Thomas Spratt RN : Travels in Lycia and the Fellows’ Marbles (so, not just Elgin ….)

SEVERAL BLOGS AGO I waxed lyrical about Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt in Crete (‘Crete: the island that tipped’). Well, now I’m gonna tell you a little about him in Lycia (that’s southwestern Turkey – see map at end) and his involvement in the procuring of the Xanthos Marbles …..

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Thomas Spratt (1811-1888) … remember him?

In April 1839 the antiquarian Sir Charles Fellows travelled to Lycia in search of antiquities and ancient sites. Perhaps the most spectacular of his discoveries was the ruins of the city of Xanthos. The date of these remains he considered to be ‘a very early one’ and the walls ‘Cyclopean’. He did not clarify how early but three temples at the site have since been dated to the Classical 5th century BC.

(c) British Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 Sir Charles Fellows (1799-1860)

The Royal Naval hydrographer, Thomas Spratt and his two colleagues, the naturalist Edward Forbes and the historian the Rev E.T. Daniell, joined Fellows in January 1842 just before the completion of the latter’s work. Spratt’s ship, HMS Beacon then under the charge of Captain Graves, had been “commanded to bring from Syria [actually Anatolia] the remains of antiquity discovered at Xanthos by Sir Charles Fellows.” This may not have been considered an entirely popular venture by some in England as Forbes, although not clarifying, commented:

“There had not been a little discussion too, in London circles, with regard to the doings of the ‘Beacon’ when procuring the Xanthus marbles, and the part Captain Graves took in that expedition had been much misinterpreted.”

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Xanthos Neried Monument now in the British Museum (courtesy of Fellows)

It would appear that the monuments of Xanthos were causing as much controversy as the Elgin Marbles had done forty years earlier. Along with Graves, both Spratt and Forbes appeared uneasy about this mass clearance of a site and its removal to England. Spratt himself was to send items back to the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge but not to this scale. In fact, Graves had given orders that two of the large tombs (Harpy and Payava) should not be dismantled until further instructions had come from Malta to construct suitable boats for their transportation down river. These orders were ignored.

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Sailors dismantling the Tomb of Payava at Xanthos despite Capt Graves’ orders (drawn by Charles Fellows)

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Tomb of Payava resituated in the British Museum

Spratt, Forbes and Daniell intended to travel to Lycia for surveying, naturalist and antiquarian purposes respectively. They came upon some eighteen ancient major cities and several other minor sites and managed to trace the marches of Alexander the Great through Lycia. Unfortunately Daniell was taken ill with malignant malaria and died before the completion of the expedition.

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 Edward Forbes (1815-1854)

They began their tour at Makri harbour (ancient Telmessus), the nearest safe anchorage to Xanthos, and travelled to neighbouring Caria. It was not long before they came across the Cyclopean conglomerate stone architecture of Pinara. More Cyclopean walls were discovered at Arneae but unlike many other ancient walls of Lycia they bore no inscriptions, possibly indicating an earlier phase of architecture. Likewise at Cyaneae, where they reported, “within the walls was a confused row of buildings of early and late date; but we saw no sculptured fragments, columns or inscriptions.”

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5th century BC Tombs at Pinara

Spratt’s and Forbes’ findings were published in their book Travels in Lycia (1847). However, Spratt was obviously unimpressed with the lack of credit he had received for his work in Lycia as his colleague, William Leake, wrote to Sir Roderick Murchison, the President of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) on the 15th January 1854:

“Capt Spratt complains that his discoveries geographical and archaeological in Lycia and the adjoining parts of Asia Minor have never [been] noticed by any President [of the RGS] in his annual address, and I think he complains not without reason, those discoveries having been some of the most important that have been made in that country and of a nature particularly fitted to the objects of our Society.”

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Lycia in Turkey

Poor old Spratt. In fact, very little has been written about his achievements – until my excellent book, Dawn of Discovery, that is (go to ‘MY PUBLICATIONS’ tab on this blog or just click here).

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Next week: Ye Olde Bramber Castle Inn – a Pilgrim’s Progress

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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 was in a restaurant the other day and a customer was bothering the waiter. First, he asked that the air conditioning be turned up because he was too hot, then he asked it be turned down cause he was too cold, and so on for about half an hour. Surprisingly, the waiter was very patient as he walked back and forth and never once got angry. So finally, I asked him why he didn’t throw out the pest. “Oh, I really don’t care or mind,” said the waiter with a smile. “We don’t have air conditioning.”

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The Grand Tour

NO, NOT an England rugby tour.  The Grand Tour was a tour of parts of Europe in antiquity. It began around the 16th century, with Fynes Moryson being one of the first Grand Tourists in 1591. However, it was not until the 18th century that it became fashionable. By this latter date such travel had become part of the elite youth’s education and social image. It was a fusion of tourism and social status. The popular countries to visit were France and Italy, travelling via Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Paris was fashionable, but Rome was warm and cultural. Italy was in the Mediterranean, which was central to the four great empires, Assyrian, Persian, Greek and Roman, which made Italy a more popular venue for the Oxbridge and classically educated aristocrats. Makes sense.

