Lamenting Lord Elgin


Lamenting Lord Elgin

Today is my last day working on the Itinera database until my presentation tomorrow.  While gearing up for the end of the semester, let's take a moment to look back at the unfortunate life of Thomas Bruce.

Thomas Bruce suffered from asthma throughout his life, so under his doctor's orders, he doused his face with mercury for his frequent lung complaints.  Medical treatment in the 1700s certainly is not what it is today. The mercury caused abrasions on his nose, which prompted doctors to cut off the tip of it, disfiguring Bruce's face.

In August 1803, Bruce was traveling with his wife, Mary Nisbet, and got detained by the French in Bareges, because he was a British ambassador with a travel schedule that coincided with the Napoleonic Wars.  From there, he was eventually sent to prison at Lourdes.  While he was incarcerated, Nisbet was allowed to leave France, accompanied by a man named Robert Fergusson.  The two were secretly engaged in an affair, and Fergusson would go on trial in May of 1808 for adultry.

In 1816, facing bankruptcy, Bruce sold his prized marbles to the British Museum.  He said that the marbles were worth about £75,000 (roughly $111,360), but the museum bought them for £35,000 (about $51,950).  Needless to say, he was not happy about the sale.

Between his cheating wife, partial nose and massive debt, Bruce was not a happy person.  Because he bought the marbles and messed with Greek culture, people still don't like him after his death.  And they certainly don't pity him.  He will always be remembered as the man who brought antique culture to Britian, but at the expense of ancient Greek identity.


The picture, of Thomas Bruce with his full nose, is courtesy of

For more information, check out these books:

Nagel, Susan. Mistress of the Elgin Marbles: A Biography of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin. New York: William Morrow, 2004. Print.

Vrettos, Theodore. The Elgin Affair: The Abduction of Antiquity's Greatest Treasures and the Passions It Aroused. New York: Arcade Pub., 1997. Print.

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