William Gell (1777-1836) the topographer and antiquary, was the younger son of Philip Gell of Hopton, in Derbyshire.
Little is known of his early life, beyond the fact that he attended Derby School, but his father, Philip Gell, may well have encouraged his son’s antiquarian interests given that he corresponded with other local antiquaries, including Samuel Pegge and Hayman Rooke, particularly regarding Roman antiquities found on his land, and, like his son, appears to have been a good amateur draughtsman.. His father died in 1795 and his mother married Thomas Blore (1764-1818), formerly the estate manager of her late husband. This second marriage was not a happy one and the couple formally separated in 1802. There is no record of correspondence between Gell and his stepfather, but Blore, too, had antiquarian interests and during the 1790s was compiling collections towards histories of Derbyshire and of Rutland. In later life Gell alluded to genealogies that he had drawn up as a youth and implied that Blore had ‘made away’ with them. In 1793 Gell matriculated at Emmanuel College Cambridge; he graduated BA in 1798 and was elected to a fellowship that year and in 1800 was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
During his time at Cambridge he seems to have prospered and made a number of formative friendships with other classically-minded antiquaries and travellers, including Edward Dodwell, Robert Walpole, E.D. Clarke, William Wilkins, Henry Raikes and the earl of Aberdeen. The latter, upon returning from his tour of Europe and Greece, founded the ‘Athenian Society’ in 1804, of which Gell was a member.
 See W. W. Wroth, ‘Gell, Sir William (1777–1836)’, rev. Jason Thompson, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10511, accessed 29 May 2017] and Edith Clay (ed.), Sir William Gell in Italy (London, 1976), 1-36.  Society of Antiquaries of London MS 891/1 correspondence of Hayman Rooke; Derbyshire Record Office (DRO) D258/56/3/1-2 and Hayman Rooke, ‘Antiquities discovered in Derbyshire’, Archaeologia, xii (1796), 1-5.  DRO D258/50/134 William Gell to Philip Gell, 15 Apr. 1830 ;D258/ 50/141 William Gell to Georgiana Gell, 12 Dec. 1830. The Blore manuscripts are mostly in Cambridge University Library MS Add 3874-3921 and Record Office for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland (ROLLR) DE 3214 (including collections relating to History of Rutland and a projected history of Derbyshire).  R.W. Liscombe, William Wilkins 1778-1839 (Cambridge, 1980), 36.
Tea with Wordsworth
In the late 1790s he also acquired property in the Lake District, where he built a cottage on the edge of Grasmere, within hailing distance of Dorothy and William Wordsworth, whom, according to Dorothy’s diary, he visited occasionally for tea. The earliest surviving notebooks and sketchbooks belonging to Gell date from the periods he spent in the Lake District and from a tour he made to the west coast and Highlands of Scotland in the summer of 1800.
He followed what was by then a well-established tourist itinerary of Ossianic landscapes, Gothic ruins and sites associated with the tragic heroine, Mary Queen of Scots.His comments on landscape are typical of the picturesque tourist of his time: rugged landscapes were admired, but true beauty was found in land improved by plantations and good management.
For someone who would later play precise attention to architectural style and ornament in Greece and Italy, and who numbered amongst his friends antiquaries who had considerable expertise in the Gothic, his descriptions are imprecise: he could distinguish between the rounded arches of the Saxon and Norman period and the pointed arches of the Gothic, but usually alluded simply to the ‘Gothic style’ in very general terms.
William Gell, A Tour in the Lakes 1797, ed. William Rollinson (Otley, 2000), xv-xvii.  Suffolk Record Office (Bury St Edmunds Branch) E2/42/6 Sir William Gell, ‘Tour in Scotland’; British School at Rome, English Notebook.
