Beaten by a head in the race


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 thirty.

Tuesday, 23 February
Left Edfou at 5 in the morning for Assouan, there by 4. Saw the Prince of Wales steamers and the one the Viceroy had conveyed the Prince in. He and his party had left that morning in dahabeahs for the 2nd Cataract, so we have missed them again – count Bismark was there – we started off at once across the deep sand for the bazaars; hardly repaid one. On the return most gorgeous sunset – sands deep gold and mountain deep violet-red – a colouring I had not seen before – suppose tropical in tint. Dinner at 7.

Egyptian boat above the First Cataract by Brierly, 24th February 1869

Egyptian boat above the First Cataract by Oswald Walters Brierly, 24th February 1869

Miss Riggs may have missed the Prince but some of his party remained in Aswan, including the scathing journalist William Howard Russell. “Cook’s tourists have also arrived!” he wrote. “Their steamers are just below us in the stream. The tourists are all over the place. Some are bathing off the banks; others, with eccentric head-dresses, are toiling through the deep sand. They are just beaten by a head in the race! Another day, and the Prince and Princess would have been at their mercy.”

The real issue here was not concern for the privacy of the Prince and Princess, but snobbery. Russell could not bear the thought that the Nile had to be shared with fellow countrymen (and women) of a lower status. “It is a nuisance to the ordinary traveller to have his peace broken,” he wrote, although by “ordinary” he clearly meant upper class. Cook aimed to democratize Nile tourism and in years to come, among a certain class of people, he would be despised for it.

1 Comment

Filed under Art and artists, Nile steamers, Travellers' tales

One Response to Beaten by a head in the race

  1. Thanks for this really interesting and astonishing anecdote. Reminds me of Stanley meeting Livingstone… But as a German I’m even more interested in Bismarck being there at the same time! He too was of a lower class? Reading those names I first thought Mrs. Riggs was talking about names of steamers… Thanks fo adding details, if known!

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