King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

Travels and researches in Crete

Chromolithograph depicting sponge diving, with divers positioned on small boatsA scene of sponge diving off the island of CreteIn a naval career that extended for over 30 years, Captain TAB Spratt (1811-88) took part in surveys in the eastern Mediterranean, preparing nautical charts for the Admiralty Hydrographic Department.

He served in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov during the Crimean War (1855); surveyed the approaches to the projected Suez Canal (1856); and from 1858 was involved in taking soundings to assist the laying of submarine telegraphic cables. 

Between 1851 and 1853, while surveying the coast of Crete, Spratt took the opportunity to explore the hinterland of the island. Crete at this time was still part of the Ottoman Empire (it was not to be joined with Greece until 1913) and little was known about its topography and population.

The item featured here is the first of a two-volume work in which he records his observations on the island’s ancient settlements, geology, fauna, and flora and on the everyday life of the people of Crete.

The chromolithograph reproduced here is taken from a sketch by the author and illustrates the ‘small caïques or half-decked boats … very handy little craft’ used for sponge diving on the eastern coast of Crete, where this enterprise played an important role in the local economy. Spratt reminds his Victorian British readers that the ‘gentleman at his morning ablutions’ has little idea of ‘the hard and peculiar trials and exertions some fellow-creature has gone through before he was enabled to procure for [his] gratification this valuable and peculiar marine production.’

Spratt was a friend of Edward Forbes, professor of Botany at King’s College London from 1843. He corresponded with William Martin Leake, Sir Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin, who was interested in the evidence he adduces of Bronze Age civilization on Crete, and to whom he sent a copy of this book.

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