Lukis, Frederick Corbin (1788–1871), antiquary and natural historian
by H. R. Sebire

Lukis, Frederick Corbin (1788–1871), antiquary and natural historian, was born on 24 February 1788 at La Grange, St Peter Port, Guernsey, the last of the four children of John Lukis (1753–1832), captain in the Royal Guernsey militia, and Sarah Collings (1749–1816). His father having made a substantial income from privateering and from the lucrative wine trade, the family had a fine house built in the elegant Grange Road, leading out of St Peter Port. As a young man Lukis became interested in a wide variety of disciplines, including natural history, botany, geology, conchology, and science. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries on 28 April 1853 but never published in their journal, Archaeologia, although he wrote many letters to the secretary and other members. He served in the local Guernsey militia, which later became the Royal Guernsey militia; he became a colonel and served as aide-de-camp to the governor of Guernsey in 1820. In 17 February 1813 he married his first cousin Elizabeth Collings (1791–1865), with whom he had six sons and three daughters. In the same year he became a constable of St Peter Port.

In 1811, while still a young man, Lukis was taken by Joshua Gosselin (1739–1813), an elderly cousin and a noted local botanist, to examine a chambered tomb on L'Ancresse Common. The tomb had been uncovered by soldiers working on the common to make a redoubt; they thought they had discovered an artificial cavern, and were digging through pottery and bones when Gosselin and Lukis arrived. It is said that the young Lukis went away with a human skull under his arm. This brush with the past at the age of twenty-three was the start of Lukis's lifelong fascination with archaeology and the natural sciences. Self-taught, he went on to discover, record, and protect as best he could the remains of Guernsey's heritage. Although to present-day archaeologists his methods may seem crude, he made meticulous notes and etchings, and left superb watercolour sketches, many of which were painted by his youngest daughter, Mary-Anne (1822–1906), who lived with her father and devoted much of her time to this exercise. Lukis also collected artefacts from these investigations, and in addition to the papers he published nationally on Guernsey his greatest endeavour was an archive called the Collectanea Antiqua, in which he recorded his excavations and fieldwork. This unpublished opus, in six volumes, is housed at Guernsey Museum together with a number of his letters, notebooks, and diaries; this body of work, amassed without the scientific basis of modern studies, still forms the basis for any serious study of Guernsey's prehistoric past.

Lukis was also intensely involved in the study of local natural history and was the local secretary of the Botanical Society of the British Isles. From his studies in geology he left a collection of over 900 entries; the material collected by him, and later by his family, forms the nucleus of the collections of the Guernsey Museum and Galleries. He died on 15 November 1871 at his home, La Grange, St Peter Port. A local obituarist recorded:
Like all true sons of science he combined the humility and simplicity of a child with the depth and wisdom of a philosopher. Never was he so happy as when unfolding to the youngest the interesting marvels of natural history, and many who are besides his own more favoured children, have received their earliest impulses and most abiding inspirations from him. (Gazette de Guernesey, 18 Nov 1871)
Several of Lukis's children did indeed follow in his footsteps. His second son, John Walter Lukis (1816–1894), who moved to northern France, was a mining engineer and collected many geological samples; he also carried out a number of excavations in Brittany. His eldest daughter, Louisa (1818–1887), married her cousin William Collings, who was seigneur of Sark. She collected lichens, and over 1000 of her specimens are in the Guernsey museum collections. William Collings Lukis (1817–1894), the third son, was born and educated in Guernsey and is best remembered in England for his work on the megaliths of Great Britain and France; with his university friend Sir Henry Dryden he surveyed the megalithic monuments of Brittany. He was ordained in Salisbury in 1845, and after holding several livings in Wiltshire he moved to Wath in Yorkshire, where he carried out a number of excavations. He published a treatise on ancient church plate in 1845 and was a regular contributor to the journals of the British Archaeological Association and other learned societies. His collection of artefacts was bought by the British Museum after his death. Lukis's fifth son, François du Bois Lukis (1826–1907), a lieutenant in the 64th regiment and an archaeologist, was also born and educated in Guernsey. On his retirement from the army in 1870 he dedicated his time to archaeology, mainly excavating in Alderney. He inherited his father's collections and archive, and in accordance with his wishes bequeathed them to the states of Guernsey. The Lukis collection formed part of the nucleus of the present Guernsey Museum.

H. R. SEBIRE

Sources  

E. F. Lukis, ‘The Lukis family of Guernsey’, Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, 30 (1974), 79–83 · W. de Guérin, Our kin (1890) · parish register, 1788, St Peter Port, Guernsey [birth] · parish register, 1871, St Peter Port, Guernsey [death] · parish register, 1813, St Peter Port, Guernsey [marriage] · T. D. Kendrick, The bailiwick of Guernsey (1928), vol. 1 of The archaeology of the Channel Islands · Guernsey Museum, Collectanea Antiqua MSS · Gazette de Guernesey (18 Nov 1871)

Archives  

Guernsey Museum, Lukis collection, archaeological, geological, and natural history objects · Guernsey Museum and Galleries, Candie Gardens, Guernsey, Collectanea Antiqua, letters, MSS


Likenesses  

photograph, Guernsey Museum


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Frederick Corbin Lukis (1788–1871): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/69159