Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Layard, Austen Henry
LAYARD, Sir AUSTEN HENRY (1817–1894), excavator of Nineveh and politician, born in Paris on 5 March 1817, of Huguenot descent, was son of Henry Peter John Layard, of the Ceylon Civil Service, and of Marianne, daughter of Nathaniel Austen of Ramsgate. Daniel Peter Layard [q. v.] was his great-grandfather. His youth was mainly spent in Italy. When sixteen years old he entered the office of his uncle, Henry Austen, who was a solicitor in London. There he remained for six years, but law did not attract him, and in 1839 he decided to leave England for Ceylon, as a relative living in the island held out to him a prospect of more congenial employment He had made the acquaintance of Edward Mitford, a young man about ten years older than himself, who was setting out for the same destination, and, as Mitford disliked the sea, they hit upon the plan of making the journey overland through Asia. Leaving England on 8 July 1839, Layard joined Mitford at Brussels, and they travelled together through Roumelia to Constantinople. In August 1840 they reached Hamadan, where they parted company. Layard abandoned the journey to Ceylon, and remained for a time in Persia. In the following year it became necessary for him to obtain fresh funds from home. Having written to his friends in London from Baghdad, he descended the Tigris to Basra, and paid a second visit to Khuzistan. His expenses were not heavy, as he adopted the Bakhtiyari dress and travelled alone or with one servant. On returning to Baghdad he found letters from his friends which necessitated his return to England, and in the summer of 1842 he set out for Constantinople on the return journey. On his way he spent several days at Mosul with Emil Botta, who had recently been appointed French consul there, and who had already begun his excavations in the great mounds opposite the city which mark the site of the ruins of Nineveh. Botta had opened trenches in the largest of the mounds, known as Kuyunjik, and Layard visited and examined with him the spot where he himself was subsequently to undertake excavations for the trustees of the British Museum.
On his arrival at Constantinople, Layard called at the British embassy to deliver a letter entrusted to him by Colonel Taylor, the British resident at Baghdad. At this time the relations between Turkey and Persia were strained owing to disputes concerning the frontier, and Layard hoped that his recent travels in Khuzistan and his knowledge of the region in dispute would procure him employment in some form or other at the embassy. His first reception there was not encouraging; but when his funds were exhausted, and he was about to leave for England, he received an offer from Stratford Canning (afterwards Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe) [q. v.], the British ambassador to Turkey, that he should travel unofficially through Western Turkey and report to him on the state of affairs. This offer, which he readily accepted, was the turning-point in Layard's fortunes. His financial difficulties ceased, and in Canning he obtained an influential patron who put him in the way of his future discoveries. Continuing to employ Layard privately, Canning, in the spring of 1844, sent him on a mission to Northern Albania. Meanwhile he had recommended him for an appointment at the embassy, but, as the suggestion met with opposition at the foreign office, he found other employment for his protégé. Canning took a keen interest in archæology. He had read the memoir of Claudius James Rich [q. v.] on the site of Nineveh, and when Layard described to him the mounds which he had examined with Botta he decided to undertake the exploration of that site. He used his influence with the Porte to obtain the necessary firman; he paid Layard a salary of 200l. a year; and he placed at his disposal an additional sum for defraying the cost of excavation (see Lane-Poole, The Life of Stratford Canning, ii. 137 f.) In the early part of October 1845 Layard received his final instructions, and left Constantinople for Mosul.
