ERM - How Cleopatra's Needle Came To London










When the military operations which the British carried out in Egypt in 1798-1802 came to an end, the British officers in command at Alexandria determined to put on record the principal facts about the work that they had done in the country. The British Army, under Sir Ralph Abercromby, and the British Navy, under Lord Nelson, restored both Egypt and Syria to the Turks, and were proud of their victories over the French, which had, however, cost them dear, for at the moment of the great victory gained on March 21, 1801, Abercromby fell mortally wounded. To erect a suitable monument to the memory of this great soldier was out of the question, for the British knew that it would be pulled down as soon as they left the country and the stones used for other purposes. They therefore decided to cut a brief account of their victories upon a slab of stone, which they intended to deposit in a safe and secret hiding-place. The inscription (which can be found in the book called Handbook for Egypt and the Sudan by Budge) drawn up by the Earl of Cavan (1763-1836), stated that in 1798 the Republic of France landed in Egypt an army of 40,000 men under the command of General Bonaparte, and occupied the country. The French fleet was destroyed in Abukir Bay by Admiral Lord Nelson, and the attempt of Napoleon to seize Syria was frustrated by Commodore Sidney Smith. A decisive action fought near Alexandria in March, 1801, left the British Army masters of the country, which they made haste to evacuate, the work for which they had come being accomplished. Lord Cavan concludes with a mention of the loss sustained by the death of Sir Ralph Abercromby, and states that the inscription has been drawn up to 'record to future ages these events'. When the inscription had been cut upon a slab of stone, the soldiers looked for a suitable hiding-place in which to bury it, and this they found in the pedestal of Cleopatra's Needle, which was then lying on the ground close to the pedestal. According to the Bombay Courier, 'the pedestal of the fallen Needle of Cleopatra having been heeled to starboard,' a cavity, sufficiently deep to receive the inscribed tablet, was then cut in the block of stone on which the pedestal had rested, and when the inscribed tablet had been laid in the cavity the pedestal was worked back into its former position. Some who have written about this matter appear to have thought that the inscribed tablet was inserted in the pedestal of the Obelisk, but the actual words of the writer in the Bombay Courier are: 'The pedestal of the fallen Needle of Cleopatra having been heeled to starboard, and a proper (i.e. suitable?) excavation made in the center of the base stone, this inscription on a slab of marble was inserted, and the pedestal restored to its former situation.' It seems to me that the 'base stone' was not the pedestal itself, but the block of stone on which it rested. I can find no evidence to show that either the pedestal or the block containing the tablet on which it was replaced has been discovered by those who have examined or excavated the site. The inscribed slab was undoubtedly buried in the masonry on which the obelisk once stood, and it is to be hoped that it may one day be brought to light and find a resting-place in some museum, though, considering all the stone buildings that have been built in Alexandria during the last 50 years, it seems to be hardly possible.

It is well known that the members of the scientific Mission which followed Napoleon to Egypt were instructed by him to collect important monuments in Upper and Lower Egypt to form the nucleus of a collection of Egyptian Antiquities which he intended to house in Cairo. These savants obeyed his instruction with thoroughness, and a considerable number of inscribed objects of all kinds were sent to Cairo in 1799 and 1800. The French officers in Alexandria also collected many monuments, including the Rosetta Stone, and the more portable of these were sent to Cairo. The Battle of Alexandria on March 21, 1801, compelled the French to capitulate (Alexandria surrendered on September 2, 1801) and the labors of the French savants came abruptly to an end, and all the antiquities which they had collected passed under certain clauses of the Capitulations into the hands of the British.

The Earl of Cavan and all the soldiers who were serving under him wished to send the fallen obelisk to England as a trophy which would commemorate Nelson's victory at the Battle of Abukir (August 1, 1798) and Abercromby's victory at the Battle of Alexandria. Looking back at the events of that time, and the splendid services that the British had rendered to Muhammad 'Ali, it is difficult to understand why Cleopatra's Needle was not brought to this country forthwith. But there was no one in the Government who was interested in the matter, and as Lord Cavan was instructed by his official superiors to cease from his exertions, the obelisk was allowed to remain where it lay for some 70 years more. Both Ministers and high officials, in truly British fashion, seemed to be ashamed of the victories that British soldiers had won in Egypt, or at any rate were unwilling to allow any really great monument to be set up that would commemorate them. Much light was thrown upon this matter by the publication in the Athenaum for September 22, 1877 (reprints are from W.R. Cooper in his book, On Obelisks, London 1877) of a memorandum preserved in the British Museum. From this we learn that 'At the termination of the Campaign in 1801, in Egypt, General the Earl of Cavan was left in command of the portion of the British forces which was ordered to remain in that country, in which portion was included the Auxiliary Corps sent from India, under the command of M. General Baird. Lord Cavan soon turned his attention to the Obelisk denominated by as 'Cleopatra's Needle', which lay upon the ground, close to its own pedestal and also close to another Obelisk of nearly the same dimensions, but not so perfect, which stood, and which it is understood still stands erect close to Alexandria (This obelisk, under the skillful direction of Lieut. Commander Henry H. Gorringe, U.S.N. was transported to New York in 1879-80 and re-erected in the Central Park in 1881. For a full account of this fine achievement, see Lieut. Commander Gorringe's work...Egyptian Obelisks, London 1885.) consequently close to the theater of those wonderful achievements whereby Egypt was wrested from the dominion of Bonaparte, and restored to the Sublime Porte in that year. Lord Cavan conceived the notion of obtaining a grant of the fallen Needle for the purpose of conveying it to the Metropolis of the British Empire, there to be erected to commemorate the Victories of the British Arms in Egypt, under the Conduct of Sir Ralph Abercromby and Lord Hutchinson...Lord Cavan did, unquestionably, obtain.... a sufficient grant from the Turkish Authorities, and at once proceeded to carry his purpose into execution.