In search of Troy: Mediterranean Tour
In 1800 Britain was at war with France and the traditional European tour through France and Italy was impossible; the continent was not, however, entirely closed off to travellers. It was perfectly possible to travel through Germany and Austria down to Trieste and Venice and then to proceed to Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean, which is precisely what Gell determined to do in the autumn of 1800, with two companions, his Cambridge friend, Edward Dodwell, and another traveller named Atkins. The journal and sketches of this tour survive at Bristol University Library Special Collections and in the British Museum. From Germany he went to the Ionian Islands, Athens, Constantinopleand the Troad, where he convinced himself that the site of Troy was to be found at Burnabashi. During these travels he evidently decided to give up his fellowship at Cambridge (he sent his family letters giving instructions for the contents of his rooms to be packed up and sent back to Hopton) although what future career or lifestyle he had mapped out for himself at this stage remains unclear. In Athens during the summer of 1801 he was witness to the dismantling of the Parthenon frieze under the supervision of the Revd Philip Hunt, Lord Elgin’s secretary, and his diary provides valuable detail of the appearance of the monuments and of the processes involved in the act of dismantling.
Leaving Athens in September, he spent the autumn travelling round the Greek islands, and surveying the plain of Troy, before wintering at Constantinople with Lord Elgin. By May 1802 he was writing to his family from Naples, on his way back to England, having sailed around Malta and Sicily.
 University of Bristol Special Collections (UBSC) MS DM7 Travel Journals of Sir William Gell, 1800-02; British Museum William Gell sketchbook 13.  DRO D258/50/9/1 William Gell to Philip Gell, 5 Jul. 1802  UBSC MS DM7, 63-6; M.R. Bruce, ‘A tourist in Athens, 1801’, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 92 (1972), 173-5.  DRO D258/50/9/2 William Gell to Philip Gell, 23 May 1802.
In hindsight it is reasonable to assume that he aimed to make a career for himself as a topographer, given the rapidity with which he completed the first of his publications relating to his Mediterranean travels: by the summer of 1803 he was in discussion with Longman and Rees regarding the publication of his Topography of Troy (1804).
The tour of 1800-2 was followed up by a mysterious ‘Ionian mission’ in 1803 for which no notebooks or correspondence survive, although in a letter to his mother written in 1804 he referred to the ‘affair of the Embassy’ not having succeeded as well as he expected and expressed his hope that he might be ‘noticed’ by the Government. In November 1804 he set out with ‘Mr Baker of Hertfordshire’ on his third tour to the eastern Mediterranean, travelling by sea through the Straits of Gibraltar in a ship carrying stores to Malta and Lord Nelson’s fleet. (It is likely that Gell was able to pull strings in high places within the navy, thanks to the influence of his uncle, John Gell, an Admiral of the Blue).
By this time he had evidently decided that travelling in Greece and Ionia was the way to make money. He explained to his mother that he intended to ‘make a very extensive collection of materials for other works of a similar nature [to the Topography of Troy]’ and to make geographic sketches. Notebooks from this tour in Greece in 1804-5 survive in the Bodleian Library and at the British School at Athens and there is a clear relationship between them and his published works.
His family letters suggest, again, some kind of unofficial brief: he referred to his ‘attachment to the Embassy’ which protected him from the ‘intrigues of Greeks and infidels’ and the fact that as he had not been wanted he had been able to make [NOT CLEAR TO ME] a very satisfactory tour of Turkey. Family correspondence also confirms that he was hoping for some appointment from the Foreign Office. In Athens in spring 1805 Gell and Baker met up with Dodwell again and his artist Pomardi, while May saw the arrival of Sir Charles Monck and his new wife, who were spending an extended honeymoon touring Greece. On his return to England, Monck set about rebuilding his ancestral home, Belsay Hall in Northumberland, in a severely pure Grecian style: this is the only building for which Gell is known to have had any involvement with the design.