Tradition had always pointed to the mounds opposite the modern town of Mosul as marking the site of the ancient city of Nineveh (see Yâķût, ed. Wüstenfeld, iv. 683), and Layard was not the first to examine or explore them. In 1820 and 1821 Claudius James Rich had begun the investigation, and had identified the mounds of Kuyunjik and Nebi-Yunus with Nineveh. Botta, however, was the first to undertake systematic excavations at Kuyunjik. During three months in 1842 he opened trenches in the mound, but as he did not meet with encouraging results he transferred his operations to Khorsabad, the site of Dûr Sharrukin, the city of Sargon II. The fine sculptures which he there dug up led him to form the erroneous belief that Khorsabad, and not Kuyunjik, was the site of Nineveh, and Layard fell into a similar error when he opened the mound at Nimrûd and wrongly identified it with Nineveh. It was not until the inscriptions found later on at Kuyunjik had been deciphered by Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson [q. v.] and others that Rich's view was once again acknowledged to be correct. Nimrûd was afterwards identified as the site of the Assyrian city of Calah. The large mound of Nimrûd, to which Layard, influenced by Botta's want of success at Kuyunjik, turned his attention, lies near the village of that name on the left bank of the Tigris, about twenty miles south-east of Mosul. He continued to dig there until the summer of 1846, uncovering what were subsequently identified as parts of the palaces of Ashurnașir-pal, Esarhaddon, and Shalmaneser II, which were situated respectively in the north-west and south-west corners and in the centre of the mound. Layard made periodical reports of his progress to Canning, who in May procured from the Turkish government a letter authorising the continuation of the excavations and the removal of such objects as might be discovered. Layard therefore had the bas-reliefs sawn in half to lighten their weight, and the sculptured portions were floated down the Tigris to Basra for transport to England. Meanwhile Canning perceived that his own means would not suffice to carry out the excavations with success, and it was in consequence of his representations to Sir Robert Peel, the prime minister (see Life of Canning, ii. 149 f.), that operations were continued by the trustees of the British Museum. The sultan had made a personal gift to Canning of the antiquities which had hitherto been found ; these Canning generously presented to the nation, and the trustees of the museum availed themselves of his advice with regard to the future conduct of the excavations.
At the beginning of November 1846 work was resumed at Nimrûd on a more extensive scale for the British Museum, and Layard also superintended excavations at Kal'at Skerķât (the site of the city of Ashur), and for a few weeks in the following spring at Kuyunjik. In June 1847 Layard left Mosul for England, where he prepared an ac-count of the excavations with the assistance of Samuel Birch [q. v. Suppl.] of the British Museum. The work was entitled 'Nineveh and its Remains' (1848-9), for Layard incorrectly believed that Nimrûd was within the precincts of Nineveh. The book made a great sensation, and in recognition of his discoveries Layard received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the university of Oxford on 5 July 1848. It is a curious fact, however, that, like Botta's 'Monuments de Ninive,' the book had in reality little to do with Nineveh or its remains.
On 5 April 1849 Layard was appointed an attaché to the embassy at Constantinople, whither he returned ; and in October of that year he again superintended excavations for the trustees of the British Museum, a grant of 3,000l. having been placed at their disposal by the treasury for this purpose. For more than a year work was carried on, and palaces of Sennacherib and A shur-bani-pal at Kuyunjik and a palace of Sennacherib and Esarhaddon at Nebi-Yunus were partly uncovered. In the spring of 1851 Layard returned to England, and the excavations were continued by Rawlinson, then consul general, and the political agent of the East India Company at Baghdad. Layard published an account of his second series of excavations in his work 'Nineveh and Babylon,' which appeared in 1853. Layard's discoveries brought him very wide reputation. He was presented with the freedom of the city of London in 1853, and in 1855 he was elected lord rector of Aberdeen University.
He did not return to Mesopotamia after 1851. Thenceforth he devoted himself to politics, in which his main interests were confined to the affairs of Eastern Europe. On 7 July 1852 he was returned as a liberal for Aylesbury, and from 12 Feb. to 18 Aug. held the post of under-secretary for foreign affairs under Lord Palmerston. He represented Aylesbury until 1857, but while he held the seat he was absent from England for some time. In 1853 he visited at Constantinople Lord Stratford de Redcliffe (Sir Stratford Canning), his former patron, and, proceeding to the Black Sea in the following year on the outbreak of the Crimean war, witnessed the battle of the Alma from the maintop of H.M.S. Agamemnon. On his return to England he gave evidence before the committee of inquiry with regard to the condition of the British army at Sebastopol. After losing his seat for Aylesbury at the general election in March 1857, he made a tour in India during the latter part of that year and 1858, in order to study the causes and effects of the Indian mutiny. In April 1859 he unsuccessfully contested York, but in December 1860 was returned as one of the members for Southwark. In July 1861 he again became under-secretary for foreign affairs in Lord Palmerston's administration, in which Lord John (first earl) Russell was foreign secretary. On Palmerston's death in October 1865, Layard continued to hold the same office in Lord Russell's administration, in which Lord Clarendon was foreign secretary, and he resigned with the ministry in July next year. In December 1868, when Gladstone had become prime minister for the first time, Layard was appointed to the post of chief commissioner of works, and was admitted to the privy council. In November of the following year he resigned that office, and his career as a politician was brought to an end by his acceptance of the post of British minister at Madrid.
