Guilty or innocent? The Buckingham vs. Bankes libel trial of 1826

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The early 19th-century English traveller and adventurer William John Bankes spent almost five years visiting and recording ancient sites in the Levant. He was in Egypt and Nubia for much of this time, but he also visited Palestine and Syria. While in Palestine in early 1816 he made a short side trip to Jerash (Jarash) and Umm Qais (Gadara) east of the Jordan, in the company of James Silk Buckingham. The trip proved to be historically interesting but was otherwise unremarkable in the context of his other travels; however, there were unexpected ramifications. These surfaced three years later following the publication of a prospectus of a book on Buckingham’s travels in the Middle East that included a lengthy section of the trip to Jarash and Umm Qais. This triggered an angry response from Bankes, then in Egypt, who distributed a letter accusing Buckingham of, among other things, using Bankes’ notes and plan of Jarash, and culminated in Buckingham bringing a libel case against Bankes four years later. After a three-year delay, the libel case came to trial in October 1826, ten years after the Jarash-Umm Qais trip, and resulted in Buckingham being awarded £400 in damages. The trial preparations and its aftermath attracted considerable press attention at the time but there has been little modern commentary. Buckingham’s subsequent publications and actions implied that he considered his win at the libel trial had largely disproved Bankes’ accusations. Briggs & Co. had paid the costs of his return trip from Egypt to India, but separate allegations that lengthy delays on this 12-month long trip constituted a breach of trust with Briggs & Co were never satisfactorily resolved. A review of the available evidence has identified unpublished documents in the Bankes archive at the Dorset History Centre at Dorchester (DRC) that casts new light on the attribution of guilt and innocence in the libel case and on the veracity of Buckingham’s justifications in connection with the alleged breach of trust with Briggs & Co.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLost and Now Found
Subtitle of host publicationExplorers, Diplomats and Artists in Egypt and the Near East
EditorsNeil Cooke, Vanessa Daubney
Place of PublicationOxford
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781784916282
ISBN (Print)9781784916275
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


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