1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hamilton, Sir William (diplomatist)

20166041911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 12 — Hamilton, Sir William (diplomatist)

HAMILTON, SIR WILLIAM (1730–1803), British diplomatist and archaeologist, son of Lord Archibald Hamilton, governor of Greenwich hospital and of Jamaica, was born in Scotland on the 13th of December 1730, and served in the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards from 1747 to 1758. He left the army after his marriage with Miss Barlow, a Welsh heiress from whom he inherited an estate near Swansea upon her death in 1782. Their only child, a daughter, died in 1775. From 1761 to 1764 he was member of parliament for Midhurst, but in the latter year he was appointed envoy to the court of Naples, a post which he held for thirty-six years—until his recall in 1800. During the greater part of this time the official duties of the minister were of small importance. It was enough that the representative of the British crown should be a man of the world whose means enabled him to entertain on a handsome scale. Hamilton was admirably qualified for these duties, being an amiable and accomplished man, who took an intelligent interest in science and art. In 1766 he became a member of the Royal Society, and between that year and 1780 he contributed to its Philosophical Transactions a series of observations on the action of volcanoes, which he had made, or caused to be made, at Vesuvius and Etna. He employed a draftsman named Fabris to make studies of the eruption of 1775 and 1776, and a Dominican, Resina, to make observations at a later period. He published several treatises on earthquakes and volcanoes between 1776 and 1783. He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Dilettanti, and a notable collector. Many of his treasures went to enrich the British Museum. In 1772 he was made a knight of the Bath. The last ten years of his life presented a curious contrast to the elegant peace of those which had preceded them. In 1791 he married Emma Lyon (see the separate article on Lady Hamilton). The outbreak of the French Revolution and the rapid extension of the revolutionary movement in Western Europe soon overwhelmed Naples. It was a misfortune for Sir William that he was left to meet the very trying political and diplomatic conditions which arose after 1793. His health had begun to break down, and he suffered from bilious fevers. Sir William was in fact in a state approaching dotage before his recall, a fact which, combined with his senile devotion to Lady Hamilton, has to be considered in accounting for his extraordinary complaisance in her relations with Nelson. He died on the 6th of April 1803.

See E. Edwards, Lives of the Founders of the British Museum (London, 1870); and the authorities given in the article on Emma, Lady Hamilton.