William John Bankes

William John Bankes

William John Bankes (11 December 1786 – 15 April 1855), son of Henry Bankes the second was a notable explorer, Egyptologist and adventurer. He was a member of the Bankes family of Dorset and he rebuilt the Kingston Lacy estate as it is today. He travelled extensively to the Orient and Egypt and collected the largest private individual collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world. His work on Egypt although not acknowledged until recently is vastly important. He was good friends with Lord Byron and Sir Charles Barry. He also served as Tory Member of Parliament (MP) for Truro and St Austell in 1810, for Cambridge University from 1822-26 and for Dorset from 1832-35.

Education, adventures and friends

William Bankes became interested with exploration and discovery and had an evident passion for Ancient Egypt and fine art. His massive portfolio of notes, manuscripts and drawings produced and collected during his travels along the Nile with explorations in Egypt, Nubia, and the Near East have significant historical value and is the only historical record of some inscriptions and monuments.

Bankes was an educated and affluent man, though at times somewhat mischievous and boisterous. He was born in 1786 to Frances Woodward and Henry Bankes, MP of Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle in Dorset. He was the second of five children and the eldest surviving son of the couple. Bankes was educated at Westminster School and continued his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge where he received his BA in 1808 and his MA in 1811. Bankes inherited Stoughton Hall, Flintshire from his great uncle, and in 1835 inherited his family’s home, Kingston Lacy Estate. The mansion was home to Bankes for many years and became the centre of his vast collections of art and artefacts.

Lord Byron, a fellow student at Trinity College and a renowned romantic poet, was Bankes’ lifelong friend. Bankes sometimes accompanied Byron in his European tours.

Sir Charles Barry, a renowned architect in his day, was also a long-term friend of Bankes. The two men met at the temple of Rameses in Abu Simbel in 1819. Bankes had great respect for Barry’s talents and Barry accomplished much of the building work on the Bankes’ family properties over the years. Barry is well known for his architectural talents which were applied to the Houses of Parliament, St. Peter’s Church in Brighton, the Victoria Tower and the Westminster Bridge. His work was inspired by Italian Renaissance type architecture and indeed contributed to the improved design of Bankes home, Kingston Lacy.

While traveling in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular War, Bankes befriended the Duke of Wellington. The Duke later came to Bankes’ rescue when he was on trial for his imprudent lifestyle. The Duke of Wellington also celebrated Bankes’ successes; in fact, he performed the ceremony at Kingston Lacy when the foundation was laid for one of Bankes’ most notable discoveries, the obelisk from Philae. The obelisk is now viewable in the National Trust grounds of Kingston Lacy.

Bankes was an adventurous man with many talents. He was an amateur architect, a careful epigrapher and he mastered the art of copying ancient inscriptions. He was very interested in Egypt and in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Bankes dabbled in architecture and with the assistance of his friend Charles Barry, transformed Kingston Lacy removing brick and replacing it with marble. He collected numerous pieces of Spanish art as well as artifacts from Ancient Egypt which are still housed at the estate.


Bankes was eventually exiled from his home in England due to homosexual indiscretions which led him to flee seeking refuge after being caught in compromising circumstances with a guard in Green Park in London. In that day and age, sodomy was considered a grave crime in England and carried with it the death penalty. Even though he was unable to return to Kingston Lacy, he continued to collect from abroad sending his collections to be displayed in his beloved home. It is believed that he secretly visited Kingston Lacy to admire his home and collections before his death.


* R.J. Demarée with contributions by B. Leach and P.Usick. "The Bankes Late Ramesside Papyri" 2006. London: British Museum Press.
* Patricia Usick. "The Adventures in Egypt and Nubia: The Travels of William John Bankes (1786 - 1855)." 2002. London: British Museum Press.
* Anne Sebba. "The Exiled Collector: William Bankes and the Making of an English Country House" (2004) ISBN 0719565715
* Anthony Mitchell. "Kingston Lacy (National Trust Guidebooks)" (1994) ISBN 978-1-8435-9042-2

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