Category Archives: Nile steamers

Posts related to Nile steamers and Nile cruising.

More on the Anglo-American

Last March I was posting on this blog asking for information on the Anglo-American Nile Company, which for the first 40 years of the 20th century was Cook & Son’s main rival on the Nile. Despite the company’s longevity, I couldn’t discover too much about it. The most useful source of information I had was a pdf of the Anglo-American’s very first Nile brochure, kindly sent to me by Cornelius von Pilgrim of the Swiss Institut in Egypt. I have a couple of later brochures from the 1930s and between them, a few newspaper clippings and mentions in journals and travel accounts, I pieced together what I could.

In short – there’s much more detail in On the Nile – it was set up in 1896 and by 1900 had a fleet of three first-class steamers in the Mayflower, Puritan, and Victoria; three smaller steamers (the Columbia, Indiana, and Niagara); two small launches (Courlis and Witch) and a small fleet of dahabiyas. The bigger steamers had triple decks that sat on top of a hull that was little more than a floating platform, which gave them an appearance that was top-heavy going on outright ugly. But this arrangement did mean they had a shallower draft than the Cook boats and were less prone to running aground.

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Like Cook & Son, the Anglo-American was able to offer weekly departures from Cairo during the season, with connecting departures to the Second Cataract and through bookings to Khartoum. Its boats were less luxurious but they were also considerably cheaper. The Anglo-American also went head-to-head with Cook & Son in the land-based hospitality business, opening its own hotel, the Savoy, on the northern tip of Elephantine Island at Aswan.

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The company was strengthened in 1906 by amalgamation with the transatlantic Hamburg-American Line, becoming in the process the Hamburg and Anglo-American Nile Company. Investment came in the form of two new, large steamers, the Germania and Nubia. The fleet now flew the German flag in addition to the Stars and Stripes. This business arrangement was severed around the time Germany found itself at war with Britain and eventually America. The company failed to survive the Second World War.

Now, wouldn’t you know it, since the publication of the book earlier this year, there has been a flood of Anglo-American brochures hitting eBay. The prices have mostly carried them out of my reach but I have managed to screen-grab some of the covers, which are lovely things. The image at the top of this post, by the way, is an advertising poster rather than a brochure.

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If anyone has any more Anglo-American images and/or information, please do get in touch. There’s always the second printing.

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The Thomas Cook archive

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The new book On the Nile is a history of travellers and tourists on the river in Egypt. It starts with dahabiyas and quickly moves into the era of the steamboat. The first steamboat on the Nile was, as far as I can ascertain, l’Egyptienne, built at the request of Muhammad Ali by Laird, Son & Co of Birkenhead, England and delivered to Egypt in 1837. But it wasn’t until 1851 that Abbas, grandson of Muhammad Ali, inaugurated a government-run monthly service of passenger steamers between Cairo and Aswan. This was reportedly unreliable which is maybe why it doesn’t seem to have been much used by travellers. The change didn’t come until 1870, when Thomas Cook & Son took over the running of the steamers and not only made them run to schedule but made them popular thanks to extensive marketing through its offices around the globe. The company enjoyed a monopoly on the Nile for close on the next 30 years until it had to share navigation rights with a handful of rival new steamer companies including the Anglo-American Nile Steamer and Hotel Company, the Tewfikiya Nile Navigation Company and the Express Nile Navigation Company. Even so, On the Nile comes close to being a history of the company of Thomas Cook & Son in Egypt, for which there is a very simple reason. History may be written by victors but it’s also shaped by those with the best archives – and the Thomas Cook archive is fabulous.

It’s kept at the company’s industrial park HQ on the outskirts of the unlovely town of Peterborough, 75 miles north of London. I made over a dozen trips up there in 2013 and 2014 while researching On the Nile, and so extensive is the archive I still didn’t manage to look at everything relating to Egypt, never mind the stuff concerning the company’s operations around the rest of the world (which includes everything from contracts and minutes of meetings to porters’ costumes and a couple of glass panels by Lalique from the Orient Express).

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A particularly brilliant resource for any travel historians is a complete run of The Excursionist, which is a sort of proto travel magazine, published by Thomas Cook from 1851 and which featured details of Cook’s tours, as well as general travel news and articles, book reviews and a wonderful selection of advertising.

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Even more useful, as far as my book was concerned, are the Egypt & the Nile brochures that were put out almost every year from around 1880 through until the 1930s, and which included timetables, descriptions of the ever-changing Nile fleet and tour itineraries.

There were also diaries (more of which in a future post) and letters – notably an entertaining sequence of correspondence between John Mason Cook and his son Bert, who ran the Nile service operations, with Cook senior getting splenetic over the wrong soap being placed in the boats’ bathrooms and “some mean skunk” stealing all the pieces from the boardgames in the lounges.

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Then there are the albums of photographs, the cups, glasses and cutlery, the menus and printed passenger lists, the vintage guidebooks, blueprints, the genuine 3000-year-old piece of ancient Egyptian statuary…

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Unfortunately, almost none of this material is laid out for public view, instead it is all housed in a garage-like storage unit from where it has to be retrieved by the company’s full-time archivist Paul Smith. Fortunately, he’s an amiable man who was willing to make endless trips back and forth across the car park to deliver up boxes of the raw material out of which my book was shaped. On the Nile could not have happened without the Thomas Cook archive or the assistance of its archivist. Thank you Paul.

