Sir Robert Hamilton Lang (Biographical details)

Sir Robert Hamilton Lang (collector; merchant/tradesman; Scottish; British; Male; 1836 - 1913)

Also known as

Lang, Robert Hamilton (1013)


Sir Robert Hamilton Lang, KCMG., was born in Scotland in 1836, the son of Gavin Lang, the Minister of Glasford in Lanarkshire, and Anna Marshall. He attended Hamilton Academy and extramural classes at Glasgow University, before starting work at the age of 14 as a clerk in a marine insurance office in Glasgow. He later moved to a merchant firm and then to a more senior role at the Glasgow Custom House.

In 1856 Lang got a position as a clerk for a merchant firm - the company's name is not mentioned in any accounts seen by the author - with Levantine trading connections and was sent to Beirut. He was posted to Cyprus by the same firm in 1861; his success in promoting his company's madder-root business there led to his appointment as the manager of the Imperial Ottoman Bank (IOB) which established a branch at Larnaca in 1863. He held this position for the next nine years, after which he moved to Cairo to run the bank's office there. During his time on Cyprus, he served as Acting Vice-Consul of Cyprus on three occasions and as Consul in his own right from 1871-2 and was one of the most important members of the foreign community on the island.

His later career was meteoric, with subsequent postings to Romania and Constantinople, where he later became a Director General of the 'Caisse de la Dette', the body managing the Ottoman Empire's foreign loans. Between 1887 and 1897, he was instrumental in reforming the parlous finances of the Daira Sanieh, the highly lucrative but poorly managed and indebted estates of the Khedive (the title of the Egyptian ruler) which had effectively been annexed by Egypt's creditors (mainly Anglo-French debt bond-holders). Lang's final major position was the Governrship of the IOB in Constantinople in 1897.

His retained an interest in Cyprus long after he left the island, having been consulted by the British Government on its internal politics on the eve of the Occupation in 1878, and later helping to organise the Cypriot court at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886 (Lang 1886a; 1886b). His success and social status are reflected by a series of honours bestowed on him by all the countries within which he worked, including a KCMG by the British government, the Medjedie (Third Class) by the Khedive of Egypt, and several major honours by the Ottoman Sultan. Lang eventually retired to his home at Dedham in Essex, and died in Hampstead, London in 1913. He married Margaret MacLellan (1855-1937) in 1876. His nephew Cosmo Lang (1864-1945), whose father had espoused the High Church movement within the Presbyterianism, became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lang took an interest in the antiquities of Cyprus at a time when the archaeological wealth of the island was beginning to be exploited by foreigner residents and consular staff (summarised in Goring 1988 and Challis 2008). According to his archaeological memoirs published in 1905, he was first introduced to antiquities by Demetrios Pierides, a colleague at the IOB and a leading local antiquarian. He began first by acquiring objects of interest and value from others but later organised his own excavations around the village of Dhali in the late 1860s, first from a number of cemeteries around the modern village (probably 1868-9) and then at the site of an important sanctuary located between the twin acropoleis of ancient Idalion in the spring and summer of 1869. He also excavated near Pyla near Larnaka where he ran a model farm. During this time Lang also introduced his friend Thomas Sandwith, the British Consul at Larnaka, to archaeology. The latter made a significant contribution to the development of Cypriot archaeology through his study of the abundant pottery discovered in this period (Merrillees 2001).

Lang's vivid account of the problems he encountered with the Ottoman authorities over the excavation and exportation of antiquities (without a firman), though probably reliable in themselves, does not emphasise how his social and political status on the island helped him in his archaeological endeavours.

He was in contact with Charles Newton at the British Museum from 1861 (correspondence in the GR archives), in his capacity as acting British Vice-Consul. Newton encouraged Lang to record and photograph the findspots of his discoveries and keep as much of the collection together as possible, but also to publish an account of his finds (Lang and Poole 1878, see below). Much of his collection was purchased by the British Museum in 1872-3, but other items are now in the Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum (first loaned and then donated), the Louvre and various museums in Germany (including Berlin). Other items were given away as gifts, including to Luigi Palma di Cesnola, the American Consul and large-scale collector of antiquities.

