Loftus, William Kennett (DNB00)

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LOFTUS, WILLIAM KENNETT (1821?–1858), archæologist and traveller, born at Rye, Sussex, about 1821, was grandson of a well-known coach proprietor of the same name in Newcastle-on-Tyne. He was educated successively at Newcastle grammar school, at a school at Twickenham, and at Cambridge, where, however, he took no degree. He acted for some time as secretary to the Newcastle Natural History Society, and his interest in geology attracted the attention of Professor Sedgwick and afterwards of Sir Henry De la Beche. Sedgwick proposed him as a fellow of the Geological Society, and De la Beche recommended him to Lord Palmerston for the post of geologist on the staff of Sir William Fenwick Williams on the Turco-Persian Frontier Commission. On this work Loftus was engaged from 1849 to 1852. He went by land from Baghdad to Busrah to join the other members of the commission, and, as he was accompanied by an escort of troops, was able to visit the principal ruins on the way without risk. He discovered the interesting burial-mound and other remains at Warka, which was identified by Sir Henry Rawlinson with the ancient Erech or Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham. Returning a second time alone, Loftus made some excavations, and sent home two collections and a report to the British Museum. The most important articles in these collections were some glazed earthenware coffins of the Parthian period. In 1853 he was sent out again to Babylon and Nineveh by the Assyrian Excavation Fund, and returned in 1855, bringing with him collections from Mukeyyer, Sherifkhan, Tellsifr, Senkerah, and Warka, which are now in the British Museum. These collections include some eighty tablets, besides vases and objects in metal. He was then appointed to the geological survey of India, but his health broke down from sun-stroke, following on repeated attacks of fever while in Assyria, and he was ordered to Rangoon to recruit. Owing partly to the interruption of the survey by the mutiny, he embarked for England on the Tyburnia in November 1858, and died on board within a week of starting, from the effects of an abscess of the liver.

In 1852 he issued a volume of lithographs of cuneiform inscriptions, without a title, and in 1857 he published ‘Travels and Researches in Chaldæa and Susiana.’ He also contributed to the ‘Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society’ papers ‘On the Geological Structure of the Mountain Range of Western Persia’ (1851, vii. 263) and ‘On the Geology of Portions of the Turko-Persian Frontier’ (1854, x. 464, and 1855, xi. 247); and, to the ‘Journal of the Royal Geographical Society,’ ‘Notes on a Journey from Bagdad to Busrah’ (1856, xxvi. 131), and on ‘The Determination of the River Eulæus of the Greek Historians’ (1857, xxvii. 120). Plants collected by him in Assyria and Persia are in the herbaria at Kew and at the British Museum, and some antiquities were presented by him to the Newcastle Museum.

[Gent. Mag. 1859, i. 435; Proceedings Royal Geographical Society, 1858–9, iii. 259; Layard's Nineveh and Babylon, 1853, p. 545; and information from the Brit. Mus. authorities.]

G. S. B.