ROBERT PASHLEY (1805-1859) was a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn and Inner Temple but became an intrepid traveller of Crete in 1834. This is not a ‘blow by blow’ account of his travels around the island (you can find that in my book Dawn of Discovery), but more of a look at how Pashley came to be there and the supporting correspondence.
In saying that, I would just mention that one of the most interesting places he encountered was the Melidoni (Melidhoni) cave wherein a room which he discovered was named after him (see pics further below). During the 1824 Revolution against the Turks, following a three month siege of the cave, some 250 unarmed villagers, including women and children, were suffocated when the entrance was sealed and fires, lit by the Turks, thrown in to the cave. It was not until Pashley visited the cave in 1834, did Manolis Kirmizakis, the only survivor of the events, inspect it and discover the bones of the martyrs. They were put in a large sarcophagus which is in the cave today and defines the independent Cretan character. Later finds in the cave gave evidence to its usage for worship by the ‘Minoans’ of Bronze Age Crete (2100-1600 BC – see my very last paragraph below).
I’ve not been able to find an image of Pashley but below could be a sketch of him from his own book, Travels in Crete (1837), most likely by his companion and illustrator, Antonio Schranz, but not acknowledged.
Despite the work of Richard Pococke (see last blog), prior to Pashley, Crete had no known ancient historical ancestry and the historian, Sir Moses Finley, said of Pashley:
“The first important breakthrough [in Crete] was made in 1834 by a young man from Trinity College, Cambridge, named Robert Pashley … he joined that remarkable constellation of nineteenth-century British explorers and archaeologists who were opening up vast new and exotic fields of inquiry … a modern expert could say of his seven-odd months work [in Crete] that Pashley identified most of the important sites with accuracy which had never before been attained and has in few cases since been challenged.”
Sir Moses Finley (1912-1986)
The Royal Naval hydrographer, Captain (later Rear Admiral) Francis Beaufort (of the ‘Beaufort Scale’) was keen to investigate the ancient antiquities of the Aegean and was fully supportive of any persons wishing to join a ship for the purpose of antiquarian research. It was Beaufort who proposed Pashley for such a venture in Crete.
Sir Francis Beaufort (1774-1857)
On the 18th July 1832, Beaufort wrote to Captain Richard Copeland of HMS Beacon, prior to the latter’s departure for a hydrographic survey of the eastern Mediterranean, enquiring:
“Would you like to have a classical traveller in the Beacon to hunt for antiquities while engaged on the coast of Asia Minor? I have no one in my eye nor do I know whether their Lordships [at the Admiralty] would permit it but before I ask them or enquire at the universities I wished to ascertain your candid opinion of the utility of the scheme, and still more your personal feeling about it.”
Copeland obviously agreed as Beaufort wrote to him again (26th July 1832), “I am much pleased that you approve of the idea of having a savant to accompany to you.” In fact Pashley was not Beaufort’s first choice as he added in his letter to Copeland, “… and I will take care that none but a 1st rate man, and gentleman, [be] sent out. There is somewhere in Italy the son of the Master of Trinity College Camb[ridge] who I understand would likely to jump at such an offer.” The man he had in mind was the son of Christopher Wordsworth brother of the poet). It is not clear which son, John, Charles or Christopher Jr., he was thinking of but none of them did ‘jump at such an offer’. (As the letter was written in July 1832, Beaufort was most likely referring to Christopher Jr as he was in Greece between 1832-33, whereas John and Charles did not travel to Europe until 1833).
Christopher Wordsworth Jr (1807-1885)
Sir John Barrow, Second Secretary of the Admiralty, wrote to Pashley in December 1832 informing him that their Lordships of the Admiralty had approved him to investigate “the antiquities, the geology and the botany at the parts of the Coast of Asia Minor and Greece on which he [Copeland] may be employed surveying.” The Admiralty obviously got the idea that Pashley was a geologist or naturalist from Beaufort who was covering his options. Beaufort informed Copeland of Pashley’s appointment (17th December 1832):
“I have at last the great pleasure of introducing Mr Pashley to you – he is a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge – not only a distinguished scholar, but imbued with a proper zeal for antiquity hunting. That zeal will I am quite sure meet with every possible encouragement and assistance at your hands … and the important aid you will derive from the company of such a person on the interesting service in which you are engaged” (my italics – see next paragraph).
