CollectionGB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
Ref NoMS 2287
TitleSir Austen Henry Layard, archaeologist: letters mainly concerning a proposed lecture on discoveries at Nineveh
Date1853 - 1855
Extent0.01 linear metres
Administrative HistoryBorn in Paris in 1817, Austen Henry Layard was of Huguenot descent and spent most of his early years in Italy. He was first apprenticed to his uncle, a London lawyer, but decided to travel to Ceylon overland. He set off with a friend in 1839, but by the time he had reached Persia the following year he had lost interest in Ceylon and travelled a good deal in Persia, living in a very simple style. While returning to England in 1842, he met Émil Botta, French consul and archaeologist, who was already beginning work on the site of Nineveh. He had intended to return to England to settle some financial affairs, but he managed to find work at the British Embassy in Constantinople which saved him having to return home. He was employed to travel in Western Turkey to report on relations between Turkey and Persia, which were delicate. His position was unofficial, and he was actually employed by Stratford Canning (1786-1880), who was also extremely interested in archaeology. He used his influence to arrange for Layard to excavate the remains of Nineveh, and the project was begun in 1845. It met with some success, though the site Layard was digging turned out to be Nimrûd rather than Nineveh, and Turkey gave permission for the dig to continue and for any finds to be removed. This in turn produced much needed support from the British Museum, who took over the project in 1846. After a brief return to England to publish some of his discoveries, Layard was given an official post at the Constantinople embassy in 1849, supervising the continued excavations. He stayed until 1851 and then returned again to England, where he was now famous. He was awarded honorary degrees and the freedom of the city of London, as well as being elected rector of Aberdeen University in 1855. From this time he used his popularity to devote himself to politics. He was elected as MP for Aylesbury from 1852 to 1857 and sat as a Liberal, though he was absent in the Crimea for some time, and reported on the war there on his return. After losing his parliamentary seat, he toured India and noted the effects of the Mutiny, and returned to parliament for Southwark in 1860. He held several posts in several successive governments, mostly connected with the Foreign Office, until he accepted the post of British Minister at Madrid in 1869, around the time of his marriage. However, his next posting, to Constantinople, was to prove controversial: he was thought to have encouraged the Turks to join in war with Russia by promising them British support. He was certainly sympathetic to the Turks, and negotiated in 1878 the British occupation of Cyprus. He was succeeded at the general election of 1880 by Viscount Goschen (1831-1907), and retired to spend the rest of his life between Italy and England, taking a great interest in art. He died in 1894.
Custodial HistoryExact provenance unclear. The covers of MS 2287/1-6 & 8 have not survived and these would have probably confirmed that their recipient was the Rev. William Valentine as in the case of MS 2287/7
SourceThe MS were acquired by purchase by Aberdeen University in October 1957.
DescriptionSeven autograph letters, mostly concerning a proposed lecture on Layard's discoveries at Nineveh to the Beaumont Institution, and the National Schools in Stepney it was intended to support, probably sent to the Rev. William Valentine, with a letter from John Murray, 1853 - 1854; Newspaper cuttings on the granting of the Freedom of the City of London in 1854; a meeting between Layard and his constituents at Aylesbury in 1855; and his installation as Lord Rector of Marischal College in the same year. Also printed notices mostly concerning Layard's excavations and talks thereon, also some political material, 1854 - 1855.
Access StatusOpen
Add to My Items