At leisure

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day twenty-eight.

Sunday, 21 February
Spent the morning on the Benha. Beeley and others had come on saying they did not wish to start for Assouan till Monday at noon; we said we should go at 6 in the morning. In the afternoon took donkeys again to Karnac – more surprised this time at the colossal magnitude of proportions than at the first time – most delightful wanderings at leisure though these old ruins. Labyrinths of ruins – blocks, columns, pillars, granite, limestone, sandstone – the Sanctuary red granite.

In the morning a scotch gentleman and 3 friends had shown us over their dahabeah, commodious with 4 nice cabins – anti parlor at the end and lavatory beyond – the crew outside with oars. Met these gentlemen again in ruins – one of them could read the hieroglyphics. Returned to 7 o’clock dinner. In evening on shore again saw a congregated mass of women at a funeral, all singing and dancing in a most curious manner.

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Measuring up the West Bank

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day twenty-seven.

Saturday, 20 February
Breakfast at 6.30 so as to make an early start for the tombs of the Kings. We had to cross in little boats to the other side of the Nile; our other party had the start of us by half an hour so they took the first donkeys and we had to wait some time for ours. Stopped at Medinat Habou on the way – a long ride over the Lybian Plains and hills to the Tombs of the Kings and Valley of the Kings. An ascending road high up in the hills – numbers of immense tombs and rooms deeply excavated – selected a few out of the list and used our magnesium torches as it was quite dark. Our dragoman and steward of the boat brought our lunch and spread it at the mouth of one of these subterraneous caverns that once held so many dead, the walls of many covered with fine hieroglyphics and designs – Satan represented with legs and all the games and inventions of the period.

Very hot day – Mr. Dennett quite knocked up. The descent very steep – walked part of the way – and then down in the Valley the Memnomium presented itself large with grand pillars. At its side lies the broken colossal figure of Remeses II – the most prodigious proportions in the world – toes 3 ft. long – feet 5 ft. across instep – width of breast 24 ft – 887 tons in weight – broken into innumerable pieces.

We then proceeded across the plain to the 2 Colossi, the eastern one called the Vocal Memnon of the Romans, said by authors to have uttered a sound at the Rising of the Sun – 47 ft. high and 53 with pedestal – all stayed about this figure some time till daylight warned us to move. Found little boats ready and glad we were to sit and enjoy the deck after this fatiguing day.

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Miss Riggs obviously never travels without a tape measure, but how she arrived at the 887 tons in weight, I don’t know. I am also at a loss to explain the presence of Satan in the Valley of Kings. The splendid photo above, by the way, comes form this excellent site, which documents another European party, in this case Swedish, travelling in Egypt, this time in winter 1900–1901.

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Luxor at last

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day twenty-six.

Friday, 19 February
Started at day-break and arrived at Thebes by 12 at noon. Ran aground often on our way – the river getting shallow at Keneh 2 miles from the shore. We saw pottery made with the wheel, very quickly and prettily. Dancing girls there which the gentlemen patronized. Luxor our aim and arrived at last – landed and proceeded en masse to the consul who spoke English very well. A low and roomy house facing the landing place. We were sorry to find that owing to our accident of paddle e had missed the grand illuminations at Karnak, which took place in honour of the Prince and Princess of Wales the evening before. Consul’s name Mustapha Aga – wrote all our names in his book and then read the entries of the Royal party.

The Prince and party had left this morning for Assouan, He enquired after our party and sorry we had met with an accident. Got saddles out of boat and proceeded to Karnak on donkeys – 2 miles ride, sandy and dusty.

Spent about 3 hours at Karnak and then returned on our donkeys getting to sunset – lovely sky. Backsheesh men very troublesome – with much struggling managed to get our saddles on board. Table d’hote pleasant – sit on deck.

I skipped the entry for Thursday, 18 February, which was minimal, because Miss Riggs and party spent all day not doing anything at all at Keneh. One of the paddlewheels on the Benha was broken and they had to wait around for it to be repaired. Why they didn’t use the time to pay a visit to the nearby temple at Dendara is a mystery.

Friday they push on to Luxor. The entry for that day includes pages of description at Karnak, which I am not transcribing because, as we established at Alexandria, Miss Riggs knows nothing of Egyptian history. Anything she writes must be cribbed from her guidebook.

What’s of more interest here is the further mention of the English royal party. Miss Riggs and company have a great interest in them. Understandably so. It must have been a huge source of excitement to discover that the other English party on the Nile at the time was the Prince and Princess of Wales. (Miss Riggs carefully copies into her diary the names of the Royal party as listed in Mustapha Aga’s book.) However, the joy was not mutual. Travelling as part of the Prince’s retinue was William Howard Russell, a war correspondent of some renown attached to the London Times. He afterwards reported that Cook’s party had been in “full cry up the river after the Prince and Princess”. He was scathing of Cook’s clients, who he considered had been inappropriately “thrown off their balances by the prospect of running the Prince and Princess of Wales to earth in a Pyramid, of driving them to bay in the Desert, of hunting them into the recesses of a ruin”.

