BUCKINGHAM, James Silk. Fragments Relating to Travels in Mesopotamia, and the Trial for Libel, Buckingham versus Bankes [titled thus on upper board]. [?London: the author, 1827]. A collection of three titles, issued together as one under this title and comprising:

(i) J.S. BUCKINGHAM. Travels in Mesopotamia. Including a Journey from Aleppo to Bagdad, by the Route of Beer, Orfah, Diarbekr, Mardin, & Mousul; with Researches on the Ruins of Nineveh, Babylon, and Other Ancient Cities.London: D.S. Maurice for Henry Colburn, 1827. Pp. [i]-xv, [1 (blank)], [4 (contents and illustrations for vols. I and II)], [61]-76, [1]-24 (section-title ‘Appendix to Travels in Mesopotamia, by J.S. Buckingham’, verso blank and appendix). 27 wood-engraved plates bound between index and appendix, numbered ‘Chapter I.’-‘Chapter XIII’ and ‘Chapter I.’-‘Chapter XIV’, the latter with ‘VOL. II.’ at the foot. (Some plates cropped at foot with loss of vol. number.) For the second (first octavo) edition, cf. Atabey 163; Ghani, p. 55.

(ii) J.S. BUCKINGHAM (editor). Opinions of Reviewers on the Travels in Mesopotamia, by J.S. Buckingham. [?London: ?D.S. Maurice for the author, 1827]. Pp. [1]-16 (title, ‘Opinions’).

(iii) [?J.S. BUCKINGHAM (editor)]. Verbatim Report of the Action for Libel in the Case of Buckingham versus Bankes, Tried in the Court of the King’s Bench, at the Guildhall, in London, before the Lord Chief Justice Abbott, and a Special Jury, on Thursday, the 19th Day of October, 1826. London: ‘Printed by Cheese, Gordon, and Co. … and sold by all booksellers’, 1826. Pp. [1]-[4] (half-title, verso blank, title, verso blank), [5]-91, [1 (blank)].   

3 parts in one volume, octavo (210 x 132mm). (Scattered light spotting, purple ink marking on lower margins of early pages.) Original light-brown cloth, upper board with applied paper title-label with printed text ‘FRAGMENTS / relating to / TRAVELS IN MESOPOTAMIA, / and the trial for libel, / BUCKINGHAM versus BANKES’ enclosed within border of rules and type-ornaments, spine with applied paper title-label with printed text ‘BUCKINGHAM versus BANKES’, a few quires partially unopened. (Extremities lightly rubbed and bumped, cloth slightly marked and bubbled, skilfully rebacked retaining original spine and paper title-label, which is rubbed.) Provenance: Nicholas Robinson, Liverpool, 12 January 1829 (1769-1854, autograph presentation inscription from Buckingham on front free endpaper ‘Liverpool. Janr 12. 1829 To Nicholas Robinson Esq Mayor of Liverpool as a humble memento of his obliged & faithful servant JS Buckingham’; by descent to:) – Nicholas Robinson (b. 1842, engraved armorial bookplate on upper pastedown).

First and only edition. The traveller and writer J.S. Buckingham (1786-1855), was born near Falmouth, and was ‘drawn to a seafaring life from an early age, having only a limited education at various local schools. While on his third voyage, in 1797, he was taken prisoner by the French and was confined for several months at Corunna as a prisoner of war. […] Buckingham spent much of his early life as a sailor in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and between 1813 and 1818 travelled extensively in Egypt, Palestine, and Persia. In October 1818 he established at Calcutta a newspaper called the Calcutta Journal. His forthright criticisms of the East India Company and the Bengal government led to his expulsion from India and the suppression of the paper by the acting governor-general, John Adam, in April 1823. Buckingham campaigned for financial compensation for many years and redress was recommended by a select committee of the House of Commons in August 1834; but it was not until long afterwards that the East India Company conceded the injustice of the suppression by granting him a pension of £200 a year’ (ODNB). 

Between 1815 and 1816 Buckingham undertook a twelve-month journey from Mumbai to Egypt, travelling out by sea and returning by land, and this expedition provided the material for four travel books: Travels in Palestine, through the Countries of Bashan and Gilead, East of the River Jordan (London, 1821), Travels among the Arab Tribes Inhabiting the Countries East of Syria and Palestine (London, 1825), Travels in Mesopotamia (London, 1827), and Travels in Assyria, Media, and Persia (London, 1829). In January 1816, on his return journey to Mumbai, Buckingham stopped at Jerusalem, where he made the acquaintance of the English traveller and artist William John Bankes (1786-1855). ‘They visited several sites around Jerusalem together and Buckingham joined Bankes’ planned expedition to Jarash and Umm Qais. The party of six set off on 28 January 1816, and reached Nazareth on 4 February’ (D. Boyer, ‘Guilty or Innocent? The Buckingham vs. Bankes Libel Trial of 1826’, in N. Cooke and V. Daubney (eds), Lost and Now Found. Explorers, Diplomats and Artists in Egypt and the Near East (Oxford, 2017), pp. 183-204, at p. 185). The two men parted on good terms, but in the first issue of his Calcutta Journal (2 October 1818), Buckingham published a substantial prospectus for his forthcoming book Travels in Palestine; the issue ‘reached Egypt nine months later and came to Bankes’ attention. Bankes was enraged when he saw the references to plans and descriptions relating to the eight-day trip from Jerusalem to Nazareth in 1816. On 12 June 1819, while in Thebes, Bankes wrote a scathing letter to Buckingham based on what he had seen in the prospectus […], accusing him of having copied and stolen material from Bankes while they had travelled together. He demanded retraction of the section in the book relating to the Jerusalem-Nazareth trip and [that Buckingham] return “all that portion of the work advertised, that treats of a journey made at my expense and compiled from my notes”. […] Around six months later, in late 1819, an open copy of [Bankes’ letter] was sent with Mr [H.W.] Hobhouse to India. Bankes gave instructions for it to be shown to the British consuls in Aleppo and Bagdad, and to anyone Hobhouse wished to in India, with the intention of ruining Buckingham’s reputation. [It] took almost 12 months to reach Buckingham in India, arriving in Calcutta in June 1820. Buckingham delayed nearly three weeks before replying with a brief letter of rebuttal. Buckingham did not comply with Bankes’ demands regarding the book […] and published it the following year. Buckingham considered that the distribution of [Bankes’ letter] constituted publication, and on his arrival in England from India towards the end of 1823 he brought a libel action against Bankes’ (op. cit., pp. 185-186). 

