W. H. R. Rivers
William Halse Rivers Rivers, FRCP, FRS, (12 March 1864 - ) was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 anthropologist, neurologist
A neurologist is a physician who specializes in neurology, and is trained to investigate, or diagnose and treat neurological disorders.Neurology is the medical specialty related to the human nervous system. The nervous system encompasses the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. A specialist...

, ethnologist and psychiatrist
A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. All psychiatrists are trained in diagnostic evaluation and in psychotherapy...

, best known for his work with shell-shocked
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Posttraumaticstress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,...

 soldiers during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. Rivers' most famous patient was the poet Siegfried Sassoon
Siegfried Sassoon
Siegfried Loraine Sassoon CBE MC was an English poet, author and soldier. Decorated for bravery on the Western Front, he became one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry both described the horrors of the trenches, and satirised the patriotic pretensions of those who, in Sassoon's...

. He is also famous for his participation in the Torres Straits expedition of 1898, and his consequent seminal work on the subject of kinship
Kinship is a relationship between any entities that share a genealogical origin, through either biological, cultural, or historical descent. And descent groups, lineages, etc. are treated in their own subsections....


Family background

Rivers was born in 1864 at Constitution Hill, Chatham, Kent, son of Elizabeth Hunt (16 October 1834- 13 November 1897) and Henry Frederick Rivers (7 January 1830– 9 December 1911).

Records from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries show the Rivers family to be solidly middle-class with many Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 and Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 associations, the most famous of which were Midshipman
A midshipman is an officer cadet, or a commissioned officer of the lowest rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Kenya...

 William Rivers and his father Gunner
A sailor, mariner, or seaman is a person who navigates water-borne vessels or assists in their operation, maintenance, or service. The term can apply to professional mariners, military personnel, and recreational sailors as well as a plethora of other uses...

 Rivers who both served aboard HMS Victory
HMS Victory
HMS Victory is a 104-gun first-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, laid down in 1759 and launched in 1765. She is most famous as Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805....


The senior Rivers, also called William, was the master gunner aboard The Victory and it is thanks to his commonplace book (now kept in the Royal Naval Museum library in Portsmouth) that many of the thoughts of the sailors aboard Nelson’s flagship are preserved. Midshipman Rivers, claimed to be ‘the man who shot the man who fatally wounded Lord Nelson’ proved himself to be a model of heroism in the Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar was a sea battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars ....

. In the course of his duties, the seventeen-year-old midshipman’s foot was almost completely blown off by a grenade, left attached to him ‘by a Piece of Skin abought 4 inch above the ankle’. Rivers asked first for his shoes, then told the gunner’s mate to look after the guns and informed Captain Hardy that he was going down to the cockpit. The leg was then sawn off, without anaesthetic, four inches below the knee. According to legend, he did not cry out once during the amputation nor during the consequent sealing of the wound with hot tar. When Gunner Rivers, anxious about his son’s welfare, went to the cockpit to ask after him the young man called out from the other side of the deck, ‘Here I am, Father, nothing is the matter with me; only lost my leg and that in a good cause.’ After the Battle, the senior Rivers wrote a poem about his remarkable son entitled ‘Lines on a Young Gentleman that lost his leg onboard the Victory in the Glorious action at Trafalgar’:
Born to another naval Rivers, Lt. William Rivers, R.N., then stationed at Deptford
Deptford is a district of south London, England, located on the south bank of the River Thames. It is named after a ford of the River Ravensbourne, and from the mid 16th century to the late 19th was home to Deptford Dockyard, the first of the Royal Navy Dockyards.Deptford and the docks are...

, Henry Rivers followed many family traditions in being educated at Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Trinity has more members than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with around 700 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and over 170 Fellows...

 and entering the church. Having earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1857, he was ordained as a Church of England priest in 1858, a career that would span almost 50 years until, in 1904, he was forced to tender his resignation due to ‘infirmities of sight and memory’.

In 1863, having obtained a curacy at Chatham in addition to a chaplain’s post, Henry Rivers was in a position to marry Elizabeth Hunt who was living with her brother James in Hastings
Hastings is a town and borough in the county of East Sussex on the south coast of England. The town is located east of the county town of Lewes and south east of London, and has an estimated population of 86,900....

, not far from Chatham.

The Hunts, like the Riverses, were an established naval and Church of England family. One of those destined for the pulpit was Thomas (1802–1851), but some quirk of originality set him off into an unusual career. While an undergraduate at Cambridge, Thomas Hunt had a friend who stammered badly and his efforts to aid the afflicted student led him to leave the University without taking a degree in order to make a thorough study of speech and its defects. He built up a good practise as a speech therapist and was patronised by Sir John Forbes MD FRS
John Forbes (physician)
Sir John Forbes FRCP FRS was a distinguished Scottish physician, famous for his translation of the classic French medical text, De L'Auscultation Mediate by René Laennec, the inventor of the stethoscope...

, who sent him pupils for twenty four years. Hunt’s most famous case came about in 1842 when George Pearson, the chief witness in the case respecting the attempt on the life of Queen Victoria made by John Francis, was brought into court he was incapable of giving his evidence. However, after just a fortnight's instruction from Hunt he spoke easily, a fact certified by the sitting magistrate. Hunt died in 1851, survived by his wife Mary and their two children. His practise was then passed on to his son, James.

James Hunt (1833–1869) was an exuberant character, giving to each of his ventures his boundless energy and self-confidence. Taking up his father’s legacy with great zeal, by the age of 21 Hunt had published his compendious work, "Stammering and Stuttering, Their Nature and Treatment". This went into six editions during his lifetime and was reprinted again in 1870, just after his death, and for an eighth time in 1967 as a landmark in the history of speech therapy. In the introduction to the 1967 edition of the book, Elliot Schaffer notes that in his short lifetime James Hunt is said to have treated over 1,700 cases of speech impediment, firstly in his father’s practise and later at his own institute, Ore House near Hastings, which he set up with the aid a doctorate he had purchased in 1856 from the University of Giessen
University of Giessen
The University of Giessen is officially called the Justus Liebig University Giessen after its most famous faculty member, Justus von Liebig, the founder of modern agricultural chemistry and inventor of artificial fertiliser.-History:The University of Gießen is among the oldest institutions of...

 in Germany.

In later, expanded editions, "Stammering and Stuttering" begins to reflect Hunt’s growing passion for anthropology exploring, as it does, the nature of language usage and speech disorders in non-European peoples. In 1856, Hunt had joined the Ethnological Society of London
Ethnological Society of London
The Ethnological Society of London was founded in 1843 by a breakaway faction of the Aborigines' Protection Society . It quickly became one of England's leading scientific societies, and a meeting-place not only for students of ethnology but also for archaeologists interested in prehistoric...

 and by 1859 he was its joint secretary. He was not, however, a popular man within the society as many of the members disliked his attacks on religious and humanitarian agencies represented by missionaries and the anti-slavery movement.

As a result of the antagonism, Hunt founded the Anthropological Society
Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland is the world's longest established anthropological organization, with a global membership. Since 1843, it has been at the forefront of new developments in anthropology and new means of communicating them to a broad audience...

 and became its president, a position that would be taken up by his nephew almost sixty years later. It was mainly to do with Hunt’s efforts that the British Association for the Advancement of Science
British Association for the Advancement of Science
frame|right|"The BA" logoThe British Association for the Advancement of Science or the British Science Association, formerly known as the BA, is a learned society with the object of promoting science, directing general attention to scientific matters, and facilitating interaction between...

 (BAAS) accepted anthropology in 1866.

Even by Victorian standards, Hunt was a decided racist. His paper "On a Negro’s Place in Nature", delivered before the BAAS in 1863, was met with hisses and catcalls. What Hunt saw as “a statement of the simple facts” was in fact a defence of the subjection and slavery of African-Americans and a support of the belief in the plurality of human species.

In addition to his extremist views, Hunt also led his society to incur heavy debts. The controversies surrounding his conduct told on his health and, on the 29th of August 1869, Hunt died of ‘inflammation of the brain’ leaving a widow, Henrietta Maria, and five children.

Hunt’s speech therapy practise was passed onto Hunt’s brother-in-law, Henry Rivers, who had been working with him for some time. With the practise came many of Hunt’s established patients, most notably The Reverend Charles L. Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson , better known by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll , was an English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon and photographer. His most famous writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, as well as the poems "The Hunting of the...

) who had been a regular visitor to Ore House.

To his nephew William, Hunt had left his books though a young Rivers had refused them, thinking that they would be of no use to him.

Early life

William Halse Rivers Rivers was the oldest of four children, with his siblings being brother Charles Hay (29 August 1865- 8 November 1939) and sisters Ethel Marian (30 October 1867- 4 February 1943) and Katharine Elizabeth (1871–1939).

William, known as 'Willie' throughout his childhood, appears to have taken his Christian name from his famous uncle of Victory fame, as well as from a longstanding family tradition whereby the eldest son of every line would be baptised by that name. The origin of ‘Halse’ is unclear, though it is possible that there is some naval connection as it has been suggested that it could have been the name of someone serving alongside his uncle. Slobodin states that it is probable that the second 'Rivers' entered his name as a result of a clerical error on the baptismal certificate but since the register is filled in by his father’s hand and he was to perform the ceremony, one would think it unlikely that a mistake would have been made in this case. Slobodin is correct to note that there is a mistake on the registry of his birth but since his name was changed from the mistaken ‘William False Rivers Rivers’ to its later form, it seems probable that ‘Rivers’ was intended to appear as a given name as well as a surname.