Incidentally, also among those making up the Royal party was the watercolourist Oswald Walters Brierly, who was along to document the journey. He produced a series of paintings, several of which are below. The originals are part of the Royal Collection.

Pyramid of Meidun, 7 February 1869

Pyramid of Meidun, 7 February 1869

Beni Suef, 7 February 1869

Beni Suef, 7 February 1869

Near Girga, 13 February 1869

Near Girga, 13 February 1869

Girga, 14 February 1869

Girga, 14 February 1869

Royal arty visiting the Valley of the Kings, 17 February 1869

Royal party visiting the Valley of the Kings, 17 February 1869

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F sharps and B flats

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day twenty-four

Wednesday, 17 February
The BENISWAIF troubled by fleas – mattresses and blankets out on deck in the day. We were exempt from that nuisance. The bursting of a pipe on BENISWAIF made Mr. Webb’s cabin useless so he had to turn out and sleep on deck.

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We skipped Miss Riggs’s entry for 16 February, which was brief and just noted the birdlife around Keneh (Qena). I haven’t transcribed a lot of today’s entry either because it is a bit garbled. From what I understand, discord is breaking out between the parties on the two boats. Miss Riggs writes that her boat, the Benha, has been steaming ahead leaving the Beniswaif in its wake. Thomas Cook is also on the Benha and the half of the party on the Beniswaif are feeling like second-class travellers. Miss Riggs notes that the food on the Beniswaif is not as good as on the Benha. It seems that boat is less well maintained, too, with its burst pipe. Then there’s the insect life. In his own account Cook refers to fleas as ‘F. sharps’, and bugs as ‘B. flats’. I imagine that half of his tour party do not share his sense of humour.

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Zouhag

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day twenty-two.

Monday, 15 February
Started again at 6 in the morning for Zouhag – not much rest after 4 in the morning, so much noise getting the steam up. Bazaars at Zouhag like most of the towns or villages on the Nile, principally mud walls with flat tops. Stopped to investigate a house in bazaar which belonged to an engineer we found afterwards – Abdel Effendi. We all sat around his divan, took coffee from the little cups – he showed us his plans. After we had returned to the boat, Effendi came down to see us. Invited us to dinner but we went to coffee at 8 – lanterns and quite a procession to his house. Seated again around his divan with coffee and narghilies … Returned with us to steamer, then sat again – wine brought up for him: tired of him – he did not leave until quite late.

Poor Abdel Effendi, he entertains a boatload of strangers then is dismissed as ‘tiresome’. I’m taking a dislike Miss Riggs.

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The Grammar of Ornament

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Speaking of London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, which I was a few posts ago in relation to St Mark’s church in Alexandria, another of the architects involved in that fantastic project had a strong connection with Egypt and that was Owen Jones.

Educated at England’s Royal Academy, Jones travelled in Egypt (where he joined the party of painter Robert Hay), Greece, Turkey and Spain from 1833 to 1834 making copious notes and sketches along the way. These became the basis for a lifetime’s work as a highly influential writer, architect-decorator and illustrator. He was commissioned to work on the interior arrangements at the Great Exhibition. When the venue for the exhibition, the Crystal Palace, was disassembled moved and reassembled in south London, Owen was tasked with creating a series of decorative courts themed on Egypt (pictured above), Greece, Rome and the Alhambra. He was assisted in this by Egyptologist Joseph Bonomi.

In 1856, Jones published the work for which he is best known, the mesmerising Grammar of Ornament. In this he presents in a series of painted plates key examples of design through the ages from around the world, but particularly the Middle East. It is a sumptuously beautiful thing, available in modern facsimile, which is large, heavy and expensive, but happily also online in the archives of the University of Heidelberg. Go take a look for yourself.

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Following the prince

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day twenty-one.

Sunday, 14 February
Stopped at Assiout; went with the Newmans to Mission School kept by Mr. and Mrs. Hogg, a theological master – a Scotch family – 2 children. Most difficult to find the town, some distance from the shore; our donkeys wound through street after street. When we arrived the morning service was going on – although in Arabic we remained and had a good survey of the attentive hearers. After service we went up to their private rooms and had an interesting chat. The Prince and Princess had been in these schools the Friday before. Returned to steamer by 1 o’clock. Miss Crichton and others had made the ascent of a hill for the view – they came back very hot and tired. In the evening we stopped the night at Nachara.

