century archaeologist and surgeon

An Archaeological Ancestor

This afternoon I’ve been reading the private correspondence of Thomas Pettigrew, a nineteenth century archaeologist and surgeon whose life and work I’m studying.  The history of archaeology is full of colourful and odd characters, and Pettigrew is no exception: in his long and turbulent career he vaccinated Queen Victoria, co-founded the British Archaeological Association, got fired from Charing Cross Hospital for corruption, and mummified the Duke of Hamilton.  In his spare time he unrolled Egyptian mummies – more than forty in his lifetime, earning the nickname “Mummy” Pettigrew – and wrote the first scientific book on mummy studies.

The world of Victorian archaeology was a tempestuous one, and Thomas Pettigrew seems to have been involved in every conspiracy, cat-fight and slanging match that he could find.  One of his numerous enemies wrote of him that:

“Petulance, captiousness, and jealousy, are still among his characteristics.  The concoction of intrigues, the packing of meetings, and the confusion of congresses are still his delight.  The fomenting of suspicions by misrepresenting to each of his colleagues what the rest are alleged to say in their disparagement … is still his constant habit.  And ‘divide and rule’ is still his favourite maxim.”

A fascinating person to study – but I’m glad I never met him!