Rivers suffered from a stammer that never truly left him, he also had no sensory memory
Sensory memory
During every moment of an organism's life, sensory information is being taken in by sensory receptors and processed by the nervous system. Humans have five main senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Sensory memory allows individuals to retain impressions of sensory information after the...

 although he was able to visualise to an extent if dreaming, in a half-waking, half-sleeping state or when feverish. This had not always been the case; Rivers notes that in his early life- specifically before the age of five- his visual imagery was far more definite than it became in later life and perhaps as good as that of the average child.

At first, Rivers had concluded that his loss of visual imagery had come about as a result of his lack of attention and interest in it. However, as he later came to realise, while images from his later life frequently faded into obscurity, those from his infancy still remained vivid.

As Rivers notes in Instinct and the Unconscious, one manifestation of his lack of visual memory was his inability to visualise any part of the upper floor of the house he lived in until he was five. This visual blank is made even more significant by the fact that Rivers was able to describe the lower floors of that particular house with far more accuracy than he had been able to with any house since and, although images of later houses were faded and incomplete, no memory since had been as inaccessible as that of the upper floor of his early home. With the evidence that he was presented with, Rivers was led to the conclusion that something had happened to him on the upper floor of that house, the memory of which was entirely suppressed because it ‘interfered with [his] comfort and happiness’. Indeed, not only was that specific memory rendered inaccessible but his sensory memory in general appears to have been severely handicapped from that moment.
If Rivers ever did come to access the veiled memory then he does not appear to make a note of it so the nature of the experience is open to conjecture. One such supposition was put forward by Pat Barker, in the second novel in her Regeneration Trilogy, The Eye in the Door
The Eye in the Door
The Eye in the Door is a novel by Pat Barker, first published in 1993, and forming the second part of the Regeneration trilogy.The Eye in the Door is set in London, beginning in mid-April, 1918, and continues the interwoven stories of Dr William Rivers, Billy Prior, and Siegfried Sassoon begun in...

. Whatever the case, in the words of Barker's character Billy Prior, Rivers’ experience was traumatic enough to cause him to "put his mind's eye out".

Whatever his disadvantages, Rivers was an unquestionably able child. Educated first at a Brighton preparatory school and then, from the age of thirteen, as a dayboy at the prestigious Tonbridge School
Tonbridge School
Tonbridge School is a British boys' independent school for both boarding and day pupils in Tonbridge, Kent, founded in 1553 by Sir Andrew Judd . It is a member of the Eton Group, and has close links with the Worshipful Company of Skinners, one of the oldest London livery companies...

, his academic abilities were noted from an early age. Young Rivers’ talents led to him being placed a year above others of his age at school and even within this older group he was seen to excel, winning prizes for Classics
Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

 and all around attainment. It is also worth noting that Rivers’ younger brother Charles was also a high achiever at the school; he too was awarded with the ‘Good Work’ prize and would go on to become a civil engineer
Civil engineer
A civil engineer is a person who practices civil engineering; the application of planning, designing, constructing, maintaining, and operating infrastructures while protecting the public and environmental health, as well as improving existing infrastructures that have been neglected.Originally, a...

 until, after a bad bout of malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

 contracted whilst in the Torres Straits with his brother, he was prompted by the elder Rivers to take up outdoor work.

The teenage Rivers, whilst obviously scholarly, was also involved in other aspects of school life. As the programme for the Tonbridge School sports day notes, on the 12th March 1880- Rivers’ sixteenth birthday- he ran in the mile race. The year before this he had been elected as a member of the school debating society, no mean feat for a boy who at this time suffered from a speech impediment which was almost paralytic.

Rivers was set to follow family tradition and take his University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 entrance exam, possibly with the aim of studying Classics. Unfortunately, his plans were thwarted when, at the age of sixteen, he was struck down by typhoid fever
Typhoid fever
Typhoid fever, also known as Typhoid, is a common worldwide bacterial disease, transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person, which contain the bacterium Salmonella enterica, serovar Typhi...

 and forced to miss his final year of school. Without the scholarship, his family could not afford to send him to Cambridge but with typical resilience, Rivers did not dwell on the disappointment.

His illness had been a bad one, entailing long convalescence and leaving him with effects which at times severely handicapped him. As L. E. Shore notes: “he was not a strong man, and was often obliged to take a few days rest in bed and subsist on a milk diet”. The severity of the sickness and the shattering of dreams might have broken lesser men but for Rivers in many ways the illness was the making of him. Whilst recovering from the fever, Rivers had formed a friendship with one of his father’s speech therapy students, a young Army surgeon. His plan was formed: he would study medicine and apply for training in the Army Medical Department, later to become the Royal Army Medical Corps
Royal Army Medical Corps
The Royal Army Medical Corps is a specialist corps in the British Army which provides medical services to all British Army personnel and their families in war and in peace...


Fuelled by this new resolve, Rivers studied medicine at the University of London
University of London
-20th century:Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900, Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841 became an official divinity school of the...

, where he matriculated in 1882, and St Bartholomew's Hospital
St Bartholomew's Hospital
St Bartholomew's Hospital, also known as Barts, is a hospital in Smithfield in the City of London, England.-Early history:It was founded in 1123 by Raherus or Rahere , a favourite courtier of King Henry I...

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. He graduated aged just 22, the youngest person to do so until recent times.

Life as a ship's surgeon

After qualifying, Rivers sought to follow his ambition and join the army but was not passed fit. Once again the Typhoid had denied him his dreams. As Elliot Smith was later to write, as quoted in Rivers' biography: “Rivers always had to fight against ill health: heart and blood vessels.’’ Along with the health problems noted by Shore and Elliot Smith, Rivers had been left to the curse of "tiring easily".

His sister Katharine wrote that when he came to visit the family he would often sleep for the first day or two. Astonishingly, considering the work that Rivers did in his relatively short lifetime, Seligman wrote in 1922 that "for many years he seldom worked for more than four hours a day". As Rivers' biographer Richard Slobodin points out, “among persons of extraordinary achievement, only Descartes seems to have put in as short a working day”.

As ever, Rivers did not allow his drawbacks to dishearten him", and instead of entering the army his love of travelling lead him to serve several terms as a ship's surgeon, travelling to Japan and North America in 1887. This was the first of many voyages; for, besides his great expeditions for work in the Torres Straits, Melanesia
Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from the western end of the Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Fiji. The region comprises most of the islands immediately north and northeast of Australia...

, Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and the Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands is a sovereign state in Oceania, east of Papua New Guinea, consisting of nearly one thousand islands. It covers a land mass of . The capital, Honiara, is located on the island of Guadalcanal...

, he took holiday voyages twice to the West Indies, three times to the Canary Islands
Canary Islands
The Canary Islands , also known as the Canaries , is a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, 100 km west of the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. The Canaries are a Spanish autonomous community and an outermost region of the European Union...

 and Madeira
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago that lies between and , just under 400 km north of Tenerife, Canary Islands, in the north Atlantic Ocean and an outermost region of the European Union...

, to America, to Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

, to Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...

, as well as numerous visits to France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 and to visit family in Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...


Such voyages helped to improve his health, and possibly to prolong his life. He also took a great deal of pleasures from his experiences aboard ship, particularly when he had the honour of spending a month in the company of George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

; he later described how he spent “many hours every day talking - the greatest treat of my life”.

Beginnings of psychological career

Back in England, Rivers gained the distinction of an M.D. (London) and was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians
Royal College of Physicians
The Royal College of Physicians of London was founded in 1518 as the College of Physicians by royal charter of King Henry VIII in 1518 - the first medical institution in England to receive a royal charter...

. Soon after, he became house surgeon at the Chichester Infirmary (1887–9) and, although he enjoyed the town and the company of his colleagues, an appointment at Bart’s and the opportunity to return to the company of productive researchers in medicine proved too much to resist. He became house physician
Senior house officer
A senior house officer is a junior doctor undergoing training within a certain speciality in the British National Health Service or in the Republic of Ireland. SHOs are supervised by consultants and registrars, who oversee their training and are their designated clinical supervisors...

 at St Bartholomew's in 1889 and remained there until 1890.

At Bart’s, Rivers had been a physician to Dr. Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
Samuel Jones Gee was an English physician and paediatrician. In 1888, Gee published the first complete modern description of the clinical picture of coeliac disease, and theorised on the importance of diet in its control. His contribution led to the eponym Gee's disease...

. Those under Gee were conscious of his indifference towards, if not actual dislike of, the psychological aspects of medicine. As Walter Langdon-Brown
Walter Langdon-Brown
Sir Walter Langdon-Brown was a British medical doctor.He was the son of the Rev. John Brown of Bunyan's Chapel, Bedford of and his wife Ada. His mother was a niece of John Langdon Down, describer of Down's syndrome...

 surmises, it may have been a reaction against this which led Rivers and his fellow Charles S. Myers to devote themselves to these aspects.

Whatever his motivation, the fact that Rivers’s interests lay in neurology and psychology became evident in this period. Reports and papers given by Rivers at the Abernethian Society of St. Bart’s indicate a growing specialism in these fields: Delirium and its allied conditions (1889), Hysteria (1891) and Neurasthenia (1893).

Following the direction of his passion for the workings of the mind as it correlates with the workings of the body, in 1891 Rivers became house physician at the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic. It was here that he and Henry Head
Henry Head
Sir Henry Head, FRS was an English neurologist who conducted pioneering work into the somatosensory system and sensory nerves. Much of this work was conducted on himself, in collaboration with the psychiatrist W. H. R. Rivers, by severing and reconnecting sensory nerves and mapping how sensation...

 were to meet and form a lasting friendship.

