John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury

The Right Honourable
The Lord Avebury

Woodburytype print of
Lord Avebury in middle age
Chairman of the London County Council
In office
Preceded by The Earl of Rosebery
Succeeded by The Earl of Rosebery
Personal details
Born 30 April 1834 (1834-04-30)
London, England
Died 28 May 1913 (1913-05-29) (aged 79)
Broadstairs, Kent, England
Nationality English
Known for Bank holidays

John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury PC FRS DCL LLD (30 April 1834  28 May 1913), known as Sir John Lubbock, 4th Baronet from 1865 until 1900, was a banker, Liberal politician, philanthropist, scientist and polymath.

He was a banker and worked with his family’s company, but also made significant contributions in archaeology, ethnography, and several branches of biology. He helped establish archaeology as a scientific discipline, and was also influential in nineteenth-century debates concerning evolutionary theory.[1]:514 He introduced the first law on the protection of the UK's archaeological and architectural heritage.

Early life

John Lubbock was born in 1834, the son of Sir John Lubbock, 3rd Baronet, a London banker, and was brought up in the family home of High Elms Estate, near Downe in Kent. During 1842 his father brought home a "great piece of news": the young Lubbock said later that he initially thought that the news might be of a new pony, and was disappointed to learn it was only that Charles Darwin was moving to Down House in the village.[2] The youth was soon a frequent visitor to Down House, and became the closest of Darwin’s younger friends.[3] Their relationship stimulated young Lubbock’s passion for science and evolutionary theory.[1]

In 1845, Lubbock began studies at Eton College, and after graduation was employed by his father's bank (which later amalgamated with Coutts & Co), of which he became a partner at the age of twenty-two. In 1865 he succeeded to the baronetcy.[4]

Business and politics

In the early 1870s Lubbock became increasingly interested in politics. In 1870, and again in 1874, he was elected as a Liberal Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Maidstone. He lost the seat at the election of 1880, but was at once elected member for London University, of which he had been vice-chancellor since 1872.[4] As an MP, Lubbock had a distinguished political career, with four main political agendas: promotion of the study of science in primary and secondary schools; the national debt, free trade, and related economic issues; protection of ancient monuments; securing of additional holidays and shorter working hours for the working classes.[1] He was successful with numerous enactments in parliament, including the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 and the Ancient Monuments Act of 1882, along with another 28 acts of Parliament. When the Liberals split in 1886 on the issue of Irish Home Rule, Lubbock joined the breakaway Liberal Unionist Party in opposition to Irish home rule. A prominent supporter of the Statistical Society, he took an active part in criticizing the encroachment of municipal trading and the increase of the municipal debt.[4]

In 1879 Lubbock was elected the first president of the Institute of Bankers. In 1881 he was president of the British Association, and from 1881 to 1886 president of the Linnean Society of London.[4] In March 1883 he founded the Bank Clerks Orphanage, which in 1986 became the Bankers’ Benevolent Fund – a charity for bank employees, past and present, and their dependants. In January 1884 he founded the Proportional Representation Society, later to become the Electoral Reform Society.

Kingsgate Castle in Kent was rebuilt by Lord Avebury.
Caricature from Punch, 1882

In recognition of his contributions to the sciences, Lubbock received honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge (where he was Rede lecturer in 1886), Edinburgh, Dublin and Würzburg; and in 1878 was appointed a trustee of the British Museum. From 1888 to 1892 he was president of the London Chamber of Commerce; from 1889 to 1890 vice-chairman and from 1890 to 1892 chairman of the London County Council.[4]

Sir John LUBBOCK, age 55

In February 1890 he was appointed a privy councillor;[5] and was chairman of the committee of design for the new coinage in 1891. On 22 January 1900 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Avebury, of Avebury, in the county of Wiltshire,[6] his title commemorating the largest Stone Age site in Britain, which he had helped to preserve. (He had purchased it in 1871 when the site was threatened with destruction.) He was President of the Royal Statistical Society from 1900 to 1902.[7] In November, 1905, Lord Avebury, together with Lord Courtney of Penwith, founded an Anglo-German Friendship Committee which sought to counteract the influence of the British war party, whose anti-German propaganda was then at its zenith, and smooth the way towards more amicable relations between England and Germany.