Layard was in agreement with Lord Beaconsfield's political opinions in regard to Eastern Europe. On 31 March 1877 he was accordingly transferred by Lord Beaconsfield from Madrid to Constantinople, in succession to Sir Henry George Elliot. Within a month of his arrival the Russo-Turkish war broke out, and his action soon became the theme of excited controversy among politicians at home. His sympathies were undoubtedly with Turkey, but in a despatch to the foreign minister, Lord Derby, of February 1878, he solemnly denied reports that he had encouraged Turkey to commence or continue the war, or had led her to believe that England would give her material support. He declared he had always 'striven for peace,' and for 'the cause of religious and political liberty.' In June 1878 he negotiated the Anglo-Turkish convention for the British occupation of Cyprus. In June 1878 he received the order of the grand cross of the Bath as a mark of recognition of his advocacy of Lord Beaconsfield's imperial views. In April 1880 a general election took place in England, and it resulted in the resignation of Lord Beaconsfield and his ministry, and in the formation of Gladstone's second administration. Thereupon Layard received leave of absence from his post at Constantinople, and his official career came to an end. In May Mr. G. J. (now Viscount) Goschen was sent to Constantinople in his place as special ambassador and minister-plenipotentiary of Great Britain. In his later years Layard lived much in Italy, chiefly at Venice, where he was well known as a social figure and an authority on art, which had always been a subject of his close study. His interest in Italian art was very deep. In February 1866 he was appointed a trustee of the National Gallery, and he became honorary foreign secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts. He died in London on 5 July 1894. His remains were cremated and buried at Woking on 9 July. In 1869 he married Mary Evelyn, daughter of Sir John Guest ; she survived him.
Two portraits of Layard in crayon were made by Mr. G. F. Watts, R.A., the one for Mr. John Murray in 1848, the other a few years later for Layard's own collection of pictures; the former portrait is reproduced in 'Early Adventures' ( 2nd edit.) A coloured picture of Layard, taken in 1843, forms the frontispiece to 'Early Adventures' (1st edit.)
Layard made a greater reputation as an excavator than as a politician or a diplomatist, but he was without the true archaeologist's feeling — a fact which is sufficiently proved by 'his presenting to his friends neatly cut tablets containing fragments of cuneiform inscriptions, which, of course, left serious lacunæ in priceless historical documents' (Athenæum, 14 July 1894). His best-known works are those that deal with his excavations. The excavations at Nimrûd were described in 'Nineveh and its Remains' (1849, 2 vols.) ; and 'Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon' (1853) recounts his second series of excavations ; these were his principal works. Drawings of the excavated bas-reliefs were published in two series of plates entitled 'The Monuments of Nineveh' (1849) and 'A Second Series of Monuments of Nineveh' (1853). In 'Inscriptions in the Cuneiform Character from Assyrian Monuments' (1851) he printed, with Sir H. C. Rawlinson's assistance, copies of a few of the monumental texts from his diggings, but he took no part in the decipherment of the inscriptions — a work which was carried out by Rawlinson, Dr. Hinckes, M. Jules Oppert, and others. In 1851 an abridgment of 'Nineveh and its Remains' was published for the railway bookstalls, under the title 'A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh,' a second edition of which was produced in 1867 under the old title, 'Nineveh and its Remains,' together with a companion volume, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' containing a similar abridgment of his other work. In 1854 he wrote a small guide to the Nineveh Court in the Crystal Palace. In 1887 he published an account of his life between the years 1839 and 1845 under the title 'Early Adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia' (abridged edition, 1894).
Layard also wrote much on art. In 1887 he revised Kugler's 'Handbook of Painting;' in 1892 he wrote an introduction to a translation of Morelli's 'Italian Painters,' and he edited a 'Handbook of Rome' (1894). He also contributed some papers to the 'Proceedings' of the Huguenot Society, of which he was president, and some of his speeches in the House of Commons were issued in pamphlet form. In 1890 he was elected a foreign member of the Institut de France.[Fragments of autobiography in Layard's Early Adventures (1st ed.), Nineveh and its Remains (1st ed.), and Nineveh and Babylon (1st ed.); Stanley Lane-Poole's Life of Stratford Canning, vol. ii.; Lord Aberdare's Prefatory Notice to the abridged edition of Layard's Early Adventures; Men and Women of the Time, 13th edit.; Celebrities of the Century (1890); Times, 6 July 1894, and Athenæum, 14 July 1894.]