Rivers’s interest in the physiology of the nervous system and in ‘the mind’ that is, in sensory phenomena and mental states, was further stimulated by work in 1891, when he was chosen to be one of Victor Horsley’s
Victor Horsley
Sir Victor Alexander Haden Horsley was an accomplished scientist and professor. He was born in Kensington, London. He was educated at Cranbrook School, Kent and studied medicine at University College London and in Berlin, Germany , and in the same year started his career as a house surgeon and...

 assistants at in the series of investigations which elucidated the existence and nature of electrical currents in the mammalian brain which took place at University College, London. That he was seconded to Horsley for the work is an indication of his growing reputation as a researcher.

In the same year, Rivers joined the Neurological Society of London
Medical and Chirurgical Society of London
The Medical and Chirurgical Society of London was a learned society of physicians and surgeons which was founded in 1805 by 26 personalities in these fields who had left the Medical Society of London because of disagreement with the autocratic style of its president, James Sims...

 and presented A Case of Treadler’s Cramp to a meeting of the society. The case serves today as a poignant reminder of the cost, to millions of lives, of Britain’s industrial supremacy.

Resigning from the National Hospital in 1892, Rivers travelled to Jena
Jena is a university city in central Germany on the river Saale. It has a population of approx. 103,000 and is the second largest city in the federal state of Thuringia, after Erfurt.-History:Jena was first mentioned in an 1182 document...

 to expand his knowledge of experimental psychology. Whilst in Jena, Rivers became fluent in German and attended lectures, not only on psychology but on philosophy as well. He also became deeply immersed in the culture; in a diary he kept of the journey he comments on the buildings, the picture galleries, the church services, and the education system, showing his wide interests and critical judgement. In this diary he also wrote that: “I have during the last three weeks come to the conclusion that I should go in for insanity when I return to England and work as much as possible at psychology.”

And ‘go in for insanity’ he did, becoming a Clinical Assistant at the Bethlem Royal Hospital
Bethlem Royal Hospital
The Bethlem Royal Hospital is a psychiatric hospital located in London, United Kingdom and part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. Although no longer based at its original location, it is recognised as the world's first and oldest institution to specialise in mental illnesses....

 upon his return to England. In 1893, at the request of G.H Savage, he began assisting with lectures in mental diseases at Guy's Hospital
Guy's Hospital
Guy's Hospital is a large NHS hospital in the borough of Southwark in south east London, England. It is administratively a part of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust. It is a large teaching hospital and is home to the King's College London School of Medicine...

, laying special stress on their psychological aspect. At about the same time, due to the bidding of Professor Sully, he began to lecture on experimental psychology at University College, London.

When, in 1893, the unexpected invitation came to lecture in Cambridge on the functions of the sense organs, he was already deeply read in the subject. He had been captivated by Head’s accounts of the works of Ewald Hering
Ewald Hering
Karl Ewald Konstantin Hering was a German physiologist who did much research into color vision and spatial perception...

 and had absorbed his views on colour vision and the nature of vital processes in living matter with avidity. However, with typical thoroughness he prepared himself for his new duties by spending the summer working in Heidelberg
-Early history:Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, "Heidelberg Man" died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907; with scientific dating, his remains were determined to be the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of...

 with Emil Kraepelin
Emil Kraepelin
Emil Kraepelin was a German psychiatrist. H.J. Eysenck's Encyclopedia of Psychology identifies him as the founder of modern scientific psychiatry, as well as of psychopharmacology and psychiatric genetics. Kraepelin believed the chief origin of psychiatric disease to be biological and genetic...

 on measuring the effects of fatigue.

While it may have come as a surprise to Rivers, the offer of a Cambridge lectureship had come about as part of a long process of evolution within the University’s Natural Science
Natural science
The natural sciences are branches of science that seek to elucidate the rules that govern the natural world by using empirical and scientific methods...

The University of Cambridge, England, divides the different kinds of honours bachelor's degree by Tripos , plural Triposes. The word has an obscure etymology, but may be traced to the three-legged stool candidates once used to sit on when taking oral examinations...

. Earlier in 1893, Professor McKendrick, of Glasgow
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...

, had examined subject and reported unfavourably on the scant knowledge of the special senses displayed by the candidates; it was in reaction to this that Sir Michael Foster
Michael Foster (physiologist)
Sir Michael Foster was an English physiologist.He was born in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire and educated at University College School, London....

, who had seen the potential in this shy, retiring Bart’s man, appointed Rivers as a lecturer and he became Fellow Commoner at St John's College
St John's College, Cambridge
St John's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. The college's alumni include nine Nobel Prize winners, six Prime Ministers, three archbishops, at least two princes, and three Saints....

 forthwith. He was to become a Fellow
A fellow in the broadest sense is someone who is an equal or a comrade. The term fellow is also used to describe a person, particularly by those in the upper social classes. It is most often used in an academic context: a fellow is often part of an elite group of learned people who are awarded...

 of the College in 1902.

At first, the appointment proved to be an arduous and exhausting one for Rivers who, at this point, still had ongoing teaching commitments at Guy’s hospital and at University College. In addition to these mounting responsibilities, in1897 he was put in temporary charge of the new psychological laboratory at University College. This was the same year in which Foster assigned him a room in the Physiology Department at Cambridge for use in psychological research. As a result, Rivers is listed in the histories of experimental psychology as simultaneously the director of the first two psychological laboratories in Britain.

In retrospect, it is easy to see the monumental nature of Foster’s appointment in lieu of the profound effects Rivers’s work would have on Cambridge and indeed in the scientific world in general. However, at the time the Cambridge University Senate were wary of his appointment. As Bartlett
Frederic Bartlett
Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett FRS was a British psychologist and the first professor of experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge. He was one of the forerunners of cognitive psychology...

 writes: “how many times have I heard Rivers, spectacles waving in the air, his face lit by his transforming smile, tell how, in Senatorial discussion, an ancient orator described him as a "Ridiculous Superfluity"!”

The opposition of the Senate, while it was more vocal than serious, was distinctly detrimental to Rivers’s efforts since any assistance to his work was very sparingly granted. It wasn’t until 1901, eight years after his appointment, that he was allowed the use of a small cottage for the ‘laboratory’, and given thirty-five pounds annually (later, and somewhat begrudgingly, increased to fifty) for purchase and upkeep of equipment. For several years Rivers continued thus, and then, stimulated by him and others, the Moral Science Board stretched out a rather timid and tentative hand again and, in 1903, Rivers and his assistants and students moved to another small building in St Tibbs Row. These working spaces were characterised as being ‘dismal’, ‘damp, dark and ill-ventilated’ but these poor working conditions did not seem to dishearten the Cambridge psychologists. Indeed, the effect was quite the contrary, psychology began to thrive: “perhaps, in the early days of scientific progress, a subject often grows all the more surely if its workers have to meet difficulties, improvise their apparatus, and rub very close shoulders one with another.” It was not until 1912 that a well-equipped laboratory was built under the directorship of Charles S. Myers, one of Rivers’s earliest and ablest pupils, who was wealthy and able to supplement the University grant with his own funds.

At this point the preoccupations of the Cambridge psychologists and of Rivers were with the special senses: colour vision, optical illusions, sound-reactions and perceptual processes. In these fields, Rivers was rapidly becoming eminent. He was invited to write a chapter on vision for Schäfer's Handbook of Physiology and this contribution, according to Bartlett, “still remains, from a psychological point of view, one of the best in the English Language”. In it he set out in a masterly way the work of previous investigators, modestly incorporating his own, and critically examining the rival theories of colour vision, pointing out clearly the importance of psychological factors in, for instance, the phenomena of contrast.

For his own experiments on vision, Rivers worked with two of his graduate medical students, Charles S. Myers and William McDougall
William McDougall (psychologist)
William McDougall FRS was an early twentieth century psychologist who spent the first part of his career in the United Kingdom and the latter part in the United States...

 who assisted him at this period in a series of experiments on vision and with whom he formed close friendships. Rivers also collaborated with the pioneer instrument maker Sir Horace Darwin in the improvement of apparatus for recording sensations, especially those involved in vision. This collaboration was the basis of a lifelong friendship between Rivers and the genial son of Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...


Another important work of this period was an investigation of the influence of tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and a number of other drugs on the capacity for doing work both muscular and mental. For this research he was well fitted after his work under Kraepelin at Heidelberg. A great many of these experiments Rivers made on himself, and for this purpose gave up for a period of two years not only alcoholic beverages and tobacco, which was easy enough for him as he liked neither, but all tea, coffee and cocoa as well. Although the investigation was initially formed with physiological motives in mind, it soon became clear that a strong psychological influence was also involved in the act of taking the substances. Rivers realised that part of the effects- mental and physical- that substances had were caused psychologically by the excitement of knowing that one is indulging. In order, therefore, to eliminate “all possible effects of suggestion, sensory stimulation and interest”, Rivers made sure that the substances were disguised from him so that he was not aware, on any given occasion, whether he was taking a drug or a control substance. This was the first experiment of its kind to use this ‘double-blind’ procedure and, in recognition of this momentous study, Rivers was appointed Croonian Lecture
Croonian Lecture
The Croonian Lectures are prestigious lectureships given at the invitation of the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians.Among the papers of William Croone at his death in 1684, was a plan to endow one lectureship at both the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians...

r to the Royal College of Physicians in 1906.

In December 1897 Rivers’s achievements were recognised by the University of Cambridge who honoured him with the degree of M.A. honoris causa
Honorary degree
An honorary degree or a degree honoris causa is an academic degree for which a university has waived the usual requirements, such as matriculation, residence, study, and the passing of examinations...

 and, in 1904 with the assistance of Professor James Ward
James Ward (psychologist)
James Ward was an English psychologist and philosopher. He was born in Kingston upon Hull, the eldest of nine children. His father was an unsuccessful merchant...

