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Thomas Bruce

General Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin (husband of my paternal 2nd cousin, Elizabeth Oswald)

Thomas Bruce, husband of my 2nd paternal cousin, Elizabeth Oswald, was a General in the British military, a diplomat and an art collector.


Born on July 20th, 1766 as the 3rd son of Earl Charles Bruce, Thomas succeeded his brother, William Robert (6th Earl of Elgin) at the age of 5. Thomas entered the British Army in 1785, eventually rising to rank of Major General. Elgin began his diplomatic career in 1790 and was Envoy at Brussels in 1792 and Berlin in 1795 during the first part of the war against Revolutionary France.  He was then appointed Envoy Extraordinary at Constantinople in 1799, a post he held until 1803.


During his term as Envoy Extraoridnary in Constantinople, Elgin arranged to have sculptures and architectural pieces removed from the Parthenon. This was done as Thomas was concerned that the indifference shown by the Ottoman Empire towards such artifacts placed them at risk of being lost forever. Thomas received permission from the Sublime Porte to have artists measure, sketch and copy important pieces. The request also included a provision to "take away any pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon".


Elgin began selecting a vast collection of these artifacts and, over the course of 10 years beginning in 1802, arranged to have these treasures shipped back to England. The collection remained private for 10 years.


An outcry arose from Elgin's removal of these antiquities culminating in a committee of Parliament being selected to look into the affair. Elgin published his defence which silenced most of his detractors. The personal cost to Lord Elgin to remove and ship what was to become known as "the Elgin Marbles" was around 70,000 Pounds Sterling; the British government acquired the entire collection of Elgin Marbles in 1816 for the sum of 35,000 Pounds Sterling, half of what it had cost Elgin.


Now known as the Parthenon Sculptures, the collection can now be viewed at the British Museum. The British and Greek governments have been at odds over the return of the collection to Greece with the British, thus far, refusing to return the marbles.


The next time I view this collection at the British Museum I am certain they will appear different to me knowing that it was a family member of mine (albeit by marriage) that removed and brought them to Britain. Just another interesting anecdote in my family history.




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