The Columns of the Atreus Temple and the inimitable Howe Peter, 2nd Marquess of Sligo
I have written much about the inimitable Howe Peter Browne in these blogs as he is one of the most charismatic personalities in the Browne family tree. His capricious escapades have enthralled our visitors with tales of adventure and misadventure throughout his life. His colourful pursuits are included in our guided tour that is now available for every visitor to Westport House to enjoy!
Howe Peter Browne, the 2nd Marquess of Sligo – son of John Denis Browne and Louisa Catherine Howe – was born in 1788 and at the tender age of 21 became the 2nd Marquess after the death of his father. Howe Peter is largely described as your typical regency buck – a fashionable and sociable man during the Regency period in Britain and Ireland (1811-1820).
It is during this time that Howe Peter went on his Grand Tour – a rite of passage for wealthy young men of the gentry who would travel to places like Italy and Greece to excavate ancient sites such as Pompeii. These ventures would culminate in the collecting and keeping any ancient objects that may pique their interest – these pieces would be brought home and displayed in ‘Cabinets of Curiosity’.
In August 1812, Howe Peter Browne arrived in Mycenae and went to the Atreus temple, the legendary burial chamber of Agamemnon. Howe Peter was widely read in Greek History and Greek Antiquities and this was the reason for his visit. His main goal – to excavate the two great 3,000-year-old columns of the doorway to the Treasury of Atreus.
According to Denis Browne, the 10th Marquess of Sligo’ s book, “The History of the Brownes” he states ‘This major archaeological find was loaded into the hold of the ship, but he doubted the ability of his men to sail it home safely. He therefore bribed two British seamen off a passing warship to ensure its expert navigation. Even for a Marquess, even in 1812, this was an offence which could not be overlooked. For England was at war, and to seduce from their posts two members of His Majesty’s forces was then, as now, a serious crime. He was tried at the Old Bailey in December 1812, fined £5,000 and sentenced to four months in Newgate (prison). If the voyage itself was part drama and part farce, the trial was comic opera. For his widowed mother was so impressed by the firm handling of her son by the judge, Sir William Scott, and he so taken with the pleading of the mother, that, four months later, on the day the Marquess came out of jail, she married the judge as her second husband…. The marriage was not a success, and there are letters to her son complaining. At home, the judge was still judicial and somewhat pompous. He was also mean with the money. She was casual and insufficiently impressed with the dignity of his calling. One’s sympathies are with the lady. Eventually they separated and in 1817 she died in Amsterdam.”
Subsequently, the columns were discovered in the basement of Westport House where they had lain hidden for almost a century – on discovery by the then Earl of Altamont George Ulick, who would later become the 6th Marquess of Sligo in 1906, he decided to donate the columns to the British Museum where they are still on display today. A good example of Ulick abiding by the Browne family motto “Suivez Raison” loosely translated as “Follow the right” or do the right thing.
In 1943, the British Museum sent two replica columns to Westport House where they were erected either side of the exterior door into the South Wing extension where they remain today as pictured in lead photograph above.
Copy by Kathryn Connolly.
Excerpt taken from Denis Brownes’ book “The History of the Brownes” (1981)
Photos from the British museum taken from the website: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/G_1905-1105-1-3
Photo from Britannica from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Treasury-of-Atreus
Westport House is currently undergoing phase one of a restoration project that is expected to be completed in 2022. It will see much needed conservation work carried out to the Georgian-era home to help protect the contents of the house and stories like this one for many more generations to enjoy. The house is now open to visitors and you are invited to pre-book your visit to see the results of the project as well as learn all about the inimitable 2nd Marquess of Sligo, Howe Peter. The ideal day out during your visit to Westport. We look forward to welcoming you.