Thomas Spratt – antiquarian traveller to Crete

LAST WEEK I introduced you to Robert Pashley who had been sent to investigate antiquities in Crete by Francis Beaufort in 1834. On Pashley’s return to England, Beaufort was worried how to replace him. On the 1st October 1834, he wrote to Richard Copeland, who commanded the ship, HMS Beacon, on which Pashley had travelled to Crete, saying:

“My endeavours to get a proper person to succeed Mr Pashley have not yet succeeded – but I trust that before Spring you will be joined with some one with equal zeal and learning – I do not believe it would be easy to find anyone who could exceed Mr P in these qualities.”

Well, he had to wait awhile (17 years in fact) but that replacement came in the guise of Thomas Able Brimage Spratt who was a Royal Naval hydrographer. In the introduction of his book, Travels and Researches in Crete (1865), he commented that he was there to survey but also to collect reliable information regarding ancient cities, many of which were yet undiscovered and this would be of importance to the island’s geography and topography. As with Pashley, I’m just going to reveal interesting correspondence and ancillary facts around his travels; if you want more, read my book Dawn of Discovery (or check one of my blogs in June which featured Spratt in Crete, ‘The island that tipped’).

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 Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt RN (1811-1888)

Last week I made mention of one Lt Thomas Graves surveying in the Mediterranean (Beaufort had written to him about Pashley). Well, Graves’ midshipman on that trip was none other than Thomas Spratt. In fact, in 1836, Spratt was appointed to HMS Beacon, under Graves, the very same ship that Pashley had sailed to Crete on under Richard Copeland two years before (small world, eh?).

Spratt’s relationship with Francis Beaufort did not run smoothly at first as Spratt, when back in England, obviously failed to attend Beaufort with a report of Graves’ activities in the Mediterranean. Beaufort wrote to Graves (19th January 1848):

“Sir, I hoped that ‘ere this Spratt would have made an appearance in this room, and have furnished me with matter about which I should have to write to you – that not being the case I have only to express a hope that he will bring me a large harvest of your usually excellent work.”

However, he must have impressed Beaufort somewhere along the line as, in May 1851, he was sent to Malta and given command of his own ship, the paddle steamer HMS Spitfire, with instructions to continue Graves’ survey of Crete. Beaufort wrote to him confirming his daily (diem) pay (12th May 1851):

“With reference to the future survey pay of yourself and assistant surveyors, I hereby authorise you to draw on the Accountant General the undermentioned sums, to commence from the date of your arrival at Malta

Cmmdr TAB Spratt – 20s per diem   [£365 a year]

Lieut AL Mansell –  8/   – do –   [£146 a year]

Mr John Stokes – Master –  5/   – do –   [£91.25 a year]

GB Wilkinson – Mids –  5/    – do –   [£91.25 a year]”

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HMS Spitfire in foreground in Crimea War 1854 (my thanks to Steve Thorp for this)

From Malta, on the 30th May 1851, Graves reported (without punctuation) Spratt’s arrival to Beaufort adding his disapproval of the Spitfire and general conditions (in a later letter Graves referred to the ship as HMS Spiteful):

“Spratt has arrived with his staff but as he has I know reported progress I will say nothing more about his establishment to whom I will give every assistance and information in my power than that his “Spitfire” is the worst miserable time out I ever beheld and that with all my love for hydrographical pursuits I am only too glad to be clear of and unconnected with the petty economy and annoyances surveyors are now subject to.”

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‘Minoan’ seal-stones found by Spratt in Crete between 1851-3 – some 40 years before Arthur Evans found similar Cretan seal-stones in Athens which led him on his quest and discovery of ancient Minoan Crete

On 7th July 1851, Beaufort instructed to Spratt to proceed to Crete to search out antiquities, he reminded him to read Pashley’s book:

“I have no doubt you will rapidly go on – but not too rapidly to do full justice to your work. I am a great admirer of zealous & eager workman, but still more [admiration] of those who leave nothing for subsequent workman to glean … Do not forget all I said to you about variations on shore & on board – Pick up inscriptions and antiquities – Read Mr Pashley as you go along the coast …”

On the 4th December 1851, Beaufort wrote to Pashley sending him a copy of a letter from Spratt reporting on Crete and asked what Spratt should look out for on the island. Beaufort then wrote to Spratt on the 19th December, not really giving Pashley much time to respond, saying, “I sent your letter of Oct 15 to Mr Pashley who is I suppose out of town as he has not replied nor returned it [Spratt’s letter].” In the end Pashley did not reply until 20th May the following year which clearly upset Beaufort as he wrote to Spratt on the 8th June 1852, “I have just retrieved from Mr Pashley’s hand your letter of Oct but without any remarks wh[ich] could be of use to you or wh[ich] cd[could] alone to me for the wanton rudeness of not answering my note for 6 months …”. What Beaufort failed to mention to Spratt was that Pashley did say in his reply (to Beaufort, 20th May), albeit somewhat late, that his papers had been destroyed by fire in Inner Temple (Pashley was a barrister – remember?).

