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West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

Journal of a tour in the Levant

The author of the two-volume tour of the Levant featured here, William Turner (1792-1867) was a diplomat who worked in various roles at the British Embassy in Constantinople and spent a considerable amount of time exploring the region.

Constantinople was from 1453 to 1922 the capital of the Ottoman Empire and therefore an important commercial and strategic transcontinental city, at the centre of the Silk Road trade route.

The work relays the author’s experiences while on ambassadorial business, including an encounter involving a British vice-consul at a Greek port in the Morea.

The vice-consul, a foreign employee of the Levant Company, which existed from 1592 to 1825 to further British trade in the region, is kidnapped by French privateers over a dispute involving a ship taken at sea. Turner less than sympathetically confesses:

The mode of travelling in Turkey, with baggage horses and guides, and a country house in the backgroundThe mode of travelling in TurkeyI wish the French would carry them all off to America. They are in general Greek merchants, without public character, and without pay, who are respected by neither Turks, Greeks or Franks.

Information on the currency, weights and measures of Turkey are also included in the Journal, perhaps useful to the author in his role as embassy clerk and secretary in Constantinople.

The work is dedicated to George Canning, former British foreign secretary and prime minister, and a friend of Turner’s father, who gave him a clerkship at the Foreign Office.

Brightly coloured specimens of Turkish drawings, with men and women on horseback and brandishing weaponryBrightly coloured specimens of Turkish drawingsThe image of the frontispiece  from volume 1, above right, illustrates the ‘mode of travelling in Turkey’. The men to the left are Surigees (conductors) ‘leading the baggage horses, whose load is covered with a carpet or piece of cloth to save it from rain’; and the figure in the middle is the Janissary, an elite military guard, of the travellers.

Turner states that both the costumes and the country house are accurately depicted in the plate.

The image of the frontispiece to volume 2, to the left, shows ‘Specimens of Turkish drawings’.

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