19th-century travellers to Italy

Several of the family and estate archives in the custody of the County Record Office contain material relating to 19th-century travellers to Europe. After the Napoleonic occupation of Italy ended in 1815, there was a resurgence of interest in travelling to the Continent. The monuments of Rome, as well as the ancient sites in the Bay of Naples remained popular destinations. We can learn much about this era of travel from the diaries and journals written by these travellers, a selection of which are featured below.

William Rookes Crompton, 1817-1819

William Rookes (1790-1871), Joshua Samuel (1799-1881) and their sister Henrietta Matilda (1793-1881), were members of a wealthy banking family, the Cromptons of Esholt Hall, near Bradford. Both William and Joshua had a classical education, studying at Harrow and Cambridge.

After university, William Rookes went on a grand tour in Europe, through France and Italy from 1817-1819. In 1832, after inheriting Esholt Hall from his mother, he took on the additional surname of Stansfield (his mother’s maiden name). He married Emma Markham in 1824 and was later MP for Huddersfield from 1837-1853.

In a letter postmarked 11 March 1818, William writes to his sister describing the Bay of Naples, his ascent of Vesuvius, visits to Pompeii and to the museum to see the Roman finds. He makes almost the same observations on the similarity of Roman objects to those in contemporary use as does Lady Vansittart in 1830 (see below), including a description of the same ‘tea urn’! His description of Vesuvius is also very similar to that of B.H. Bent (see below):

The suffocating power of the sulphur prevents you staying long & should the wind suddenly change there would be some danger. We returned astonished & much gratified: all ladies make a point of visiting this phenomenon (at present I suppose unique in the universe:) they pull themselves up by a cord which the guide fastens over his shoulder & one or two others are employed in pushing with their hands en derriere.”

William Rookes Crompton describing his climb of Mount Vesuvius, early 1818

Letter from William Rookes Crompton in Naples to his sister Henrietta Crompton, Micklegate, York, postmarked 11 Mar 1818, partly written criss-cross-style to save paper [ZCM]

A transcript of further excerpts from this letter can be read here (in pdf format). This transcript is taken from Letters and papers of Henrietta Matilda Crompton and her family edited by M.Y. Ashcroft, North Yorkshire County Record Office, 1994, pp.40-42.

Joshua Samuel Crompton, 1824-1825

Joshua travelled from London to Malta via Italy from 1824 to 1825. Later that same year, he journeyed via Vienna to Istanbul (known then as Constantinople), and onwards to Egypt by 1826. He arrived in Rome on 22 January 1825, leaving for Naples on 26 January and sailed for Sicily on 8 February. A transcript of his handwritten notes about this section of his travels, which includes his observations on his journey from Rome to Naples, Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii and Baiae, can be read here (in pdf format). 

Typescript of travel journal of Joshua Samuel Crompton from Naples per Sicily to leaving Malta, 31 Jan to end Mar 1825, describing his ascent of Vesuvius and visit to Pompeii [ZCM]

We do not know who typed the above³ manuscript, or when. The typewriter was not in common use in 1825, so we presume these pages were typed at a later date, most likely using J.S. Crompton’s original, handwritten notes (see below). The typescript starts with a detailed description of an ascent of Vesuvius and a visit to Pompeii.

Part of a journal from London to Malta, handwritten on loose, folded paper sheets by Joshua Samuel Crompton, in a paper folder labelled ‘Notes during a journey from England to Malta’, 1824-1825, containing a description of time in Naples [ZCM]

Using unbound, small, folded pages of paper, J.S. Crompton has recorded his daily experiences. On 28 January 1825, he notes: “On entering the Kingdom of Naples, the money changes from Scudi and Paoli to Ducats and Carlines. 47 Carlines = a Napoleon. 10 = a Ducat. The best money to carry is Spanish dollars called Colonnati from the two pillars on the reverse. They are worth 12 Carlines 3 grani. 10 grani = a Carline.” Travellers often carried letters of credit from their bank rather than large amounts of money, for fear of loss or robbery. These letters could be presented in the major cities and exchanged for cash, rather like the modern idea of travellers cheques. On 1 February 1825, he writes “Went to Pompeii. It is impossible by description to convey any adequate idea of this most remarkable place. To be appreciated, it requires to be seen”.

Passport of Joshua Samuel Crompton issued in London, 14 Dec 1824 (written in French) [ZCM]

By the 18th century, French was commonly referred to as the language of Europe, being used in commercial and diplomatic papers, such as passports issued in London. This passport, printed on thin paper, has multiple stamps, including those from Florence, Rome and Naples.

Joshua inherited Sion Hill, Kirby Wiske from his father in 1832, as well as estates at Azerley and Sutton Grange near Ripon. He was a Liberal MP for Ripon from 1832-1834, and married Mary Alexander in 1834. He was also a magistrate and governor of Ripon Grammar School, 1859-1879.

Lady Teresa Vansittart, 1829-1830

Teresa, daughter of Sir William Gleadowe Newcomen, an Irish baronet, married Sir Charles Turner of Kirkleatham in 1796, becoming Lady Tersa Turner (1775-1844). After Sir Charles’ death in 1810, she inherited the Kirkleatham estate. In 1812, Teresa remarried, her new husband being Henry Vansittart Esq. of Foxley in Berkshire. From 1829-1830, Lady Teresa, Henry and their daughter Teresa travelled to Europe and spent several months in Italy. Lady Teresa records their experiences in her travel diaries, written in pocket-sized blue notebooks.

Travel journal of Lady Teresa Vansittart, 1829-1830, containing sketch of a steam boat [ZK 11785]

“We have been to Herculaneum with which we were much pleased. The solidity and hardness of the mass which has so completely filled up every chink of the building is quite surprising as is the ingenuity of excavating with so little injury to the building and the objects found in it.”

