George Gordon, Lord Byron
  (1788 - 1824)

The Grand Tour (July 1809 - July 1811)


Lord Byron spent two years travelling to Portugal, Spain, Malta, Albania, Greece and Turkey. During the trip he composed the first canto (of four) of Childe Harold, a poem loosely based on his experiences during his travels that was to secure his fame on his return to England.

Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall
Lord Byron by Richard Westall c 1813

His travelling companion was John Cam Hobhouse (1786-1869), one of a circle of friends which had formed around him at Cambridge, and included Byron himself, Hobhouse, Scrope Berdmore Davies (1782-1852) , and Charles Skinner Matthews (1785-1811). The group is memorialised in part of Byron's letter to Robert Charles Dallas of 7 September 1811.

Hobhouse had the intention of writing a travelogue on his return, and kept notes of their daily routine and chance meetings during the voyage.

Byron writes in a letter to Henry Drury (master at Harrow School from 1801-41, and Byron's one time tutor, later friend) from Falmouth on 25 June 1809:

H[obhouse] has made woundy preparations for a book on his return; 100 pens, two gallons of japan ink, and several volumes of best blank, is no bad provision for a discerning public (TMLB, p270-1)

John Cam Hobhouse
John Cam Hobhouse (1786 - 1869) : Byron's friend and travelling companion
Mezzotint. Charles Turner after James Lonsdale c1826

Information about the trip is supplemented by Byron's letters to various people in England during the voyage.

The Voyage

In the same letter, (to Henry Drury from Falmouth, on 25 June 1809) Byron writes:

We sail tomorrow in the Lisbon packet, having been detained till now by the lack of wind, and other necessaries. These being at last procured, by this time tomorrow evening we shall be embarked on the vide vorld of vaters, vor all the vorld like Robinson Crusoe. The Malta vessel not sailing for some weeks, we have determined to go by way of Lisbon, and, as my servants term it, to see 'that there Portingale' - thence to Cadiz and Gibraltar, and so on our old route to Malta and Constantinople... 

He adds:

... I have taken the treasure of a servant, Friese, the native of Prussia Proper, into my service ..... He has been all among the Worshippers of Fire in Persia, and has seem Persepolis and all that.  


Lord Byron by Holmes (miniature)
Portrait of Lord Byron by James Holmes (c1815)

Other members of the party

Fletcher: William Fletcher was Byron's servant from 1804 almost continuously until his (Byron's) death at Missolonghi in 1824. During this voyage he is frequently mentioned by Byron as complaining about the inconveniences of travel. He was a little older than Byron.

Murray: 'Old' Joe Murray was the only servant (other than his housekeeper, Betty) retained at the end of his life by the reclusive fifth Lord Byron, George's great uncle from whom he inherited the title. He was retired by John Hanson, the young Lord Byron's lawyer, but reinstated as butler by Byron in 1808.

Bob: Robert Rushton was the son of one of Byron's tenant farmers, and five years Byron's junior.

Friese: the above mentioned Prussian, who spoke Persian.

Lord Byron with Robert Rushton
Lord Byron with Robert Rushton: George Sanders 1809

They set off

Beginning at Falmouth, Byron and his party proceded by boat to Lisbon, and then overland to Badajoz, Seville, Cadiz and Gibraltar. From Gibraltar the two men sailed to Malta via Sardinia and Sicily, and then on to Prevesa in Albania. They made their way next to the court of the tyrant Ali Pasha at Tepaleen, who treated Byron very kindly, 'like a son', then to Patras, Athens, Smyrna, and Constantinople, where Byron swam the Bosphorus from Sestos to Abydos in imitation of Leander, who, according to a late classical poet and a long poem by Christopher Marlowe in imitation, swam the same stretch of water to visit his lover, Hero (a woman), eventually coming to grief one night in the attempt. The inconsolable Hero followed him into the water.

Map of Lord Byron's outward journey
Lord Byron, outward journey

Greece was, at the time, under Turkish rule, and it was during this visit that Byron first became aware of the Greek desire for independence.

Hobhouse returned to England alone in July 1810. Byron stayed on in Greece, returning to England in July 1811, having spent time exploring the Morea (now called the Peloponnese, the southernmost section of Greece) and Attica (the peninsular which projects into the Aegean Sea, and includes Athens).

Map of Lord Byron's homeward journey
Lord Byron, homeward journey

Childe Harold, the poem.  

From Falmouth to Lisbon : Sunday 2nd July to Friday 7th July

Portugal : Friday 7th July to Sunday 23rd July

Spain and Gibraltar : Sunday 23rd July to Thursday 17th August


The poet biographies, criticism, translations, maps and textual notes on this site are the copyright of Paul Scott