'Having conferred with our Chief Engineer on the spot, namely, Major [later General Sir Alexander] Bryce, the plan for the embarkation and conveyance to England of the fallen 'Needle of Cleopatra' was prepared, and, upon due consideration, adopted. The troops then remaining in Egypt were invited by their Officers to subscribe a certain number of days' pay to meet the Expenses of an undertaking in which their feelings were deeply interested, an invitation which was eagerly accepted, so that Lord Cavan instantly found the necessary Funds for his purpose at his disposal. Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers vied with each other in offering their Contributions to the furtherance of an object so gratifying to their National and Professional pride, in the following manner: One of the largest of the French Frigates (El-Corso) captured at Alexandria, was purchased, of the Prize Agents, from the Funds thus contributed, to convey the fallen Needle to England. A Stone Pier or jetty was commenced, alongside of which, when completed, the Frigate was to be brought to receive the Needle, which was to be introduced into the Ship upon Rollers, through a Stern Port to be cut to the necessary size, and when introduced was to be laid upon a Bed of large Blocks of Timber, forming a platform upon the keel of the ship, so as to keep this immense weight of solid substance exactly amidship, and to prevent its straining the Keel. Thus placed in the hold of the Ship, the Needle was to be secured in its bed, so as to preclude the possibility of its being moved therefrom by the motion of the Ship at Sea. As the fallen Needle lay close to the Sea, the moving it upon Rollers from where it lay, to the Ship, became a very easy operation.

'Matters being thus arranged, the necessary Working Parties were allotted daily, in the general orders issued by M. General the Earl of Cavan, and the undertaking proceeded most prosperously. To compensate the soldiery for the tear and wear of their Necessaries, Working Pay was issued to the Working Parties from the Funds to which they themselves had contributed. Considerable progress was made with the Jetty, and the Superior Officers of the Royal Navy then at Alexandria, viz. Captains Larcom and Donelly, embarked most zealously and cordially in our project, which must have been therefore perfectly successful, had it not been abandoned, in consequence of orders received from Lord Keith and General Fox, who at that time held the chief Command of the Fleet and of the Troops serving in the Mediterranean. The Working Parties were of course discontinued: the bargain with the Prize Agents for the Ship was dissolved, and the Funds remaining undisbursed were returned to the Subscribers. The project of conveying the fallen Needle to England being no longer practicable, it was resolved that another expedient should be adopted, in order to establish some lasting Record of the results of so glorious an expedition; accordingly, the uppermost Block of the Pedestal of the fallen Needle was raised upon one side sufficiently high, by means of levers, to admit of a space of about Eighteen Inches square being chiseled out of the middle of the lowest Block of the Pedestal. In that space a brass plate was laid (the Bombay Courier says: this inscription on a slab of marble was inserted.' if the plate or tablet were made of brass it would rapidly oxidize and perish, and it is probably due to this fact that no trace of the tablet has been found.), on which was engraved a short detail of the principal Events of the Campaign.'

The text of the Inscription was as follows:.........

In the year of the Christian Era 1798,

The Republic of France

Landed on the Shores of Egypt an Army of 40000 Men,

Commanded by their most able and successful Commander Bonaparte,

The Conduct of the General and the Valour of the Troops,

Effected the entire subjection of that Country;

But under Divine Providence

It was reserved for the British Nation

To annihilate their ambitious Designs.

Their Fleet was attacked, defeated and destroyed, in Aboukir Bay,

By a British Fleet of equal Force,

Commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson,

Their intended conquest of Syria was counteracted at Acre

By a most gallant Resistance under Commodore Sir Sidney Smith;

And Egypt was rescued from their dominion

By a British Army, inferior in Numbers, but

Commanded by General Sir Ralph Abercrombie,

Who landed at Aboukir on the 8th of March, 1801,

Defeated the French on several Occasions,

Particularly in a most decisive Action near Alexandria,

On the 21st of that month, when they

Were driven from the Field, and forced to shelter themselves

In their Garrisons of Cairo and Alexandria,

Which places subsequently surrendered by Capitulation.

To record to Future Ages these Events;

And to commemorate the Loss sustained by the Death of

Sir Ralph Abercrombie,

Who was mortally wounded on that memorable Day,

Is the design of this Inscription.

Which was deposited here in the year of Christ 1802

By the British Army on their evacuating this country,

And restoring it to the Turkish Empire.