, Rivers made a further mark on the world of psychological sciences, founding and subsequently editing the British Journal of Psychology.

Despite his many successes, Rivers was still a markedly reticent man in mixed company, hampered as he was by his stammer and innate shyness. In 1897, Langdon-Brown invited Rivers to come and address the Abernethian Society. The occasion was not an unqualified success. He chose ‘Fatigue’ as his subject, and before he had finished his title was writ large on the faces of his audience. In the Cambridge physiological laboratory too he had to lecture to a large elementary class. He was rather nervous about it, and did not like it, his hesitation of speech made his style dry and he had not yet acquired the art of expressing his original ideas in an attractive form, except in private conversation.

Among two or three friends, however, the picture of Rivers is quite different. His conversations were full of interest and illumination; “he was always out to elicit the truth, entirely sincere, and disdainful of mere dialect.” His insistence on veracity made him a formidable researcher, as Haddon puts it, “the keynote of Rivers was thoroughness. Keenness of thought and precision marked all his work.”. His research was distinguished by a fidelity to the demands of experimental method very rare in the realms which he was exploring and, although often overlooked, the work that Rivers did in this early period is of immense import as it formed the foundation of all that came later.

Torres Straits Expedition

Rivers recognised in himself “the desire for change and novelty, which is one of the strongest aspects of my mental makeup”
and, while fond of St. John’s, the staid lifestyle of his Cambridge existence showed in signs of nervous strain and led him to experience periods of depression.

The turning point came in 1898 when Alfred Cort Haddon
Alfred Cort Haddon
Alfred Cort Haddon, Sc.D., FRS, FRGS was an influential British anthropologist and ethnologist.Initially a biologist, who achieved his most notable fieldwork, with W.H.R. Rivers, C.G. Seligman, Sidney Ray, Anthony Wilkin on the Torres Strait Islands...

 seduced "Rivers from the path of virtue... (for psychology then was a chaste science)... into that of anthropology:” He made Rivers first choice to head an expedition to the Torres Straits. Rivers’s first reaction was to decline, but he soon agreed on learning that C.S Myers and William McDougall
William McDougall (psychologist)
William McDougall FRS was an early twentieth century psychologist who spent the first part of his career in the United Kingdom and the latter part in the United States...

, two of his best former students, would participate. The other members were Sidney Ray
Sidney Herbert Ray
Sidney Herbert Ray was a comparative and descriptive linguist who specialized in Melanesian languages. In 1892, he read an important paper, The languages of British New Guinea, to the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists. In that paper, he established the distinction between the...

, C.G Seligman
Charles Gabriel Seligman
Charles Gabriel Seligman FRS was a British ethnologist. Born in London, Seligman studied medicine at St. Thomas' Hospital....

, and a young Cambridge graduate named Anthony Wilkin, who was asked to accompany the expedition as photographer. In April 1898, the Europeans were transported with gear and apparatus to the Torres Straits. Rivers was said to pack only a small handbag of personal effects for such field trips.

From Thursday Island, several of the party found passage, soaked by rain and waves, on the deck of a crowded 47-foot ketch
A ketch is a sailing craft with two masts: a main mast, and a shorter mizzen mast abaft of the main mast, but forward of the rudder post. Both masts are rigged mainly fore-and-aft. From one to three jibs may be carried forward of the main mast when going to windward...

. In addition to sea sickness, Rivers had been badly sunburnt on his shins and for many days had been quite ill. On 5 May, in a bad storm nearing their first destination in the Murray Islands
Murray Islands
Murray Islands is a group of small islands 1.2 nautical miles southeast of Cape Whitson, off the south coast of Laurie Island in the South Orkney Islands. Discovered in 1823 by Matthew Brisbane, who explored the south coast of Laurie Island under the direction of James Weddell...

, the ship dragged anchor on the Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the world'slargest reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 kilometres over an area of approximately...

 and the expedition almost met disaster Later Rivers recalled the palliative effect of near shipwreck.

When the ketch dropped anchor, Rivers and Ray were at first too ill to go ashore. However the others set up a surgery to treat the native islanders and Rivers, lying in bed next-door tested the patients for colour vision: Haddon's diary noted "He is getting some interesting results.” The warmth shown to the sickly Rivers by the Islanders contributed to strong positive feelings for the work and a deep concern for the welfare of Melanesians during the remainder of his life.”

Rivers’s first task was to examine first hand the colour vision of the islanders and compare it to that of Europeans. In the course of his examinations of the visual acuity of the natives, Rivers showed that colour-blindness did not exist or was very rare, but that the colour vision of Papuans was not the same type as that of Europeans; they possessed no word for blue, and an intelligent native found nothing unnatural in applying the same name to the brilliant blue sea or sky and to the deepest black. “Moreover,” Head goes on to state in Rivers’s obituary notice, “he was able to explode to old fallacy that the “noble savage” was endowed with powers of vision far exceeding that of civilised natives. Errors of refraction are, it is true, less common, especially myopia. But, altogether the feats of the Torres Straits islanders equalled those reported by travellers from other parts of the world, they were due to the power of attending to minute details in familiar and strictly limited surrounding, and not to supernormal visual acuity.”

It was at this point that Rivers began collecting family histories and constructing genealogical tables but at this point his purpose appears to have been more biological than ethnological since such tables seem to have originated as a means of determining whether certain sensory talents or disabilities were hereditary. However, these simple tables soon took on a new prospective.

It was at once evident to Rivers that “the names applied to the various forms of blood relationship did not correspond to those used by Europeans, but belonged to what is known as a “classificatory system”; a man’s “brothers” or “sisters” might include individuals we should call cousins and the key to this nomenclature is to be found in forms of social organisation especially in varieties of the institution of marriage.” Rivers found that relationship terms were used to imply definite duties, privileges and mutual restrictions in conduct, rather than being biologically based as ours are. As Head puts it: “all these facts were clearly demonstrable by the genealogical method, a triumphant generalisation which has revolutionised ethnology.”

The Torres Straits expedition was ‘revolutionary’ in many other respects as well. For the first time, British anthropology had been removed from its ‘armchair’ and placed into a sound empirical basis, providing the model for future anthropologists to follow. In 1916, Sir Arthur Keith stated in an address to the Royal Anthropological Institute, that the expedition had engendered “the most progressive and profitable movement in the history of British anthropology.”

While the expedition was clearly productive and, in many ways, arduous for its members, it was also the foundation of lasting friendships. The team would reunite at many points and their paths would frequently converge. Of particular note is the relationship between Rivers and Haddon, the latter of whom regarded the fact he had induced Rivers to come to the Torres Straits as his “claim to fame.” It cannot be denied that both Rivers and Haddon were serious about their work but at the same time they were imbued with a keen sense of humour and fun. Haddon’s diary from Tuesday 16 August reads thus: “Our friends and acquaintances would often be very much amused if they could see us at some of our occupations ad I am afraid these would sometimes give occasion to the enemy to blaspheme- so trivial would they appear. Every now and then we then one thing hard- for example one week we were mad on Cat's cradle
Cat's cradle
Cat's cradle is a well known series of string figures created between two people as a game. The name of the entire game, the specific figures, their order, and the names of the figures vary. Versions of this game have been found in indigenous cultures all over the world—from the Arctic to the...

- at least Rivers, Ray and I were- McDougall soon fell victim and even Myers eventually succumbed.”

It may seem to be a bizarre occupation for a group of highly qualified men of science, indeed, as Haddon states: “I can imagine that some people would think we were demented- or at least wasting our time.” However, both Haddon and Rivers were to use the string trick to scientific ends and they are also credited as inventing a system of nomenclature that enabled them to be able to schematise the steps required and teach a variety of string tricks to European audiences.

The expedition ended in October 1898 and Rivers returned to England.” In 1900, Rivers joined Myers and Wilkin in Egypt to run tests on the colour vision of the Egyptians; this was the last time he saw Wilkin, who died of dysentery
Dysentery is an inflammatory disorder of the intestine, especially of the colon, that results in severe diarrhea containing mucus and/or blood in the faeces with fever and abdominal pain. If left untreated, dysentery can be fatal.There are differences between dysentery and normal bloody diarrhoea...

 in May 1901, aged 24.

'A Human Experiment in Nerve Division'

Upon his return to England, Rivers became aware of a series of experiments being conducted by his old friend Henry Head in conjunction with James Sherren, a surgeon at the London Hospital where they both worked. Since 1901, the pair had been forming a systematic study of nerve injuries among patients attending the hospital. Rivers, who had long been interested in the physiological consequences of nerve division, was quick to take on the role of “guide and counsellor.”

It quickly became clear to Rivers, looking in on the experiment from a psycho-physical aspect, that the only way accurate results could be obtained from introspection on behalf of the patient is if the subject under investigation was himself a trained observer, sufficiently discriminative to realise if his introspection was being prejudiced by external irrelevancies or moulded by the form of the experimenter’s questions, and sufficiently detached to lead a life of detachment throughout the entire course of the tests. It was in the belief that he could fulfil these requirements, that Head himself volunteered to act, as Langham puts it, “as Rivers’s experimental guinea-pig.”

So it was that, on the 25th of April 1903, the radial and external cutaneous nerves of Henry Head’s arm were severed and sutured. Rivers was then to take on the role of examiner and chart the regeneration of the nerves, considering the structure and functions of the nervous system from an evolutionary standpoint through a series of “precise and untiring observations” over a period of five years.
At first observation, the day after the operation, the back of Head’s hand and the dorsal surface of his thumb were seen to be “completely insensitive to stimulation with cotton wool, to pricking with a pin, and to all degrees of heat and cold.” While cutaneous sensibility had ceased, deep sensibility was maintained so that pressure with a finger, a pencil or with any blunt object was appreciated without hesitation.