Lady Teresa Vansittart, 23 December 1829

Entry for 1 February 1830: “I have been twice to the museum, the first day saw only the bronzes found at Herculaneum and Pompeii. Very very curious and gratifying, by which you can see how very many of the usages then correspond with those of the present day, how at least in a moral sense the wants & wishes vices & pleasures were much as they are now and the means taken to satisfy them, differing very little. Great ingenuity and variety in the cooking utensils. A tea urn of which I mean to take the model and hope to have one exactly the same. Candelabras and lamps of every dimension & beautiful form.”

Description and illustration of a bronze heating urn, for heating water or other liquid, discovered at Pompeii, Plate 94 from ‘Principal Monuments in the National Museum of Naples’, printed by Francis Ferrante, Naples, 1866 with bookplate of Sir Reginald Graham of Norton Conyers. This heating urn may be the ‘tea urn’ admired by both Lady Vansittart and William Rookes Crompton [ZKZ 4/1/8/25]

When ascending Vesuvius on 30 January 1830, Lady Vansittart also mentions the hot stones thrown up from the crater: “…so little do they spread that people are not afraid of being in the way to get at some of the heated matter, into which they press a piece of coin before it cools and hardens as a trophy and a proof that they really were near enough at the time of an explosion.”

Pages from the travel journal of Lady Teresa Vansittart, describing the ascent of Vesuvius, 30 January 1830 [ZK 11785]

Mrs Fanny Fuller, 1837

Mrs Fanny Fuller’s correspondence with her mother, Mrs Bagot Armstrong, in Ballycumber, Ireland illustrates the travelling life of an Army officer’s family in the early-19th-century. As the wife of Abraham Fuller, an officer with the Irish Army, Fanny travelled with her husband and children in France, Germany and Italy. In this criss-cross-written letter from Chateau Gaillard to her mother, she talks about the family’s future plans, going the next month to Marseilles where they intend to stay for one month, then on to Genoa, Alexandria and San Salvadore for the summer. Afterwards, she writes that they might “spend the winter in Florence or Rome, where I shall certainly have the enviable happiness of kissing the Pope’s toe.”

Mrs Fuller’s letter to her mother in Ireland, 12 Feb 1837 (Her reference to kissing the Pope’s toe can be seen on the last horizontal line of the image to the left) [ZMO 27]

Henry Beresford, 1839

In 1839, aged just 19, Henry Beresford (1820-1859) set off on a tour of Europe that would take him through Germany and Austria to Italy. Throughout his travels, he kept a detailed journal of the places, galleries and museums he visited [ZBA 20/1/13], recording his impressions of these sites, such as at Pompeii:

“a place which everybody must visit with the greatest pleasure, delight, wonder & astonishment.I left it impressed with its antiquity and former grandeur; delighted that I had seen it & shall remember it as one of the most wonderful and interesting places that I have ever visited.”

Henry Beresford, Wednesday 26 June 1839

Henry was born in Bedale in 1820, the son of Admiral Sir John Beresford and his second wife, Harriet Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Peirse of Bedale MP (1754-1824), who had himself made a Grand Tour in the 1770s and had his portrait painted by Batoni in Rome in 1775. On Henry Peirse MP’s death in 1824, his Bedale Hall estates passed to Harriet’s sister, Mary Ann.  When Mary Ann died in 1850 she left the estates to Henry Beresford, her nephew, who took the additional name Peirse, his full name becoming Henry William de la Poer Beresford Peirse.

Henry married Henrietta Anne Theodosia Monson in 1848 and died just eleven years later at the age of 39. A transcript of further excerpts from his travel diary can be read here (in pdf format).

Francis Cholmeley, 1840-1847

Details of Francis Cholmeley and his family’s visits to Italy can be found on this separate web page.

Baldwin Harry Bent, 1857

Baldwin Harry Bent (1834-1920) went on a tour of Europe, aged 22 in 1857. He mentions being in the company of ‘Summer’, who we presume was his valet. Whilst abroad, a house was being built for him in the village of Bentham, North Yorkshire, named ‘The Ridding’. The house was completed in 1860, built in the Scottish Baronial style, designed by E.G. Paley. It is now a Grade II listed building. Baldwin’s diary references his correspondence home checking for news on the progress of the build.

In 1860, Baldwin married Harriett Wright and went on to become County Magistrate for Shropshire at the age of 36 and, ten years later, County Magistrate for Lancashire and the West Riding.

The travel diary of Baldwin Harry Bent, 1857, open at pages describing his ascent of Vesuvius [Z.1425]

In his travel diary, written in a small notebook, he records his daily activities and observations on the places he visited whilst travelling from England to Leghorn (Livorno), to Rome, Naples and thence to Malta [Z.1425]. One particularly detailed description brings to life his ascent of Vesuvius:

Entry for Monday 26 October 1857: “I purchased … a bottle of Lachryma [wine] & some eggs and we again set off, our way was up the nearly perpendicular side of the cone walking on pieces of lava which every now and then gave way under foot, a most tedious and wearisome climb, about half way I felt very bad, my head swam and I sank down almost fainting, ‘ I can’t go any further I said’ – ‘Courage’! said the guide and by help of Summer shoving behind, the guide pulling in front, frequent stops & many pulls at the bottle I managed to reach the top…the lava we walked on was only five days old, and the crevices were red hot, the heat was intense and the smell of sulphur suffocating. I sat down & ate my sandwiches while the guide roasted the eggs on the burning lava…”

A transcript of further extracts from Baldwin’s travel diary can be read here (in pdf format).