There are two remarkable volumes in the manuscripts collection at the British Library. The topic covered is the trade and commerce Great Britain exacted in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. A British Consul named Alexander Drummond worked for the Levant Company in the ancient city of Aleppo. From 1747 up until February of 1756, Drummond transcribed and saved those copies of outgoing mail, both official and personal belonging to the Levant Company – including the letters of James Porter, the British Ambassador at Constantinople, Turkey.

These letters are some of the most detailed I’ve come across anywhere in the entire eighteenth-century manuscripts collection! What I mean by that is that the length, depth, and clarity of the writing are spectacular. Sadly, the collection ends February of 1756. The French landed 15,000 troops on the Balearic Island of Minorca just two months later. Regrettably Drummond’s work stopped at this important juncture.


Did Drummond die? The Seven Years War was officially declared on 17 May 1756. Did the war have anything to do with the abrupt end of Drummond’s transcription? Was there another set of volumes that did not make it through the war? Or – as my conspiracy mind tends to work – was that set (if it existed) somehow … removed from public scrutiny, and if so, when and by whom? Did it have anything to do with evidence of Mediterranean neglect by the British government, in particular the Newcastle/Fox administration? Did it show Admiral John Byng in a different light other than the mal-legacy that cultural history has applied to him.


Photo of Sir Thomas Milles Riddell courtesy of the Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography.

What we do know is that the British Library obtained these two extensive volumes from Ethel Hodgson of Alresford in Hampshire (South England). Hodgson was given the letters by an uncle, Sir Thomas Riddell (1822-1883), 3rd Baronet of  Ardnamurchan – that’s in Scotland by the way.  But how did Riddell come across the Drummond collection?

Answers are out there.