So that the distractions of a busy life should not interfere with Head’s introspective analysis, it was decided that the experimentation should take place in Rivers’s rooms. Here, as Head states, “for five happy years we worked together on week-ends and holidays in the quiet atmosphere of his rooms at St. John’s College.” In the normal course of events, Head would travel to Cambridge on Saturday, after spending several hours on the outpatient department of the London Hospital. On these occasions, however, he would find that he was simply too exhausted to work on the Saturday evening so experimentation would have to be withheld until the Sunday. If, therefore, a long series of tests were to be carried out, Head would come to Cambridge on the Friday, returning to London on Monday morning. At some points, usually during Rivers’s vacation period, longer periods could be devoted to the observations. Between the date of the operation and their last sitting on the 13th December, 1907, 167 days were devoted to the investigation.

Since Head was simultaneously collaborator and experimental subject, extensive precautions were taken to make sure that no outside factors influenced his subjective appreciation of what he was perceiving: “No questions were asked until the termination of a series of events; for we found it was scarcely possible... to ask even simple questions without giving a suggestion either for or against the right answer... The clinking of ice against the glass, the removal of the kettle from the hob, tended to prejudice his answers... [Rivers] was therefore particularly careful to make all his preparations beforehand; the iced tubes were filled and jugs of hot and cold water ranged within easy reach of his hand, so that the water of the temperature required might be mixed silently.”

Moreover, although before each series of tests Head and Rivers would discuss their plan of action, Rivers was careful to vary this order to such an extent during the actual testing that Head would be unable to tell what was coming next.

Gradually during the course of the investigation, certain isolated spots of cutaneous sensibility began to appear; these spots were sensitive to heat, cold and pressure. However, the spaces between these spots remained insensitive at first, unless sensations- such as heat or cold- reached above a certain threshold at which point the feeling evoked was unpleasant and usually perceived as being “more painful” than it was if the same stimulus was applied to Head’s unaffected arm. Also, although the sensitive spots were quite definitely localised, Head, who sat through the tests with his eyes closed, was unable to gain any exact appreciation of the locus of stimulation. Quite the contrary, the sensations radiated widely, and Head tended to refer them to places remote from the actual point of stimulation.

This was the first stage of the recovery process and Head and Rivers dubbed it the ‘protopathic’, taking its origins from the Middle Greek word protopathes, meaning ‘first affected’. This protopathic stage seemed to be marked by an ‘all-or-nothing’ aspect since there was either an inordinate response to sensation when compared with normal reaction or no reaction whatever if the stimulation was below the threshold.

Finally, when Head was able to distinguish between different temperatures and sensations below the threshold, and when he could recognise when two compass points were applied simultaneously to the skin, Head’s arm began to enter the second stage of recovery. They named this stage the ‘epicritic’, from the Greek epikritikos, meaning 'determinative'.

From an evolutionary perspective, it soon became clear to Rivers that the epicritic nervous reaction was the superior, as it suppressed and abolished all protopathic sensibility. This, Rivers found, was the case in all parts of the skin of the male anatomy except one area where protopathic sensibility is unimpeded by epicritic impulses: the glans penis
Glans penis
The glans penis is the sensitive bulbous structure at the distal end of the penis. The glans penis is anatomically homologous to the clitoral glans of the female...

. As Langham points out, with special references to “Rivers’s reputed sexual proclivities”, it is at this point that the experiment takes on an almost farcical aspect to the casual reader. It may not seem surprising to us that when Rivers was to apply a needle to a particularly sensitive part of the glans that “pain appeared and was so excessively unpleasant that [Head] cried out and started away”; indeed, such a test could be seen as a futility verging on the masochistic. Nor would we necessarily equate the following passage with what one might normally find in a scientific text:

“The foreskin was drawn back, and the penis allowed to hang downwards. A number of drinking glasses were prepared containing water at different temperatures. [Head] stood with his eyes closed, and [Rivers] gradually approached one of the glasses until the surface of the water covered the glans but did not touch the foreskin. Contact with the fluid was not appreciated; if, therefore, the temperature of the water was such that it did not produce a sensation of heat or cold, Head was unaware that anything had been done.”

However, the investigations, bizarre as they may seem, did have a sound scientific basis since Rivers especially was looking at the protopathic and epicritic from an evolutionary perspective. From this standpoint it is intensely interesting to note that the male anatomy maintains one area which is ‘unevolved’ in so much as it is “associated with a more primitive form of sensibility”. Using this information about the protopathic areas of the human body, Rivers and Head then began to explore elements of man’s psyche. One way in which they did this was to examine the 'pilomoter reflex'
Goose bumps
Goose bumps, also called goose flesh, goose pimples, chill bumps, chicken skin, funky spots, Dasler Bumps, chicken bumps or the medical term cutis anserina, are the bumps on a person's skin at the base of body hairs which may involuntarily develop when a person is cold or experiences strong...

 (the erection of hairs). Head and Rivers noted that the thrill evoked by aesthetic pleasure is “accompanied by the erection of hairs” and they noted that this reaction was no greater in the area of skin with protopathic sensibility than it was in the area of the more evolved epicritic, making it a purely psychologically based phenomena. As Langham puts it: “The image of a man reading a poem to evoke aesthetic pleasure while a close friend meticulously studies the erection of his hairs may seem ludicrous. However, it provides a neat encapsulation of Rivers’s desire to subject possibly protopathic phenomena to the discipline of rigorous investigation.”

Pre-war psychological work

In 1904, with Professor James Ward
James Ward (psychologist)
James Ward was an English psychologist and philosopher. He was born in Kingston upon Hull, the eldest of nine children. His father was an unsuccessful merchant...

 and some others, Rivers founded the British Journal of Psychology of which he was at first joint editor.

From 1908 till the outbreak of the war Dr. Rivers was mainly preoccupied with ethnological and sociological problems. Already he had relinquished his official post as Lecturer in Experimental Psychology in favour of Dr. Charles Samuel Myers
Charles Samuel Myers
Charles Samuel Myers FRS was a significant English psychologist, who coined the term shell shock. He was co-founder of the British Psychological Society and the National Institute of Industrial Psychology....

, and now held only a lectureship on the physiology of the special senses. By degrees he became more absorbed in anthropological research. But though he was now an ethnologist rather than a psychologist he always maintained that what was of value in his work was due directly to his training in the psychological laboratory. In the laboratory he had learnt the importance of exact method; in the field he now gained vigor and vitality by his constant contact with the actual daily behaviour of human beings.

During 1907–8 Rivers travelled to the Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands is a sovereign state in Oceania, east of Papua New Guinea, consisting of nearly one thousand islands. It covers a land mass of . The capital, Honiara, is located on the island of Guadalcanal...

, and other areas of Melanesia
Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from the western end of the Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Fiji. The region comprises most of the islands immediately north and northeast of Australia...

 and Polynesia
Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania, made up of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians and they share many similar traits including language, culture and beliefs...

. His two-volume History of Melanesian Society (1914), which he dedicated to St Johns, presented a diffusionist thesis for the development of culture in the south-west Pacific. In the year of publication he made a second journey to Melanesia, returning to England in March 1915, to find that war had broken out.

The Great War

During the war, he worked as a RAMC captain
Captain (British Army and Royal Marines)
Captain is a junior officer rank of the British Army and Royal Marines. It ranks above Lieutenant and below Major and has a NATO ranking code of OF-2. The rank is equivalent to a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and to a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force...

 at Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

, where he applied techniques of psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

 to British officers suffering from various forms of neurosis
Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving distress but neither delusions nor hallucinations, whereby behavior is not outside socially acceptable norms. It is also known as psychoneurosis or neurotic disorder, and thus those suffering from it are said to be neurotic...

 brought on by their war experiences.
Rivers' methods are often, somewhat unfairly, said to have stemmed from Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

 (essays such as http://www.freud.org.uk/warneuroses.htmlFreud and the War Neuroses: Pat Barker
Pat Barker
Pat Barker CBE, FRSL is an English writer and novelist. She has won many awards for her fiction, which centres around themes of memory, trauma, survival and recovery. Her work is described as direct, blunt and plainspoken.-Personal life:...

's "Regeneration"] gladly compare the two) however, this is not truly the case as you can read both in Barker's novels and in the words of friends such as Myers. Although he was aware of Freud's theories and methods, he did not necessarily subscribe to them. (See Rivers' Conflict and Dream for his methods of dream analysis and his thoughts on Freud.) While he 'admitted', as Myers describes, 'the conflict of social factors with the sexual instincts in certain psychoneuroses' of civilian life, he saw the instinct of self-preservation rather than the sexual instinct, as the driving force behind war neuroses. Therefore he formed his 'talking cure', not on the basis that soldiers were repressing sexual urges, but rather their fear pertaining to their war experiences. As such, he really is a pioneer in his field - both for his new methods and for the fact that he went against the grain of the beliefs of the time (Shell shock
Shell Shock
Shell Shock, also known as 82nd Marines Attack was a 1964 film by B-movie director John Hayes. The film takes place in Italy during World War II, and tells the story of a sergeant with his group of soldiers....

 was not considered a 'real' illness and 'cures' mainly involved electric shock, with doctors such as Lewis Yealland
Lewis Yealland
Lewis Ralph Yealland was a Canadian-born therapist who came to Britain to practise medicine during the First World War and was at the forefront of experimental shock techniques to treat shell shock.-War work:...

 particularly keen on this form of 'treatment'). Rivers' treatment also went against the grain of the society in which he had been brought up - he did not advocate the traditional 'stiff upper-lip' approach but rather told his patients to express their emotions.

