Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leake, William Martin

LEAKE, WILLIAM MARTIN (1777–1860), classical topographer and numismatist, born in Bolton Row, Mayfair, London, on 14 Jan. 1777, was the second son of John Martin Leake of Thorpe Hall, Essex, Chester herald and commissioner for auditing the public accounts, by his wife Mary, daughter of Peter Calvert of Hadham. Stephen Martin Leake [q. v.] was his grandfather. He received his professional education at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and with a fellow-student, General Sir Howard Douglas [q. v.], formed a lifelong friendship. He obtained his commission as a second lieutenant in the royal regiment of artillery, and in 1794 was ordered to the West Indies, where he remained four years. In 1799, being now Captain Leake, he was sent on a mission to Constantinople to instruct the Turkish troops in artillery practice. On 19 Jan. 1800 he left Constantinople to join the Turkish army on the coast of Egypt. Leake and his party, in the dress of Tartar couriers, traversed Asia Minor in a south-easterly direction to Celenderis in Cilicia, and crossed over to Cyprus. A treaty being concluded between I the grand vizier and the French, Leake did 1 not at once proceed to Egypt, but visited Telmessus in Lycia, Assus in Mysia, and other ancient sites. He kept an accurate journal, which he published in 1824 as a 'Journal of a Tour in Asia Minor.' Professor W. M. Ramsay (Hist. Geogr. of Asia Minor, pp. 97, 98) remarks that in this work Leake 'made many admirable guesses,' but that he was not long enough in the country for 'his wonderful topographical eye and instinct' to have fair play. Leake returned to Constantinople in June 1800, and shortly afterwards—on the renewal of hostilities—was again instructed to join the grand vizier's army in Egypt. He went by way of Athens, Smyrna, and Cyprus to Jaffa, where he spent the winter making excursions into Syria and Palestine. In March 1801 Captain Leake crossed the desert with the Turkish army into Egypt, but on the capitulation of the French army he was employed (till March 1802) in making a general survey of Egypt in conjunction with Lord Elgin's secretary, William Richard Hamilton. He went as far south as the cataracts of the Nile, and afterwards revisited Syria, which he left in June 1802 for Athens, where he passed the summer exploring the neighbouring country. In September 1802 Leake and Hamilton sailed from the Piraeus in the small vessel hired to convey the Elgin marbles to England. In the wreck of the vessel upon Cerigo all Leake's valuable manuscripts relating to the Egyptian survey perished, though Hamilton's memoranda were saved and made use of in 'Ægyptiaca: the Ancient and Modern State of Egypt,' published by Hamilton in 1810. Leake, travelling through Italy, reached London in January 1803.

In September 1804 he left England on a mission to treat with the governors of the provinces of European Turkey respecting the defence of their frontier against the French. He was instructed to make military surveys and to pay 'particular attention to the general geography of Greece.' He visited Malta, Corfu, and Zante, and landed in the Morea in February 1805, from which date till February 1807 he was constantly engaged in traversing northern Greece and the Morea. Besides identifying ancient sites, Leake was careful to collect Greek coins, especially bronze specimens, which on being found in Thessaly and Macedonia it had been usual for the braziers to melt into kettles and caldrons. It was by means of the coins found in situ that he determined the position of Heraclea Sintica and of Cieriumin Thessaly. In February 1807, war having broken out between the Porte and England, Leake was detained for several months as a prisoner at Saloniki. On regaining his liberty he sailed at once for the coast of Epirus, and on the night of 12 Nov. had a secret meeting with All, Pasha of Albania, on the sea-beach near Nicopolis. He there induced Ali to bring about the reconciliation, which proved successful, between the Porte and England. Leake, who had suffered from a severe illness at Apollonia in the autumn of 1806, now returned to England, after visiting Syracuse. In October 1808 he was sent to Greece by the British government to present stores of artillery and ammunition to Ali for use against the French. He arrived at Prevyza in February 1809, and from that time till March 1810 usually resided either at Prevyza or Joannina, and made frequent visits into Epirus and Thessaly. Lord Byron visited Ali while Leake was officially resident at Joannina (see note B to Childe Harold, canto ii.) On nis return to England in 1810, Leake (now Major Leake) was granted an allowance of 600l. per annum in consideration of his services in Turkey since 1799. On 4 June 1813 he received the brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel. He was now engaged in arranging his large collection of geographical materials, and in 1814 published 'Researches in Greece' (London, 8vo, pt. i. only), dealing with the modern Greek language. Leaked London house for many years was No. 26 Nottingham Place, Maryebone Road (Walford, Old and New London, iv. 431). In May 1815 Leake was appointed to reside at the headquarters of the army of the Swiss confederation then assembled near the French frontier. In accordance with his instructions he sent home a report upon the line of frontier and an account of the military institutions of Switzerland. Leake's mission ended in October 1815, and on his return to England he henceforth devoted himself to literary labours.

