King's College London
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West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

Travels in the Morea

Map of the site of the Battle of SphacteriaMap of the site of the Battle of Sphacteria showing the harbour of Pylus and island of SphacteriaWilliam Leake (1777-1860) was an officer in the British army whose training in the art of artillery provided him with the skills in topography that inform much of his published work.

During the French wars he was engaged in official duties in different parts of the vast Ottoman Empire that then ran from Egypt through the Levant and Anatolia to the Aegean and much of the Balkans.

In 1804 Leake was sent by the British government on a mission to liaise with the Ottomans, and to gather intelligence to support plans for the defence of Greece against a feared invasion by the French.

After the Ottoman Empire entered into an alliance with France in 1807, he was ordered to make his first diplomatic approach to Ali Pasha, the powerful governor of the Ottoman province of Ioannina in what is now north western Greece. His second mission to Ioannina lasted for over a year, ending in the spring of 1810.

After he retired from the army, Leake was active in a number of learned societies, including the Society of Dilettanti, and the Numismatic Society. In 1838 he married Elizabeth Wray, the widow of William Marsden, part of whose library of printed books is held in the Foyle Special Collections Library.

The image shown here comes from the first volume of a three-volume work, based on the journals Leake kept during the survey of the Peloponnese, which he began in February 1805.  It provides a valuable first-hand account of what was then a largely unexplored region, containing information about ancient and contemporary topography and the social and economic conditions of the population. The maps and plans are based on measurements made during the course of his survey.

The plate shows the site of the Battle of Sphacteria, where in 425 BC the Athenians won a celebrated victory over the Spartans. It would also have been known to Leake’s readers as Navarino Bay, the site of the 1827 naval battle at which a British squadron, under the command of Admiral Edward Codrington, together with vessels from the French and Russian navies, sank the Turkish fleet, marking a significant stage in Greece’s path to independence.

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