Fellows, Sir Charles
- G. C. Boase
- , revised by Elizabeth Baigent
Sir Charles Fellows (1799–1860)
Fellows, Sir Charles (1799–1860), traveller and archaeologist, fifth son of John Fellows, a wealthy silk merchant and banker, was born at High Pavement, Nottingham, in August 1799. In early life he travelled through much of Britain, and in 1820 settled in London, where he became an active member of the British Association and other scientific and scholarly institutions. On 25 July 1827, with William Hawes, he made the thirteenth recorded ascent of Mont Blanc, taking a new and later much used route to the summit known as the Corridor.
After the death of his mother in 1832 Fellows passed much of the next ten years in Italy, Greece, and the Levant. On 12 February 1838 he landed at Smyrna, in Turkey, whence his explorations in the interior of Asia Minor led him to districts unknown to Europeans, and he thus discovered the ruins of a number of cities which existed earlier than 300 bc. After entering Lycia he explored the River Xanthus from the mouth at Patara upwards. Nine miles from Patara he found the ruins of Xanthus, the ancient capital of Lycia. About 15 miles further up he came upon the ruins of Tlos, the remains of which, like those at Xanthus, date to the fifth century bc. After taking sketches of the most interesting objects and copying a number of inscriptions, he returned to England, where his Journal Written during an Excursion in Asia Minor (1839) created such interest that Lord Palmerston, at the request of the trustees of the British Museum, applied to the sultan of Turkey for permission to bring away a number of the Lycian works of art.
Late in 1839 Fellows again set out for Lycia, accompanied by George Scharf, who assisted him in sketching. (This expedition and others with Fellows proved formative for Scharf, who went on to become a noted connoisseur and ultimately director of the National Portrait Gallery.) Fellows discovered thirteen ancient cities, all containing works of art, produced a map of the area, and brought home much natural historical material, as well as coins, and transcriptions and impressions of Lycian letters. However, permission could not be obtained from the Porte for the removal of any monuments or sculptures. In 1841 his Account of Discoveries in Lycia appeared.
In October 1841, at the request of the British Museum, Fellows set out on his third expedition. He ran into difficulties, and had to go to Constantinople to apply for another firman (permit). The English government had provided insufficient funds, and Fellows himself advanced the money to enable the workmen to proceed. It was his energy and experience, as well as his money, which made the expedition a success. The party landed at the mouth of the Xanthus River on 26 December, and in June 1842 seventy-eight cases of architectural remains and beautiful sculptures were sent to Malta.
In his fourth and most famous expedition in 1844 Fellows led a large party, consisting of 100 men from the Royal Navy, stonecutters from Malta, men from Rome for taking casts, carpenters, interpreters, and others; twenty-seven additional cases were forwarded to England, and their contents exhibited in the British Museum. The most noteworthy places illustrated by these relics are Xanthus, Pinara, Patara, Tlos, Myra, and Olympus. In 1844 Fellows presented to the museum his portfolios, accounts of his expeditions, and specimens of natural history illustrative of Lycia.
To refute allegations which had appeared in the press Fellows in 1843 published The Xanthian Marbles: their Acquisition and Transmission to England. On 7 May 1845 he was knighted 'as an acknowledgment of his services in the removal of the Xanthian antiquities to this country'. Fellows's Xanthian antiquities were displayed originally in one room at the British Museum; Fellows, familiar with modern German museum practice, tried to ensure that the pieces were displayed in a historically coherent way, not grouped to make them look superficially more pleasing.
Fellows married, on 25 October 1845, Eliza, only daughter of Francis Hart of Nottingham; she died on 3 January 1847. On 22 June 1848 he married Harriet, widow of William Knight of Oaklands, Hertfordshire. In the late 1840s and 1850s he published accounts of his travels and discoveries, as well as descriptions of particular artefacts which he had collected. During the latter part of his life he lived at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, occupying his time with agricultural pursuits. Fellows died at his London home, 4 Montague Place, Russell Square, on 8 November 1860 and was buried in Highgate cemetery. His second wife died on 19 March 1874.
In the twentieth century Fellows has been unjustly and casually criticized as a plunderer who stripped ancient sites of their treasures. In fact he was a careful and systematic observer of the countries through which he travelled, of their geology, geography, and natural history, as well as their antiquities. It was never his intention to add to a private collection, but he rather spent considerable sums of his own money to ensure that antiquities were carefully removed and transported to a public collection in the British Museum. He worked hard to ensure the interest of the scholarly world in his discoveries, and was a generous patron of others, notably Scharf. He was unquestionably ahead of his time in museum practice, and was actuated in removing the monuments by a genuine desire for their conservation, albeit one tinged with satisfaction that the British Museum's collection was unrivalled in Europe in this sphere.
- E. Slatter, Xanthus: travels of discovery in Turkey (1994)
- Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, 31 (1861), cxxii–cxxiii
- B. Hawes, ed., A narrative of an ascent to the summit of Mont Blanc (1828)
- C. Brown, Lives of Nottinghamshire worthies (1882)
- GM, 3rd ser., 10 (1861), 103–4
- CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1861)
- Alpine Club, corresp.
- BL, official papers, Add. MS 53724
- Wellcome L., corresp. and papers
- W. Brockedon, chalk sketch, 1845, NPG; repro. in Slatter, Xanthus, 3 [see illus.]
- J. Wood, portrait, 1850, BM; repro. in Slatter, Xanthus, 334
Wealth at Death
under £20,000: probate, 14 Nov 1861, CGPLA Eng. & Wales