This morning I received an email enquiry from a student at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris asking about a vessel that was once belonged to Sir Thomas Reade that is in the collection at Manchester Museum. He had seen a reference in Jean Paul Morel’s Céramique Hellénistique et Romaines II (p. 281). Unfortunately the University Library doesn’t appear to have a copy of this book so I couldn’t check the reference but a quick search on our collection documentation system showed that we have no less than 75 pots – mostly Roman lamps – from this collector. Many of them come from Cape Bon and Cape Demaz, and there’s a bowl from Thapsus, in Tunisia.
I couldn’t find any references to Sir Thomas Reade in the Annual Reports published by the Museum and decided to look up Sir Thomas on the internet and came across quite a lot of biographical information about him because he was something of a celebrity in his time. It turns out he was one of the jailors of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte after his abdication and confinement on the island of St Helena. I learnt that Sir Thomas was a local man. He was born in Congleton in 1782. There is a carved marble memorial to him in St Peter’s Church, Congleton, Cheshire. It is interesting that this memorial is flanked on either side by a representation of an amphora or storage vessel.
In 1799 he ran away from home to enlist in the army. He took part in campaigns in Holland, Egypt and America, distinguished himself in Italy and Sicily, and was given a knighthood in 1815, when he was only thirty-three. He travelled to St Helena in the South Atlantic on 29 January 1816 and there he served as jailer to the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who had been exiled to the island following the Battle of Waterloo. After the death of Napoleon in 1821, Reade returned to England and in 1824 he was appointed Consul-General of Tunis. In this diplomatic post he helped persuade the Bey or ruler of Tunis to abolish slavery. Reade served in Tunis until his death in 1849. Reade’s influential position at Tunis enabled him to collect Carthaginian and Romano-African antiquities, and he carried out some excavations amongst the ruins of Carthage. He removed a bi-lingual inscription, now in the British Museum, from a Libyo-Phoenician monument at Dougga, sadly damaging it in the process. He also collected manuscripts.
The student at the Ecole du Louvre emailed me to say he found information about objects in Sir Thomas Reade’s collection in the auction catalogue Curious Carthagenian Antiquities, marbles, valuable porphyry columns, fragments, terra cottas (A catalogue of antiquities which will be sold by T. Winstanley and Sons on the 18th of February, 1850, etc. [With plates.] MS. Prices, Thomas Winstanley & Co, Liverpool : Baines & Herbert, ). An 1857 catalogue of the Manchester Natural History Museum does mention Carthaginian antiquities but doesn’t refer to Sir Thomas Reade, so it is not at all clear that Sir Thomas’ collection came to Manchester Museum when the Manchester Natural History Society transferred its collection to Owens College (the predecessor of University of Manchester).