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Hügel, Anatole Andreas Aloys von, Baron von Hügel in the nobility of the Holy Roman empire (1854–1928), ethnologist and promoter of the admission of Roman Catholics to Cambridge University, was born in Florence on 29 September 1854, the second of three sons of Karl Alexander Anselm, Baron von Hügel (1795–1870), soldier, diplomat, and naturalist, and his wife, Elizabeth, the daughter of General Francis Farquharson. The philosopher and theologian was his elder brother. His father, Karl von Hügel, a close friend and ally of Metternich, had travelled extensively in Asia and Australasia during 1831–4, and in 1850 was appointed Austrian ambassador to Tuscany. A papal dispensation had been obtained to allow him to marry the Presbyterian Elizabeth Farquharson, their three children being born in Florence. In 1860 Karl von Hügel was appointed Austrian ambassador to Belgium, a post he held until his retirement in 1867. Following this the family moved to England, settling eventually at Torquay in Devon.

Anatole von Hügel was educated mainly by private tutors but following his father's death in 1870, he was sent to Stonyhurst College. Here he studied ‘lay philosophy’ which was meant to provide the kind of higher education that Catholics were at the time denied at English universities. His father's wide scientific interests had a great effect on him. In his own privately published biography of his father he described his childhood as having been spent ‘surrounded by countless curiosities and works of art of all kinds’. At Stonyhurst he developed his interest in ornithology and showed something of his father's adventurous spirit: the only reference to him in the Stonyhurst Philosophers' Day Book records that ‘Mr von Hügel started in his canoe down the river (Ribble) to Preston, which he reached in safety and came back’.

Von Hügel's mother converted to Catholicism and he was initiated into the Catholic aristocratic and intellectual circles. He was introduced to Eliza Margaret (Izy) Froude (1840–1931), daughter of the naval architect and niece of the historian James Anthony Froude. In 1874 his doctors advised him to take a long voyage for the good of his health and he decided to visit Australia. He did not return to England until 1878 but kept up constant communication with Izy Froude.

The voyage enabled von Hügel to pursue his ornithological interests. A New Zealand bird, the Coenocorypha aucklandica huegeli, was named after him. He arrived at Fiji in 1875, just as the islands were about to become a British colony. Here his interests took a decisive and important shift from ornithology to ethnology and anthropology. He quickly realized that British rule was sure to mean the loss of Fiji's indigenous culture and set about recording and preserving as much of that culture as he could. He ventured further into the heart of Viti Levu where ‘even missionaries fear[ed] because of cannibalistic hill men known as Kai Tholo’ (Maudslay, 95). His friend from this time, Alfred Maudslay, recalled how the new governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, had found Anatole ‘half starved from trying to live on native food, and having parted with everything down to the buttons on his clothes, in exchange for native earrings and other small specimens’ (Man, 171).

In 1883 Gordon and Maudslay donated their extensive collections to the Museum of General and Local Archaeology in Cambridge and stipulated that they should be cared for by von Hügel. He was appointed the museum's first curator and thus probably became the first Catholic to hold a university post since 1688. He was to remain curator of what would become the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology until 1921. He played a large part not only in extending the collections of the museum but also in raising funds to ensure that proper accommodation could be built and in 1910 his wife, Baroness Eliza von Hügel, whom he had married in 1880, laid the foundation stone for the new museum.

Eventually settling at Croft Cottage on Barton Road, von Hügel quickly became ‘the central figure’ in Catholic Cambridge (Evennett, 109), established a Catholic intellectual presence in the university and began agitating for the admission of Catholics as undergraduates. Although the Test Acts had been repealed in 1871, the Roman Catholic church's prohibition on studying at Oxford or Cambridge remained. Described as a ‘visionary and a schemer’ and ‘himself the best advocate of Catholicism’ (Couve de Murville and Jenkins, 122), von Hügel utilized his ‘peculiar charm’ to campaign for the lifting of this prohibition and eventually succeeded in cajoling reluctant bishops to support his cause.