The reasons which induced Lord Keith and Lord Hutchinson to direct the Earl of Cavan to abandon the obelisk have often been discussed and commented on; some authorities have thought that they did so because they were not satisfied that Muhammad 'Ali had given the formal permission for its removal, and this may well have been the case. At all events, nothing further was said in high quarters about the removal of Cleopatra's Needle to England until 1820, when the question was raised by Samuel Briggs, sometime British Consul at Alexandria. In April of that year he addressed a letter on the subject to Sir Benjamin Bloomfield, one of the Ministers of King George IV, in which he wrote:------

'Having, on my late visit to Egypt, witnessed the stupendous labors of the celebrated Mr. Belzoni, and received from him the assurance that he could confidently undertake the removal to England of one of the granite obelisks at Alexandria, I was encouraged to submit to His Highness [the Viceroy] my opinion that one of the obelisks known in Europe under the appellation of Cleopatra's Needles, might possibly be acceptable to His Majesty, as unique of its kind in England, and which might, therefore, be considered a valuable addition to the embellishments designed for the British metropolis. His Highness promised to take the subject into consideration; and, since my return to England, I have received a letter from his Minister, authorizing me, if I deemed it acceptable, to make, in his master's name, a tender of one of these obelisks to His Majesty, as a mark of his personal respect and gratitude....After the glorious termination of the conjoint expedition to Egypt in 1801, it was proposed by some officers of high rank to convey to England this identical obelisk as an appropriate trophy. Representations were actually made, and subscriptions entered into, among the officers of both army and navy but being found inadequate, the design was reluctantly relinquished; and it was generally understood to have been a subject of regret with the administration of that period, that government had been apprised of it too late to afford the necessary means towards its accomplishment.'


To lend weight to his application Briggs then gives the names of several distinguished officials and others who thought the obelisk well worth removal, among them being Lord Cavan, Lord Beresfore, Sir R. Rickerston, Sir D. Baird, Sir H. Oakes, Admiral Donelly, etc. He describes the obelisk as a-----------'single block of red granite (weighing 183 tons, exclusive of the pedestal and steps), originally brought from the quarries in Upper Egypt, near the cataracts. It is now close to the sea-shore at Alexandria, suspended horizontally on its pedestal, in the manner in which it was placed by our officers in the year 1802, near to the site where the other obelisk is erected. It is about 7 feet square at the base. On the four sides it is richly sculptured with hieroglyphics in a superior style, more than an inch deep; and though in the lapse of ages it has partially suffered on two sides from the desert winds, the other two are in good preservation. The pedestal is a plain block of the same granite, about 8 1/2 feet square, and 6 1/2 feet high. All travelers mention it with encomiums. Clarke, Walsh, and Sir R. Wilson, lament in their works, it was not secured to England; and Denon contemplated the feasibility of one day transporting it to the present state of the arts and sciences in England, it may reasonably be presumed no obstacle can exist but what the munificence of the Sovereign can readily surmount. What Belzoni has already done, with only common local means, in conveying to Alexandria, from ancient Thebes, the colossal head which now ornaments the British Museum, together with the success of his other labors, is an earnest of what he is capable of performing; whilst, at the same time, the unprecedented extent of the excavations attests the liberal character of the present ruler of Egypt, no less than the various improvements he has of late years introduced into the country.

'Eminently brilliant as the Government of His Majesty has been, during the Regency, in arms and politics, it will, in future times, be no less distinguished for the liberal encouragement given to the arts and sciences, and for the splendid embellishments conferred on the metropolis. Rome and Constantinople are the only cities in Europe which can boast of Egyptian monuments of this description. They, however, still attest the power and grandeur of the ancient masters of the world; and if the bronze column erected at Paris in modern times serves to ornament that city, and perpetuates the trophies of the French arms, this Egyptian obelisk, in the capital of England, would equally remain a permanent memorial of British achievements, and would be admired by posterity, as well as by the present age, for the boldness of the undertaking as much as for its intrinsic merits. I respectfully submit to you, Sir, in the first instance, this offer of the Viceroy of Egypt, as being in its nature more personal than official, and therefore more complimentary to His Majesty. Should you deem it proper to take His Majesty's pleasure thereon, I shall be happy to convey to His Highness the Viceroy, the acceptance of his offer, if approved. But should you consider it more correct that I should make this communication to His Majesty's Ministers, I shall immediately comply with your suggestion.'

This eloquent appeal had no effect from a practical point of view, and not attempt was made to bring Cleopatra's Needle to England. Antiquities and the public generally rejoiced to hear that the obelisk had been formally presented to H.M. George IV, and assumed that the Government would find both the means for transport and the men for bringing this splendid gift to England. It would have been easy to raise the necessary funds for its transport by private subscription, but the suppression of the activities of Lord Cavan in 1802 by Lord Keith and Lord Hutchinson had not been forgotten by the nation, and men hesitated to propose a public subscription, fearing that once again moneys subscribed might have to be returned to the givers.

In 1831, Muhammad 'Ali, thinking, it is said, that the British Government did not realize that he had already given the obelisk to the British Nation, offered it again to the King, and proposed to defray all expenses that might be incurred in removing it from the place where it lay on the sea-shore to the ship to be provided by the British for conveying it to England. In spite of the interest of the public generally, and the constant urging which the principal Ministers received, nothing was done, and the offer of the obelisk would have been allowed to lapse but for the exertions of Joseph Hume (1775-1855), the famous politician and leader of the Radical Party. As the result of his questions in Parliament the Government had enquiries made as to the proposed method and the cost of transport, which was said to be about \15,000, and though Hume and his supporters were given to understand that the money would be provided by the Government, and that the work of removing the obelisk would be put in hand forthwith, nothing was done, and the obelisk was apparently forgotten. Time after time a question abut the removal of it was asked in Parliament, and at length in 1849 the Government declared on April 15 that they intended to bring one of the two obelisks at Alexandria to London. Another estimate of the cost was prepared, and a lively discussion ensued as to the site most suitable for the obelisk when it arrived, but still the Government did nothing, and Hume was informed that they intended to do nothing because a little band of enthusiasts for classical antiquities, headed by Sir Gardner Wilkinson, had made it clear to them that the obelisk was too much defaced to be worth removal. When Wilkinson heard of the decision of the Government he said: 'The project has been wisely abandoned; and cooler deliberation has pronounced that, from its mutilated state, and the obliteration of many of the hieroglyphics by exposure to the sea air, it is unworthy the expense of removal.' Two years later a proposal was made by Hume to bring the obelisk to London and set it up in Hyde Park as a memorial of the great work which had been done by the Prince Consort in connection with the Great Exhibition of 1851; but even this suggestion produced no result.