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Fynes Moryson (1566-1630)

The tutors that accompanied these young gentlemen had little control over them and, although the initial idea behind the Grand Tour was education, some aristocrats focused more on simple enjoyment. This meant few made records of their travels (probably just as well in some cases). The more committed traveller did publish reports but these were more on the lines of advice in travelling rather than educational information about the particular country. As far as education was concerned, the Grand Tourers devoted more time to the art than to the politics, society and economy of the cities that they visited. Several Grand Tourist liked their portraits painted in Rome by the Italian painter, Pompeo Batoni (he did a good business).

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Grand Tourist Francis Basset by Pompeo Batoni in 1778

Some of the less youthful Grand Tourers were more interested in acquisitions. Wealthy aristocrats who had both the time and finance to travel to the exotic ancient world gathered up remains of the past. They were the gentlemen collectors and Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin (1766-1841), fits into this loose category. Arguably, he was a contributor to the preservation of the heritage of the past rather than knowledge, although Sir Arthur Evans gave some credibility to the wealthy ‘traveller’ with his intensive excavations and reconstruction work (even though criticized in some quarters) at Knossos. Some aristocrats intended to collect ancient memorabilia to show off in their stately residences, and they are not to be confused with scholarly researchers of the 18th and 19th century. Others were happy to donate their collections to museums in exchange for some recognition, such as Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822) and John Marten Cripps (1780-1853). They brought back from overseas 183 crates of ‘goodies’ in 1802 and the library of Jesus College, Cambridge, benefited from this collection. This library was the ‘museum’ in Cambridge before the Fitzwilliam Museum was completed in 1840. Clarke in particular was held in high regard for his donations and was awarded an LL.D from Cambridge University and thereafter a Professorship.  There was also Charles Wateron (1782-1865), an expert in taxidermy, who returned from South America in 1802 with his tropical animals, not just for the benefit of future generations but also for political satire.

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 Edward Daniel Clarke 

Learned travellers, such as Robert Pashley and Thomas Spratt (I’ve told you about him before), although not interested in treasures as such, were not averse to removing the occasional item. Pashley brought back to England a sarcophagus and Spratt an altar, a lid to a sarcophagus and various small engravings and statuettes which were donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the British Museum. Pashley’s and Spratt’s motives were of a scholarly interest, and it could be said that anyone with an interest in antiquity is acquisitive by nature. Certainly Pashley’s and Spratt’s values would not be in question as they did not keep their acquisitions but allowed them to be preserved for public viewing and future prosperity.

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Sarcophagus (2nd Century AD) brought back from Crete by Thomas Spratt, now in the British Museum (height: 130.5 centimetres, length: 266 centimetres, width: 150.3 centimetres)

The Grand Tour was in decline by the beginning of the 19th century, mainly due to the French Revolution (1789) and Britain’s subsequent war with France (1793-1815). As a result, Greece (then part of the Ottoman Empire) became the most popular destination for the Grand Tour travellers from 1790 onwards. However, the Grand Tourers were not all decadent aristocrats and some were looking to classical Greece for inspiration.

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Map of the Grand Tour 

Sir William Gell (1777-1836) wrote about his travels in Greece and his publications were described by Plouviez (Straddling the Aegean, 2001) as “the first really practical travel guides since Pausanias [2nd century AD].” But it was not all 5 Star luxury – Gell (The Itinerary of Greece, 1810) was very specific about the needs for a visit to Greece:

“The most necessary article for a traveller is a bed, which should of course be as portable as possible. A piece of oil-cloth to cover it, when it is rolled up in the day, and to place under it at night, would be useful. A carpet about eight feet square is of service to sit upon. A knife, fork, spoon plate, drinking cup, and some kind of vessel for boiling water, seem almost the only necessary additions. A light umbrella as a shed from the sun would always be found very agreeable, and would be more serviceable if it were fitted to an iron spike, by which it might be stuck into the ground. Curtains suspended to sides of the room by cords, are very useful to exclude insects while the traveller sleeps. If these are made of silk, and tucked under the bed as soon as it is made, the night’s rest will not be disturbed; many will prefer mosquito curtains, but they are not to be depended upon. When a family travels to Greece, it would be advisable to carry a thick curtain, by which a room may be separated, if necessary, into two parts.”

gell Sir William Gell

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Next week: Lord Elgin loses his marbles at Mycenae


 ASIDE: Bagpuss Revisited

Those of you who read my Bagpuss theory last week and are Monty Python fans may be interested in Jonathan Morris’ biography of Michael Palin wherein he says of famous dead parrot sketch: “It was hardly Cleese’s, Chapman’s [they wrote it] or Palin’s fault that the ensuing years the parrot sketch would come to be a mite overanalysed. One overexcited critic has in all seriousness interpreted the parrot sketch as a parody of the Christian belief in eternal life.”  Yeah, right.

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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 colleague, Dr Emille Netley-Smythe, said that his son came home from school the other day and said, “Dad, I’ve got a part in the school play as a man who has been married for 25 years.”

Emille replied, “Never mind, son, maybe next time you’ll get a speaking part.”

 

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