Baron von Hügel

Anatole von Hügel

Of mixed Austrian aristocratic and Scottish descent, Anatole von Hügel (1854-1928) spent his childhood in Italy, Belgium and England, and was no doubt stimulated by his father’s wide-ranging ethnographic, zoological and botanical interests, reflected in the ‘countless curiosities and works of art of all kinds’ that filled the family home. He studied various subjects at Stonyhurst, a Catholic College in Lancashire, over 1871-73, but was advised to undertake a long sea voyage for his health, and decided to visit Australia.

In Victoria von Hügel mixed in scientific circles, became excited by the possibility of undertaking research in the Pacific, and ended up more by accident than design in Fiji, which had just become a colony of Britain. He made expeditions on foot into the interior of the main island of Viti Levu, then little known to Europeans, became closely associated with the governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, and stimulated the anthropological interests of members of the governor’s circle, which included the traveller, artist, writer and collector Constance Gordon Cumming, and Alfred Maudslay, who subsequently became a major figure in South American archaeology. Von Hügel left Fiji after eighteen months’ research and collecting in November 1877, and on his return to England soon made contacts in Cambridge, no doubt on the strength of his friendship with Maudslay and Gordon, who were both Cambridge graduates.

In 1884 he was appointed foundation Curator of what was then called the Museum of General and Local Archaeology. Gordon’s and Maudslay’s gifts of their Pacific collections were complemented by von Hugel’s own material. As a result the the Museum today holds, in addition to major collections from Oceania in general, the single most important Fijian collection in the world, of some 2500 objects dating from a formative period in Fiji’s early colonial history.

Von Hügel served as Curator of the Museum for thirty-eight years. Though the institution received scant University funding over this time, he raised money to construct the Downing Street building, oversaw the move to the new premises, and organized displays there. Most importantly, he also corresponded energetically with collectors, travellers and researchers around the world, and built up the remarkable collections the Museum holds today.

Further reading

Constance Frederica Gordon Cumming. “At Home in Fiji.” Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1880.

Alfred Maudslay, “Life in the Pacific Fifty Years Ago. London:” Routledge, 1930.

Jane Roth and Steven Hooper (editors), “The Fiji Journals of Baron Anatole Von Hügel, 1875-1877”. Suva: Fiji Museum/Cambridge: MAA, 1990.

Nicholas Thomas, “Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture and Colonialism in the Pacific.” Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Acknowledgement: this page is indebted particularly to Jane Roth and Steven Hooper’s Introduction to their edition of von Hugel’s Fiji journals.

single posts