Leake was a member of the Society of Dilettanti (admitted 1814) and of 'The Club' (elected 1828). He was a fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Geographical Society, and was vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature, to the 'Transactions' of which he contributed several papers, including 'Notes upon Syracuse.' He was an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Berlin, and correspondent of the Institute of France, and was created honorary D.C.L. Oxford 26 June 1816. He died at Brighton on 6 Jan. 1860, after a short illness, and was buried in the cemetery of Kensal Green. M. Tricoupi, the minister of the king of Greece, attended his funeral as a public acknowledgment of Leake's services to Greece. Leake married in 1838 Elizabeth Wray, eldest daughter of Sir Charles Wilkins, and widow of William Marsden [q. v.] the orientalist.

Leake's character was distinguished by a singular modesty. In all his professional missions he was successful, but his reputation will rest on the remarkable topographical researches chiefly embodied in his 'Athens,' 'Morea,' and 'Northern Greece.' As a numismatist he was an intelligent collector, and added to the specimens procured by him in Greece many others purchased at sales, especially the Devonshire, Pembroke, and Thomas sales. His 'Numismata Hellenica' gives a careful description of all his coins and of a series of electrotypes (made by his wife) of rare coins in other collections. It contains numerous notes, still valuable for their topographical and mythological information. He collected in Greece besides coins, marbles, bronzes, gems, and vases. The marbles he presented in 1889 to the British Museum. They include inscriptions, reliefs, &c, and a bust of Æschines given to Leake by Ali Pasha. His bronzes (described in Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, pp. 267, 268), vases, gems, and coins were purchased after his death by the university of Cambridge, and are now in the Fitzwilliam Museum: 5,000l. was paid for the coins (ib. p. 267).

Leake's principal publications, other than those already noticed, were:

  1. 'The Topography of Athens,' London, 1821, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1841, 8vo (there are French and German translations).
  2. Burckhardt's 'Travels in Syria,' edited by Leake, 1822, 4to.
  3. 'Journal of a Tour in Asia Minor,' London, 1824, 8vo.
  4. 'An Historical Outline of the Greek Revolution,' 1825, 8vo; also 1826.
  5. 'An Edict of Diocletian fixing a Maximum of Prices,' 1826, 8vo.
  6. 'Les principaux Monumens Jfigyptiens du Musee britannique,' by Leake and Charles P. Yorke, 1827, fo.
  7. 'Travels in the Morea,' London, 1830, 8vo.
  8. 'Travels in Northern Greece,' London, 1835, 8vo.
  9. 'Peloponnesiaca,' London, 1846, 8vo (a supplement to the 'Travels in the Morea').
  10. 'Greece at the end of Twenty-three Years' Protection,' London, 1851, 8vo.
  11. 'Numismata Hellenica,' London, 1854[55], 4to; Supplement, 1859, 4to.
  12. 'On some disputed Questions of Ancient Geography,' London, 1857, 4to.

[J. H. Maraden'a Memoir of Leake; Leake's Works; Brit Mus. Cat.]

W. W.