The ‘antiquity hunting’ is a clear reference to the intention of seeking antiquities. The ‘important aid’, as Beaufort told Pashley (17th December 1832), would be the “determining of the ancient names and places as may be included in his Survey.” This was Beaufort’s excuse for the usefulness of Pashley’s attendance. The ‘interesting service’ is possibly a reference to Beaufort’s own frustration at failing to secure antiquities on his own visit to the Mediterranean as he commented to Pashley (17th December 1832), “… as I well recollect the provoking opportunities I lost on the coast of Asia Minor, and the feebleness of my last efforts to rescue a few vestiges of ancient geography from oblivion.”
Entrance to Melidoni cave when I was there in 2006 (pigeon on step gives an idea of scale….)
According to Beaufort, in a letter to Lt Thomas Graves (surveying in the Mediterranean) (also 17th December 1832), Copeland “welcomed a classical scholar Robert Pashley of Cambridge to help him identify ancient sites [in the Aegean].”
Plan of Melidoni cave (room discovered by Pashley on right  – now closed off)
Pashley set out on his extensive exploration of antiquities on the island of Crete with the aid of Captain Manias (a guide from Sfakia in the southwest of Crete), Antonio Schranz (an illustrator) and a mule. He was very enthusiastic about the early undiscovered history of Crete and shortly after his arrival on the island he wrote to Beaufort (15th February 1834):
“I believe we know but little indeed in England of the value and capabilities of this island. I must say a word of its history, which is so very interesting from the earliest dawn of Grecian civilization down to the present hour. You know how it is connected with many of the ancient theogonies & myths with the origin of laws, of the fine & useful arts, in fact with everything of any importance in the progress of society before the wars of Troy.”
However, his search for ancient cities was not an easy task and he remarked in his book (above), “Crete has been so little explored that it was necessary to enquire everywhere for ancient ruins.” He reported back to Beaufort on his findings of ancient sites with mixed feelings as he did not always find sites where he had anticipated them to be from references to his maps but was pleased with what he had seen (3rd April 1834):
“I have visited the sites of nearly twenty ancient cities, most of which I am sorry to say are either not placed at all or are placed entirely out of their proper places in all the maps I have seen. Many of the remains are extensive, most of them interesting, & some are very singular… I consider the two months I have spent here as more profitability employed as worth more in every point of view than all the rest of my eastern travels.”
Drawing of Melidoni cave by Schranz from Pashley’s book
When he had completed his travels he was convinced that he had seen nearly all the cities of ancient Crete and informed Beaufort accordingly (9th October 1834), “… as for Crete, you will find … that I have visited most of the ancient sites.” That was quite correct as there were many more awaiting discovery.
Melidoni cave (with the sarcophagus containing the bones of the 250 who died in 1824)
Of Pashley’s venture, the historian Llewellyn Smith rather short-sightedly wrote in 1973, “A large part of his book is wasted in speculation about topography of the ancient Cretan cities: a fashionable game at the time, but exceedingly boring for the reader today.” No pleasing some people. Although he did add, “Skip the topography, for the rest is pure gold.”
Ancient sites visited by Pashley in Crete
As a final word on Pashley, in his work on Edward Lear in 1995, Peter Levi commented, “Crete was more or less unexcavated until Sir Arthur Evans’ dig at Knossos in 1900, though its innumerable ancient sites were charted by Pashley.” So Pashley had discovered Minoan Crete before Evans who happily received the credit for it – okay he did good work at Knossos.
Next week: I’m on a roll now – Thomas Spratt RN, another antiquarian traveller to Crete (if you have been paying attention you will have met Spratt before – a June blog, ‘Crete: the island that tipped’)
Artemus Smith’s Notebooks
I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:
My good friend and mentor, Idley Blanchwater, had farmed all his life and was a great amateur archaeologist. Now, at the age of 98, he was sadly departing from us. His son and I were at his bedside shortly before his demise. To make his last journey more comfortable his son tried giving him warm milk to drink. “It’s from one of your own cows, father,” his son said. But Idley refused it. With a wink, the son gave the glass to his father’s nurse and she took it to the kitchen and poured a generous amount of whisky into the warm milk and returned with it insisting Idley try a little. So persuaded, he took a sip – then drank the whole glass – and his eyes brightened.
His son took this as a good opportunity to ask him for some final words of wisdom before he passed away. Idley raised himself up in bed on one elbow, looked at his son and said,
“Don’t sell that cow.”