Von Hügel was the founder and first president of the Cambridge University Catholic Association and was part of the delegation to celebrate Leo XIII's episcopal jubilee in 1893. He hatched a plan to present Leo with a finely bound edition of J. W. Clark's three-volume Architectural History of Cambridge University as a gift from the Catholic undergraduates of Cambridge. He wrote a speech in Latin and intended to appear in academical dress at the papal audience. Cardinal Vaughan forbade him from making a speech and said he would give the explanation. In the end Vaughan remained silent and so the pope was left with the sight of the kneeling baron in a Cambridge MA gown. Nevertheless, the issue had been forced and in 1895 the prohibition on Catholics attending the university was lifted. The conditions included effectively the establishment of a Catholic chaplaincy at the university.

Von Hügel persuaded the duke of Norfolk to buy what became St Edmund's House (later St Edmund's College), which opened in November 1896 as a place of study for Catholic priests and ordinands in Cambridge. He was involved in the moves to secure the recognition of St Edmund's House as a public hostel in the university, which met with opposition from an alliance of liberal secularists, ultra-protestants, and conservatives, who by a large majority defeated the proposal in the Cambridge senate in May 1898. St Edmund's was permitted to continue under the university's lodging house regulations, and with a limit on student numbers. Nevertheless, the exile of Catholics from Cambridge was over. Von Hügel continued to support the growth and development of St Edmund's House and in 1917, on the death of his close friend the duke of Norfolk, he became its president, and it was recognized by the university as an official house of residence after the First World War.

On 4 November 1914, following the outbreak of war, von Hügel became a naturalized British subject. His health broke down in 1920. Awarded an honorary MA degree from Trinity on his appointment as curator of the museum, he was given the ScD honoris causa in 1922 for his distinction as an ethnologist and his work for the university. In 1923 Pope Pius XI created him a knight commander of St Gregory the Great. In contrast to his brother he wrote very little although he had always intended to publish a monograph on Fiji. His Fiji diaries have been posthumously published. He died at Croft Cottage, Barton Road, Cambridge, on 15 August 1928 and was buried on the 20th in Newmarket Road cemetery, Cambridge, where his widow was later buried beside him.

Peter W. Allott


O. Evennett, ‘The Cambridge prelude to 1894’, Dublin Review, 437 (1946), 107–26 · Man, 28 (1928), 169–71 · G. Sweeney, St Edmund's House, Cambridge, the first eighty years: a history (1980) · J. Roth and S. Hooper, eds., The Fiji journals of Baron Anatole von Hügel, 1875–1877 (1990) · M. de Wolff, ‘Baron Anatole von Hügel (1854–1928)’, Catholics in Cambridge, ed. N. Rogers (2003), 135–40 · M. N. L. Couve de Murville and P. Jenkins, Catholic Cambridge (1983) · A. von Hügel, Charles von Hügel (1903) · V. A. McClelland, English Roman Catholics and higher education, 1830–1903 (1973) · C. N. L. Brooke, A history of the University of Cambridge, 4: 1870–1990, ed. C. N. L. Brooke and others (1993) · Venn, Alum. Cant. · A. P. Maudslay, Life in the Pacific fifty years ago (1930) · The Tablet (25 Aug 1928), 251 · Cambridge Review, 20 (1928), 7


Cambridge University Catholic Association · St Edmund's College, EDPP 1/4 · U. Cam., Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


R. S. Lane, portrait, engraving, 1848, repro. in Album of lithographs by R. J. Lane (1956), 38 · E. Gill, portrait, stone plaques, Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge; repro. in J. W. Goodison, Catalogue of Cambridge portraits (Cambridge University Press, 1955), 55 · photograph, St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, The Von Hügel Institute; repro. in www.vonhugel.org.uk/about/baron-anatole-von-hugel