William Gell’s inseparable friend, the Hon. Richard Keppel Craven
There is one sketch-book in the archives of the BSA which is closely connected to the William Gell notebooks. Bound in red leather and measuring 26 x 14 cm, it is exactly the same type of sketchbook that Gell, and the architects John Peter Gandy (Deering) and Francis Bedford, made use of during the Second Ionian Mission of 1811-13, sponsored by the Society of Dilettanti, which are now at the British Museum. The author of this particular sketch-book is Gell’s inseparable friend, the Hon. Richard Keppel Craven (1779-1851).
Keppel Craven was the third and youngest son of William Craven, sixth Baron Craven (1738–1791), and Elizabeth Berkeley (1750–1828), daughter of Augustus Berkeley, fourth Earl of Berkeley. His mother was a fascinating woman, who, after separating from her husband, travelled widely, often taking her youngest son with her. In 1789 she published A Journey through the Crimea to Constantinople and, some years later, an account of her travels through France, Germany and Russia in the years 1785-6, which took the form of letters to the Margrave of Brandenburg, Ansbach & Bayreuth, nephew of Frederick the Great, whom, after the death of her first husband, she married. Following the Margrave’s death in 1806 she settled in Naples, where she purchased a house first in the Via Chiatamone and then later built what was to become known as the Villa Craven (now the Villa Gallotti) at Posillip, ‘commanding a complete view of the bay’, on two acres of land apparently granted to her by Ferdinand IV. Keppel Craven inherited both houses on her death.
By all accounts Keppel Craven was a devoted son and remained so throughout his mother’s life. In a letter to a mutual friend, Gell jokes of Craven being tied to his mother’s apron strings, though it seems, judging from her memoirs at least, that Lady Craven was also fond of Gell, ‘the bosom friend of my amiable Keppel’, and that she ‘almost considered him as another son’. There are references in letters by various authors to suggest the contrary, however.
Richard Robert Madden (1798 –1886), editor of The literary Life & Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, records that Gell’s and Keppel Craven’s ‘tastes, habits, pursuits, and inclinations were identical. There never were friends more united in sentiment and affection. Mr Craven was a classical scholar, had an excellent taste for drawing, was a great lover of books and had all the feelings, refined manners, and the gentle, winning, easy address of an accomplished gentleman’. Keppel Craven and Gell were indeed ‘inseparable friends’. They had travelled together around Spain in 1808, Portugal in 1810, and in Greece and Asia Minor during the years 1811-13. For part of the following year they were both chamberlains to Princess Caroline during her sojourn to Italy and gave evidence at her trial in 1820. Both men spent the remainder of their lives based in Italy. Craven published three books based on various excursions in and around Naples, illustrated with engravings after his own drawings, and Gell became a great authority on Pompeii.
Some months after the BSA purchased the Gell material in 1924, Thomas Ashby, Director of the British School at Rome, acquired a further three sketch-books for 300 lire, this time by Keppel Craven. As before, they came from F. Casella, the same book dealer in Naples who had sold Ashby the Gell notebooks the previous year. Ashby added the two notebooks relating to Italy to the collection at the BSR and sent the third to Athens. In a following letter of July 1924, Ashby informed Woodward that ‘If any more drawings by same author turn up, I had perhaps better not buy for you unless they seem archaeol. important. But should your other traveller’s work turn up – rather feel that such things should if possible be secured as records of British activity abroad.’ This rather suggests that both directors did not think the sketch-book was of particular importance but on closer inspection it is of great value for it is, in fact, part of the wealth of archive material relating to the Second Ionian Mission.
There are very few annotations and no dates in Craven’s sketch-book, but it has been possible to match many of the sketches to drawings executed by Gell, Bedford and Gandy, firmly establishing that it dates from the Second Ionian Mission and providing, in some cases, concrete identification of certain views. Craven was not part of the official team appointed by the Society of Dilettanti. Instead, being a close friend of Gell and clearly fond of travel, he tagged along at his own expense.
