In 2009, during frequent email exchanges with Professor Michela D’Angelo and Dr. Diletta D’Andrea of the University of Messina I was informed that Dr. D’Andrea was carrying out a research on an English Esquire named Gould Francis Leckie. He was a classic scholar and a publicist who lived in England between the end of the XVIII century and the beginning of the XIX. As Dr. D’Andrea had found out, he had also spent some years in Sicily and, later on, had moved to Tuscany where he had probably died, though nobody had ever known where or when exactly, so I was asked by them to check my sources for any further information.
Checking the Chapel Register vol. 2 (1784-1824) and the inscriptions at the Old English Cemetery of Livorno did not reveal any trace of his. Next possibility was to check the Registers of the New Cemetery. Indeed, I felt a strong emotion when I read “Leckie, Gould Francis, 4-9-1850” in the Burial Register kept by the caretaker of the New English Cemetery in Livorno. I made copies of the whole register and wrote down the reference to the location of the grave.
This happened in the winter 2009. The cemetery was completely overgrown. My first attempt at finding the grave ended as soon as I arrived close to the relevant section, where the tomb should be: the whole area was totally covered with brambles to a height of 7-8 feet.
I immediately advised Prof. D’Angelo and Dr. D’Andrea that I had found proof that Leckie was buried in Livorno and that I would try to reach the grave in the forthcoming days, so Dr. D’Andrea came there. When the caretaker agreed to let us in I, equipped with a whip brush-cutter, after a few hours managed to open a tunnel into the brambles long enough to reach the approximate calculated position of the row where Leckie’s tomb should be.
Fortunately, the register indicated that the grave would be the first of the row and, after some more clearing, we saw the shape of a horizontal slab, apparently intact, covered with a thick layer of wet leaves and land. We gently cleaned up the central area of the marble slab thus revealing the inscription we were waiting to
S A C R E D
to the memory of
GOULD FRANCIS LECKIE
who died at his estate of San Chimento
4 September 1850
Dr. D’Andrea and I will never forget the great emotion we felt in that moment. This was just the beginning of a series of discoveries that took place in the following months and that unearthed the greatest part of Leckie’s Italian life, which is still completely unknown to other scholars. We found the living descendants of Gould Francis Leckie and brought them to the cemetery in Livorno, where they discovered for the first time the graves of their ancestors, whose memory had been lost in time. They shared with us their archives, family portraits, books and other objects which once belonged to Leckie. Later in 2010 several other family graves were discovered too. An incredible adventure has since begun and I am finally able to share it here.
After about ten years of hard work based on Italian and foreign sources, Dr. D’Andrea has just published the first part of Leckie’s biography. The title of the book is Gould Francis Leckie e la Sicilia, 1801-1818 (edited by Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, Napoli 2012). It starts from Leckie’s ancient Scottish origins, tracing his early years, the main steps of his long career as a publicist, his stay in Sicily (1801-1807), up to his return to England and his final departure from his mother country in 1818. The book can be previewed and bought online by clicking on this link.
Dr. D’Andrea is now working on the sequel of Leckie’s biography, from 1818 to 1850, which will deal with his life in Tuscany until his death and burial in Livorno. I wish the best luck for her research and I am very proud of having been part of this amazing adventure and discovery.
Abstract of “Gould Francis Leckie e la Sicilia, 1801-1818” (translated by myself):
At the beginning of the XIX century, in the particular conjuncture of the Anglo-French struggle that had in the Mediterranean one of its main theatres, the English Esquire Gould Francis Leckie decided to move the centre of his life and business to Sicily. Here, where at that time King Ferdinand IV of Bourbon and his court had fled from Naples after the events of 1798-1799,
Leckie lived for about seven years to achieve, through important economic investments, his entrepreneurial “far and distant projects”, at the same time carrying out a fundamental role at the service of the local representatives of the British Government. Through the reconstruction of the main stages of the biography of this English landowner and publicist, using unpublished archival sources this work contributes in shedding new light on the important economic, political and cultural part played by the British in Sicily during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
Diletta D’Andrea, Ph.D. in History of Republicanism and Constitutionalism, collaborates with the Chair of Modern History of the School of Political Sciences of the University of Messina. Her research is mainly oriented towards the analysis of the political, economical and cultural relations between Great Britain and Sicily in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Her works include: Gould Francis Leckie and the ‘insular strategy’ of Great Britain in the Mediterraean, 1800-1815, in «Journal of Mediterranean Studies», vol. 16, 1/2, 2006; «If Sicily should become a British Island». Sicilia e Gran Bretagna in età rivoluzionaria e napoleonica, Messina 2007; Nel «decennio inglese » 1806-1815. La Sicilia nella politica britannica dai «Talenti» a Bentinck, Soveria Mannelli 2008.