Lord Sligo

Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2014), Letters, Volume 22

Sir,—Having spent three years researching a biography of Howe Peter Browne, second marquess of Sligo, the sensational and misleading title of Turtle Bunbury’s article—‘Lord Sligo’s plunder of ancient Greece’ (HI 22.3, May/June 2014)—not surprisingly caught my eye. On a reading of the article the title sadly reflects the many other inaccuracies within.

Lord Sligo’s ‘plunder of ancient Greece’ amounted to a quantity of mainly broken remnants of ancient treasure left in the wake of earlier ‘plunderers’ such as Elgin. The single item of value and interest with which he returned to Ireland comprised three parts of the columns reputed to have flanked the entrance to the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae. At the time of Sligo’s visit, the tomb had already been raided by Elgin and others and the two columns were no longer in situ but lay in pieces around the entrance. Sligo, in effect, did no excavations at the tomb, merely accepting the Turkish governor Veli Pasha’s offer (who initially mistook Sligo for the son of the king of England!) to take what remained. Veli Pasha also presented him with ‘six columns of verde antique and some other trifles’ and entertained him highly. There is no indication from Sligo’s own correspondence from Tripollizza (to which I have access) that he, in effect, realised the significance of the three fragments (part of which is in the museum in Athens), which were destined to lie forgotten in the basement of Westport House for 90 years. It was his grandson, the sixth marquess, an amateur archaeologist, who journeyed to Mycenae in 1904 with drawings of the broken columns and found them to be analogous with the remains of the bases still in situ at the tomb.

To correct some other inaccuracies in the article, Byron did not travel with Sligo to Delphi. Sligo was accompanied on that journey by Michael Bruce, Lady Hester Stanhope’s lover at the time. He had met the couple previously in Gibralter. He was educated at Eton, not at Harrow as stated in the article. He was a fellow student of Byron at Cambridge. Sligo acquired the Pylades on his way out to Greece, not on the return journey. He inherited two plantations in Jamaica from his Kelly grandmother. He did not ‘introduce the linen industry to Westport’. That was his father’s achievement. My biography of Lord Sligo is due for publication in 2015.


I bow humbly to Anne Chambers and I apologise for the several flaws she has observed in my tale. My source for the ‘plunder’ conceit was an 1821 account entitled ‘Recollections of a classical tour through various parts of Greece, Turkey, and Italy’ by a French classical scholar called Peter Edmund Laurent, who refers to the ‘excavations’ that took place ‘under his [Lord Sligo’s] direction’. However, Anne’s lengthy study of Lord Sligo and his voluminous correspondence, which I have not seen, certainly outweighs the memories of a passer-by published nearly a decade after the events took place. Lord Sligo’s story is a truly remarkable one and I am thrilled that Anne is going to give him the fulsome airing he deserves. I wish her the very best with her book. I shall be at the head of the queue to buy a copy.—Yours etc.,



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