The trial was delayed by various factors, but eventually took place on 19 October 1826, and Buckingham won his action and £400 damages. Nonetheless, the period of seven years during which Bankes’ claims circulated, together with attacks of others, did significant damage to Buckingham’s reputation, and he evidently prepared Fragments Relating to Travels in Mesopotamia, which appears to have been privately printed for its author, in order to refute the charges levelled against him. The first part of the work is formed of reset and repaginated pages from the first and second volumes of Travels in Mesopotamia, comprising the preface (in which Buckingham seeks to clear his name), details of the contents and illustrations, the index, and the appendix, ‘containing a brief statement of the result of certain legal proceedings, connected with the literary character of the author’, together with the 27 plates which precede the work’s chapters. This is followed by the very rare, sixteen-page Opinions of Reviewers on the Travels in Mesopotamia, which opens with the words: ‘It may not be considered an inappropriate addition to this appendix to the “Travels in Mesopotamia” to add a few extracts from such Reviews as have already appeared’ (p. [3]), suggesting that it was printed at the same time as the reset ‘Appendix’ and by the same printer; certainly the paper stock is the same in both works, as are the types (for example, both the ‘Appendix’ and Opinions employ an unusual apostrophe, which is slightly rotated counter-clockwise). It seems likely that the Opinions were also issued separately, although we have only found one such copy, which is in a collection which owned the quarto edition of Travels in Mesopotamia (Catalogue of the Library of the Norfolk and Norwich Literary Institution (Norwich, 1870), p. 56). The final part is the Verbatim Report of the Action for Libel in the Case of Buckingham versus Bankes, which appears to have been edited by (and possibly printed by Cheese, Gordon, and Co. for) Buckingham, and was issued as a separate work and made widely available to the public via the book trade. 

Fragments Relating to Travels in Mesopotamia was presumably privately printed for Buckingham to distribute to those he thought would be supporters in his career as a Whig politician and reformer after his return to England in 1823. We have only been able to identify three other copies of Fragments Relating to Travels in Mesopotamia: Sir John Soane’s copy, which was inscribed to Soane in May 1827 (ref. no. 1808; the volume was rebound for Soane in 1830, thus losing its original binding and consequently being misidentified in the online catalogue); the Hopkirk copy in the original cloth inscribed the month after ours to Mrs. Geo. W. Wood on 4 February 1829 (Sotheby’s London, 13 October 1998, lot 678); and an uninscribed copy in the original binding (Peter Harrington, Travel (cat. 138, 2017), item 25). The work cannot be traced in either COPAC or WorldCat, although it is possible that other examples have been misidentified. The latest reviews in Opinions are from April issues of periodicals, so it seems likely that Fragments Relating to Travels in Mesopotamia was not completed before April 1827, and the presentation inscription dated May 1827 in Soane’s copy provides a terminus ante quem for the work. 

On his return from India to England, Buckingham had established the monthly journal Oriental Herald and Colonial Review, which ran from 1824 to 1829 and provided a platform for his campaign against the East India Company. He found willing associates for this campaign in Liverpool, whose merchants wanted to end the East India Company’s monopoly on trade with China, and Buckingham arrived in the city on 2 January 1829, where he gave four lectures on his travels and the iniquity of the East India Company’s monopoly on the 5th, 7th, 9th, and 10th of January. At the conclusion of the first lecture Nicholas Robinson, a wealthy corn merchant and the Mayor of Liverpool from 1828 to 1829, ‘moved a resolution of thanks for the speaker and the audience voted it with great enthusiasm’ (R.E. Turner, James Silk Buckingham 1786-1855. A Social Biography (London, 1934), p. 239). A petition was also circulated, which ‘asked the mayor to call a public meeting to consider the Company’s monopoly, and within five days one hundred and sixty-two of the town’s leading bankers, merchants, and burgesses had signed it. The mayor set the meeting for January 28 and appointed a committee under the chairmanship of John Gladstone, father of the great Liberal, to draw up resolutions to be presented at that time. Besides adopting these resolutions, which demanded the removal of all restrictions upon trade with India and China and condemned the Company’s government in India, the meeting took action to arouse the country. It authorized a committee headed by the mayor to proceed as might be deemed advisable toward this end and started a subscription to raise a fund to support the movement throughout the kingdom’ (op. cit., pp. 239-240). This volume was given by Buckingham to Robinson the day after the meeting, and is a remarkable artefact of the roles played by Buckingham and Robinson in the diminution of the Company’s powers, which saw it lose its remaining monopolies in 1833 and paved the way for the transfer of Indian administration from the Company to the British government in 1858.


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