A lecture on the Mentor Shipwreck

 

Dr Dimitris Kourkoumelis gave a lecture yesterday on the findings of the Mentor shipwreck. His lecture was split into three parts. The first past focused on historical facts relating to the ship and its journey. The second 
part focused on a detailed description of the events that occurred prior to and leading up to the sinking of the Mentor, as well as Lord Elgin's efforts to salvage the sunken items. In the final part Dr Kourkoumelis described his 
own investigation into the shipwreck and presented his findings.
 
Dr Dimitris Kourkoumellis
 
Dr Kourkoumelis at his lecture on 26/11/12 at the National Archeological Museum
 
 
The Mentor and its journey
 
The ship was on its way to Malta and from there its was going to continue to the UK. The ship contained 17 containers. There were 18 people on board out of which 12 were members of the crew, 3 were passengers and the 
final three were the passengers' servants. The ship's commander was William Eglen. The voyage from Athens to Kythera was trouble-free as the weather was fair. Upon reaching the open waters of Cape Tainaron, situated
at the southernmost point of mainland Greece, the weather changed with the sudden occurrence of Strong Northwesterly winds. At this point is was decided that the best course of action would be for the ship to dock at the
closest port. Though the Peloponnese was much closer, commander Eglen decided to proceed to the port of Kythera as it was under British rule. This option was preferable given the items held on the sip. The ship reached the
area of Avlemonas on the 17th September 1802 where it crashed into the sharp rocks surrounding the area.
 
The position of the Mentor, indicating the available options for docking when the Northwesterly winds occurred.
 
The ship sunk instantly, thus giving the crew and passengers no time to gather their belongings before abandoning the ship, It was, however, due to this hasty reaction, that the entire 18 members of crew and passengers managed to survive.  Elgin was informed of the accident, which resulted in a two-year effort to retrieve the sunken Parthenon marbles. By 24th October 1804, Elgin had retrieved the marbles. Upon the completion of the retrieval, Elgin formally requested the help of the British government to transport the Parthenon marbles to the United Kingdom, and so on the 16th February 1805, two ships of the British Royal Navy arrived in Kythera.
 
Underwater excavations
 
A number of underwater excavations have since taken place. The first excavation was in 1875 conducted by the Greek government and under the supervision of an archaeologist.In 1975 Jacques Cousteau spent a couple of weeks 
doing his own investigation in the area. Throughout the years numerous other underwater excavations have taken place, instigated by local residents' sightings of what they believed were fragments of marble in the underwater 
area. In 2009 the Acropolis Museum, and prior to its opening,  arranged an underwater excavation in the hope that newly found Parthenon marble fragments could be displayed in the museum upon its opening. However, none of 
these excavations have ever turned up any findings to support that fragments of the Parthenon marbles are still located at the bottom of the sea in the surrounding area. In 2011, Dr Dimitris Kourkoumelis instigated his own 
two-year excavation in the area. Though once more no fragments of the Parthenon marbles were found, Dr Kourkoumelis did find a number of items which help give us a better idea of the running of the Mentor, its decor 
and the personal belongings of both the crew and passengers of the ship.
 
Dr Kourkoumelis' underwater excavation in the summer of 2012
 
The findings
 
Of particular interest in the findings is a valuable inkwell, which Dr Kourkoumelis supposes could be William Hamilton's (Lord Elgin's secretary)own inkwell. It would have been too expensive an inkwell for members of the 
crew to own and so it is much more likely that it belonged to one of the three high profile passengers. Dr Kourkoumelis referred to a scene in Christopher Miles' film Lord Elgin and Some Stones of no Value, featuring a scene of Hamilton using his inkwell while composing a letter.
 
Hugh Grant playing William Hamilton (Lord Elgin's secreatary)
Scene from Lord Elgin and Some Stones of no Value. Hamilton (played by Hugh Grant) writing a letter with his pen, inkwell and pen holder beside him.
 
Item found in the Kythera underwater excavation resembling an inkwell and pen holder (photo taken by the Ephorate of Maritime Antiquities).
 
Some of the other findings of the excavation
 
More information is also available on the official Mentor Shipwreck Excavation website here.
 
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