Tag Archives: Miss Riggs

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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Making notes on Cairo

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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 sixteen.

Tuesday, 9 February
After breakfast went to Turkish bazaars, up Muskee St. near our hotel – most wonderfully oriental and novel to English people – miles of winding narrow streets covered over with matting to protect from the sun and some so narrow that the projection from shops overlap each other. People of all nations and tongues there and all costumes – camels driving through and donkeys – no horses generally, and ladies mounted astride on the donkeys enveloped in black …

… All the hotels surround the same square called El-Esbekiah– trellis fence around it. It used to be flooded by inundations but a canal is now made to prevent it. On the west of the square is the palace of Muhammed Bey – in that garden the unfortunate Kleber was assassinated. On the north of the square is the Copt quarter. The town is divided into quarters, the Copt, the Jews, and the Franks, each quarter separated by gates, which are closed at night …

The area around the Ezbekiya from the 1874 Plan général de la Ville du Caire

The area around the Ezbekiya from the 1874 Plan général de la Ville du Caire

… The picturesque old latticed windows standing out from the houses like our oriels are called mushribuh, where the women look through, their faces covered very much, often all over with green, black, or yellow muslin with large coloured patterns on them. … All the natives in Cairo mount donkeys and fine fellows they are … The Cairene mode of building is to project each storey beyond the other so that in the 2nd or 3rd stories the houses often touch or at all events you can shake hands across the street.

Touists on donkeys

Miss Riggs filled about ten pages of her diary with notes today. After visiting the bazaars she and her colleagues dropped in on another American Mission school, recording in her diary that the children there had “not the vivacity and brightness of an English child”. She scribbles information on the khamseen, feast of Bairam, the departure of pilgrims for Mecca and other celebrations. She also comments on the habits of local dogs (they are of “the wolf nature, sandy in colour”) and of the food at Shepheard’s (“tolerable”). Had she been travelling in 2019 she would have been a prolific Instagrammer.

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Sightseeing in Cairo

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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 fifteen.

Monday, 8 February
Started at 8 o’clock by train to Cairo – 5 hours journey, 150 miles – through the Delta … We first passed large swamps and Lake Mareotis, close to Alexandria; flat country – the first mud villages I had ever seen – the same all through the Delta. Arrived at Cairo at 2 o’clock, omnibus and carriage to Hotel Shepheard – not room for all so I, Miss Porter, Mr. Brewin, Dr. Lorne, Mr. Frith, Mr. Luckie and a few others to the Hotel l’Orient. Ours a very curious hotel – sale at the back and dark, but did very well.

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After lunch we went for a drive to the grand mosque of Mehmet Ali, standing on a hill with commanding view of the country, the green winding outline for miles which showed the course of the Nile – the pyramids at Gizeh – the pyramids of Sakara and Dashour and the grand and endless desert; this hill is called the Citadel. We descended what is called Joseph’s Well – hewn in the rock 260 ft. deep – a circular descent. A very deep well indeed and very tiring coming up; a winding cutting in the solid rock. From there drove to the bazaars – too late – they close at 5. Table d’hote at 6 – spent evening in bedroom.

So, 15 days and countless trains, carriages and boats to get from London to Cairo in 1869. It shows just what an undertaking travel was 150 years ago. Had Miss Riggs been travelling thirteen years earlier, she could have added another couple of days to the trip because prior to 1856, which was when the railway between Alexandria and Cairo opened, she would have had to be punted slowly up the Nile between the two cities.

The party finds Shepheard’s full because this is not the grand hotel of later fame with its 300-plus rooms, but a previous, smaller incarnation of the hotel. The alternative hotel to which Miss Riggs and some of the others are directed, the Hotel l’Orient, was on the far side of the Ezbekiyya Gardens, on the edge of the old city.

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The Mohamed Ali Mosque she visits is not long completed (1857). She provides a lengthy description in her diary, which I’ve left out. More interesting is her descent into Joseph’s Well. This, of course, has nothing to do with the biblical Joseph and was sunk during the era of Salah ad-Din. It is an 87-metre deep shaft wound around by a spiraling staircase. It was a big tourist attraction in the 19th-century but has long been closed to the public because its decrepit state makes it extremely dangerous.

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Church on the Square

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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 fourteen.

Sunday, 7 February
Sunday. Went to English church in the square where our hotel is, on the opposite side. Mr. Davis the clergyman. Mr. Cook arrived from Cairo where he had gone the previous Friday to see about the Nile steamers. A general assembly and confab. Arranged that we pack up and leave all superfluous luggage at this hotel as cabins are small on Nile boats – ladies’ saddles to go but not the gentlemen’s. The steamers – BENHA and BENI SWEIF engaged for us, taking 16 passengers each, so Mr. Cook asked permission to supply 2 extra places with 2 Americans – Mr. Martin and brother who wished to go up the Nile.