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The Prince of Wales and party in Egypt in February 1869

I skipped day twenty, Saturday 13th, a day on which Miss Riggs and companions visited the cave-tombs of Beni Hassan. What’s interesting on this day, the 14th, is not Miss Riggs determination to visit every missionary school on the Nile, but the mention of the ‘Prince and Princess’. The prince was Albert, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Victoria and heir apparent to the British throne. He was in Egypt on a second honeymoon with his wife Alexandra – also expediently making himself absent from England at a time when his name was being linked to a high-profile adultery scandal. The royals had departed Cairo four days ahead of Miss Riggs’s party in a fleet of five blue and gold steamers, plus tender, and a towed dahabiya that served as the royal couple’s private sleeping quarters. Each steamer was decorated with scenes depicting incidents from the life of Antony and Cleopatra, and each towed a barge of ‘necessities and luxuries’, which between them included 3,000 bottles of champagne and 4,000 of claret, not to mention sherry, ale and liqueurs of all sorts. They had horses, a white donkey and four French chefs, plus a “stuffer” to deal with all the animals the prince was going to shoot.

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Nudity on the Nile

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day nineteen.

Friday, 12 February
All on deck this morning in good time – sunrise lovely and air beautiful – on board all day. Dog mummies found in this neighbourhood ar Shekh Fodl. Today passed the Convent (Sittina) of Our Lady Mary the Virgin – the monks swim off shore to the boats passing. One got up on our steamer – they come for backshish – quite naked – they are Xtian Copts.

The incident of the naked monks is one that crops up in other accounts by Nile travelers. But if they are collecting baksheesh were did they put it? One account supplies the answer – they would pop the coins into their mouths for the swim back to shore. On future cruises Cook advised ladies to remain in the boat’s salon when it was passing the monastery.

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The itinerary

In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day eighteen.

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Thursday, 11 February
Daily routine of Commissariat on the BENHA coffee at 8, dejeuner at 10, lunch at 1, table d’hote at 6.30, tea at 8. Passed also last evening the pyramids of Dashoor – Boosh is a thriving place, many Copt Christians and large depot of monks who keep up communication with the Convents of St. Anthony and St. Paul in the eastern desert, supplying them with all they require.

Itinerary of voyage in Upper Egypt
The Azizieh Massriah Company
Stoppages up to 1st Cataract
Beniswaif – 2 hours
Minizeh – 2 hours
Beni Hassan – 3 hours
Assiout – 5 hours
Girgeh – 2 hours
Kenah – 8 hours
Looksor – 3 days
Eshneh – 3 hours
Edfou – 6 hours
Koom Ambou – 2 hours
Assouan – 2 days

Return trip from Assouan, Koom Ambou, Eshneh, Looksor, Kenah and Assiout – 1 hour at each place. So far the itinerary but as nothing is certain in Egypt many changes will no doubt take place.

'Passengers Aboard the Nile Steamer' by Charles Dyce, c.1849

‘Passengers Aboard the Nile Steamer’ by Charles Dyce, c.1849

This schedule was devised by Thomas Cook. He did his homework well and, give or take a few tweaks, this is the itinerary most Nile cruises would stick to until security issues halted sailings between Cairo and Luxor in the early 1990s.

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On the Nile at last

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day seventeen.

Wednesday, 10 February
We left Cairo at 2 o’clock, assembling at first at Teaks Hotel – waited some time under the verandah on front of the hotel –some men with snakes and dogs amused us – 6 carriages and pair conveyed us to boat – took luggage with us – some time arranging. Took cabins according to precedence – Miss Porter shared mine – did not like her berth close to the boiler – the Dennets came next, then the Newmans, then Miss Lines under the stairs – opposite Brewin and Backhouse – the Dicksons, two Crichtons, Miss Crichton, Mr. Chalmers, Mr. Cook; this filled the BENHA, the rest were in the BENISWAIF – 16 passengers in each. Passed Memphis in the night – good night – window and door open – berth about half a yard wide and about the same space for dressing.

'Kasr el-Nil, the Viceroy's Palace, Cairo, 6 February 1869' by Oswald Walters Brierly

‘Kasr el-Nil, the Viceroy’s Palace, Cairo, 6 February 1869′ by Oswald Walters Brierly

This was Cook’s first organized tour to Egypt, remember. At this time tourism in Egypt does not exist and there are no scheduled cruises on the Nile. Instead, Cook has to charter two boats, the Benha and the Beniswaif, from the state-owned Azizieh Company. These steamers, both British built, are the property of Khedive Ismail. They are used for semi-regular passenger services on the Nile, departing Cairo once a month from November to February, but the departures were unreliable and the boats’ schedules didn’t make allowances for sightseeing stops. They do not sound particularly comfortable – Miss Riggs describes her bed as being half a yard wide, which is about 50cm, with the same for standing space.

I have no idea what or where Teaks Hotel was.

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