spratt map

Ancient sites visited by Spratt in Crete

Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to refer to what Spratt saw in Crete, but just one exception – mainly because I’ve mentioned it before (another blog in June ‘The Labyrinth of Crete’). Spratt visited the labyrinth near Gortyns in 1843, during his first trip to the island. We know this because in true schoolboy fashion he ‘graffitied’ his name on the cave wall.

graffitiSpratt’s graffiti in the labyrinth: T Spratt, HMS Beacon, 1843

On his second visit(1851) he went in search of what he actually believed might have been the ‘mythical’ labyrinth of King Minos. He looked to the ridge on the east side of the Makryteichos (Makriteikron/Makroteikho) village, over the rivulet of the Kairatos river just east of Knossos, and reported:

“… that [Makryteichos hills] is said by the natives to be the entrance to extensive catacombs, which, however, have become choked up by falling in of its sides, and cannot be explored … This entrance to the supposed Labyrinth or Catacombs of Gnossos has the same character as that of the entrance to the Labyrinth of Gortyna, excepting that the Gnossian excavations have been used as sepulchres, but whether originally or subsequently to Minos cannot be determined so as to identify it as the true Labyrinth, of which the tradition only existed for twenty-five centuries.”

It is not entirely clear what he was looking at but it is most likely the ‘labyrinthian’ tomb in the Mavro Spilio (black cave) cemetery, Tomb IX.

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Tomb IX, Mavro Spilio cemetry

Spratt remained in Crete on the second visit from 1851 to summer of 1853 when he was recalled to take part in the Crimean War. He returned to Crete on HMS Medina to complete his investigations in July 1859.

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Spratt’s drawing of the Hellenistic (4th century BC) bridge at Eleutherna, Crete

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The bridge today (well, 2007) – the circular arch drawn by Spratt has been filled in (to the left) – the tree is still there and growing! (I put these pictures in as a matter of triumph because I set out to find this bridge in summer 2006 but didn’t succeed until summer 2007 – now, through much woodland, it’s a long way from anywhere and in the middle of nowhere)

Oh, just one more exception of what Spratt saw in Crete – the ‘bema’ at Phalasarna, on the west coast. Not quite sure what it is but it’s just outside the harbour area, so perhaps a guard post. Immediately below is a photo of what it looks like now; below that is Pashley’s drawing of it; and below that is Spratt’s drawing of it. I include these because Spratt’s comment of Pashley’s effort amuses me. He said, “‘Pashley’s drawing was not a true representation of what it was like”. Well, I’m no art critique but what do you think?

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The bema (scale: about 1.5m high)

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Pashley’s drawing of it

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Spratt’s drawing of it ….. more of a true representation?!!

Finally, Sir Roderick Murchison, in an address to the Royal Geographical Society, said of Spratt’s book on his travels in Crete:

The Travels and Researches in the Island of Crete by Captain T.A.B. Spratt, RN., is a work which will rivet the attention and enrich the minds of various readers, whether they be antiquaries and scholars, or geographers and men of the sciences … for here we see produced by one of them [Royal Naval surveyors] a masterly illustration of the physical geography, geology, archaeology, natural history, and scenery of the diversified Island of Crete.”

Sir_Roderick_Impey_Murchison,

Sir Roderick Murchison (1792-1871)

 

Postscript 1: I came across an article written in Lippincott’s Magazine in 1878 by E.S., an otherwise unnamed English naval officer, regarding his journey from Crete to Smyrna and Ephesus. It is not known whether Spratt had read this but he was certainly alive when it was written so it is possible. If he had it would have been interesting to have witnessed his reaction to the officer’s comment albeit of Roman Ephesus:

“It is rather a difficult thing to acknowledge, in face of the great ruins then about us, with all their associations, that the thought of our dinner was by this time uppermost in the minds of nearly all our company. I have generally found, however, in much journeying about this wicked world, the condescension and interest with which one looks upon ancient remains depends very much upon the company in which one finds one’s self, the state of the weather and the state of one’s stomach.”

 

Postscript 2: I received an email from a chap who had found my work on Spratt via the internet. He was over from Australia for a year and studying at Oxford University. I got in touch with him and we meet up in Oxford in November 2010. His name was Michael Spratt, great great grandson of Thomas. More recently Steve Thorp contacted me (also from Aus) and referred me to the above pic of the Spitfire and informed me that his ‘many greats grandfather’ was Spratt’s 1st Lieutenant in the Crimea (great stuff the internet!).

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 Me and Michael Spratt (right)

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Next week: Wolf Hall, Anne Bolelyn and all that


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:

I always remember my first day at my new office at the University. I sat there with absolutely nothing to occupy my time. There was a knock at my door. “Enter” I said, and I grabbed the telephone and began speaking into it to pretend to my visitor I was a busy and important man. As I spoke into the phone I beckoned the visitor to sit and he did so. I continued my conversational charade over the phone for a couple of minutes ‘discussing’ a fictitious oncoming project. When I had decided I had suitably impressed my visitor with this fake conversation, I put the telephone down, greeted him, and enquired as to the purpose of his visit.   He replied in a casual manner, “I’ve come to connect your phone.”

art-smth

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