burials inside a megalithic tomb, Griset 8 and Griset 18 family groups on the seashore, Griset 9 (reproduced here as Figure 1) portrays dinner time conversation in a cave, Griset 10 a family group with a man hollowing-out a log to make a boat and a woman about to light a fire near the family home, Griset 12 a hunter returning to an earth house from the hunt with dogs, and an infant playing with a puppy in view, while Griset 13 shows a group making spears outside the family tent with a woman and a child actively involved in the process.


These straightforward observations support other generalisations. First, the commission can be clearly divided between images that are clearly archaeological in inspiration, and those that have a much more ethnographic flavour. For example, Griset 1 (the mammoth hunt), Griset 4 (the megalithic tomb), Griset 9 (the cave scene), Griset 14 and Griset 17 (the lake villages), and Griset 15 and Griset 16 (extinct fauna) differ from scenes around the camp or the chase that were commonly observed and reported by travellers in the American West or in Australia. Second, Griset has obviously seen prehistoric material culture such as spears, axes and domestic ceramics at first hand--quite possibly from Lubbock's own extensive collection. Third, gender-based divisions of labour (outside of the chase) are by no means rigid. While it is true that a woman is tending the fire in Griset 10, and carrying a basket laden with food in Griset 14, in Griset 11 she is involved in making spears. Last, these prehistoric peoples, although for the most part clad in skins and sporting long, unkempt hair, look very like contemporary images of indigenes of the American West. Significantly, they are not portrayed as being either stupid or cruel (there are no instances of conflict between people, and they are not satirised in any way). Rather, Griset's people (in this commission at least) are resourceful, personally brave, capable of group interaction beyond the immediate family, respectful of their dead, and doing their best to cope with the trials of life. Griset (doubtless at Lubbock's insistence) has produced something far more than caricature.


The commission in context: Lubbock, Darwin, contemporary 'savages' and Liberal science

Lubbock's great contribution to prehistoric archaeology, Pre-historic times, went to seven editions--the last being completed just prior to his death in 1913. All editions were lavishly illustrated (indeed the first edition had 156 figures), but none presented reconstructions of life in prehistoric times. Rather the focus is on material culture (both ancient and modern), with a smaller number of images showing views and sections of sites, such as St Acheul, and skulls (the Engis and Neanderthal skulls in particular). Many of the artefacts illustrated there came from Lubbock's private collection, the collections of friends, or from museums across Europe that were visited by Lubbock during his extensive travels. Clearly the Griset commission was not be used for that purpose.


Janet Owen (1999, 2006, 2008) has produced the most comprehensive analysis of Lubbock as a collector of archaeological and ethnographic artefacts, and has convincingly demonstrated that the bulk of his collection was acquired between 1863 and 1880. Much of her analysis centres on the uses to which the collection was put, which were primarily didactic. Lubbock's collection became a tool for demonstrating the reality of human social and cultural evolution, and the displays mounted at his home, 'High Elms', for the edification of visitors were, like Lubbock's frequent public lectures on prehistoric times, regarded as a vehicle for spreading the message of Darwinism and its consequences for an understanding of human society past, present and future. Lubbock's Grisets were perfectly suited to that context.

Lubbock's Grisets and his artefact collection (and the public and private displays of both) give us, as Owen (2000) has demonstrated, a window onto so many other aspects of the life of a Whig Liberal intellectual in Victorian Britain. We see his links to other collectors who were often his friends, his belief that his collections could provide a concrete instantiation of the lessons of science and of history for contemporary society, and his adoption of new technologies of persuasion to disseminate Darwinian science. We can also see that Lubbock's interests in prehistoric archaeology were driven by much more than a fascination with the past, and this broader reading of Lubbock can help us make better sense of the final chapter of Pre-historic times (a point I will return to at the end of this essay). But why did Lubbock choose Ernest Griset to create such evocative images of the prehistoric past?

The commission in context: Ernest Griset and 'Legends of savage life'

Much work has been done on the use of satirical illustration in Victorian Britain (and in France during the same period) and clear links demonstrated between satire and science (Paradis 1997; Browne 2001). Not very much is known about Ernest Griset, a fact that amazed his two biographers (Hubbard 1945; Lambourne 1977) given his great popularity in England in the 1860s and 1870s. Griset was born in Boulogne on 24 August 1843, but came to England when he was a child. Much of his life (save for a stint on the Continent learning his craft from the Belgian painter Louis Gallait) was spent in north London close by London Zoo--a place where he often went to sketch (see,27,PS.html). Lambourne and others have celebrated the great skill (and sympathy) of Griset's renderings of animals (he had a particular affinity for storks), but it was his capacities as an illustrator of books and magazines that were the basis of his fame. Many of these were satirical in content (he was to work for magazines such as Fun and Punch) and he was particularly adept at drawing anthropomorphic figures that were at some times funny and at others, grotesque. Perhaps the best example of this style was The purgatory of Peter the Cruel (1868), one of several collaborations with James Greenwood. During the height of his fame Griset was particularly sought after for his illustrations of the denizens (human and otherwise) of 'savage lands', especially by Sir Richard Burton, but also by Colonel R.I. Dodge (an author of tales of the American West, as well as the person after whom Dodge City is named). Griset was skilled, experienced and fashionable.