Sassoon came to him in 1917 after publicly protesting against the war and refusing to return to his regiment, but was treated with sympathy and given much leeway until he voluntarily returned to France. For Rivers, there was a considerable dilemma involved in 'curing' his patients simply in order that they could be sent back to the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

 to die. Rivers' feelings of guilt are clearly portrayed both in fiction and in fact. Through Pat Barker's novels and in Rivers' works (particularly Conflict and Dream) we get a sense of the turmoil the doctor went through. As Sassoon wrote in a letter to Robert Graves (24 July 1918):
He did not wish to 'break' his patients but at the same time he knew that it was their duty to return to the front and his duty to send them. There is also an implication (given the pun on Rivers' name along with other factors) that Rivers was more to Sassoon than just a friend, as he called him, 'father confessor', a point that Jean Moorcroft Wilson
Jean Moorcroft Wilson
Dr Jean Moorcroft Wilson is a British academic and writer, best known as a biographer and critic of First World War poets and poetry....

 picks up on in her biography of Sassoon, however Rivers' tight morals would have probably prevented such a relationship from progressing:
Not only Sassoon, but his patients as a whole, loved him and his colleague Frederic Bartlett
Frederic Bartlett
Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett FRS was a British psychologist and the first professor of experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge. He was one of the forerunners of cognitive psychology...

 wrote of him
Sassoon described Rivers' bedside manner in his letter to Graves, written as he lay in hospital after being shot (a head wound that he had hoped would kill him- he was bitterly disappointed when it didn't):
He was well known for his compassionate, effective and pioneering treatments; as Sassoon's testimony reveals, he treated his patients very much as individuals. Rivers published the results of his experimental treatment of patients at Craiglockhart in a The Lancet
The Lancet
The Lancet is a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal. It is one of the world's best known, oldest, and most respected general medical journals...

 paper 'On the Repression of War Experience' and began to record interesting cases in his book 'Conflict and Dream' which was published a year after his death by his close friend Grafton Elliot Smith
Grafton Elliot Smith
Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, FRS FRCP was an Australian anatomist and a proponent of the hyperdiffusionist view of prehistory.-Professional career:Smith was born in Grafton, New South Wales...


Post war

After the war, Rivers became "another and far happier man - diffidence gave place to confidence, reticence to outspokenness, a somewhat laboured literary style to one remarkable for ease and charm". He is quoted as saying In those post war years, his personality seemed to change dramatically. The man who had been most at home in his study, the laboratory, or the field now dined out a good deal, had joined clubs, went yachting and appeared to welcome rather than shun opportunities for public speaking. Always having been a voracious reader, he now began reading in philosophy, as he had not done for some years, and also in imaginative literature. Not all of his friends from former years welcomed these changes; some felt that, along with his shyness, his scientific caution and good sense may have deserted him to a degree but most people who saw how happy Rivers had become agreed that the slight alterations to his character were for the better.

Rivers had visited his college frequently during the war although, having resigned his position as lecturer, he held no official post. However, upon his return from the Royal Flying Corps in 1919, the college created a new office for him- 'Praelector of Natural Science Studies - and he was given a free rein to do as he pleased. As Leonard E. Shore recalled in 1923: He took his new position to be a mandate to get to know every science student and indeed every other student at St. Johns, Cambridge and at other colleges. He would arrange 'At Homes' in his rooms on Sunday evenings, as well as Sunday morning breakfast meetings; he also organised informal discussions and formal lectures (many of which he gave himself) in the College Hall. He formed a group called The Socratics and brought to it some of his most influential friends, including H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

, Arnold Bennett
Arnold Bennett
- Early life :Bennett was born in a modest house in Hanley in the Potteries district of Staffordshire. Hanley is one of a conurbation of six towns which joined together at the beginning of the twentieth century as Stoke-on-Trent. Enoch Bennett, his father, qualified as a solicitor in 1876, and the...

, Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

 and Sassoon. Sassoon (Patient B in 'Conflict and Dream'), remained particularly friendly with Rivers and regarded him as a mentor. They shared Socialist sympathies.

Having already been made president of the anthropological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science
British Association for the Advancement of Science
frame|right|"The BA" logoThe British Association for the Advancement of Science or the British Science Association, formerly known as the BA, is a learned society with the object of promoting science, directing general attention to scientific matters, and facilitating interaction between...

 in 1911, after the war he became president of the English Folk-Lore Society (1920), and the Royal Anthropological Institute (1921–1922). He was also awarded honorary degrees from the universities of Manchester, St. Andrews and Cambridge in 1919.

Rivers died of a strangulated hernia in the summer of 1922, shortly after being named as a Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 candidate for the 1922 general election
United Kingdom general election, 1922
The United Kingdom general election of 1922 was held on 15 November 1922. It was the first election held after most of the Irish counties left the United Kingdom to form the Irish Free State, and was won by Andrew Bonar Law's Conservatives, who gained an overall majority over Labour, led by John...

. He had agreed to run for parliament, as he said:
He had been taken ill suddenly in his rooms at St John's on the evening of Friday 3 June, having sent his servant home to enjoy the summer festivities. By the time he was found in the morning, it was too late and he knew it. Typically for this man who, throughout his life "displayed a complete disregard for personal gain, he was selfless to the last. There is a document granting approval for the diploma in anthropology to be awarded as of Easter term, 1922, to an undergraduate student from India. It is signed by Haddon and Rivers dated 4 June 1922. At the bottom is a notation in Haddon's handwriting:
Rivers signed the papers as he lay dying in the Evelyn Nursing Home following an unsuccessful emergency operation. He had an extravagant funeral at St. John's in accordance with his wishes as he was an expert on funeral rites and was put to rest in All Souls Burial Ground, formerly the churchyard of St Giles
Saint Giles
Saint Giles was a Greek Christian hermit saint from Athens, whose legend is centered in Provence and Septimania. The tomb in the abbey Giles was said to have founded, in St-Gilles-du-Gard, became a place of pilgrimage and a stop on the road that led from Arles to Santiago de Compostela, the...

 Church, Cambridge. Sassoon was deeply saddened by the death of his father figure and collapsed at his funeral. His loss prompted him to write two poignant poems about the man he had grown to love: "To A Very Wise Man" and "Revisitation".


In the poem The Red Ribbon Dream, written by Robert Graves
Robert Graves
Robert von Ranke Graves 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985 was an English poet, translator and novelist. During his long life he produced more than 140 works...

 not long after Rivers' death, he touches on the peace and security he felt in Rivers' rooms:
For that was the place where I longed to be
And past all hope where the kind lamp shone.

An anonymously written poem Anthropological Thoughts can be found in the Rivers collection of the Haddon archives at Cambridge. There is a reference that indicates that these lines were written by Charles Elliot Fox
Charles Elliot Fox
Charles Elliot Fox was a Anglican missionary and teacher in Melanesia.Fox was born in Stalbridge, Dorset, England, and educated in New Zealand, graduating from University of New Zealand...

, missionary and ethnographer friend of Rivers.


In Sassoon's autobiography (under the guise of 'The Memoirs of George Sherston
Sherston trilogy
A series of books by the English poet and novelist, Siegfried Sassoon, consisting of Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, and Sherston's Progress...

') Rivers is one of the few characters to retain their original names. There is a whole chapter devoted to Rivers and he is immortalised by Sassoon as a near demi-god who saved his life and his soul. Sassoon wrote:
Rivers was much loved and admired, not just by Sassoon. Bartlett wrote of his experiences of Rivers in one of his obituaries, as well as in many other articles (see 'References') as the man had a profound influence on his life:
Rivers' legacy continues even today in the form of The Rivers Centre, which treats patients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder using the same famously humane methods as Rivers had. There is also a Rivers Memorial Medal, founded in 1923, which is rewarded each year to an anthropologist who has made a significant impact in his or her field. Appropriately, Haddon was the first to receive this award in 1924.


  • A case of spasm of the muscles of the neck causing protrusion of the head (St. Bart's Hospital Reports, 24, pp. 249–51)


  • Abstract of a paper on 'Delirium
    Delirium or acute confusional state is a common and severe neuropsychiatric syndrome with core features of acute onset and fluctuating course, attentional deficits and generalized severe disorganization of behavior...

     and its allied conditions', read before the Abernethian Society (St. Bart's Hospital Reports, 25, pp. 279–80)


  • A case of treadler's cramp (Brain, 24, pp. 110–11)
  • Abstract of paper on 'Hysteria
    Hysteria, in its colloquial use, describes unmanageable emotional excesses. People who are "hysterical" often lose self-control due to an overwhelming fear that may be caused by multiple events in one's past that involved some sort of severe conflict; the fear can be centered on a body part, or,...

    ', read before the Abernethian Society (St. Bart's Hospital Reports, 27, pp. 285–6)


  • Abstract of paper on 'Neurasthenia
    Neurasthenia is a psycho-pathological term first used by George Miller Beard in 1869 to denote a condition with symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, headache, neuralgia and depressed mood...

