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Archive Reference / Library Class No.D258/50
TitleSIR WILLIAM GELL (1777-1836)
DescriptionLetters from Sir William Gell, dated between 1801-1834, chiefly to his elder brother, Philip Gell MP of Hopton, his sister-in-law Georgiana and his niece Isabella, wife of William Pole Thornhill, MP. These letters were collected together, filed and guarded, and bound by Isabella Thornhill in the mid-19th century. All items are available in the searchroom on CD152.
RepositoryDerbyshire Record Office
Archive CreatorGell family of Hopton Hall, Wirksworth
Administrative HistorySir William Gell was highly respected in his lifetime as a member of the Society of Dilettanti from 1807 who published extensively on topography and antiquities, especially those of Troy, Ithaca, the Morea, Pompeii and Rome. Born at Hopton Hall near Wirksworth in Derbyshire, the younger son of Philip Gell and his wife Dorothy nee Milnes (who after her first husband's death married the topographer Thomas Blore), William was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, graduating BA in 1798 and MA in 1804. He was elected a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Following a successful diplomatic mission to lonia in 1803, Gell was awarded a knighthood. A close friend and confidant of Caroline, Princess of Wales, he served as her Vice-Chamberlain and accompanied her into exile when she left England in August 1814. From 1815, William Gell's home was in Italy, where he had a small cottage in Rome for the summer months and another house in Naples for the remainder of the year. Intensely sociable, Gell was one of the Triumvirate of Dilettanti at Naples: the others were the diplomat Sir William Drummond (1770-1820) and the traveller Keppel Craven (1779-1851), a close friend who became Gell's executor after his death in Naples in 1836. He was buried in the English cemetery there.

Money problems dogged Gell's life. He never married and the lower costs of living were amongst the reasons that led him to settle in Italy. Many of the letters in this collection refer to the difficulties he experienced in ordering his financial affairs, in particular, the payment of the pension of £200 per year granted to him by the Princess of Wales when ill-health, chiefly gout, restricted his mobility and service to her. Publishing was another drain on his resources and the letters also provide evidence of his stratagems for meeting (or encouraging others to meet) printing costs.

Despite his afflictions, Gell was a lively and assiduous correspondent, interested in everything and everyone. The life of a young man about town, whose social circle ranged from aristocrats to famous pugilists such as Belcher and Cribb; the topographer recording ancient classical sites around the Mediterranean; the concerned observer of family problems; the socialite and `big wig' whom it was essential to visit and to entertain if you belonged to the Neapolitan `beau monde', the gardener; the dog lover (he favoured Pomeranians); the artist (he had studied at the Royal Academy Schools and sometimes illustrated his correspondence with his own minute sketches): all these aspects are apparent in these letters which bear out the description of William Gell by his friend Lady Blessington as `gentle, kind-hearted and good-tempered'.

Gell's most important publications were his Troad or Topography of Troy published in 1804 after his visits there in 1801; Geography and Antiquities of Ithaca (1807), Itinerary of Greece (1810), Itinerary of the Morea (1817), Narrative of a journey in the Morea (1823), contributions to Pompeiana (1817-1819) Pompeiana: the Topography .... (1832) and The Topography of Rome & its vicinity (1834).

As well as being a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Royal Society, William Gell was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Berlin and of the Institute of France
[Seals had been removed from many of these letters in order that they might lie flat in the bound volume. Where this is the case, the text may be defective]

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Gell; Sir; William (1777-1836); Diplomat and antiquarian of Hopton.
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