John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury

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John Lubbock

Woodburytype print of
John Lubbock in middle age
Born 30 April 1834
Died 28 May 1913
Nationality English
Fields Finance, Biology, Archaeology, Politics, Spelling
Known for Bank Holidays
Influences Charles Darwin

John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury PC, FRS (30 April 1834 – 28 May 1913), known as Sir John Lubbock, 4th Bt from 1865 until 1900, was an English banker, biologist, archaeologist and Liberal politician.

Life[change | change source]

Lubbock was the son of Sir John Lubbock, 3rd Baronet, and was brought up in the family home of High Elms, near Downe in Kent. In 1842 his father brought home a "great piece of news". Young John Lubbock thought it might be a new pony, and was disappointed that the news was that Charles Darwin was moving to Down House in the village.[1] He was soon a frequent visitor to Down House, and became the closest of Darwin's younger friends.[2]

Lubbock was educated at Eton College from 1845 and afterwards was taken into his father's bank, where he became a partner at the age of twenty-two. In 1865 he succeeded to the baronetcy.

In 1870, 1874, and 1880 he was elected to Parliament, where he promoted a number of laws. Lubbock was elected the first president of the Institute of Bankers in 1879; in 1881 he was president of the British Association, and from 1881 to 1886 president of the Linnean Society of London. 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.

Lubbock received honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, 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.

In February 1890 he was appointed a Privy Councillor,[3] and was chairman of the committee of design on the new coinage in 1891. In January 1900 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Avebury, his title commemorating the largest Neolithic site in Europe.

Lubbock in biology and archaeology[change | change source]

In 1865 Lubbock published what was possibly the most influential archaeological text book of the 19th 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, but more notable was his introduction of a Darwinian view of human nature.

"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".[4]

Lubbock was also an amateur biologist of some distinction, writing books on hymenoptera, on insect sense organs and development, on the intelligence of animals, and on other natural history topics.[5] He was a member of the famous X Club founded by T.H. Huxley to promote the growth of science in Britain. He discovered that ants were sensitive to the ultraviolet range of the spectrum.[6][7] The Punch verse of 1882 captured him perfectly:

How doth the Banking Busy Bee
Improve his shining Hours?
By studying on Bank Holidays
Strange insects and Wild Flowers!

He carried out extensive correspondence with Charles Darwin, who lived nearby in Downe. In addition to their shared interest in natural history, both men were active advocates of spelling reform, and members of the Spelling Reform Association. When Darwin died in 1882, Lubbock suggested the honour of burial in Westminster Abbey, and was one of the pallbearers.[2]

References[change | change source]

  1. Howarth O.J.R. & E.K. 1933. A history of Darwin's parish, Downe, Kent. 72–73
  2. 2.0 2.1 Freeman R.B. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone: Wm Dawson & Sons 192
  3. London Gazette issue 26022 11 February 1890
  4. Trigger, Bruce G. 1989. A history of archaeological thought. Cambridge. p173
  5. Lubbock J. 1884. Ants, bees and wasps: a record of observations on the habits of the social hymenoptera. Kegan Paul, London.
  6. 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.
  7. 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: 2571–2580.


  • Hutchinson H.G. 1914. Life of Sir John Lubbock, Lord Avebury. London.
  • Grant Duff U. 1924. The life-work of Lord Avebury. London: Watts & Co.
  • Sir John.Lubbock in The Columbia Encyclopedia 6th ed, 2001.
  • Lubbock J. 1865. Pre-historic times, as illustrated by ancient remains, and the manners and customs of modern savages. London: Williams and Norgate.
  • Lubbock J. 1887-89. The pleasures of life
  • Patton M. 1997. Science, politics & business in the work of Sir John Lubbock - a man of universal mind. London, Ashgate.