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The ‘English’ church was St Mark’s. It was designed around 1841–42 by visiting British architect James William Wild, who worked for a while with Egyptologist Karl Lepsius and was later ‘decorative architect’ on the magnificent Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. The church is still there today, on Alexandria’s Tahrir Square; it’s beautiful and well worth a visit. The map above comes from an article on the square written by Alexandria architect Mohamed Awad, which is well worth reading; No.3 is the St Mark’s, No.15 is the Hotel d’Europe where Miss Riggs’s party is staying.

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The Mission school in Alexandria

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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 thirteen.

Saturday, 6 February
Accompanied Mr. & Mrs. Newman, Mr. Brewin and Miss Lines to the American Missions School kept by Mr. & Mrs. Pinkerton. A wonderfully dirty approach to school – obliged to leave our carriage some distance through thick mud. An interesting school; a governess there who looked very delicate – there 3 years – climate does not suit her I think. Bought some Arabic gospels of St. John. Mr B. bought 12 of St. Luke. On our return bought smoke coloured spectacles. After dinner Mr. Pinkerton came to make a call – had a little Newman party in end of drawing room – stayed till 10.

Smoked glasses

The American Mission had a sizeable presence throughout Egypt from the mid-19th century. Although the US appointed a first consul-general in 1848, America figured little in Egypt in a political sense. The Christian evangelists, as well as promoting God, were their home nation’s most high-profile representation in Egypt, founding churches and schools. They were instrumental in founding the American University in Cairo, which, incidentally, kicks off its centenary year celebrations this coming Saturday.

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Misencountering Alexandria

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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 twelve. Or maybe not – I’ll explain below.

The site of the city is in the form of a Macedonian mantle. After leaving the palace we drove to the Botanical gardens – wild and badly kept but trees and shrubs interesting, the poincettia most splendid and plentiful – shall not forget the blaze of large red petals. We drove to Pompey’s Pillar (“Cleopatra’s Needle”, which belongs to England, the fellow one Place de la Concorde, Paris) – red granite; on 2 sides the hieroglyphics very perfect. It stands upright without any support and not sunk into the earth at all. Total height 98 ft. 29 ft, 8 inches round. On entering the harbour is the island and tower of Pharos, on the left rocks and promontory of Lochias. Below a secret port called Antirrhodus – Anthony built a palace here after his misfortunes at Actiuno. Did not see the library celebrated by the Ptolemics … Passed through a Mohammedan Cemetery or burial ground. Back to table d’hote at 6.

There is confusion in the diary here because there is no entry for 5 Feb, just a very long entry for 4 Feb. Maybe Miss Riggs spent all the day of the fifth in bed? So the sightseeing described above may have taken place on the fourth, the day of the party’s arrival in Alexandria. After arriving at their hotel, our travellers had lunch then immediately went to visit the Khedive’s palace at Ras al-Tin. From there they went on to the botanical gardens, which most likely were the Antoniadis Gardens, founded just a few years before in 1860.

Obelisk

The comment about the “Macedonian mantle” comes from John Gardner Wilkinson, who described the plan of Alexandria in this way (ie the shape of a cloak) in his Hand-book for Travellers in Egypt, first published by John Murray in 1847, with a new, third edition issued in 1867. If Miss Riggs was carrying Wilkinson’s guide she was not paying it much attention. If she had read him, she would understand that Pompey’s Pillar and Cleopatra’s Needle are not the same thing; that the obelisk gifted to England was the one lying in the sand, not the standing one; and that the party missed seeing the famous library because it vanished around 1,500 years previously. Bloody tourists.

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Arrival in Alexandria

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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 eleven.

Thursday, 4 February
On deck in good time as by 7 we are to leave the boat at 8. Lord Gower quite a young man, very fair, with companions and courier on our steamer – on his way to the Prince of Wales. Wee were very glad and thankful to get out of our cabins. Good view of Alexandria from the sea where we lay to, some distance out of port. The island of the Pharos and Pompey’s Pillar conspicuous and palace of the Viceroy = quite a strange novel and picturesque scene and tumultuous the men in little boats surrounding our steamer for disembarkation, tittering shrieks in an unknown tongue – Arabic.    
     The pilot came on board in a little sailing boat, a brown cloak and hood and bare legs – we let all the other passengers go off first, then a commissionaire from the Hotel de l’Europe came on board to us which saved us much inconvenience, but however with all that our luggage was seized by main force, very nearly falling into the sea, by men of all color and casts – never to be forgotten. The little boats conveyed us to terra firma, then we went o have our passports vised, then commenced a babble again, all claiming the luggage for the hotel. At last rushed into carriage and we drove off to the hotel through thick mud which all the streets in Alexandria are in the rainy season. Hotel situated in the Square.

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Almost every 19th century traveller arriving at Alexandria wrote about the chaos that met them in the harbour. Incoming steamers would be met by flotillas of small boats carrying touts for local hotels and dragomans battling to claim the new arrivals. Once luggage had been sorted and reclaimed it would be a donkey ride to the city’s main square, the Place des Consuls – now Mohamed Ali Square – which was where in 1869 all the hotels were.

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