 M.Woodward and R.P. Austin, ‘Some note-books of Sir William Gell’, Annual of the British School at Athens, 27 (1925/26), 67-80 and vol. 28 (1926/27), 107-27; Bodleian Library Oxford MS Eng misc. e. 154. Admiral John Gell to Philip Gell, 10 Nov. 1805, letter facing p. 124 in grangerised copy of Richard Monkton Miles, Memorials of a Tour in Some Parts of Greece: Chiefly Poetical (London, 1834) at British School at Athens.  Admiral John Gell to Philip Gell, 10 Nov. 1805, letter facing p. 124 in grangerised copy of Richard Monkton Miles, Memorials of a Tour in Some Parts of Greece: Chiefly Poetical (London, 1834) at British School at Athens.  Ian Jenkins et al., In Search of Greece. Catalogue of an Exhibit of Drawings by Edward Dodwell and Simone Pomardi; from the Collection of the Packard Humanities Institute (Los Altas, 2013); Northumberland County Record Office (NCRO) ZMI B 52/3/1-3 Sir Charles Monck’s tour of France and Italy.  J. Mordaunt Crook, The Greek Revival. Neoclassical Attitudes in British Architecture 1760-1870 (rev edn, London, 1995), 126-7, 144-7; Richard Hewlings, ‘Belsay Hall and the personality of Sir Charles Monck’, in Roger White and Caroline Whiteburn (eds.), Papers Given at the Georgian Group Symposium (London, 1987), 7-27; NCRO ZM1/S72/58 Sir William Gell’s design for the hall at Belsay.
Low life and high life
On his return to England, Gell continued to cultivate his connections with friends and contacts in government with a view to political (as well as literary) patronage. In autumn 1806 he was writing to William Windham, then Secretary for War, with details of the harbours and defensive potential of Greece and its islands in the event of Turkish attacks, and in January 1807 he attempted, successfully, to capitalise upon credit earned by writing to Windham to seek permission to dedicate Geography and Antiquities of Ithaca to the King. More importantly for Gell’s future career, it was in 1807 also that he was elected to membership of the Society of Dilettanti: he was already friends with a number of members – including Richard Payne Knight, the earl of Aberdeen, and Sir Henry Englefield. Gell was now becoming established in London Society; he had enjoyed some literary success with Topography of Troy and was about to bring out the Geography and Antiquities of Ithaca. It is likely that it was through membership of the Society of Dilettanti and Sir Henry Englefield that Gell was introduced into the circle of Princess Caroline, the estranged wife of the Prince Regent.
He was also a member of the Devonshire House circle through Lady Elizabeth Forster. But at the same time Gell was an aficionado of pugilism and a great supporter of Jem and Tom Belcher, providing his brother with regular updates of their fights and the legal difficulties into which they fell. 
He and his close friend Keppel Craven moved seamlessly between the company of royalty at Kensington Palace and boxing, dog fights and badger baiting.
 BL Add MS 37884 fos 243-4, William Gell to William Windham, 27 Nov 1806; see also Add MS 5103 fol. 122 William Windham to William Gell 25 Nov. 1806 and fol. 123 Windham to Gell requesting electoral support, 2 May 1807; BL Add MS 37916 fol 67v 8 William Gell to William Windham, 8 Jan. 1807.  Clay (ed.), Sir William Gell in Italy, 5.  DRO 258/50/22 William Gell to Philip Gell (undated); D258/27/1/ William Gell to Philip Gelll, 11 Aug. 1809; D258/50/29 William Gell to Philip Gell, 5 Oct. 1809; D258/50/30 William Gell to Philip Gell, 11 Nov. 1809; D258/50/31 William Gell to Philip Gell (undated); D258/50/41 William Gell to Philip Gell, 31 Aug. 1810.
Spain, Portugal and the ‘fairy palace of the Alhambra’
Gell’s letters contain references to health problems as early as 1805 (he suffered from gout, or probably rheumatoid arthritis, most of his life) and in September 1808 he sought warmer climates. He was granted permission by Lord Palmerstone to travel on a ship to Spain, which, as he rightly pointed out to his brother Philip, was where the action was happening: ‘Dupont being taken, Bessiers retreating, Joseph in a funk and Austria in a very uneasy state all conspire to render the sejour of a winter in Spain profitable’. His extraordinary Spanish notebook, held by the British School at Rome records his journey from Corunna, where he landed, down to Madrid, frequently following in the tracks of the British army, and thence to Granada where he spent three weeks.
