Field of Science

The British Diplomat Who Studies Volcanoes

When, in 1631, Vesuvius erupted violently after having been dormant for more than 300 years, it aroused great interest among Europe's elite. German Jesuit and naturalist Athanasius Kircher traveled to Southern Italy to study Vesuvius, descending even in the crater. The volcano was almost continuously active, especially after 1750 and Naples became part of the cities traveler should visit when in Italy.

Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803) was a British diplomat in Naples from 1764 to 1798, He got so interested in the nearby Mount Vesuvius that in 1776 he published a monograph on the mountain, illustrated with stunning artwork by local painter Peter Fabris. Hamilton's "Campi Phlegraei: Observations on the Volcanos of the Two Sicilies" is considered a pioneering work of early volcanology.
 The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in August 1779.
The eruption of May 1771. An Aa lava flow (recognized by the broken surface texture) passes the observer's location and reaches the sea at Resina. Note the steep, slowly advancing front of the flow. Pietro Fabris is amongst the spectators (below left) as is William Hamilton, who explains the view to other onlookers.
Inside the crater of Mount Vesuvius.

Lava samples from Mount Vesuvius.

Another view of the August 1779 eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

The excavation of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii.
 Hamilton at the crater of Forum Vulcani (Solfatara near Pozzuoli), examining the sulphur and arsenic deposits near the hot springs.

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