The quotation, "We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth", is widely attributed to Lubbock. This variation appears in his book The Pleasures of Life.

Archaeology and biological science

In addition to his work at his father’s bank, Lubbock took a keen interest in archaeology and evolutionary theory. A collection of Iron Age antiquities Lubbock and Sir John Evans excavated at the site of Hallstatt in Austria is now in the British Museum's collection.[8][9] He spoke in support of the evolutionist Thomas Henry Huxley at the famous 1860 Oxford evolution debate. During the 1860s, he published many articles in which he used archaeological evidence to support Darwin’s theory.[1] In 1864, he became one of the founding members (along with Thomas Henry Huxley and others) of the elite X Club, a dining club composed of nine gentlemen to promote the theories of natural selection and academic liberalism. During the 1860s he held a number of influential academic positions, including President of the Ethnological Society from 1864–65, Vice-President of Linnean Society in 1865, and President of the International Congress of Prehistoric Archaeology in 1868. In 1865 he published Pre-Historic Times, which became a standard archaeology textbook for the remainder of the century, with the seventh and final edition published in 1913.[1]

His second book, On the Origin of Civilization, was published in 1870. During 1871, he purchased part of the Avebury estate to protect its prehistoric stone monuments from impending destruction. During the early 1870s, he held the position of President of the Royal Anthropological Society from 1871–73, as well as the position of Vice President of the Royal Society in 1871. During this period he worked with John Evans, the other key figure in the establishment of the discipline of archaeology.[1]

In 1865 Lubbock published what was possibly the most influential archaeological text book of the nineteenth century, Pre-historic times, as illustrated by ancient remains, and the manners and customs of modern savages. He invented the terms "Palaeolithic" and "Neolithic" to denote the Old and New Stone Ages respectively. More notably, he introduced a Darwinian-type theory of human nature and development. "What was new was Lubbock’s ... insistence that, as a result of natural selection, human groups had become different from each other, not only culturally, but also in their biological capacities to utilize culture." [10]

Lubbock complained in the preface to Pre-Historic Times about Charles Lyell:

"Note.—In his celebrated work on the Antiquity of Man, he coined the term Neolithic in 1865. Sir Charles Lyell has made much use of my earlier articles in the Natural History Review, frequently, indeed, extracting whole sentences verbatim, or nearly so. But as he has in these cases omitted to mention the source from which his quotations were derived, my readers might naturally think that I had taken very unjustifiable liberties with the work of the eminent geologist. A reference to the respective dates will, however, protect me from any such inference. The statement made by Sir Charles Lyell, in a note to page 11 of his work, that my article on the Danish Shell-mounds was published after his sheets were written, is an inadvertence, regretted, I have reason to believe, as much by its author as it is by me."[11]

In 1871 he bought land at Avebury to prevent part of the ancient stone circle from being built on. This, and other threats to the nation's heritage, persuaded him that some legal protection was needed. In 1874 he introduced a parliamentary bill that would identify a list of ancient sites that deserved legal protection. After several later attempts and against some opposition it was not until 1882 that a much watered down version, The Ancient Monuments Act, came into being. Though restricted to 68 largely prehistoric monuments it was the forerunner of all later laws governing the UK's archaeological and architectural heritage.[12]

Lubbock was also an amateur biologist of some distinction, writing books on hymenoptera (Ants, Bees and Wasps: a record of observations on the habits of the social hymenoptera. Kegan Paul, London; New York: Appleton, 1884), on insect sense organs and development, on the intelligence of animals, and on other natural history topics. He discovered that ants were sensitive to light in the near ultraviolet range of the electromagnetic spectrum.[13][14] The following verse from Punch of 1882 captured him perfectly:

Lord Avebury speaking during the presentation of the first replica of Diplodocus carnegii to the trustees of the British Museum of Natural History, 12 May 1905
How doth the Banking Busy Bee,
Improve his shining Hours?
By studying on Bank Holidays,
Strange insects and Wild Flowers!