Earlier I remarked that his renderings of 'savage life' in the Lubbock commission did not denigrate our ancestors or their modern representatives. However, this cannot be said for illustrations he produced for satirical works about modern 'savages', especially those illustrating the works of James Greenwood, notably The hatchet throwers (1866) and Legends of savage life (1867). Lubbock must have been well aware of this aspect of Griset's work, and Greenwood's sense of humour was described by Lambourne as 'possessing almost every mid-Victorian prejudice' (1977: 42). Others, such as Forster have been damning. 'One whose images could evoke horror in any child was Ernest Griset ... with its habitual association of blacks and animals, usually in a situation of slapstick cruelty, it must mark a low-point for racist art outside Germany' (1989: 63). But stories of 'savage' credulity and cannibalism were particularly popular in Victorian Britain, and Griset's illustrations were widely regarded as being of the first rank.

Clearly Legends of savage life was intended to be a funny collection of stories about contemporary 'savages', and Grisets's illustrations, such as Figure 4, reinforced the comedy.

The last story, 'The Clay Head', is typical of the mix and describes the outcome of a conflict between two tribes of indigenous Australians, the Whoggles and the Whangs:

'That evening a great feast was made, at which there were fruits of all kinds and meats of--. Well, we will say nothing as to the meat. It is true that there were afterwards found several heaps of bones that were not those of sheep or kangaroo, and it is likewise undeniable that a conquering army will at times be guilty of excesses ir would blush to confess to afterwards; but then, on the other hand, the Whoggles were a people most simple in their diet, and had always ser their faces in a most determined manner against can--. However, it is an unpleasant subject, and perhaps the least said about it the better under any circumstances' (Greenwood 1867: 163).


And just in case there was any doubt about the fate of the Whangs, Griset follows this discussion with an image of 'savages' gnawing bones around a cooking fire titled 'The last occasion of the Whoggles picking a bone with their enemies'. All pretty predictable stuff, but worth revisiting by way of a gesture towards the reality of a broader context of racism in mid-Victorian Britain. However, there is something more here. Grisets 'savages' in Legends (Hottentot, Patagonian, indigenous North American, Fijian and Australian) are all distinguishable from each other but, as Figure 4 demonstrates, singularly inaccurate as representations of each of these groups. Finally, returning to my opening remark about the developing concept of 'savagery' in anthropology and archaeology during this formative period, Griset's inaccuracy might be plausibly interpreted as either a complete lack of interest in detail (one 'savage' the same as another, so to speak), or a reflection of just how little accurate information about the indigenous people of Australia was available to people in England.

Some conclusions

Mid-Victorian discussion about race and cultural evolution were redolent with ambiguity. For Lubbock and like-minded Whig Liberals education and science were the foundation of a just and progressive society. While it was demonstrably the case that there were 'savages' living in the far-flung corners of the empire, there were also 'savages' (the criminal classes being a prime example) within. By understanding the causes of 'savagery' (usually a lack of education) society could defend itself against the danger of social and cultural regression. Here the benefits of understanding the meaning of prehistoric times, the gradual separation of human beings from the savagery of natural selection, could be made manifest to all who cared to look. Darwin's theory, in the hands of Alfred Russell Wallace, Herbert Spencer and indeed John Lubbock, was a true expression of natural law:

'Even in our own time we may hope to see some improvement, but the unselfish mind will find its highest gratification in the belief that, whatever may be the case with ourselves, our descendants will understand many things which are hidden from us now, will better appreciate the beautiful world in which we live, avoid much of that suffering to which we are subject, enjoy many blessings of which we are not yet worthy, and escape many of those temptations which we deplore, but cannot wholly resist' (1865: 492).

For Lubbock the message of prehistoric times was not about the specificities of the deep past (or indeed the savage present), it was about the future. Science had uncovered the truth of natural law, of the reality of progress through human virtue. Lubbock's Grisets, revealing the reality of savage life in prehistoric times played their part in demonstrating the story of progress, thereby strengthening our collective resolve to improve ourselves still further. Notwithstanding ali of the changes incorporated in successive editions (brought about by new discoveries and changes in interpretation) the closing passages of Pre-historic times remained unchanged over the 48 years separating the first and last. Lubbock's views about the meaning of human history made manifest by archaeology and the theory of natural selection were adamantine:

'Thus, then, the most sanguine hopes for the future are justified by the whole experience of the past ... and he must be blind indeed who imagines that our civilization is unsusceptible of improvement, or that we ourselves are in the highest state attainable by man' (1890: 600).

