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Avebury's Circle: the Science of John Lubbock FRS (1834-1913)



09:00 - 17:00


The Royal Society, London, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG


John Lubbock FRS, 1st Baron Avebury. Detail from drawing by George Richmond.

History of science conference on the life and work of John Lubbock FRS, first Baron Avebury.

Event details

Sir John Lubbock FRS, later Lord Avebury, is frequently noted for his close relationship with Charles Darwin and his friendship with other better-remembered contemporaries, such as his X-Club compatriots T. H. Huxley and J. D. Hooker. However, in recent years there has been increasing interest in Lubbock in his own right. Lubbock was one of the last gentlemen scientists and a great populariser of science. His popular science works on entomology, zoology and natural history went through several reprints and he was praised as an author for a general audience as well as honoured as a man of science – evident in his election to Fellowship of scientific societies, and his roles as President of the British Association and Linnean Society and Vice-President of the Royal Society.

However, Lubbock was not a professional scientist, and his scientific achievements were coupled with social and political triumphs. He was a banker and a politician, and the Ancient Monuments Acts of 1882 and 1901 were his work, as were the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 and some 30 other bills.

This interdisciplinary conference will commemorate the centenary of his death in 2013 and provide a showcase for the rising interest in this oft-forgot figure of Victorian science by examining Lubbock’s work and his influence over a range of areas and disciplines.

On the evening of Thursday 21 March delegates will also have the opportunity to attend a private viewing of the English Heritage exhibition, ‘The General, The Scientist & the Banker: The Birth of Archaeology and the Battle for the Past’, held at the Quadriga Gallery at Wellington Arch.

Biographies of the speakers are available below and you can also download the programme (PDF). Recorded audio of the presentations will be available on this page after the event.

Attending this event

This event is open to all, but there are a limited number of places and registration is essential. A registration fee of £42 or £30 (student/unwaged) will be charged; this includes a sandwich lunch and morning and afternoon refreshments. There is a separate fee of £10 for the exhibition viewing and drinks reception at the Quadriga Gallery at Wellington Arch on Thursday 21 March.

Enquiries: Contact the events team.

Schedule of talks

Session 1

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John Lubbock and the march of progress


John Lubbock, first Baron Avebury, banker, and long-serving MP, is perhaps best remembered as the father of the Bank Holidays Act (1871), but he was also an anthropologist, archaeologist, and entomologist. With strong Darwinian sympathies, he spent a considerable part of his career in search of an evolutionary mental continuum between human beings and other non-human animals. This secular scientific agenda allied him with Darwin’s bulldog, T.H. Huxley; and it led him to construct unique artificial ants’ nests and to teach a dog to ‘read’. Moreover, it inspired him to take a live wasp while on holiday in the Pyrenees and to tame it, like a savage civilized. To understand the multi-faceted life of John Lubbock, we must appreciate that he promoted a professional ideal of a science of progress in order to buttress the cultural authority of a ‘generalist’, liberal intellectual aristocracy. Lubbock marshalled his columns of ants to lead a progressive march towards the ‘moral regeneration of mankind’.

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4

Avebury's Circle: the Science of John Lubbock FRS (1834-1913) The Royal Society, London 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1Y 5AG UK