    ', read before the Abernethian Society (St. Bart's Hospital Reports, 29, p. 350)


  • A Modification of Aristotle's Experiment (Mind, New Series, Vol. 3, No. 12, Oct., 1894, pp. 583–584)
  • Review of O. Külpe's 'Grundriss d. Psychologie auf experimenteller Grundlage dargestellt' (Mind, New Series, 3, pp. 413–17)


  • Review of H. Maudsley's 'Pathology of Mind', and E. Kräpelin's 'Psychologische Arbeiten' (Mind, New Series, 4, pp. 400–3)
  • Paper on 'Experimental psychology in relation to insanity', read before the Medico-Psychol. Soc. G.B & I. (Abstract in Lancet, 73, p. 867)
  • Review of T. Zichen's 'Psychiatrie f. Aertze und Studierende' (Brain, 18, pp. 418–21)
  • On binocular colour mixture (Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophy Society, 8, pt. 5, pp. 273–7)
  • On the apparent size of objects (Mind, New Series, Vol. 5, No. 17, Jan., 1896, pp. 71–80)


  • 'Observations on mental fatigue and recovery', paper read before the Medico-Psychol. Soc. G.B & I. (Abstract in Lancet, 74, p. 711)
  • On mental fatigue and recovery (Journal of Mental Science, 42, pp. 525–9)
  • Über Ermüdung und Erholung, with E. Kräpelin (Psychol. Arbeit, 1, pp. 627–78)


  • Contributions to comparative psychology from the Torres Straits and New Guinea (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1899, p. 486, and Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, New Series, 2, pp. 219–222) (With W. McDougall and C.S Myers)
  • Two new departures in anthropological method (Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp. 789–90)


  • The senses of primitive man (Abstract in Science, New Series, 11, pp. 740–1, and trans. 'Über die Sinne d. primitiven Menschen'in Umschau, 25)
  • 'Textbook of physiology', 6th ed. revd., Part IV., 'The Senses', by Sir M. Foster assisted by W. H. R. Rivers
  • Article on 'Vision', in Schäfer's 'Text-book of physiology'
  • A genealogical method of collecting social and vital statistics (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 30, pp. 74–82)
  • Report of Committee on mental and physical deviations from the normal among children in... schools (with others). (Rep. Brit. Ass., 1900, pp. 461–6)


  • The measurement of visual illusion (Rep. Brit. Ass., 1901, p. 818)
  • Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, Vol. II., Physiology and Psychology, pt. I., Introductory, and Visin, pp. vi., 140. Cambridge
  • On erythropsia (Trans. Ophthal. Soc. Lond., XXI., pp. 296–305)
  • Primitive orientation (Folk-Lore, XII., pp. 210–12)
  • The colour vision of the Eskimo (Proc. Camb. Philos. Soc., XI., pp. 143–9)
  • Primitive colour vision R. Inst. Lect. (Pop. Sci. Mthly., LIX., pp. 44–58)
  • Review of W.A. Nagel's 'Farbensinn d. Tiere' (Brain, XXIV., pp. 663–4)
  • Review of A. Lehmann's 'Körperliche Äusserungen psychischer Zustände' (Mind, N.S., X., pp. 402–4)
  • The colour vision of the natives of Upper Egypt (J.A.I., XXXI., pp. 229–47)
  • Colour vision: reviews of Holden and Bosse's 'The order of development of colour perception and of colour preference in the child' (Man, I., pp. 107–9)
  • On the function of the maternal uncle in Torres Straits (Man, Vol. 1, 1901, pp. 171–172)
  • On the functions of the son-in-law and brother-in-law in Torres Straits (Man, Vol. 1, 1901, p. 172)


  • Report of Committee on pigmentation survey of the schoolchildren of Scotland (with others) (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1902, pp. 352–3; 1903, p. 415)
  • Note on the sister's son in Samoa (Folk-Lore, XIII., p. 199)


  • Observations on the vision of the Uralis and Sholagas (Madras Govt. Mus. Bull., V., pp. 1–16)
  • Toda Kinship and Marriage; the Toda dairy (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1903, PP. 810–12)
  • The psychology and sociology of the Todas and the tribes of Southern India (Rep. Brit. Assoc., LXXIII., pp. 415–16)
  • The funeral of Sunerani (Eagle, XXIV., pp. 337–43)


  • Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, Vol. V: Genealogical tables; Kinship; Totemism (with A.C Haddon); The regulation of marriage; Personal names
  • Note on R. C. Punnett's 'On the proportion of the sexes among the Todas' (Proc. Camb. Philos. Soc., XII., pp. 487–8)
  • Toda prayer (Folk-Lore, XV., pp. 166–81)
  • Some funeral customs of the Todas; On the senses of the Todas *Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1904, PP. 726, 749-50)
  • Investigations of the comparative visual acuity of savages and of civilised people (Brit. Med. J., 1904, II., p. 1297)
  • 'Acuité visuelle des peuples civillisées et des sauvages' (Ann. d'Oeul., CXXXII., pp. 455- )


  • Observations on the senses of the Todas (Brit. J. of Psych., I., pp. 321–96)
  • The afferent nervous system from a new aspect; with H. Head and J. Sherren (Brain, XXVIII., pp. 99–115)


  • The Todas. Map, illus., 22 cm. London
  • Demonstration of new apparatus for psychological tests (Proc. Camb. Philos. Soc., XIII., p. 392)
  • Report on the psychology and sociology of the Todas and other Indian tribes (Proc. Roy. Soc. B., 77, pp. 239–41)
  • The astronomy of Torres Straits Islanders; A survival of twofold origin (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1906, pp. 701–2)


  • The marriage of cousins in India (J. R. Asiatic Soc., PP. 611–40)
  • Report of a Sub-Committee appointed to advise on the publication of a new edition of 'Notes and Queries on Anthropology' (with others)
  • The action of caffeine on the capacity for muscular work (Journ. Physiol., XXXVI., pp. 34–47)
  • Review of Sex and Society by W. I. Thomas (Man, Vol. 7, 1907, pp. 111–111)
  • On the origin of the classificatory system of relationships (Anthrop. Essays pres. to E.B Taylor, pp. 309–23. Oxford)
  • Report of Committee on anthropometric investigation in the British Isles (with others) (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1907, pp. 354–68)
  • Morgan's Malayan system of relationship; Some sociological definitions (Rep. Brit. Assoc., LXXVII., p. 640, and pp. 653–5)
  • Review of C.F Jayne's 'String Figures' (Folk-Lore, XVIII., pp. 112–16)


  • Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, Vol. VI (Eastern Islanders): Genealogies; Kinship; Personal names; The regulation of marriage; Social organisation
  • The influence on alcohol and other drugs on fatigue (Croonian Lects., R. Coll. Physicians, 1906). London: E. Arnold, pp. 144
  • A human experiment in nerve division (with H. Head) (Brain, XXXI., pp. 323–450)
  • The illusion of compared horizontal and vertical lines (with G.D. Hicks), and The influence of small doses of alcohol on the capacity for muscular work (with H.N. Webber) (Brit. J. of Psychol., II., pp. 252–5)


  • Review of B. Thomson's 'The Fijians' (Folk-Lore, XX., pp. 252–5)
  • 'Some notes on magical practices in the Banks' Islands,' a paper read before the Folklore Soc. (Folk-Lore, XXI., p. 2)
  • Totemism in Polynesia and Melanesia (J.R.A.I, XXXIX., pp. 156–80)


  • The genealogical method of anthropological inquiry (Sociol. Review, III, pp. 1–12)
  • French translation of the above (Rev. d'Ethnogr. & de Sociol., Paris)
  • The father's sister in Oceania (Folk-Lore, XXI., pp. 42–59)
  • Report of Committee on establishment of a system of measuring mental characters (with others) (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1910, p. 267)
  • Kava-drinking in Melanesia (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1910, p. 734)
  • The Solomon Island basket (with Mrs. A. H. Quiggin) (Man, X., pp. 161–3)


  • The ethnological analysis of culture (Pres. Address to Section H. Brit. Assoc.) (Science, XXXIV., pp. 385–97; Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1911, pp. 490–9; Nature, LXXXVII., p. 356)
  • Report of Committee on mental and physical factors involved in education (with others) (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1911, pp. 177–214; 1912, pp. 327–38; 1913, pp. 302–5)


  • Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, Vol. IV. Astronomy
  • The disappearance of useful arts (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1912, pp. 598–9)
  • Island names in Melanesia (Geog. Jorn., pp. 458–68)
  • Conventionalism in primitive art (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1912, p. 599)
  • The sociological significance of myth (Folk-Lore, XXIII., pp. 307–331)
  • The primitive conception of death (Hibbert J., X., pp. 393–407)
  • Obituary notice of Andrew Lang (Folk-Lore, XXIII., pp. 367–71)
  • Articles on Methodology, Marriage, Relationship, Property and Inheritance in Part III., Sociology, of 'Notes and Queries on Anthropology,' 4th ed.


  • Survival in sociology (Sociol. Rev., VI., pp. 293–305)
  • Report on anthropological research outside America (Carnegie Inst. of Washington publns., 200)
  • A gypsy pedigree and its lessons (with G. Hall) (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1913, p. 625)
  • Massage in Melanesia (paper read at the 17th Internat. Congress of Medicine, sect. xxiii., pp. 39–42. Lond.)
  • The bow in New Ireland (Man. XIII., p. 54)
  • The contact of peoples (essays to W. Ridgeway, pp. 474–92. Cambridge)
  • Sun-cult and megaliths in Oceania; R. Inst. lect. (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1913, p. 634, and Amer. Anthrop., N.S., XVII., pp. 431–45)


  • Notes on the Heron pedigree (Gypsy Lore Soc., VII., 88-104)
  • The History of Melanesian society (Percy Sladen Trust Expedition to Melanesia, 2 cols. Cambridge)
  • Kinship and social organisation (Studies in Economic and Political Science, No. 36)
  • Kin, Kinship (Hastings' 'Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics
    Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics
    The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics is a 12-volume work edited by James Hastings, written between 1908 and 1927 and composed of entries by many contributors. It covers not only religious matters but thousands of ancillary topics as well, including folklore, myth, ritual, anthropology,...