In 1853, whilst Joseph Bonomi was building the Egyptian Court at Sydenham for the Crystal Palace Company, it was suggested that Cleopatra's Needle should be brought to England and set up in the transept near the Egyptian Court. The expense was estimated at \7,000. The Directors of the Crystal Palace Company discussed the matter and decided to adopt the suggestion. They applied to the Government for permission to remove the obelisk to England, and this was granted. The Company assumed that if they paid for the transport of the obelisk the object would become their property, and so the shareholders understood. They had no intention of doing for the Government what it was the duty of the Government to do for themselves. And when those in authority informed the Company that the obelisk was the property of the nation, and that it could only be lent to them, the Directors decided that they could not afford to spend \7,000 of the money of their shareholders on the loan of the obelisk, and so once again the public, who on this occasion were very excited and hopeful, were disappointed.

About 15 years later His Highness the Khedive of Egypt (As'id Pasha) brought the question of the removal of the obelisk to England before the British Government. He had let the land on which the monument lay to a certain Greek called Dimitri, who wished to develop the property he had rented, and the obelisk made it impossible for him to carry out his plans for building. He therefore applied to the Khedive either to remove the obelisk or to have it buried, and the Khedive politely asked the British Government to remove the obelisk which Muhammad 'Ali had given to England more than once. (See the Times for February 12, 1877) Nothing was done until General Sir James E. Alexander interested himself in the matter. This enthusiastic soldier spent much time in clearing the obelisk from the debris in which, during the course of centuries, it had become almost buried, and for seven years he never ceased, in season and out of season, to urge the British Government to act and move the obelisk. It is said that his interest in the obelisk dated from the year 1867, when he was in Paris and had an opportunity of observing the fine effect produced on the landscape of Paris by the great granite obelisk which the French had brought from Thebes and set up in the Place de la Concorde. He was urged on to redouble his efforts by the rumors which reached him from Alexandria to the effect that a certain French engineer resident in that city had offered to break up the obelisk for Dimitri, so that he might use the pieces for building purposes. Towards the close of 1876, when General Alexander had lost all hope of ever seeing the obelisk in England, he found it necessary to write to Dr. (later Sir) William James Erasmus Wilson (1809-1884), F.R.S.,F.R.C.S., on certain professional matters, and went on to describe his difficulties connected with Cleopatra's Needle, and to say that he hoped to collect by private subscriptions enough money to bring it to England. A few days later Erasmus Wilson had an interview with General Alexander, who told him that the Government had again refused to give him any pecuniary assistance, though they were quite ready to instruct their diplomatic and consular officials to give him every help possible when he had collected the necessary funds for the removal of the obelisk. Without any hesitation Erasmus Wilson offered to defray the whole cost of the transport of the obelisk to England, and then asked how it was to be done. During General Alexander's stay in Egypt he had met Mr. John Dixon, a civil engineer who had specially studied this problem, because he hoped that one day, when he was sufficiently rich, he would be able to bring the obelisk to England at his own expense. In November, 1876, Erasmus Wilson called on Mr. J. Dixon, who in answer to his questions described the method of transport he proposed to use if commissioned to undertake it. He would enclose the monolith in a cylinder made of boiler plates, and roll it into the sea. He would steady the cylinder by means of bilge plates, ballast it, fix a rudder and a cabin and a spar deck, and then tow the cylinder to England. He thought it might be done for \5,000 but was willing to contract to do it for \7,000. Erasmus Wilson asked if he would undertake to set the obelisk up safely on the bank of the Thames, and he said, 'Willingly'. A week later Erasmus Wilson, Gen. Alexander, Mr. Dixon and another engineer, Mr. H. P. Stephenson, met at a solicitor's office in Bedford Row and agreed to the terms of a contract which was duly signed on January 30, 1877.

Mr. Dixon then set to work on his plans for the cylindrical ship, which was built at the works of the Thames Iron Works Company. The Cleopatra, as she was called, was 93 feet long and 15 feet in diameter, and she was divided into ten compartments by nine water-tight bulkheads; her Captain was Henry Carter of the P. & O. Steam Navigation Company. Whilst this ship was being built application was made to Lord Derby for permission to bring the obelisk to England, but he referred the applicants to the Khedive, saying that England had refused the gift. Gen. Alexander went to Cairo and had an audience of His Highness, who not only gave the obelisk to England once more, but told him that he had his permission to remove it. Then a new difficulty presented itself. Dimitri, the Greek who had leased from the Khedive the land on which the obelisk lay, and had claimed damages in the Courts against him, on the ground that it obstructed his building operations, now declared that the Khedive had no right to give anyone permission to trespass on his land. When Mr. Dixon and Captain Carter went to make preparations for removing the obelisk, Dimitri stopped them and complained bitterly of the high-handed action of the Khedive.