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The steamboat Dikka?

I recently received an email from a dahabiya-owning couple with a query that I am unable to answer but maybe someone else can:

When my father, Ron, enlisted at the start of the 2nd World War and they discovered that he was a Chartered Accountant, they promoted him rapidly in the RAOC and sent him to India. He was later sent to the Middle East, Persia, Iraq and Egypt. He stayed at Luxor and had a houseboat on the Nile.

This may well be it in a picture taken of him on his Box Brownie.

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The question is, can anybody recognise the boat? It is not a house boat as such, but a small paddle steamer, possibly called Dikka. It has quite distinctive funnel markings. It apparently featured in a well-known Egyptian film. If anyone knows anything please email me and I’ll pass on the information.

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Anglo-American Nile Company

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As I posted a couple of months back, I’m currently at work on a follow up to Grand Hotels, this time round focusing on the Nile steamer services. The manuscript is progressing well and I’m due to hand it over to my publishers, the AUC Press, in mid July. One of the major operators of Nile boats was an outfit called the Anglo-American Nile Company, founded in 1896 and in existence until at least the late 1920s. Unfortunately, information on them is very hard to come by. If there’s anybody out there who has any leads, I’d love to hear from you.

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Adrift on the Nile

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There’s been a distinct slowing down on the new-post front on this site of late. Well, there’s good reason for that as I am currently immersed in writing the follow-up to Grand Hotels. The new book is all about the Nile steamers. It’s mainly concerned with the period from the 1860s to the decline of Nile cruising during World War II – although there are a handful of steamers that survive until today and I will be tracking them right up to the present date. As with Grand Hotels, the story will be told using contemporary accounts and journals, accompanied by huge amounts of vintage photography, posters, advertising graphics and other memorabilia. I’m well into the writing and I aim to deliver the book to my publisher, the AUC Press, next summer; it should be in the shops late 2014/early 2015.

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In the meantime, if anybody has any information relating to Nile steamers, I’d love to hear from you – you can contact me at andrewhumphreys [at] btinternet.com.

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Kipling’s Egypt

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Eighty-four years ago today, The Egyptian Gazette of 14 February 1929 carried a notice of the arrival of well known author Rudyard Kipling (that’s him, above) and Mrs Kipling at Port Said. They’d landed the previous day and proceeded direct to Cairo. “Mr Kipling exhibited his well-known dislike of publicity,” reported the paper. “The British Vice Consul Mr Williamson-Napier went out in a special police launch to meet the distinguished visitors, but Mr Kipling seeing the interested crowd gathered for his arrival chose to go ashore in a smaller and less conspicuous launch, by which means he escaped popular attention.”

This wasn’t Kipling’s first visit to Egypt. He’d first passed through at the age of five, before the Suez Canal had been made. He also made a visit in 1913, when he’d stayed at the Semiramis (opened just six years previously) but since the weather was cold and wet, he didn’t stay long in Cairo, and instead made his way up the Nile to Luxor and Aswan on Thomas Cook’s SS Rameses III.

The 1913 trip inspired a series of letters, that were collected and published (Letters of Travel: 1892-1913), and include some typically pithy statements on matters relating to tourism in Egypt.

On sightseeing:
“For three weeks we sat on copiously chaired and carpeted decks, carefully isolated from everything that had anything to do with Egypt, under chaperonage of a properly orientalised dragoman. Twice or thrice daily, our steamer drew up at a mud-bank covered with donkeys. Saddles were hauled out of a hatch in our bows; the donkeys were dressed, dealt round like cards: we rode off through crops or desert, as the case might be, were introduced in ringing tones to a temple, and were then duly returned to our bridge and our Baedekers.”

On Americans in Egypt:
“Since the bulk of our passengers were citizens of the United States, Egypt in winter ought to be admitted into the Union as a temporary territory.”

On the Swiss in Egypt:
“The Swiss are the only people who have taken the trouble to master the art of hotel-keeping. Consequently, in the things that really matter – beds, baths, and victuals –they control Egypt.”

On Cairo:
“Modern Cairo is an unkempt place. The streets are dirty and ill-constructed, the pavements unswept and often broken, the tramways thrown, rather than laid down, the gutters neglected. One expects better than this in a city where the tourist spends so much every season. Granted that the tourist is a dog, he comes at least with a bone in his mouth, and a bone that many people pick. He should have a cleaner kennel”

By 1929, Kipling had obviously got over his dislike of Cairo because he and Mrs Kipling spent 13 days there, staying again at the Semiramis. Also at the hotel at that time, reported the Gazette, were the HH Aga Khan and large party, American mining magnate and millionaire Chester Beatty and future professor of Islamic art AC Cresswell. Quite a line up.

Cook's Nile Steamer

On 27 February, the couple boarded the SS Egypt (pictured above) for a 20-day voyage to Luxor and Aswan. Two years to the month later, in February 1931, they were back in Egypt once more: Kipling’s wife suffered from rheumatism and a doctor had recommended the Helwan as a health resort. They found it too cold and went once again up the Nile in search of warmth, spending 10 days in Aswan.

Thanks to books such as Kim and The Jungle Book, the name may always be associated with India, but Rudyard Kipling spent a significant amount of time in Egypt too.

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