He had extensive correspondence with Charles Darwin, who lived nearby in Down House.[15] Lubbock stayed in Downe except for a brief period from 1861–65, when he lived in Chislehurst. Both men were active advocates of English spelling reform, and members of the Spelling reform Association, precursor to the Simplified Spelling Society. Darwin rented land, originally from Lubbock’s father, for the Sandwalk wood where he performed his daily exercise, and in 1874 agreed with Lubbock to exchange the land for a piece of pasture in Darwin’s property.[16] When Darwin died in 1882, Lubbock suggested the honour of burial in Westminster Abbey, organising a letter to the dean to arrange this, and was one of the pallbearers.[3]


Lubbock was one of eight brothers and three sisters;[17] three brothers, Alfred,[18] Nevile[19] and Edgar,[20] played first-class cricket for Kent. Edgar and Alfred also played football and played together for Old Etonians in the 1875 FA Cup Final.

Lubbock's first wife was Ellen Frances Horden, who died in 1879. Five years later he married Alice Lane Fox, the daughter of Augustus Pitt Rivers. He rebuilt Kingsgate Castle, near Broadstairs in Kent, as his family home, where he died in 1913.

He was succeeded by his eldest son, John.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Mithen, Steven (2006). After the ice: a global human history, 20,000–5,000 BC. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01570-3.
  2. Howarth & Howarth 1933, pp. 72–73
  3. 1 2 Freeman 1978, p. 192
  4. 1 2 3 4 5  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Avebury, John Lubbock, 1st Baron". Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 51–52.
  5. London Gazette issue 26022 11 February 1890
  6. The London Gazette: no. 27156. p. 427. 23 January 1900.
  7. "Royal Statistical Society Presidents". Royal Statistical Society. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  8. British Museum Collection
  9. British Museum Collection
  10. Trigger, Bruce G. (1989) A History of Archaeological Thought, Cambridge, p.173
  11. Lubbock J. (1865) Pre-Historic Times, Williams & Norgate, London
  12. Thurley, Simon."The Men from the Ministry", Yale University Press. 2013. ISBN 978-0-300-19572-9
  13. Lubbock, J. (1881). "Observations on ants, bees, and wasps. IX. Color of flowers as an attraction to bees: Experiments and considerations thereon.". J. Linn. Soc. Lond. (Zool.). 16: 110–112. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.1882.tb02275.x.
  14. Kevan, Peter G.; Chittka, Lars; Dyer, Adrian G. (2001). "Limits to the Salience of Ultraviolet: Lessons from Colour Vision in Bees and Birds". J. Exp. Biol. 204 (14): 2571–2580. PMID 11511673.
  15. "Darwin Correspondence Project", John Lubbock, 1834–1913". Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  16. Freeman 1978, p. 125
  17. "Sir John William Lubbock, 3rd Bt.". The 29 January 2011. Retrieved 9 February 2011.
  18. "Alfred Lubbock". Cricket Archive. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  19. "Nevile Lubbock". Cricket Archive. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  20. "Edgar Lubbock". Cricket Archive. Retrieved 10 February 2011.


The following is a list of publications by Sir John Lubbock, arranged in chronological order by the dates of the first editions of each work.

Further reading

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles Buxton
James Whatman
Member of Parliament for Maidstone
With: James Whatman 1865–1874
Sir Sydney Waterlow 1874–1880
Succeeded by
Alexander Henry Ross
John Evans Freke-Aylmer
Preceded by
Robert Lowe
Member of Parliament for London University
Succeeded by
Sir Michael Foster
Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Rosebery
Chairman of the London County Council
Succeeded by
The Earl of Rosebery
Academic offices
Preceded by
George Grote
Vice-Chancellor of University of London
Succeeded by
Sir George Jessel
Preceded by
Andrew Carnegie
Rector of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by
The Earl of Rosebery
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Avebury
Succeeded by
John Lubbock
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Lubbock
Baronet (of Lammas)
Succeeded by
John Lubbock
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