Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter


Marbles bought:

John Cam Hobhouse had met Lord Byron when they were students at Trinity College, Cambridge. After university, they set off together on a Grand Tour leaving England on 2nd July 1809, arriving in Athens on Christmas Day by way of Portugal, Spain, Sardinia and Malta. The following February, Hobhouse recorded in his diary the purchase of marble statues which came from Aegina, an island about twenty miles south of Athens in the Saronic Gul

Sunday February 25th 1810: ... Sent Demetrius to Aegina for statues. ...

Monday February 26th 1810: .. Statues &c., bought for 880 piastres [about £50 sterling]

Tuesday February 27th 1810: ... Went with Byron to Piraeus to see the statues

Piraeus is the port of Athens from which Byron and Hobhouse left on the 5th March heading for Constantinople taking the marbles with them. On 14th July they left Constantinople on board HMS Salsette returning to Athens where Byron disembarked on 17th July.

Hobhouse remained on board as the ship continued to Malta.

Salsette also carried a consignment of marbles being sent to England by Lord Elgin.

Marbles lost:

Salsette arrived in Malta where Hobhouse spent nine days, leaving on 6th August for Caligari in Sardinia to join the fleet at Toulon.

On August 15th 1810 he wrote a grovelling letter to Byron:

Dear Byron

This letter comes from Caligari from which place frankly I should not have written to you had it not been for one of the most stupid instances of forgetfulness on my part that I ever heard of. You must know then, that being as it were obliged to dine with Dr. Sewel, a name therefore for ever to be accursed by me, on the Sunday on which I left Monday (i.e. August 6) I absolutely forgot my boxes of marbles (henceforth to be ever accursed by you) until the instant before I set off to go to the damned Doctor’s country House 50 miles off I fancy in the country. In vain did I send a note and two verbal messages to Mr Launder’s Major Domo, (Launder himself being with a whore at his country house too) for when I came on board the Salsette at 10 o’clock at night the marbles were not come. I took to my bed immediately and never got up till next morning having in the night by way of punishing myself taken an oath against drinking wine - a resolution to which I have as yet adhered and which with the helping of God I intend to keep eternally. Now my request to your Ld. ship is that you will be pleased to increase my many obligations to you by taking a determination, and by ordering your man W. Fletcher to put you in mind, to take the said forgotten boxes three (or 4) with you to England. With the persuasion that you will not refuse me this favour I have taken the liberty to desire three several persons to put you in mind of my damned boxes which persons are Mr. Close, a very good humoured young fellow the Gen.’s Aide de camp, Mrs. Dickens and Mr. Launder in whose house I recommend you to live when you shall visit Malta.

Salsette joined the fleet at Toulon and Hobhouse travelled to England in the packet Nocton, arriving at Falmouth on October 15th 1810. On his return he ended the five year long dispute with his father who agreed to settle his debts, which included £1,325 10s owed to Byron, on condition that he joined the Militia.

Hobhouse complied with this condition and joined the Royal Cornwall and Devon Miners Regiment later that year, serving at their garrison at Dover

Marbles found:

Byron continued his travels, hearing nothing from Hobhouse in spite of writing to him several times. He left Athens on April 22nd 1811 aboard the transport ship Hydra arriving at Valletta on April 30th.

On May 15th he wrote to Hobhouse saying that he had received the letter concerning the lost marbles and described his efforts to find them after they had been missing more than nine months.

I have looked, asked, and raved after your marbles, and am still looking, asking, and raving, till people think they are my own. - Fletcher was my precursor, -- Close, Lander, Mrs. D have all been examined and declared “Ignoramus”—And yet it is so odd that so many packages have vanished that I shall (in the intervals of my malady) search the surface of the Island.

His efforts were later rewarded and on the wrapper of the letter he was able to add a note in Italian saying: The marbles are found; after [searching] throughout the city, they were with the other marbles of Lord Elgin. They will be carried to—

The note was damaged when the seal was broken but presumably Hobhouse was able to read the full version. Byron remained on Malta until June 3rd when he left on the frigate Volage bound for England . On June 18th when Volage was at sea, he again wrote to Hobhouse saying that he would arrange for his marbles to be left at Portsmouth. Volage arrived off Portsmouth on July 11th but the squadron was ordered to the Nore and Byron landed at Sheerness (Kent) on July 14th 1811 where the marbles were left at the Custom House.

Marbles restored

Byron wrote to Hobhouse, and they spent two days together at Sittingbourne, about ten miles from Sheerness. Hobhouse returned to his regiment at Dover and on the 24th, recorded in his journal that he had written ‘ to Rochester about Marbles’. He underestimated the difficulties of the Naval and HM Customs bureaucracy because he again wrote to Byron on August 2nd - Have you got your things from on board the Volage yet? I have heard from Rochester and Sheerness that no boxes of mine are landed and that the Frigate “is gone up the River". What

does up the river mean? up to where? The moment I know where the things are landed I shall apply to the treasury for an order of release. Hobhouse’s regiment left for Ireland on August 9th and remained there until February 17th 1812. Meanwhile the marbles were found by the Navy and sent to his father’s house, Whitton Park, near Hounslow and he was reunited with them on March 11th 1812 more than two years after he first bought them. He wrote: Went down to Whitton, where Mr. Westmacott dined and examined my marbles. He says I have done well, and that the marbles are of the third class. A footnote records that the marbles were later presented to the British Museum. The on-line catalogue includes two statues which were purchased from Hobhouse’s daughter, Lady Dorchester in 1898. One is listed as a figure 99 centimetres tall and has Acquisition Notes that read ’Found in Athens in 1811 and obtained by Lord Broughton through Lord Byron’. The other is 1.02 metres tall and is described as having been acquired in Athens. Its Acquisition Notes read ‘The Lord Byron assisted J. C. Hobhouse by bringing this and [sic] Sculpture back to England’. Neither statue is currently on display in the Museum.

Marbles depicted:

Photographs of the two statues together with notes from the catalogue.

Museum number 1898,0519.1

Museum No. 1898,0519.1 (left) and No. 1898,0519.2 (right).

Marble statue group of the goddess Aphrodite and Eros. The goddess is entirely naked, her arms crossing her body, the right hand missing. Her hair is tied up in a top-knot and then loose locks fall down onto each shoulder. By her side is a dolphin ridden by a tiny figure of Eros, his head missing. The dolphin has a cuttle-fish in its mouth. Waves are carved on to the left side of the plinth. The statue is well preserved with only a few abrasions and breaks. It follows the Capitoline type of Aphrodite.

Museum number 1898,0519.2

Marble statue of a naked Aphrodite of the Knidia type by the sculptor Praxiteles. The goddess stands, the weight on her right leg, the left bent, her left arm resting on drapery that covers a small pot. Her head turns towards her left, the hair parted centrally and then waving over the ears and secured in a bun at the rear. Her right arm crosses her body, the now missing hand would have tried to conceal her pubic region. The goddess wears an armband on her left upper arm. There is a strut reaching from the left leg to the drapery support. The statue has been damaged, broken and reassembled, with the missing lower right leg restored in plaster. The surface has been abraded by weathering and the facial features perhaps recut in the nineteenth century, prior to the statue's arrival in the British Museum.

Illustrations and descriptive text: copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.

Ted White