At length Mr. Dixon found a way to soothe his susceptibilities, and they were allowed to begin work early in June. Stout bulks of timber were placed under the obelisk, which was then turned round so that it lay parallel with the sea. As soon as the plates arrived the building of the case around it was begun, and by the middle of August the obelisk in its iron case was ready for launching. The launch began on August 28, and fair progress was made, but on the 29th the fore part of the Cleopatra struck a huge boulder, which pierced the iron casing and allowed the ship to become half-full of water. Several days were spent in removing the boulder, which weighed at least half a ton, and had made a hole in the casing 18 inches wide. The ship was rolled over and the hole patched up, and on September 7 the obelisk was afloat. She was then towed into the great floating dock of the Egyptian Government, bilge keels, 40 feet long, were riveted on, the cabin and bridge were fitted, the rudder hung, the mast stepped, and 20 tons of iron ballast were stored in her. She was christened Cleopatra by Miss MacKillop on September 21, and, in tow of the S.S. Olga, she stared on her voyage. Captain Carter stopped at Algiers and Gibraltar, and all was well, but as soon as he had passed Cape St. Vincent the weather became 'dirty,' and a heavy gale from the S.S.W. burst on the ships. As Captain Carter decided to bring his ship head to wind, he signaled to Captain Booth of the Olga to cast off, but before this could be done a tremendous sea broke over the Cleopatra with such violence that she lurched heavily, and as the iron ballast, which had, unfortunately, not been securely fastened, shifted the ship went over on her 'beam ends'. It was impossible to secure the rails of the ballast, and Captain Carter decided to abandon the Cleopatra; the lifeboat was cleared and lowered, but was dashed to pieces against the rudder-yoke. Captain Booth of the Olga guessed what had happened, and called for volunteers to go aboard the Cleopatra and secure the ballast. Six gallant sailors answered his call and lowered and manned their boat, and succeeded in getting away from their ship; but as they were nearing the Cleopatra a might sea fell upon them, their boat was engulfed and those brave men were drowned. Captain Booth, after many attempts, succeeded in throwing a line over the Cleopatra, and by means of this a boat was hauled alongside, and Captain Carter and his crew were able to reach the Olga. Captain Booth, having cast off the tow-line, searched for the boat that had been swamped, but could find neither that nor the Cleopatra; and concluding that both had gone to the bottom he steered his course for Falmouth, which he reached on October 17. But the Cleopatra had not foundered, and soon after she was abandoned by the Olga she was sighted when about 70 miles from Ferrol by the captain of the Fitzmaurice, who towed her into that port and demanded \5,000 for his salvage. The Admiralty Court awarded him \2,000. Finally, the Cleopatra was taken in tow by the tug Anglia, and she reached London on January 20, 1878.

Meanwhile a heated discussion had been going on in the Press about the site on which the obelisk was to be erected. The site in the gardens on the Thames Embankment, which had been granted to General Alexander in 1872 by the Metropolitan Board of Works, was generally considered to be unsuitable. The best site for it would have been the center of the courtyard of the British Museum, Bloomsbury, but it was feared that the great weight of the obelisk would, in passing through the streets, crush the water-pipes and gas-pipes laid under them and damage the sewers. Mr. Dixon wanted to set it up in the garden plot opposite Westminster Abbey, but the Directors of the Underground Railway proved that there would always be a risk of its breaking through into the tunnel, and the idea of this site was abandoned. Finally, the Metropolitan Board of Works offered a site for the obelisk at the foot of the Adelphi steps on the Victoria Embankment, between the Waterloo and Charing Cross bridges. A concrete base, reaching down to the London clay beneath the mud bed of the river, having been made, the Cleopatra was towed up from the East India Docks and brought alongside, and when she was taken to pieces the obelisk was raised by hydraulic jacks and slid on to the Embankment. An iron jacket 20 feet long, with two projecting pivots on opposite sides, was placed round the obelisk, with a stirrup strap to prevent its slipping when being swung into a vertical position. It was then raised in a horizontal position by hydraulic jacks, and supported on timbers as the raising proceeded. Three steps and a pedestal were then built up under it to a total height of 18 feet 8 inches. The pedestal is of masonry, is 10 feet 5 inches high, and tapers from 10 feet square at the base to 9 feet 3 inches; the gradual diminution of diameter, or 'batter,' produces an admirable effect. The three lower courses have a core of brickwork and cement, but the fourth and fifth are of granite throughout.

A curious, but interesting, collection of objects was placed in the pedestal before the obelisk was set up on it; these include:--A scale model of the obelisk 2 feet 10 inches high, in bronze, a piece of granite from the obelisk itself, a complete set of British moneys and a rupee, a standard foot and standard pound, a two-foot rule, a standard gauge to the one-one thousandth part of an inch, a portrait of Queen Victoria, a history of the transport of the obelisk from Alexandria to London, with plans, printed on vellum, Dr. Birch's translation on parchment of the inscriptions on the obelisk, copies of the Bible in several languages, a translation of St. John's Gospel, chapter iii, verse 16, printed in 215 languages, the Pentateuch in Hebrew, the Book of Genesis in Arabic, a copy of the London Directory, a copy of Whitaker's Almanac, a copy of Bradshaw's Railway Guide, a map of London, copies of the current daily and weekly illustrated papers, a Tangye hydraulic jack and specimens of wire ropes and cables used in raising the obelisk, a shilling razor made by Mappin, a box of cigars, a number of tobacco pipes, an Alexandra feeding-bottle, a collection of toys, a box of hairpins and other articles used by women when making their toilette, photographs of 12 pretty Englishwomen, etc.

