Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822) was an antiquarian, traveller and mineralogist, who later became the first Professor of Mineralogy at the University of Cambridge. In 1810, Clarke published the first part of his six-volume work Travels in Various Countries of Europe, Asia and Africa (1810–23), chronicling his fascinating tour through three continents. In 1799 Clarke and his pupil, John Marten Cripps, set out for Scandinavia. The pair travelled together for three and a half years, continuing through Russia, Turkey, Greece, Egypt and the Holy Lands. During that time Clarke was diligently collecting minerals, plants, coins, marbles and other antiquities, whilst carefully recording the sites, curiosities and different cultures that he encountered.
Clarke was witness to many important events of the period, which he relates in Travels. In 1801 he travelled to Egypt with Sir Ralph Abercromby, Lieutenant General of the British Army, who was on his way to meet the forces of Napoleon. Following the French defeat Clarke joined antiquarian W. R. Hamilton, Lord Elgin’s secretary, then Ambassador to Constantinople. Hamilton was in charge of recovering Egyptian antiquities that had been taken by the French. In particular, both he and Clarke were successful in securing the Rosetta Stone, which is now kept at the British Museum. Clarke then travelled to Greece where he gathered more antiquities. Most notably he acquired the upper part of a colossal statue from the sanctuary of Demeter, at the ancient city of Eleusis. Local people, as well as Clarke, identified her as Demeter/Ceres. Clarke writes that he found the statue “in the midst of a heap of dung, buried as high as the neck,” explaining that “the inhabitants of the village … still regarded this statue with a very high degree of superstitious veneration. They attributed to its presence the fertility of their land, and it was for this reason that they heaped around it the manure intended for their fields.” Understandably there was much local anger as to its removal. The statue is now understood to have been one of a number of caryatids (columns) at the gateway to the sanctuary, perhaps representing a priestess. Clarke presented the statue as well as his collection of Greek marbles to the University of Cambridge in 1803. The statue was later transferred to the Fitzwilliam Museum.
A number of talented artists, including Michel Francois Preaux and Giovanni Battista Lusieri, also accompanied Clarke during his tours. Their work is included in Travels which is lavishly illustrated with over one hundred and fifty plates, depicting antiquities, monuments, panoramic views, as well as local celebrations, ceremonies and processions. Travels also includes several folded maps and charts, including plans and details of the Napoleonic battles of Abercromby’s campaign in Egypt.
Clarke’s Travels and his observations on the antiquities, ancient sites and local customs, remain invaluable to historical research. His work also provides a fascinating insight into early nineteenth century attitudes towards colonialism and the acquisition and ownership of antiquities.
Khatib, Hisham (2003) Palestine and Egypt Under the Ottomans: Paintings, Books, Photographs, Maps and Manuscripts, I.B.Tauris
McConnell, A. (2004) ‘Edward Daniel Clarke’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
The Layton Collection also includes a copy of Clarke’s Greek Marbles brought from the shores of the Euxine Archipelago, and Mediterranean, and deposited in the vestibule of the Public Library of the University of Cambridge (1809).
Layton Collection 904, VL00871389