“The repeated eruptions of burning stones…”

Back in the summer I wrote a post about the Greg family and their travels around the globe. Robert Hyde Greg was one such Greg, and his Grand Tour of Europe provides us with a lot of interesting detail about tourism and different cultures in the early 19th century.

Yesterday, one of our cataloguing volunteers, Roy Pownall, was reading one of Robert’s letters home addressed to his younger sister Agnes, and came across a particularly interesting passage relating to Mount Vesuvius.

Roy told me all about Robert's letter
Roy told me all about Robert’s letter

Robert had been travelling through Italy from January 1817. In the days before his trip to Pompeii, he had visited the Sistine Chapel and met the pope, before travelling to Naples.

In his journal he recorded that on April 8th he set out to Pompeii, and had passed through Torre del Greco, a town which was “half-buried in the eruption of 1794.” He further recorded seeing various excavation teams, who were still in the process of uncovering the lost city.

Robert's sketch of the summit of Vesuvius
Robert’s sketch of the summit of Vesuvius

The next evening Robert and his companions set to climb Vesuvius. In his letter home he wrote:

“The flames which constantly issue from the crater interrupted only by the repeated eruptions of burning stones kept our eyes upon it and we forgot the length of our ascent”

Robert's letter to his sister Agnes, April 1817
Robert’s letter to his sister Agnes, April 1817

Goodness knows how Hannah Greg felt hearing that her son had been climbing up a somewhat active volcano at night…

Once they had reached the top, Robert recorded in his journal that

“When day broke we found ourselves wrapt in clouds, We visited the stream of Lava and saw it oozing out of the side of the mountain”

Robert walked up Mt Vesuvius in the dark
Robert walked up Mt Vesuvius in the dark

Ally brought out Robert’s sketches for the volunteers to see and all agreed that it really brought to life what they had been poring over that morning.

The job they have is quite a difficult one, for as Roy explained, many of the letter were written in a criss-cross grid style to save on paper, which was quite expensive at the time, making it that much more difficult to transcribe the letters. Usually Roy reads through a letter once to get the gist and then goes through again transcribing and summarising.

The criss-cross grid style of writing takes a lot of concentration to read!
The criss-cross grid style of writing takes a lot of concentration to read!

The sketches then, provided a bit of relief from the great concentration and definitely made it feel worthwhile for the volunteers.

Laura

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