Early in September it was found that the obelisk had been raised to a height sufficient to enable it to be turned preparatory to being lowered in an upright position on the pedestal, and controlling tackles were fixed to each end of it. The actual turning of the obelisk from a horizontal to a vertical position took place on September 12 at 3:00 p.m., and in half an hour it was in a vertical position above its pedestal. The British and Turkish flags were run up, and as they flew free a roar from the great crowd filled the air. The obelisk was lowered into its position on the pedestal, and the great monolith of red granite, 68 feet long and weighing 180 tons, stood securely where it stands to-day. Castings in bronze of a pair of wings of the Winged Disk of Horus of Edfu were fixed at each corner, and between each pair is a bronze casting bearing the prenomen of Thothmes III, which reads Men-kheper-Ra. Above the cartouche are the disk and plumes of the Sun-god; on the right is a uraeus, i.e. cobra, wearing the crown of the South, and on the left corner is another uraeus wearing the crown of the North.

From the body of each uraeus hangs the sign for 'eternity', Q, shen. The obelisk is flanked by two bronze sphinxes which are enlarged copies of a sphinx of Thothmes III preserved in the Egyptian Collection of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle; each is 19 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 9 feet high, and weighs about 7 tons. The models and the casting were made under the direction of Mr. G. Vulliamy, Architect to the Metropolitan Board of Works, and the sphinxes were placed in position in September, 1881. On the breast of each is the inscription, 'Beneficent god, Men-kheper-Ra, giver of life.' The original from which these enlargements were made is of black basalt and is 11 inches long and 8 inches high. On the pedestal are four inscriptions, which read:-------



Through the Patriotic Zeal of

Erasmus Wilson F.R.S.

This Obelisk

Was brought from Alexandria

Encased in an iron cylinder

It was abandoned during a storm

In the Bay of Biscay

Recovered and erected

On this spot by John Dixon C.E.

In the 42nd year of the Reign of Queen Victoria




This Obelisk quarried at Syene

Was erected at On (Heliopolis)

By the Pharaoh

Thothmes III about 1500 B.C.

Lateral inscriptions were added

Nearly two centuries later

By Rameses the Great

Removed during the Greek Dynasty

To Alexandria

The Royal city of Cleopatra

it was there erected in the

18th year of Augustus Caesar B.C. 12.





This Obelisk

Prostrate for centuries

on the sands of Alexandria

was presented to the

British Nation A.D. 1819 by

Mohammed Ali Viceroy of Egypt

A worthy Memorial of

Our Distinguished Countrymen

Nelson and Abercromby



William Askin ---- Michael Burns

James Gardine ---- William Donald

Joseph Benbow ---- William Patan


Perished in a bold attempt

To secure the crew of the

Obelisk ship 'Cleopatra' during

The storm October 14th 1877



The inscription on the south face was added, it is said, at the suggestion of Queen Victoria. The actual cost of the removal of the obelisk from Alexandria to London is stated by Lieut. Commander H. H. Gorringe to have been about \11,500, and the salving expenses were about \2,000. The concrete foundations, the sphinxes, and the ornamental bronze work were paid for by the Metropolitan Board of Works. The timber and other materials were supplied by Mr. Dixon; the cost of these has not been disclosed.

Full details concerning the transport and erection of Cleopatra's Packing Needle will be found in The Builder; and Engineering, London, 1877-78. The Steps and Pedestal of the Obelisk were damaged by a bomb during the air raid which took place on September 4, 1917, and the marks made by the pieces of metal are visible to this day.

As the obelisk was made by Thothmes III, the text and translation of the inscriptions upon it are given in the section of this book in which the obelisks of Thothmes III are enumerated and described.


The end of Chapter Eleven in the Book of 'Cleopatra's Needles

and other Egyptian Obelisks,' by: Sir. E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptologist,

British Museum, London, 1926.


Translation of the inscription on the base of the Obelisk of HATSHEPSUT.



The living Horus Useritkau (Mighty of doubles). Nebti Uatchit Renput (Flourishing of years). Golden Horus Neterit Khau. Nesu-bat Maat-Ka-Ra (Truth is the Ka of Ra). Daughter of Ra Hatshepsut-Khnemit Amen (Foremost of the holy ones, the counterpart of Amen), living for ever and ever, Daughter of Amen-Ra, darling of his heart, one and only, existing through him, glorious essence of Nebertcher (i.e. Lord of the Universe), her beauty was created by the spirits of Anu (i.e. Ra, Shu and Tefnut), the Conquerors of the two lands (i.e. Egypt), like Ari-su (i.e. He who was self-made), <whom> he created to wear his crowns. Creatress of (many) forms like Khepera, diademed with diadems like the god of the two Horizons (i.e. Her-Aakhuti), the Holy egg, the glorious offspring, the suckling of the two goddesses of great magical powers, the one raised up by Amen, himself, upon his throne in Southern Anu (i.e. Hermonthis, or Armant), the one chosen by him to shepherd Egypt, to hold in check the Pat and the Rekhit (two classes of the Egyptian people), the Horus woman who avengeth her father, the eldest daughter of Kamutef (i.e. the self-begotten and self-produced god), the woman begotten by Ra to make for him a glorious posterity upon earth to protect the Hememit (a class of people?), his living image, King of the South and the North, Maat-Ka-Ra, the woman who is the tcham (i.e. either refined shining copper or ‘white’ gold) of kings. She made (them) as her monument to her father, Amen, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands (i.e. Thebes), President of the Apts (i.e. Karnak). She made for him two great obelisks of the lasting (or solid) granite of the region of the south (i.e. the best of all the mountains, and they can be seen (from afar, both upstream and downstream?). The Two Lands (Egypt) are bathed in light when Athen (i.e. the solar disk) rolleth up between them as he riseth up on the horizon of heaven. I have done this because of (my) loving heart for Father Amen. I went in at his advance on the first day (of the festival?). I acquired knowledge from his skilled spirits. I hesitated not on any occasion when he commanded.



