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  • Debbie Challis

An architect, a diplomat (or 'thief'), his secretary and his memorandum

So this is a tale of old books & not making assumptions about collections.



On Monday I was in The British Library peering at a map of Bodrom from the 1840s and thinking about accounts and speculation by British travellers on the location of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus for a conference paper next year. The map was attached to a pamphlet by the man who would later claim credit for the discovery of said Mausoleum, Charles Thomas ‘Mausoleum’ Newton. In the same pamphlet collection was one on Elgin, so obviously I had to read it.


It was a review of a book defending Elgin’s actions in removing the Parthenon Sculptures & other material from the Acropolis. The intro, author & periodical title are missing but it begins with the defence that Thomas Harrison - the Greek revival architect behind the The Portico Library - had suggested to Elgin that he got casts and measurements made of the sculpture on the Acropolis in Athens. It echoes a later account I had read on the history of the Society of Dilettanti

I remembered that there was a Memorandrum written by Elgin’s secretary William Hamilton defending Elgin against critics of his actions when the sculptures first went on display in London in around 1810. Called it up and moved onto looking at images by Richard Dalton of the Parthenon and Bodrom from 1751.


Ping, my old book is ready to collect! The memorandum confirms that Harrison had, in 1799, suggested this measure to Elgin when he was appointed as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. (The memorandum is on archive.org if you want to see for yourself.) Then it occurred to me that this same memorandum may actually be in the collection of the Portico Library. And yes, it is - here! The evidence I was looking for a chapter I have written on Ionian Antiquities and travel accounts was under my nose at my place of work all along.


Got that confession out of my head! Look local.

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