From Granada he proceeded on to Malaga and to Gibraltar, and Cadiz, calling in upon Tangiers and Tetuan on the North African coast before returning home. Rather than observations on the febrile state of Spanish politics or the progress of the war, the notebook is almost entirely concerned with observations on the people he met, the local customs and the architecture that he saw. Detailed observations of landscape and architecture are accompanied by lively pen and ink sketches culminating in his description of the ‘fairy palace’ of the Alhambra, where he was dazzled by the complexity and intricacy of Moorish architecture.
 DRO D258/18 William Gell to Philip Gell, 12 Aug. 1808.  British Library (BL) Add MS 4320 fol. 350 William Gell to Lord Aberdeen, 3 Dec. 1808.
There are only occasional references to the war that was being fought across the Iberian peninsula: in December 1808 while in Granada, he recorded that the posts from Madrid had ceased as a consequence of Napoleon having taken the city and letters to Aberdeen from December 1808 to January 1809 provided the latter with the news of the armies’ movements and the state of morale as it reached Gell in Spain. Certainly he met up with various members of the British army’s senior command while he was in Spain, including Sir Charles Mountstuart, Lord William Bentinck and Sir Thomas Graham. Moreover, although Gell does not refer to General James Leith in his Spanish notebook, a sketch in a different notebook at the British School at Athens depicting an elderly gentleman administering an enema to a dog, watched by three cats and an elderly maid, is labelled General Leith, which suggests that Gell had also made his acquaintance.
Even if securing intelligence was not his main aim, on his return home he did complete a ‘treatise on Galicia’ for Mr Canning, at that point Foreign Secretary; given that Corunna had recently been lost in January 1809, this was presumably intended to inform military strategy in the region. 
BL Add MS 43230 fol.2, William Gell to Lord Aberdeen, 12 Jan. 1809; fol. 350 William Gell to Lord Aberdeen, 3 Dec. 1808.  BSR, William Gell Collection (WG[MS]-6]; Leith led a delegation sent by Castlereagh to find out how to strengthen the defences of northern Spain, which had arrived a few weeks prior to Gell: BSA sketchbook  DRO D258/50/20/2 William Gell to Philip Gell, 29 Jul. 1809
Gell was back in England in early spring in 1809 and for the next 18 months or so, seems to have spent his time attempting to arrange another voyage to Greece. Aberdeen, Payne Knight and Douglas had agreed to put up £1000 to cover the costs of a voyage to Olympia where he was to dig for statues and bronzes, but his plans were thwarted by ‘this Austrian battle’ (Napoleon’s victory over the Austrian army at Wagram). Payne Knight had enthused to Aberdeen that there could be no better partner in an Olympian Adventure than Gell, who would ‘unite the Activity of an Agent to the zeal of a Friend and the Principles of a Gentleman’.
Again, in the winter of 1810 he had hopes that he might be sent to Crete and by July 1810 he was referring to a possible expedition on behalf of the government to the Levant.. Gell’s aim throughout these negotiations was to make money from publications based on the travels that he would undertake and ultimately to gain some kind of government appointment in the Mediterranean, which would provide an income and allow him to pursue his interests in a congenial climate. None of these projected expeditions or missions came off, however: as he complained ‘they always put my scheme into other people’s pockets’.
Instead, in autumn 1810 he embarked upon another journey to the Iberian Peninsula, this time to Portugal in a bid to escape the British winter, accompanied again by his friend Keppel Craven, whose uncle, Admiral Berkeley was commander in chief at Lisbon.
The Portuguese trip, based principally around Lisbon and Cintra, was relatively brief, but Gell did achieve a meeting with Wellington, in which he told him that his reason for coming to Portugal had been to ‘see him conquer’. Such flattery does not appear to have reaped any long-term benefits, however.