A detailed account of the excavations of Idalion published in 1878 (Lang and Poole 1878, though based on a paper read in 1871) is regarded as the first Cypriot site report in the modern sense. He also penned an account of the discovery of the Dali hoard of coins found during his excavations (Lang 1871). Much later he wrote a memoir of his archaeological work in 'Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine' in 1905, not always reliable in detail but highly evocative of the period in which so much amateur excavation took place on Cyprus. His primary interest in business and commerce is reflected in a book on the economic potential of Cyprus that appeared just after the British Occupation in 1878, entitled 'Cyprus: its history, its present resources, and future prospects' (Lang 1878). There are however several valuable chapters on antiquities in the same volume written much closer in time to the events they describe than Lang's later account.

The main published account of his professional life can be found in an article appearing in The World in 1909 (Anon. 1909). Other details can be found in his 'memoirs', an manuscript in the possession of his descendants in the Thelwall family, a copy of which was kindly given to the Museum by Mr John Thelwall. Lang's own accounts (1878 and 1905) are central to reconstructing his archaeological activities, but see also Masson 1968, Goring 1988 and Challis 2008 for the broader background of his excavations.


Anon. 1909, 'Celebrities at home. No. 1605. Sir Robert Hamilton Lang, K.C.M.G at The Grove, Dedham, Essex', The world. A journal for men and women. No. 1813, 30 March 1909, 519-520.

Bassett H. 1901, Men of note in finance and commerce, with which is incorporated 'men of office', a biographical business directory (London).

Challis 2008, From the Harpy Tomb to the wonders of Ephesus. British archaeologists in the Ottoman Empire 1840-1880 (London), 163-4.

Goring E. 1988, A mischievous pastime. Digging in Cyprus in the Nineteenth Century, (Edinburgh), 7-10.

Hill G. (ed. H. Lukes) 1952, A history of Cyprus. Vol. IV. The Ottoman province. The British colony. 1571-1948 (Cambridge), chapter VI passim.

Lang R. 1871, 'On coins discovered during recent excavations in the island of Cyprus', Numismatic Chronicle XI, 1-18.

Lang R. 1878, Cyprus: its history, its present resources, and future prospects (London), esp. chapters XVI and XVII which deal specifically with antiquities.

Lang R. 1886a, Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886. Handbook to Cyprus (with map of the island) and catalogue of the exhibits three woodcuts (London).

Lang R. 1886b, Report (with three woodcuts) upon the results of the Cyprus representation at the Colonial & Indian Exhibition of 1886 (London).

Lang R. 1905, 'Reminiscences - archaeological research in Cyprus', Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 177, 622-39.

Lang R. and Poole S. 1878, 'Narrative of excavations in a temple at Dali (Idalium) in Cyprus', Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature XI (2nd series), 30-79.

Masson O. 1968, 'Kypriaka VII: Le sanctuaire d'Apollon à Idalion (Fouilles 1868-1869)', BCH 92, 386-402.

Merrillees R. 2001, 'T. B. Sandwith and the beginnings of Cypriot archaeology', in ed. V. Tatton-Brown, Cyprus in the 19th century AD. Fact, fancy and fancy (London), 222-38.

Peltenburg E. and Karageorghis V. 1976, 'Some Cypriote vases in Glasgow', RDAC, 84-91.

Tatton-Brown V. 2001, 'Excavations in ancient Cyprus: original manuscripts and correspondence in the British Museum', in ed. V. Tatton-Brown, Cyprus in the 19th Century AD. Fact, fancy and fiction (London), 168-83 (list of archival documents relating to Lang in the British Museum).

Entry also based on unpublished archives in the British Museum (see Tatton-Brown 2001 for a summary) and on papers in the possession of the Thelwall family who kindly made these available to the BM for study.