Arthur Evans


Arthur Evans : biography

8 July 1851 – 11 July 1941

Arthur was arrested in 1882, to be put on trial as a British agent provocateur stirring up further insurrection. His journalistic sources were not acceptable friendships to the authorities. He spent six weeks in prison awaiting trial, but at the trial nothing definitive could be proved. His wife was interrogated. She found most offensive the reading of her love letters before her eyes by a hostile police agent. Arthur was expelled from the country. Gladstone had been apprised of the situation immediately, but, as far as the public knew, did nothing. The government in Vienna similarly disavowed any knowledge of or connection to the actions of the local authorities. Whatever deal may have been struck remains unknown, at least to the public. The Evans’ returned home to rent a house in Oxford, abandoning their villa, which was turned into a hotel. The villa sits on a bluff at the base of a ring of hills. Adjoining it a modern hotel towers over the scene. However, Arthur’s reputation among the Slavs assumed unassailable proportions. He was invited later to play a role in the formation of the pre-Yugoslav state. In 1941 the government of Yugoslavia sent representatives to his funeral..

Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum

Arthur and Margaret moved back to Oxford, renting a house there in January, 1883. This period of unemployment was the only one of his life; however, he employed himself as best he could, including recovering from his Balkan experiences and finishing up his Balkan studies. He completed his articles on Roman roads and cities there. It was suggested that he apply to a new Professorship of Classical Archaeology at Oxford. As soon as he found out that Jowett and Newton were among the electors, he decided not to apply. He wrote to Freeman to the effect that to confine archaeology to classics was an absurdity. Instead he and Margeret travelled to Greece, seeking out Heinrich Schliemann at Athens. Margaret and Sophia had a long and enjoyable visit for several hours, during which Arthur examined the Mycenaean antiquities at hand with Heinrich..

Meanwhile unknown to him events were taking a turn at Oxford that would give him a new career. The Ashmolean Museum, an adjunct of Oxford University, was in a chaotic state of transition. It had been a natural history museum, but a decision had been made that it was not to be so any longer, and the collections had been transferred to other museums. The lower floor housed some art and archaeology, but the upper floor was being used for university functions. John Henry Parker, appointed the first keeper in 1870, inherited the disagreeable task of trying to manage through the dismantling. His efforts to negotiate with the noted and self-educated wealthy art collector, Charles Drury Edward (CDE) Fortnum, for the privilege of housing the latter’s extensive art collection, were being undercut by the university administrators and were about to fail. In January, 1874, Parker died. The museum was in the hands of its assistant keepers, one of whom, Edward Evans (no relation), in addition to doing the day-to-day work in maintaining the collections, was to be Arthur’s executive during Arthur’s extended absences.

The best strategy for the museum now, which was manifest to everyone concerned, was to convert it to an art and archaeology museum, expanding the collections that were left. In November, 1883, Fortnam [check spelling] wrote to Arthur asking for his assistance in locating some letters in the Bodleian Library that would help to validate a noted ring in his collection, about which he had written. He did so following the advice of his old friend and fellow member of the Society of Antiquities, John Evans. Arthur was unable to find the letters. He suggested Fortnum visit Oxford, as he (Arthur) was trying to form a new group to promote archaeological interests there. Unknown to Arthur, Fortnum was already deeply interested in archaeology at Oxford. He was becoming dissatisfied with the rivals for his collection, the South Kensington Museum, because of their "lack of a properly informed and person as keeper," which was the same reason he had been dissatisfied with the Ashmolean. In his language, his precious infants needed a proper mother to care for them. Suddenly Arthur appeared at the right moment with the right qualifications. Offered the position of keeper at Ashmolean, he took it with a tremendous burst of enthusiasm and energy.The details of the complicated and extensive negotiations for the Fortnum collection, at which Arthur excelled, may be found in

In 1884, Evans at the age of 34, was appointed Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum. He held a grand inauguration at which he outlined his planned changes, publishing it as The Ashmolean as a Home of Archaeology in Oxford.. Already the great frontage building had been erected. Evans took it firmly in the direction of being an archaeology museum. He insisted the artifacts be transferred back to the museum, negotiated for and succeeded in acquiring Fortnam’s collections, later gave his father’s collections to the museum, and finally, bequeathed his own Minoan collections, not without the intended effect. Today it has the finest Minoan assemblages outside Crete. He also persuaded Fortnum to donate £10,000 to build the extensive rooms behind the impressive façade, buildings which have only recently been demolished to make way for the new Ashmolean Museum.