 DRO D258/50/20/2 William Gell to Philip Gell, 29 Jul. 1809  BL Add MS 4320 fol. 8, Richard Payne Knight to Lord Aberdeen, 15 Jul. ; DRO D258 50/25/3 William Gell to Philip Gell, 24 Jul. 1809.  DRO D258/50/37 William Gell to Philip Gell, 27 Jun. 1810; D258/50/39 William Gell to Philip Gell, 16 Jul. 1810; D258/50/44 William Gell to Philip Gell, 2 Oct. 1810.  DRO D 258 /50/39 William Gell to Philip Gell, 16 Jul. 1810.  DRO D258/50/41 William Gell to Philip Gell, 31 Aug. 1810.  BSR, William Gell Collection (WG[MS]-6).
The Dilettanti Mission
Another brief interlude in England followed but by early 1811 the Society of Dilettanti had decided to employ Gell to lead an expedition to Ionia in the autumn of that year, in which he was accompanied by the artists John Peter Gandy and Francis Bedford, and by Keppel Craven who travelled at his own expense. For Gell, it offered not just the opportunity to travel again, but a salary of £50 a month (Gandy and Bedford, by contrast received just £200 pa). Again, there seems to have been some expectation that Gell might gather useful information for the government: Lord Dundas and the Colonel [William Martin Leake], he told his brother, visited him shortly before his departure bearing a letter from Lord Liverpool (the Secretary for War) about his mission ‘which they vow to forward in every way’. The tour was beset by plague, pirates and privateers, as well as bad weather, but was nonetheless productive in terms of archaeological and architectural material. Between them, Gell and his party measured the antiquities at Priene and the temple of Apollo Didymaeus and carried out the first excavations of the sanctuary of Nemesis at Rhamnous and the temple of Demeter at Eleusis.
The pace at which the materials were published, however, left something to be desired given a shortage of funds in the Society’s coffers (which Gell’s mission had effectively emptied). The expedition also left Gell high and dry upon his return: he still had no long-term appointment and had to borrow money from his brother in order to pay the fees for the knighthood which he was granted in 1814, through the auspices of Lord Sidmouth in recognition of his ‘Mission to Ionia’. Despite an audience with Sidmouth in which he ‘told him all the fine things he could think of’ and in which Sidmouth so ‘extolled my talents character & merit that I began to think I was the minister’ no further missions were forthcoming.
 Lionel Cust and Sidney Colvin, History of the Society of Dilettanti (London, 1914), 150. ] DRO D258/50/57 William Gell to Philip Gell, 7 Sept. 1811.  DRO D258/50/70 William Gell to Philip Gell, Feb. 1814.
Gell the courtier
In the absence of a diplomatic mission or posting, Gell gravitated again towards the court of Princess Caroline, ever hopeful of a place at court in the event of her father-in-law’s death. When Caroline decided to leave Britain for Europe in 1814, he and Keppel Craven agreed to accompany her as vice chamberlains, influenced no doubt by the possibility that her travels might extend beyond Europe to the Levant or North Africa. His letters to his friends reveal his increasing exasperation at her unpredictable and wayward behaviour. By March 1815 he pleaded ill health and officially left her service while in Naples, but in receipt of a pension of £200 pa, in return for which he continued to maintain some responsibility for dealing with her financial affairs and joined her again for a couple of months in 1817. From 1815 he made his home in Italy, alternating between Naples and Rome, apart from a brief trip back to Britain in 1820 in order to give evidence at Queen Caroline’s trial. He did not give up his hopes of a diplomatic appointment, however: he continued to pressure his brother to persuade Sidmouth to give him a place of ‘travelling Consul in Greece’ or ‘English resident at the court of Ali Pasha’, claiming that he had been secretary to two ambassadors at Constantinople and that he would have no need of interpreters in conversation with Ali Pasha. He likewise extracted promises from Princess Caroline to use her influence to secure him a position, or at least to persuade her daughter Princess Charlotte to do so. But in all these efforts he was disappointed.