    ,' VII., pp. 700–7)
  • Is Australian culture simple or complex? Gerontocracy and marriage in Australia (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1914, pp. 529–32)


  • Descent and ceremonial in Ambrim (J.R.A.I., XLV., pp. 229–33)
  • Review of Prof. G. Elliot Smith's 'The migrations of early culture' (J. Egyptian Archaeol., II, pp. 256–7)
  • The boomerang in the New Hebrides (Man, Vol. 15, 1915, pp. 106–108)
  • Melanesian gerontocracy (Man, XV., pp. 145–7)
  • Marriage (Introductory and Primitive); Mother-right (in Hastings' 'Enc. Religion and Ethics,' VIII., pp. 423–32, 851-9)


  • Medicine, Magic and Religion- book published 1923 (Fitzpatrick Lects. 1915) (originally published in stages. Lancet XCIV., pp. 59–65, 117-23)
  • Irrigation and the cultivation of taro (Nature, XCVII., p. 514, and Abst. in Manchester Lit. and Phil. Soc. Mem. and Proc., LX., pp. xliv.-v., 1917)
  • Sociology and psychology (Sociol. Rev., IX., pp. 1–13)


  • Freud's psychology of the unconscious. Paper read at the Edinburgh Pathological Club, Mar. 7, 1917 (Lancet, XCV., pp. 912–14)
  • A case of claustrophobia (Lancet, XCV., pp. 237–40)
  • Medicine, Magic and Religion (Lancet, XCV., pp. 919–23, 959-64)
  • New Britain, New Ireland, New Caledonia, New Hebrides (Hastings' 'Enc. Religion and Ethics,' IX., pp. 336–9, 352-5)
  • Dreams and primitive culture (Bull. J, Rylands Library, IV)
  • The government of subject peoples ('Science and the Nation,' ed. A.C Seward, pp. 302–328)


  • The Repression of War Experience (Lancet, XCVI., pp. 513–33)
  • Maori burial chests (Man, XCIII., p. 97)
  • Why is the 'unconscious' unconscious? (Brit. J. Psychol., IX., pt. 2, pp. 236–46)


  • Psychology and medicine (Pres. Address Medical Section, Brit. Psychol. Soc.) (Lancet, XCVII., pp. 889–92)
  • Mind and medicine (Bull. J. Rylands Library, V.)
  • Psychiatry and the War (Science, New Series, Vol. 49, No. 1268 (Apr. 18, 1919), pp. 367–369)
  • Review of C. Wissler's 'The American Indian' (Man, XIX, pp. 75–6)
  • Psychology and the War; Pres. address to Brit. Assoc., Sub-Section Psychology (Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1919, p. 313)


  • Studies in neurology (with H. Head and others) Oxford Medical publns. 2 vols.
  • Anthropology and the missionary (Church Missionary Review, Sept.)
  • Instinct and the Unconscious 1st edit. Cambridge
  • The dying out of native races; Lect. at R. Inst. Public Health, May, 1918(Lancet, 98, pp. 42–4, 109-11)
  • The concept of soul-substance in New Guinea and Melanesia (Folklore, 31, pp. 48–69)
  • Freud's conception of the censorship (Psycho-analytic Revue, 7, p. 3)
  • History and ethnology (History, New Series, 5, pp. 65–80)
  • Ships and boats; Solomon Islands (Hastings' 'Enc. Religion and Ethics,' 11, pp. 471–4, 680-5)
  • Review of Mrs. Scoresby Routledge's 'The mystery of Easter Island' (Folklore, XXXI., pp. 82–7)
  • Review of R.H Lowie's 'Primitive Society' (American Anthropologist, XXII., pp. 278–83)
  • The statues of Easter Island (Folklore, 31, pp. 294–306)
  • Instinct and the unconscious (British Journal of Psychology, 10, pp. 1–7)
  • Psychology and medicine (British Journal of Psychology, 10, pp. 183–93)


  • The origin of hypergamy (J. Bihar and Orissa Research Soc., Patna, 7, pp. 9–24)
  • Conservatism and plasticity; Pres. Address to the Folk-Lore Soc. (Folklore, 32, pp. 10–27)
  • Affect in the dream (British Journal of Psychology, 12, pp. 113–24)
  • Kinship and marriage in India (Man in India, 1, pp. 6–10)
  • The Todas (Hastings' 'Encyc, Religion and Ethics,' 12., pp. 354–7)


  • Instinct and the unconscious. 2nd edit. Cambridge
  • Psycho-neurotic symptoms associated with miners' nystagmus (Medical Research Council: Special Report Series, 65, pp. 60–64)
  • Methods of dream analysis (Brit Journal of Psychology, Medical Section II., pt. 2, pp. 101–108)
  • The symbolism of rebirth; Pres. Address to Folk-Lore Soc. (Folklore, 33, pp. 14–33)

1922 (posthumous)

  • The psychological factor (Essays on the depopulation of Melanesia, ed. W.H.R.R., pp. 83- Cambridge)
  • History and Ethnology, with bibliography (Helps for Students of History, No. 48, S.P.C.K., Lond.)
  • The relation of complex and sentiment (British Journal of Psychology, 13)


  • Conflict and Dream (edit. G. Elliot Smith). London
  • Psychology and Politics (edit. G. Elliot Smith). London

In fiction

(Pat Barker)

Sassoon writes about Rivers in the third part of The Memoirs of George Sherston
Sherston trilogy
A series of books by the English poet and novelist, Siegfried Sassoon, consisting of Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, and Sherston's Progress...

, Sherston's Progress
Sherston trilogy
A series of books by the English poet and novelist, Siegfried Sassoon, consisting of Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, and Sherston's Progress...

. There is a chapter named after the doctor and Rivers appears in both books as the only character to retain his factual name, giving him a position as a sort of demi-god in Sassoon's semi-fictitious memoirs.

The life of W. H. R. Rivers and his encounter with Sassoon was fictionalised by Pat Barker
Pat Barker
Pat Barker CBE, FRSL is an English writer and novelist. She has won many awards for her fiction, which centres around themes of memory, trauma, survival and recovery. Her work is described as direct, blunt and plainspoken.-Personal life:...

 in the Regeneration Trilogy, a series of three books including Regeneration
Regeneration (novel)
For the 1997 film adaptation of the novel see Regeneration .Regeneration is a prize-winning novel by Pat Barker, first published in 1991. The novel was a Booker Prize nominee and was described by the New York Times Book Review as one of the four best novels of the year in its year of publication...

 (1991), The Eye in the Door
The Eye in the Door
The Eye in the Door is a novel by Pat Barker, first published in 1993, and forming the second part of the Regeneration trilogy.The Eye in the Door is set in London, beginning in mid-April, 1918, and continues the interwoven stories of Dr William Rivers, Billy Prior, and Siegfried Sassoon begun in...

 (1993) and The Ghost Road
The Ghost Road
The Ghost Road is a novel by Pat Barker, first published in 1995 and winner of the Booker Prize. It is the third volume of a trilogy that follows the fortunes of shell-shocked British army officers towards the end of the First World War...

 (1995). The trilogy was greeted with considerable acclaim, with The Ghost Road being awarded the Booker Prize in the year of its publication. Regeneration was filmed in 1997 with Jonathan Pryce
Jonathan Pryce
Jonathan Pryce, CBE is a Welsh stage and film actor and singer. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and meeting his longtime partner English actress Kate Fahy in 1974, he began his career as a stage actor in the 1970s...

 in the role of Rivers.

The first book, Regeneration deals primarily with Rivers' treatment of Sassoon at Craiglockhart. In the novel we are introduced to Rivers as a doctor for whom healing patients comes at price. The dilemmas faced by Rivers are brought to the fore and the strain leads him to become ill; on sick leave he visits his brother and the Heads and we learn more about his relationships outside of hospital life. We are also introduced in the course of the novel to the Canadian doctor Lewis Yealland, another factual figure who used electric shock
Electric shock
Electric Shock of a body with any source of electricity that causes a sufficient current through the skin, muscles or hair. Typically, the expression is used to denote an unwanted exposure to electricity, hence the effects are considered undesirable....

 treatment to 'cure' his patients. The juxtaposition of the two very different doctors highlights the unique, or at least unconventional, nature of Rivers' methods and the humane way in which he treated his patients (even though Yealland's words, and his own guilt and modesty lead him to think otherwise).

The Eye in the Door concentrates, for the most part, on Rivers' treatment of the fictional character of Prior. Although Prior's character might not have existed, the facts that he makes Rivers face up to did- that something happened to him on the first floor of his house that caused him to block all visual memory and begin to stammer. We also learn of Rivers' treatment of officers in the airforce and of his work with Head. Sassoon too plays a role in the book- Rivers visits him in hospital where he finds him to be a different, if not broken, man, his attempt at 'suicide' having failed. This second novel in the trilogy, both implicitly and directly, addresses the issue of Rivers' possible homosexuality and attraction to Sassoon. From Rivers' reaction to finding out that Sassoon is in hospital to the song playing in the background 'you made me love you' and Ruth Head's question to her husband "do you think he's in love with him?" we get a strong impression of the author's opinions on Rivers' sexuality.

The Ghost Road, the final part of the trilogy, shows a side of Rivers not previously seen in the novels. As well as showing his relationship with his sisters and father, we also learn of his feelings for Charles Dodgson- or Lewis Carroll. Carroll was the first adult Rivers met who stammered as badly as he did and yet he cruelly rejected him, preferring to lavish attention on his pretty young sisters. In this novel the reader also learns of Rivers' visit to Melenasia; feverish with Spanish Flu
Spanish flu
The 1918 flu pandemic was an influenza pandemic, and the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus . It was an unusually severe and deadly pandemic that spread across the world. Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify the geographic origin...

, the doctor is able to recount the expedition and we are provided with insight both into the culture of the island and into Rivers' very different 'field trip personae'.

External links

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