Other drawings, such as that of the gun boat, can be matched to descriptions in journals from the expedition, which are now housed at the British Museum, and as a result take on greater meaning. Crossing from Zante to Patras in this boat, fitted out with an 18 pounder, the travellers experienced a serious storm. Soaked to the bone, they took refuge not only in a ship from Cephalonia but even in the beds of the captain and his mate whilst waiting for their clothes to dry. In order to repay this kindness, the travellers treated the whole crew of twenty-eight to dinner at the expense of the Dilettanti Society. Their travels were full of such adventures and were certainly not for the faint-hearted. Gell recounts this episode in detail:
On the 19th of January 1812 we were informed that the gun boat which an alarm from a French privateer had rendered necessary, was ready to sail but the wind proving treacherous we did not embark till Monday 20 when a gentle breeze carried us slowly past… After sunset we passed Cape Pappa[s] Araxus and thought we should have reached Patras before midnight but about 10 the wind suddenly changed & blew violently from the Gulph accompanied by thunder lightening & rain. Our people who were almost all Sicilians soon despaired of contesting against the rain & darkness & our Pilot to whom a shelter behind Cape Papa was proposed, declared that he was afraid as the night was now perfectly dark of a sandy point, & that the only chance was to avoid Papa & drift before the wind to the Scrofes. This plan was followed till the main yard of the storm sail gave way, which threw every thing into such confusion that it was with difficulty any one could be persuaded to close the hatchways, while the boat with a very heavy long 18 pounder & with scarcely any sail rolled in an alarming degree from side to side. In this state drenched by showers we waited anxiously for the daylight not a little alarmed by the fear of the low land between Messalungia [Missolonghi] & Oxiai [Oxeia], which might have been destruction to our boat & baggage though probably not to ourselves. The clouds retarded the appearance of daylight and mists prevented our seeing land though surrounded by high mountains in every direction, but when at length the sun arose we found ourselves in a direct course of Oxiai & the port of Scrofes where we anchored about 9 in the morning, the Pilot having really done his duty very steadily and ably, as had indeed the man at the helm, who frequently gave our Captain good advice when he attended to his prayers instead of the vessel. We landed on Scrofe in hope of finding a place to make a tent & a fire to dry our clothes but the rain & wind continued to persecute us to such a degree that we found it most advisable to take shelter in a Cephalloniote ship then waiting in the port where the Captain & Mate received us very kindly & put us into their own beds till our clothes could be dried. As there were several fishermen in the port we had plenty of fish and in consideration of the hardships of the night I thought it advisable to treat our crew in number 28 to a dinner which we bought from those people the whole expense for them & ourselves amounting to about 3 dollars. At night the Captain of the ship & Mate made us as comfortable as they could receiving with some difficulty a Sequin each for their trouble when we sailed the next morning on Wednesday the 22 January. We had no sooner cleared the port when the wind blew directly from the Gulph so that knowing the wretched state of our boat & indeed the badness & unfitness of its structure we were quickly obliged to return…On February 4 1812 having waited in vain [at Patras] for a fair wind we determined to dismiss our Gun boat and to take a very small skiff with which we could keep along the shore from point to point…
The most attractive drawings in this sketchbook, some of which are embellished with watercolour, are those depicting local inhabitants with close attention to their traditional dress such as the woman from Mycone (Mykonos) and Albanian man.
An identical (although somewhat more accomplished) drawing of Albanian women drawing water from a well and washing clothes at Eleusis features in one of Gell’s sketch-books at the British Museum with an annotation in French: ‘fille Albanoise et Eleusine’ One seems to be a copy of the other, or perhaps both are copies from an original made by one of the travellers they met along the way, with whom they exchanged information, particularly on antiquities seen and found, but also conceivably of notable encounters. Sketches of locals are rare among the drawings executed on the Second Ionian Mission making Craven’s drawings a fascinating record of some of the people the travellers encountered on their expedition.
Department of Greece and Rome
The British Museum
K. Craven, A Tour through the Southern Provinces of the Kingdom of Naples, 1821
K. Craven, Italian Scenes: a Series of interesting Delineations of Remarkable Views and of Celebrated Remains of Antiquity, 1825
K. Craven, Excursions in the Abruzzi and Northern Provinces of Naples, 2 vols., 1838
E. Craven, Memoirs of the margravine of Anspach, 2 vols, 1826
R. R. Madden, The literary life and correspondence of the countess of Blessington, 3 vols., 1855
E. Clay and M. Frederiksen (eds.), Sir William Gell in Italy: letters to the Society of Dilettanti, 1831–1835, 1976
J. Kelly, The Society of Dilettanti, 2009
J. Thompson, Queen Caroline and Sir William Gell: A Study in Royal Patronage and Classical Scholarship, 2019
J. Gasper, Elizabeth Craven: Writer, Feminist and European, 2018