 DRO D258/50/57 William Gell to Philip Gell, 7 Sept. 1811.  Flora Fraser, The Unruly Queen. The Life of Queen Caroline (London, 1996), 253-74, 294. DRO D258/50/99 William Gell to Philip Gell, 17 Dec.1815; D258 50/100 William Gell to Philip Gell, 11 Feb. 1817; D258/50/101 William Gell to Philip Gell, Mar. 1816.  DRO D3287/4/5 Letters of Caroline of Brunswick to William Gell: a letter from October 1818 referred to commitments on Caroline’s part to press Gell’s interests with her daughter, Princess Charlotte, as a future Minister of Naples and a letter of 1820 shows that Gell was still angling to be appointed Governor of the Ionian Islands.
Gell the scholar: Pompeiana and The Topography of Rome
Italy suited Gell: the climate was better for his health, he could pursue his antiquarian interests and there was plenty of congenial company, both English and Italian. More importantly his restricted income as a younger son could go much farther in a country where servants and the cost of living were so much cheaper. Nonetheless, his was a precarious financial situation, always short of money, and particularly so after the death of Queen Caroline in 1821 which put an end to his pension (despite long-running negotiations to have it restored). This was the backdrop against which Gell continued to publish, most notably the two different volumes of Pompeiana, the publication for which he is best remembered today.
The re-opening of Italy to tourists after Waterloo led to a flurry of activity amongst travel writers who were keenly aware that the British would be flooding across the Channel once more, having been largely debarred for the best part of twenty years. There was a need to report on the changes that had taken place under Napoleon not least in the excavations at Pompeii. Pompeiana, which comprises two separate texts, published in 1817-19 and 1832 respectively, was the first English language account devoted solely to describing the remains of Pompeii.
 Rosemary Sweet, ‘William Gell and Pompeiana (1817-19 and 1832)’, Papers of the British School at Rome, 83 (2015), 245-282.
Gell himself always represented Pompeiana as a jeu d’esprit: the result of a few mornings spent sketching on the spot in Pompeii with his camera lucida, involving only the cost of the carriage and a bribe to the custode to turn a blind eye whilst he made the sketches. He undersold himself. Because the conditions of secrecy imposed by the restored Bourbon monarchy prohibited taking notes or sketches in situ, Gell’s clandestine observations are particularly valuable for classical archaeologists and art historians today as the only record of many finds that were subsequently allowed to disintegrate through exposure to the elements. The publication of Pompeiana was a great success and brought Gell and his co-author, John Peter Gandy (who had accompanied him on the Dilettanti Mission) a welcome lump sum.
 Clay (ed.), Sir William Gell in Italy, 64.  Gandy estimated in 1817 that they would realise between £8-900 each, after the publishers had taken their cut: BL Add MS 63617 fol. 10 Gandy to Gell, 8 Jan. 1817.
Pompeiana was a means of paying the bills, but it also became the means through which Gell maintained his social position amongst the expatriate community in Naples. Visitors of social distinction came with letters of introduction, anxious to be shown round the city by Gell himself: the most famous of whom were Sir Walter Scott and the novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton. It was the guided tour with Gell that famously inspired the latter’s novel The Last Days of Pompeii.
Gell never gave up his hopes to travel to the Levant or Egypt: at one point he had high hopes of a voyage to Egypt in the company of Lord Blessington, the husband of his great friend and confidante, Lady Blessington, ‘who I intended should have paid all the voyage to Alexandria and Jerusalem’, but this never came off. Thwarted in his Egyptian ambitions, he nonetheless sustained an extensive correspondence with the leading Egyptologists of the day and was a key figure in the network of news and communication. He effectively gave up hopes of exploring further within the Ottoman empire after the defeat of the Turkish fleet at the Battle of Navarino by Lord Cochrane in 1826, complaining that ‘the Turks would never be such fools as to let people go about examining their country who may afterwards turn against them at pleasure’.