My majesty understandeth his divine power, and behold I worked under his direction; he was my leader. I was unable to think out a plan for work without his prompting; he was the giver of the inscriptions (i.e. specifications). I was unable to sleep because of his temple (Mr. Budge says to compare this to Psalm 82:4-5 ‘I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.) I never turned aside from any order which he gave. My heart was like Sia (i.e. the god of knowledge, or wisdom personified) in respect of my father (Amen). I entered into the plans of his heart (or mind), in no way did I neglect (i.e. set behind me) the city of Nebertcher (i.e. the Lord of the Universe), but set it before my face. I know that the Apts (i.e. Karnak) are the Horizon (i.e. the abode of the gods) upon the earth, the holy stepped building of the first day (i.e. primeval time), the Eye of Nebertcher, the seat of his heart, the support of his beauties, the bond of those who follow him.

The king (i.e. the queen herself) saith: ‘I have set (these obelisks) before the henmemet (i.e. the people) who shall come into being two hen periods (i.e. 120 years) hence, whose minds shall enquire about this monument which I have made for my father, who shall speak with awe struck (?) voices and shall seek to gaze in to what is to come later. I took my seat in the Great House (i.e. palace), I remembered him that created me. My heart urged me to make for him two obelisks with ‘tcham’ coverings, the pyramidions (i.e. pointed tops) of which should pierce the sky in the August colonnade between the two great pylons (in the temple of Amen) of the King, the mighty Bull, the King of the South and the North, A-Kheper-ka-Ra, the Horus, whose voice (speaks) truth. Behold, my heart (or mind) took possession (or overcame)of me, leading me to utter words. “O ye men of understanding.”



Who shall look upon my monument after years (i.e. future days), who shall discuss together what I have done, take good heed that ye say not ‘I know not, I know not (why) these were made, and (why) a mountain was made throughout in gold, as if it (i.e. gold) was one of the commonest things that exist (?). I swear that as Ra loveth me, and as my Father Amen hath shown me favor, ans as the child of my nostrils (i.e. breath) is with life and serenity; and as I bear the White Crown, and am crowned with the Red Crown, and have joined together (in amity) for the Two Hawk gods their divisions of the world (Set was god of Lower Egypt and Horus of Upper Egypt) (or Egypt), and have governed this land like the son of Isis (i.e. Horus), and am mighty like the son of Nut (i.e. Osiris, son of Geb and Nut); and as Ra sitteth in the Sektet boat in the evening and appeareth joyfully in the Atet boat in the morning, and joineth his two mothers (Isis and Nephtys?) in the boat of the god (Ra); and as heaven is established firmly, and as what he (i.e. Ra) hath made is stable (or immovable), I shall have my being for ever and ever like an An-sek-f star (i.e. one of the circum-polar stars that never set), I shall sink to rest in (the land of) life like Atem (i.e. the setting sun) so these two great obelisks which my majesty hath worked with ‘tcham’ for my father Amen, in order that my name may abide and flourish, shall stand in this temple for ever and for ever. Each obelisk is made from a single block (i.e. is a monolith) of granite in the quarry, without cleavage, without division. My Majesty demanded work thereon from the first day of the second month of the season Pert of the 15th year (of my reign), until the last day of the 4th month of the season Shemut, of the 16th year (of my reign), making 7 months since (my) demand in the mountain (i.e. quarry).



I made (them) for him in rectitude of heart, for (he is) thinking of every god. I longed to make them for him, plated (?) with ‘tcham’ metal; lo! I laid their part (or half) upon their bodies (she placed the obelisks in their upright positions?). I kept in mind (what) the people would say---that my mouth was true because of what came forth from it, for I never went back on anything that I had once said. Now hearken ye to me. I gave to them (i.e. the obelisks) the best refined ‘tcham’ which I measured by the ‘heket’ (bushel?) as if it had been ordinary grain in sacks. My Majesty allotted to them a larger quantity of ‘tcham’ than had ever been seen by the whole of the Two Lands (i.e. Egypt). This the fool as well as the wise man knoweth well. Let not the man who shall hear these things say that what I have said is false, but rather let him say, ‘It is even as she hath (said) it (or, it is exactly so)--true before her father.’ The God knew it (was) in me, and Amen, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands (Egypt), caused me to be Governor of Kamt (i.e. the Black Land, or Egypt proper) and Teshert (i.e. the Red Land or deserts on each side of the Nile) as a reward for it. None rebeleth against me in all the lands (i.e. the world), the dwellers in the mountains and deserts are my subjects. He hath fixed the boundary of my kingdom as far as the limits of the sky, the circuit of Aten (i.e. the Sun) serveth me, he hath bestowed it upon me, living through him, I present it to him. I am his daughter in very truth, the glorifier of him---what he arranged (for demanded), the vessel of my body is with my father, life, stability, and serenity upon the throne of Horus of all living beings, like Ra forever.





