Mozart &
Material Culture


Diplomat, archaeologist, vulcanologist and antiquarian. Hamilton was British envoy extraordinary to the Kingdom of the Naples from 1764 and ambassador to Naples from 1767-1800. He is best known for his studies of Mt Vesuvius and other volcanoes; his papers submitted to the Royal Society, London, ‘An account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, in 1767’ and ‘An Account of a Journey to Mount Etna’ were published as Observations on Mount Vesuvius, Mount Etna, and other Volcanos (London, 1772). In 1758 he married Catherine Barlow (Colby, 1738-Naples, 25 August 1782), daughter of Hugh Barlow, member of parliament for Pembroke Boroughs and an accomplished amateur musician.

Mozart Relevance

The sole mention of Hamilton in the Mozart letters — Leopold Mozart’s letter from Naples, 19 May 1770 — makes it clear that they had met him earlier, in London:

  1. Yesterday evening we called on the English ambassador Hamilton (our acquaintance from London), whose wife plays the keyboard with exceptional feeling and is a most pleasant person. She trembled at the prospect of having to play for Wolfg. She has a valuable instrument made in England by Burkat Tschi, with 2 manuals and pedal stops that can be uncoupled by means of the foot.

It is possible, though not documented, that Hamilton accompanied Mozart and his father when they visited Vesuvius that same month. Burkhardt Tschudi (1702-19 August 1773), was a harpsichord maker active in London. Mozart had played on his instruments when he visited there in 1764 and 1765: 

  1. Europaische Zeitung, Salzburg, 6 August 1765:

  2. London, 5 July 1765. The very famous keyboard maker Burkard Thudy [sic] of this city, a Swiss by birth, had the honour of making for the King of Prussia a wing-shaped instrument with two manuals which was very much admired by all who saw it. . . Mr. Thudy has moreover conceived the good notion of having his extraordinary instrument played for the first time by the most extraordinary keyboard player in this world, namely by the very celebrated master of music, Wolfg. Mozart.

David Allan, William Hamilton and his wife, Catherine Barlow, at their summer villa in Posillipo, 1770

David Allan, William Hamilton and his wife, Catherine Barlow, at their summer villa in Posillipo, 1770

Date 1
1730-13-12, Park Place or London
Date 2
1803-04-06, London
Naples, London
Date (Mozart)
Location (Mozart)
Naples, London
Bibliographic Reference
Constantine 2001

Pages referencing Hamilton, William:

The Mozarts as Collectors of Souvenirs