Historiographical note: provenance of the paintings

The 'invisibility' of the Grisets can be mostly explained by the way Lubbock chose to use them (and not to use them). None was ever published, and documentation of the history of the collection (based on information supplied by Adrian Green, then curator of the Bromley Museum, and supported by Owen's research (2000)) makes it clear that after Lubbock's death in 1913 the paintings ceased to have an educative function at 'High Elms'. It appears most likely that they, along with his collection of artefacts, faded into the background of life at the house. 'During my childhood they were displayed along the first floor corridor at High Elms, but I don't remember them being discussed' (Lord Avebury to Murray 05/06/2007).

Their journey back into the public domain was to begin after the death of Lubbock's second wife Alice Augusta Laurentia Lane Fox-Pitt Rivers. Griset 7-10 were transferred into the care of the Orpington Historical Society in December 1947 with that part of Sir John Lubbock's artefact collection that had not been sent to the British Museum. The Lubbock/Avebury collection was transferred to the newly opened Orpington Museum (later Bromley Museum) in 1965 on 'permanent loan'.

At the time of the death of Adelaide Lubbock in 1981 there was discussion between her solicitors and the museum about the ownership of the entire Avebury collection. The status of the collection belonging to the Orpington Historical Society was unclear as there was no written proof that the Society was given the Avebury material in 1947. In essence it still belonged to the Lubbock family--hence when the previous curator (Adrian Green) tried to resolve ownership in 2003 both the Lubbock family and the Orpington Historical Society were consulted. The collection was transferred as a gift in 2003.

Fourteen of the pictures (Griset 1-14) remained with the family after the transfer of the bulk of the collection in 1947. At some point they were transferred to Down House for storage. This group were loaned by Adelaide Lubbock to Bromley Museum in 1975. They were inherited by her children Eric Lubbock (current Lord Avebury) and Olivia Keighley when she died in 1981. Olivia Keighley decided to donate her share in 1983, but Eric Lubbock still retains ownership of his share (Griset 8, 11, 13, 15-18).

A letter of 10 March 1982 states that one of the pictures was in the ownership of Mrs Adelaide Lubbock ar the time of her death. It has been surmised that this is the Griset now owned by the Sydney doctor Robert Gordon (Griset 19). In 2007 Dr Gordon lent the painting to the author so that ir could be photographed, and advised the following concerning its provenance: 'I have known Olivia Keighley for many years. She is the sister of Lord Avebury. In the late 90s she became aware that these paintings were now ar 'High Elms', the old family estate in England, and there was some uncertainty as to what to do with them. I was in England ar the time and she asked me to visit 'High Elms' and to arrange that two of them be transferred to Sydney. This I did, and on their arrival here she gave me one of them' (Robert Gordon to Murray 03/07/2007).

Dr Gordon's statement accords with advice the author received from Lord Avebury (that the painting was gifted to him by Olivia Keighley). However Gordon's dates do not fit with the timing of Olivia Keighley's gift of her Grisets to the Bromley Museum, nor with the fact that 'High Elms' was destroyed by fire in 1967. Further research is required to resolve these discrepancies, but they in no way disturb the authenticity of the Sydney Griset, nor the chain of provenance to Dr Gordon ( Certainly Lord Avebury has a strong recollection of Griset 19: 'I remember that picture very well; it was one of my favourites, and always gave me a frisson when I saw it in the dark corridor leading to my grandmother's sitting room at High Elms' (Lord Avebury to Murray 24/04/2007).


The former curator at the Bromley Museum, Adrian Green, very kindly showed me the Grisets, provided documentation concerning their provenance and supplied the jpegs used in the online gallery. His successor, Marie-Louise Kerr, has also assisted with the images and permissions to publish. Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, gave me the benefit of his knowledge about the Grisets and set me down the right path to locate Dr Robert Gordon and the 'missing' Griset. Dr Gordon made ir possible for me to document his wonderful painting and trusted me to move it far from its 'home'. Earlier versions of this essay formed part of a lecture at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and the Mulvaney Lecture at the Australian National University in 2007. I thank Professor Stephen Shennan and Professor Matthew Spriggs for their invitations to speak. Wei Ming (La Trobe University) and the State Library of Victoria prepared the illustrations.


Primary sources

Lubbock correspondence and papers 1855-1911 British Library Add.496-49681.

Lubbock diaries, correspondence etc. 1850-1913. British Library Add. 62679-62693; 76145-76147.


Lord Avebury to Murray 24/04/2007

Lord Avebury to Murray 05/06/2007

Robert Gordon to Murray 03/07/2007

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Tim Murray, Archaeology Program, La Trobe University, Victoria 3086, Australia (Email:

Received: 22 September 2008; Accepted 1 November 2008; Revised: 3 November 2008
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Date:Jun 1, 2009
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