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HomeHistorical BooksHAMILTON'S TREASURES ... by Susan Stokes-Chapman

HAMILTON’S TREASURES … by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Thankfully the ship rests within the shallows. He has not used this equipment earlier than and won’t enterprise any deeper than he should. Twenty toes under the floor. No hazard there, he tells himself. And he is aware of precisely the place to look. Under cautious instruction the item he seeks was safely hidden throughout the starboard bow, away from the opposite shipments tightly packed within the maintain, however the ship broke aside within the storm; he hopes his luck stays true, that the crate has not strayed too far alongside the seabed, that nobody else has managed to retrieve it …

In the winter of 1798, the Royal Navy ship HMS Colossus met its watery finish off the coast of the Scilly Isles within the grips of a treacherous storm. On board that mighty warship – saved away within the hull – was the British diplomat William Hamilton’s treasured assortment of Greek antiquities. He had determined, with an invasion of Naples by Napoleon’s forces imminent, to ship this assortment again to England for security. Ironic, then, that these valuable items ended up misplaced on the backside of the ocean.

William Hamilton liked his Greek vases, having collected lots of them throughout his 35 years residing in Naples. During his time serving as British Ambassador to King Ferdinand between 1764-1799, his official duties allowed his mental passions for artwork and tradition to blossom. In specific he ardently pursued his curiosity in antiquities, buying Greek vases from collectors, funding archaeological digs and opening historical tombs. This curiosity quickly turned an obsession – by 1766 he had amassed a set of over 200 particular person items. For his personal scholarly satisfaction (it may be presumed), in 1766–67 he revealed a four-volume set of engravings of his assortment entitled Collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman antiquities from the cupboard of the Honble. Wm. Hamilton, His Britannick Maiesty’s envoy extraordinary on the Court of Naples:

Hamilton’s first assortment of antiquities was offered to the British Museum in 1772 for £8,410, the place the items can nonetheless be considered at the moment – specifically, a red-figure volute crater is called the ‘Hamilton Vase’. However, no sooner had Hamilton offered this assortment (speedy vendor’s remorse, maybe!) he started to gather as soon as extra, later publishing a second catalogued vase assortment. This catalogue was titled Collection of Engravings from Ancient Vases Mostly of Pure Greek Workmanship Discovered in Sepulchres within the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies however Chiefly within the Neighbourhood of Naples During the Course of the Years MDCCLXXXIX and MDCCLXXXX, and what makes this set of engravings so helpful is the very fact it was this specific assortment of vases that have been misplaced on board the HMS Colossus:

He was, understandably, devastated. In a letter he wrote to his nephew Charles Greville in 1799, he stated of his vases 

“they had better be in Paris than at the bottom of the sea; have you no good news of them? they were excellently packed up, & the cases will not easily go to pieces, & the sea water will not hurt the vases. All the cream of my collection were in those eight cases on board the Colossus, & I can’t bear to look at some remaining cases here in which I know there are only black vases without figures.”

Unfortunately, only a few objects from the gathering have been recovered in his lifetime. They have been finally dropped at the floor by a restoration crew in 1974, and the broken items at the moment are housed in The British Museum. The legacy of William Hamilton’s collections, nonetheless, dwell on – artists similar to Josiah Wedgwood referred to the revealed volumes and used them to affect their very own work. One of essentially the most well-known of Wedgwood’s items is his copy of the ‘Portland Vase’, under …


My debut novel Pandora opens with the restoration of an historical vase from the shipwreck of HMS Colossus, and options William Hamilton fairly prominently as a key character. To learn all about it you’ll be able to order by clicking the picture under:

Twitter & Instagram: @SStokesChapman


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