Psst! This month we offer our Rosetta Stone, our own Tutankhamen’s tomb, our very own Egyptian treasure, the best thing we have had since Ptolemaic times.
The glossy brochure of a modern specialist in cultural tourism appraises the appeal of Egypt in these terms: “Indeed, the sheer antiquity and breadth of Egyptian civilization cannot but reduce the visitor to awe, whether it be Napoleon with his famous exhortation to his troops in front of the Pyramids that forty centuries looked down upon them, or the more humble modern traveller exploring the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.” Napoleon’s entourage of 160 savants produced the magnificent Description de l’Égypte, a survey in several volumes of all the French discovered in Egypt. Other influential travellers have since added innumerable books to the Egyptian ‘canon’. Tourists will undoubtedly start pouring back into the country once the current turmoil has abated, and many more travellers’ tales will be told.
There is, however, a significant void in published literature on the West’s contact with the land of the Pharaohs, suggested by Jessamine Price’s review of the compilation Travellers in Egypt: “It is unfortunate that we know less about travellers who did not leave such detailed records, and that there has been relatively little effort to research leisure travellers.” (Italics ours) It might be assumed that leisure travel did not exist before the advent of Thomas Cook package tours, but not so. There were obscure nineteenth-century travellers who were not Egyptologists, professional writers or artists, but motivated strictly by curiosity. Such records as they left have not enjoyed sufficient attention. To quote Gray’s Elegy: “Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen / And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” It hardly seems possible, for instance, that in 1841 and early 1842 a cultured girl in her fourteenth year could have travelled all the way down the Nile to the Second Cataract (picture here from Africa and its Inhabitants, by Elisée Reclus), leaving a thorough account of the adventure. Yet, that is what Fanny Ward did. This month we offer Fanny’s manuscript diary.
Reverend Randall Ward (shown here), who had been appointed senior chaplain and acting archdeacon at Bombay, arrived in Egypt from the Indian sub-continent in early 1841. He would spend over a year touring Egypt, Nubia, Sinai and Palestine, before returning to Bombay. For much, if not all of this time, he was accompanied by his wife Frances, and daughters Fanny, Maria and Gertrude. (Either Fanny or Maria is the subject of the portrait here) The diary written by Randall Ward’s eldest daughter Fanny covers the family’s travels in Egypt and Nubia, commencing 24 August 1841 on the Mahmoudia Canal, and concluding on 29 January 1842 in Cairo, after months of journeying.
Some female Western travellers had visited these areas before. Indeed, among the seventy names the Wards found engraved on rocks overlooking the Second Cataract were those of three ladies. However, we do not know of any women travellers as young as Fanny who left so thorough a written record. She describes all that she sees in the greatest detail. Concerning the Nubians, she observes that “in appearance they are very dark but the young girls and children are good looking, with goodnatured agreeable faces, and very white teeth. Their hair is saturated with castor oil, and plaited in innumerable small tails over the forehead and back of the head, but the oil being melted by the heat is seen trickling down their faces, and a group may be scented at a great distance.” To learn more about Fanny Ward and her diary, read the full description in this month’s list.
Egypt at the time of the Wards’ visit was governed by Mehmet Ali Pasha, whose dynasty held power over the country until the early 1950s. It was during Mehmet Ali’s period that the fez or tarboosh became standard military headgear in the Egyptian army. From this time forward, the governors and other Egyptian celebrities are depicted wearing the tarboosh. Like many other book dealers, we sometimes branch out from works on paper when some curiosity takes our fancy. It was alluring, for instance, to believe that the bronze bust named ‘Ismail’ (shown here) represented the Khedive of Egypt and grandson of Mehmet Ali. But, who’s to know? Considering that the fez became ubiquitous following military reforms in the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s, also becoming the standard headgear for native units in colonial forces, the depiction could as easily be of an askari under one of the European powers. The sculpture is an appealing and decorative novelty, whatever its history.
In keeping with our theme this month, we have included many items on Egypt and the Nile, including the volume of Recent British Battles on Land and Sea covering the Egyptian revolution precipitated by Arabi Pasha. This is also the right volume for the final Frontier War in the Cape colony, and the Anglo-Zulu War. There are several other interesting books in the fields we normally cover. We hope you will like our list. Most of the items in it can be procured for fairly nominal baksheesh.
Lindsay and Wendy