 J. C. Corson (ed.), Reminiscences of Sir Walter Scott’s Residence in Italy, 1832 (London, 1957).  A. Easson, ‘”At home” with the Romans: domestic archaeology in The Last Days of Pompeii’, in A.C. Christensen (ed.), The Subverting Vision of Bulwer Lytton: Bicentenary Reflections (Cranbury NJ, 2004), 100-15; S. Goldhill, ‘A writer’s things: Bulwer-Lytton and the archaeological gaze: or, what’s in a skull?’, Representations, 119 (Summer 2012), 92-118; S. Harrison, ‘Bulwer Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii: recreating the city’, in S. Hales and J. Paul (eds), Pompeii in the Public Imagination from its Rediscovery to Today (Oxford, 2011), 70-90; W. St Clair and A. Bautz, ‘Imperial decadence: the making of myths in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Last Days of Pompeii’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 40 (2012), 359-96.  DRO D258 50/115 William Gell to Philip Gell, 5 Apr. 1824.  Jason Thompson, ”Purveyor-General to the hieroglyphics”: Sir William Gell and the development of Egyptology’, in David Jeffreys (ed.), Views of Egypt since Napoleon Buonaparte: Imperialism, Colonialism and Modern Appropriations (London, 2003), 77-85.  DRO D258/50/129 William Gell to Georgiana Gell, 27 Aug. 1827.
In addition to his work on Pompeii, he spent much of the 1820s scrambling around the hills and mountains of Latium, as he put it, preparing the map and text for his Roman Topography, a study in archaic Rome.
Like his friend Edward Dodwell, with whom he undertook much of the ‘larking in Albano’ he was particularly interested in the evidence of Pelasgian civilization in both Greece and Italy: ‘I always wished to find a Roman or Italian building like the treasury of Atreus to shew as far as buildings could shew the connexion of the two countries’ and one of his main interests in the Roman Topography was in identifying Cyclopean walls, sketches of which litter his correspondence and sketchbooks throughout his life.
His treatise on the subject was published in German but also exists in manuscript form in English. Etrurian antiquities were another interest and he communicated a paper on the subject to the Royal Society of Literature.  The Topography of Rome and its Vicinity (1834), however, was his life’s work and was eventually published thanks to the generosity of the Society of Dilettanti, who voted £200 towards Gell’s expenses and arranged for the sale of the copyright to the publishers Otley and Saunders for £300. In 1830 the Society of Dilettanti conferred upon him the title of Resident Plenipotentiary in Italy in return for which he was to write regular reports on matters of archaeological and antiquarian excavation in Italy for the Society.  Towards the end of his life, he attempted a number of other literary projects from which he hoped that he might derive an income, including a history of Italy, a novel, and articles on medieval Spain, calculated to appeal to the readership of the rapidly expanding popular press.
His Spanish notebook at British School at Rome shows how he was revisiting his material and making extensive notes on Spanish history in preparation for a Spanish medieval romance.
 BSR, William Gell Collection (WG[MS]-6); DRO D258/58/3/1-4 extracts from various books relating to the Moors of Granada; Madden (ed.), Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, ii, 66-7, 81, 89, 91; Clay (ed.), Sir William Gell in Italy, 94; Getty Research Institute, Society of Dilettanti drawings, prints and letters, William Gell to Countess of Blessington July 1834. His essay, ‘The romantic history of the Arabs in Spain’ was published posthumously in Countess of Blessington (ed.), Heath’s Book of Beauty (London, 1837), 4-29.  William Gell, Probestücke von Städtmauern des alten Greichenlands…Aus dem Englischen übersetzt (Tübingen, 1830); a manuscript copy exists at NCRO ZMI/B55/1/5 ‘The walls of ancient cities in Greece and Italy’. Gentleman’s Magazine (June 1832), 544-5, review of paper communicated to Royal Society of Literature on Etrurian antiquities by Sir William Gell; see also Bodleian MS Eng misc e 152. Cust and Colvin, The Society of Dilettanti, 176; Clay (ed.), Sir William Gell in Italy, 28; Andrew Wallace Hadrill, ‘Roman topography and the prism of Sir William Gell’, in Lothar Haselberger and John Humphrey (eds.), Imaging Ancient Rome. Documentation, Visualization, Imagination (Portsmouth RI, 2006), 285-96.  Clay (ed.), Sir William Gell in Italy, 1.  Bodleian MS Eng Hist c 54; Madden (ed.), Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, ii, 16-17.