These obelisks stood before the great pylon of the temple of Heliopolis, which was dedicated to Harakhthes, a form of the Sun God in the morning, and to Tem a form of the Sun God in the evening. They were set up by Thothmes III to commemorate his celebration of the great festival of Set for the third time; the exact year of his reign in which he did this is unknown. There they stood until the reign of Augustus who removed them to Alexandria, where they were set up before the great temple in the 18th year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, (i.e. 13-12 B.C.) The architect was one Pontius, and the prefect of the day was P. Rubrius Barbarus. Both obelisks were standing when Abd al-Latif visited Egypt towards the close of the 12th Century A.D., for speaking of Alexandria, he says that he saw two obelisks in the middle of the building which were larger than the small ones of Heliopolis, but smaller than the two large ones. He calls them ‘Cleopatra’s big needles.’ One of them fell down, probably during the earthquake which took place in 1301, when the Nile cast its boats a bowshot on the land and the walls of Alexandria were thrown down. The obelisk lay where it fell until Mr. John Dixon removed it to London at the expense of Sir Erasmus Wilson, as has already been stated. The best copy of the text of Thothmes III is that of Sethe; of the additions of Rameses II, no good copy has been published. But their non-historical character is evident from the photograph of two sides of the obelisk published by Gorringe.

The second obelisk stood on the pedestal on which the Roman engineers had placed it until it was transported in masterly fashion to New York and set up in 1880, in Central Park by Lieut. Commander H.H. Gorringe of the U.S. Navy. This obelisk weighs about 220 tons. And was mounted on bronze supports, one under each angle, each bar projecting from the body of a bronze crab about 16 inches in diameter. One of these was seen in position by Mr. John Dixon, and Commander Gorringe found two. The other two having been stolen. The crab was associated with Phoebus Apolo, the Sun-god of the Greeks, who was identified with Ra, the Sun-god of the Egyptians. That the use of the crab had a religious significance which appealed to both Egyptians and Greeks seems clear. For a full account of the means used in transporting the obelisk and erecting it, and numerous plans, photographs, etc., see Gorringe, Egyptian Obelisks, London, 1885. The inscriptions of Thothmes III on both obelisks are here given.




Horus of the Double-Crown, Bull mighty, crowned one in Thebes, King of the South and North, Men-kheper-Ra. He made as his monument for Father Horus Ra of the two horizons. He set up a pair of obelisks great, the pyramidions of electrum, at his third time of the Set festival, through the greatness of his love of Father Tem. He made (them) the son of Ra, Thothmes, Nefer-Kheper, of Ra-Harakhthes, beloved, living forever.



Horus of the Double-Crown, beloved of Ra, King of the South and the North, Men-kheper-Ra. The monuments of the gods the lover, supplying with meat and drink the altar of the Souls of Heliopolis, making to be satisfied their Majesties at the two seasons (i.e. morning and evening). His---(is) festival, many great, son of Ra, Thothmes, governor of the god, of Ra-Harakhthes beloved, living forever.



Horus of the Double Crown, Bull mighty of Ra beloved, King of the South and the North, Men-kheper-Ra. Established Father Tem his name great of cartouch with enduring sovereignty in the Great House of Anu, when he gave to him the throne of Geb (and) the rank of Khepera, the son of Ra, Thothmes, righteous governor, of the Souls of Heliopolis beloved, given life forever.



Horus of the Double Crown, Bull mighty crowed by Truth, King of the South and the North, Men-kheper-Ra. Multiplied for him the Lord of the gods, Set Festivals on the Ashet tree holy within the house of the Soul, knowing that his son was I, fresh proceeding from Neb-er-tcher, the son of Ra, Thothmes, governor of Heliopolis, of Ra-Harakhthes beloved, living forever.





Horus, Mighty bull, beloved of Ra. Nesubati. Men-kheper-Ra. He made (them) as his monument to Father Tem, Lord of Anu. He set up two great obelisks (with) pyramidions of electrum. The son of Ra, Thothmes,-----the ever-living, did (this).



Mighty Bull, crowned in Thebes. Nebti. Whose sovereignty flourisheth like Ra in heaven. Son of Tem, of his body. Nebt-Ant brought him forth, Thothmes. He was created by them in the Great House with the beauties of their limbs, they knowing that he would reign with a sovereignty that would flourish forever. King of the South and North, Men-kheper-Ra, beloved of Tem the great god and the company of his gods, to whom are given life, stability, and all serenity, like Ra forever.



Horus, Exalted one of the White Crown, beloved of Ra. Nesubati. Men-kheper-Ra. Golden Horus. He who reposeth on strength, smiter of the governors of the mountains and deserts remote (?) from him, according as his father Ra hath decreed for him victories over every land whatsoever, and the valor of the scimitar by the mouth (i.e. act) of his two arms, to increase the extent of the frontiers of Egypt. Son of Ra, Thothmes (government of Anu), to whom everlasting life hath been given.



Besides the Horus and Nesubati names of the king, little else of this column remains.


On each side of the shaft of each obelisk, Rameses II added two columns of hieroglyphs. One on each side of the column of hieroglyphs cut for Thothmes III. The inscriptions added by Rameses have no historical importance and contain nothing but his official names and high-sounding titles and epithets. They have been published, but these copies are very incorrect in places and useless for study. Photographs of the inscriptions of the New York obelisk have been published by Gorringe, Egyptian Obelisks, together with a reprint of Brugsch’s translation, which first appeared in the New York Herald, February 22, 1880. The general character and contents of the inscriptions on obelisks of Rameses II are well illustrated by the inscriptions of the Paris Obelisk, of which a full translation is given later in this book.