World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Sir William Gell

Article Id: WHEBN0008844687
Reproduction Date:

Title: Sir William Gell  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Politorium
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Sir William Gell

For the British air marshal, see William Gell (RAF officer).

Sir William Gell FRS (1 April 1777 – 4 February 1836) was an English classical archaeologist and illustrator.[1]


Born at Hopton in Derbyshire, the son of Philip Gell and Dorothy Milnes (daughter and coheir of William Milnes of Aldercar Park). The Gell family was one of the oldest families in England with a tradition of service in the Army, Navy, Parliament and the Church going back to 1209, in the reign of King John. His great grandfather was the parliamentarian Sir John Gell and his uncle was Admiral John Gell.[2] Gell was educated at Derby School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He matriculated there in 1793, took a BA degree in 1798 and an MA in 1804, and was elected a fellow of Emmanuel.[3][4]

William Gell was a great friend of Thomas Moore, Walter Scott and Lord Byron. He wrote many books, most of them illustrated with his own sketches. In 1801, at the age of 24, he was sent on his first diplomatic mission to Greece where he fixed the site of Troy at Bournabiski. Lord Byron mentions him in his work 'English Bards' thus: Template:Cquote From 1804 to 1806 he travelled in Greece and the neighbouring islands. He was in 1807 elected a Member of the Society of Dilettanti and a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1811 the Society of Dilettanti commissioned him to explore Greece and Asia Minor. These travels resulted in several publications, e.g. Geography and Antiquities of Ithaca and Itinerary of Greece, with a Commentary on Pausanias and Strabo. With these publications he achieved fame in the scholarly circles as a classical topographer. He went with Princess (afterwards Queen) Caroline to Italy in 1814 as one of her chamberlains. He gave evidence in her favour on 6 October 1820, at her trial before the House of Lords, stating that he had left her service merely on account of a fit of the gout and had seen no impropriety between her and her courtier Bergami. However, in letters of 1815 and 1816, written under such pseudonyms as 'Blue Beard', 'Adonis' and 'Gellius', he related bits of scandal about the Queen. He was Knighted on 11 May 1814.[5] Gell was a close friend of Keppel Richard Craven and travelled around Italy with him. From 1820 until his death, he resided in Rome, where he painted. He had another house in Naples, where he received visitors including his particular friends Sir William Drummond, the Hon. Keppel Craven, John Auldjo, Lady Blessington and Sir Walter Scott.

Although crippled by gout, Sir William took Scott to Pompeii and showed him around the excavations. After Scott's death, Sir William drew up an account of their conversations in Naples, part of which is printed in Lockhart's 'Life of Scott'. It was then that he published some of his best known archaeological work including Pompeiana and The Topography of Troy.

Gell died at Naples in 1836 and was buried in the English Cemetery, Naples. On his death he left all his personal belongings to Craven.

His numerous drawings of classical ruins and localities, executed with great detail and exactness, are preserved in the British Museum. Gell was a thorough dilettante, fond of society and possessed of little real scholarship. Nonetheless his topographical works became recognised text-books at a time when Greece and even Italy were but superficially known to English travellers. He was a fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries of London, and a member of the Institute of France and the Royal Academy in Berlin.

His best-known work is Pompeiana; the Topography, Edifices and Ornaments of Pompeii, published between 1817 and 1832, in the first part of which he was assisted by J. P. Gandy. It was followed in 1834 by the Topography of Rome and its Vicinity. He wrote also Topography of Troy and its Vicinity (1804); Geography and Antiquities of Ithaca (1807); Itinerary of Greece, with a Commentary on Pausanias and Strabo (1810); and Itinerary of the Morea (1816). Although these works have been superseded by later publications, they continue to provide valuable information for the study of classical topography. He is, together with his friends Edward Dodwell and Keppel Richard Craven, by some modern scholars seen as the founder of the study of the historical topography of the hinterland of Rome.[6] His works and notebooks proved very valuable for the topographical studies done by Thomas Ashby at the beginning of the 20th century.


  • A Tour in the Lakes Made in 1797, [Edited by W. Rollinson, published 1986]
  • The Topography of Troy and its vicinity illustrated and explained by drawings and descriptions etc.. London, 1804
  • The Geography and Antiquities of Ithaca. London, 1807
  • The Itinerary of Greece, with a commentary on Pausanias and Strabo, and an account of the Monuments of Antiquity at present existing in that country, compiled in the years 1801, 2, 5, 6 etc.. London, 1810. [2nd ed. containing a hundred routes in Attica, Boeotia, Phocis, 1827]
  • The Itinerary of the Morea, being a description of the Routes of that Peninsula. London, 1817
  • Vievs in Barbary – taken in 1813. London, 1815
  • Pompeiana. The Topography of Edifices and Ornaments of Pompeii. 2 vols. London, 1817-8. [New ed. 1824. Further edition by Gell alone incorporating the results of latest excavations. London 1832 and 1852]
  • Narrative of a Journey in the Morea. London, 1823
  • Le Mura di Roma disegnate sa Sir W. Gell, illustrates con testo note da A. Nibby. Rome, 1820
  • Probestücke von Städtemauern des alten Griechenlands ... Aus dem Englischen übersetzt. Munich, 1831
  • The Topography of Rome and its Vicinity with Map". 2 vols. London, 1834. [Rev. and enlarged by Edward Henry Banbury. London 1846]
  • Analisi storico-topografico-antiquaria della carta de' dintorni di Roma secondo le osservazione di Sir W. Gell e del professore A. Nibby. Rome 1837 [2nd ed. 1848]


Further reading

  • Clay, Edith (ed.) -Sir William Gell in Italy: Letters to the Society of Dilettanti, 1831–1835. London, 1976
  • Wallace-Hadrill, A. -"Roman Topography and the Prism of Sir William Gell", in Haselberger, L. & J. Humphrey (eds.) Imaging Ancient Rome: Documentation, Visualization, Imagination. Portsmouth, RI, 2006, p. 285–296

External links

  • the UK National Archives

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.