Expatriate life in Naples
His writing and his researches had to be accommodated with a busy and gregarious social life: his archaeological excursions were bolted onto sociable picnics, and his publications were often written against a backdrop of chatter from visitors.
Gell never aspired to be a heavyweight scholar but his reputation, which suffered in the nineteenth century, has undergone a more positive evaluation in recent years. James Ramsay, who wrote the first biographical sketch of Gell, was put off by his subject’s dilettantish air and his evident liking for gossip. He depicted him as frivolous, superficial and attention-seeking, with a predilection for rank, fortune and fashion and he doubted whether Gell boasted any profundity of thought or commanded any deep affection. But he did allow that ‘the verdict of an immense majority will decide in favour of the amiability, the charms of the character of Sir William Gell’. It is certainly the amiable, charming and witty persona that comes through in Gell’s correspondence, and the generosity of friends, particularly in later years when he was suffering from straitened means and chronic ill health, is, pace Ramsay, suggestive of deep affection.
Oh think not sweet Lady I love you the more For your offering to take me in a carriage & 4 Tis your wit & your beauty my senses would fix Beyond all the splendours of coaches and six So surely your seat I’ll accept for the race And forget all my pains while I gaze on your face
 Madden (ed.), Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington; BSR MS 23 scrapbook of Countess of Coventry.  Sweet, ‘Sir William Gell and Pompeiana’; Mary Beard, ‘Revisiting William Gell (and Martin Frederiksen)’ in W.V. Harris and E. lo Cascio (eds.), Noctes campanae: studi di storia antica ed archeologia dell’Italia preromana e romana in memoria di Martin W. Frederisken (Naples, 2005), 1-12 ; Wallace Hadrill, ‘Roman topography and the prism of Sir William Gell’; Thompson, ‘”Purveyor-General to the hieroglyphics”’ ; Charles Plouviez, ‘Straddling the Aegean: William Gell 1811-13’, in Sarah Searight and Malcom Wagstaff (eds.), Travellers in the Levant: Voyagers and Visionaries (Durham, 2001), 42-56.  James Ramsay, ‘A sketch of the character of Sir William Gell’ in Madden (ed.), Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, ii, 21.
Gell thrived upon company, but he also found great comfort from the company of his dogs (who featured regularly in his correspondence with female friends) particularly his favourite Tickati ‘quite a sick mans dog … being most patient when he sees I cannot take him out and very quiet and attentive in not touching my feet as well as bringing my physic’. During the 1820s, Gell suffered attacks of gout with increasing intensity. He described himself as a cripple, unable to walk and often limited in the use of his hands. His letters to his brother, a fellow sufferer, are full of the remedies he was attempting: he was an early, and initially enthusiastic, follower of homeopathy.
By 1835 he was well aware that he did not have much longer to live: his handwriting – normally beautifully clear – disintegrated: he was suffering great pain and what doctors diagnosed as asthma and ‘dropsy’. It would appear that he was being liberally dosed with opiates as he complained of constant drowsiness and vivid dreams. By this stage he was living in Villa Penta, the house of Keppel Craven, who nursed him during his final days. He died on 4 February 1836 and was buried in the tomb of Keppel Craven’s mother, the Margravine of Anspach, in the Protestant cemetery at Naples.
 DRO D258/50/140 William Gell to Georgiana Gell, 19. Nov. 1830.  DRO D258/50/119 William Gell to Philip Gell, 8 Jan. 1825.  DRO D258/50/116 William Gell to Philip Gell, 22 Jul. 1824.  Madden (ed.), Correspondence of Countess of Blessington, ii, 93-4.