Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sams, Joseph

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SAMS, JOSEPH (1784–1860), orientalist, born in 1784 at Somerton, Somerset, was educated at Ackworth school, Yorkshire, from 1794 to 1798, and became a teacher there in 1804. He left in 1810 to start a school at Darlington, but relinquished it to open a bookseller's shop. Later he travelled over the continent of Europe and elsewhere in search of antiquities. During his many visits to the East he formed a valuable collection of Egyptian papyri, mummies, and sarcophagi. The objects were intelligently collected to show the workmen's method, and included half-finished inscriptions, palettes with the colours prepared, and children's toys. Among the jewellery was said to be the ring presented by Pharaoh to Joseph. In the course of his visits to Palestine, Sams visited every spot mentioned in the New Testament that could be identified.

In 1832 he obtained from a banker in Girgenti 150 Græco-Sicilian vases of much interest, which he exhibited and described. Sams was somewhat eccentric, wore a ‘three-decker’ hat, and secreted the money for which his circular notes were changed in a screw ferrule at the end of a walking-stick. He carried with him religious books and tracts in Italian, Arabic, and other tongues. When granted an interview with Mohammet Ali at Alexandria he gave him a copy of the scriptures, and deposited another in the monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai.

Sams's curiosities were exhibited at 56 Great Queen Street, London, and at Darlington. Many collections were enriched from them. The bulk, which was offered to the British Museum, was purchased by Joseph Mayer [q. v.] about 1850, was exhibited with his own collection in Great Colquith Street, Liverpool, and in 1867 presented to the town by him.

Sams died on 18 March 1860, and was buried at Darlington. He married, in 1807, Mary Brady of Doncaster (d. 1834); by her he had several children. His books, pictures, tapestries, and manuscripts, were sold by Messrs. Puttick & Simpson in London on 2 Nov. 1860. Sams issued a ‘Descriptive Catalogue’ of his collection of rare books, illustrated by Bewick, and with critical and biographical notes (pt. i. 1822, pt. ii. 1824). He also printed drawings of the Egyptian remains; in 1839 an illustrated catalogue of them, and a catalogue of ancient and modern books relating chiefly to the Society of Friends (Durham, 1856, 8vo). A notice of his Egyptian curiosities, with plates, appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ April 1833, pp. 312–15, and was separately issued.

[Nodal's Bibliography of Ackworth School, p. 27; Hodgson's Teachers and Officers of the School, p. 8; Howitt's Boy's Country Book, p. 260; Boyce's Annals of a Cleveland Family, p. 192; Longstaffe's Hist. of Darlington, p. 339; Gatty's Cat. of the Mayer Collection, 1879; Gent. Mag. 1832 i. 451, ii. 65, 1833 i. 257; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 521; Literary Gazette, 12 May 1832, p. 312; private information.]

C. F. S.