Grand Tour of Egypt

"Photographs of the Middle East and Italy" by unknown author.
Folio 12.2 and 12.3. Two volumes

View the Scrapbook

The nineteenth century is seen as heralding the beginning of modern travel. Entrepreneurs such a Thomas Cook opened up travel to an unprecedented number of people, and not just the privileged few who had enjoyed the Grand Tours of the 17th and 18th centuries. As I turned the pages of photographs capturing the Sphinx amid the sand and the Damascus Gate, searching for a starting clue, I realised that perhaps it would remain a mystery who had made this album. All we know about the creators is that there appears to have been three of them, each with the initials BB, IB and TWB. BB contributed the sketches, most of which were then photographed, with the photographs then placed in the album. The fact that they took a Union Jack, as highlighted in their group photograph, hints at British origin. We also know that they travelled during the year 1871. Inscribed below a sketched portrait is the date 10-04-1871, and near the end of the album is a group photograph dated 10-07-1871, placing the trip only two years after the opening of the Suez Canal and the Thomas Cook trip which saw him bring his first group of paying tourists up the Nile. This date also coincides with a growing public interest in Egypt. The popular Letters from Egypt by Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon was first published in 1865. Unfortunately, the subject matter, dates and initials have not narrowed down the search sufficiently to pair any names with the intrepid explorers. Companions

Does this mean that the albums are not useful? Far from it. Without knowing who made this album we can still use its pages to explore the period it was made in and the interests it captures so vividly. It is a window into a time where a growing number of people were setting off to explore the world and even more importantly, record their adventures through the then recent innovation of photography.

As previously mentioned, tourism was one attraction for visitors to the Middle East. However, egyptology was another lure, with a more specific agenda than tourism, though certainly there was crossover between the two types of traveller. There was a surge in hope that the bible could be verified through the growing field of archaeology, not to mention the fact that ancient artefacts and treasures found preserved in the tombs of the pharaohs opened up knowledge to a long disappeared civilisation. In 1965 the Palestine Exploration Fund was set up and flourished under the patronage of Queen Victoria. Our travellers may well have been aware of these developments. This idea of knowledgeable travel is held up if we look back at the scrapbooks themselves. From the inscriptions we can glean more than a general interest in the Middle East. The place names cover the mosque of Sultan Hassan in Cairo, the Sphinx at Giza, the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, the ‘Great Temple’ at Jerash in Jordan, and finally the expedition’s encampment at Beirut. This route is adventurous even by today’s standards. Of course, the intrepid travellers would not have had to rely solely on their wits to make the journey. The final page of the second volume shows a photograph of their ‘companions’.

This photograph shows the travellers’ tent on the left and the servants’ tent on the right. The gentleman standing just right of the centre, in traditional-looking garments, is described as their Dragoman. He would have acted as their translator, guide and in general helped them make their way through Middle Eastern culture. We can also see their cook Joseph, and his servant Haleel, not to mention a dog named Cartouche. Thus a small retinue of helpers would have enabled them to make their journey.

The album is a fascinating record of archaeologically important sites. However, we should bear in mind the following extract which reveals another reason for travelling to the Middle East.

“Pilgrimage was stimulated in the nineteenth century by archaeology, for many the discoveries in Egypt and Iraq were valued most highly for the light they shed on the Bible. Artists [...] encouraged this interest , as their lavishly illustrated books, published mainly in the 1840s, appeared on Victorian coffee tables and provided [...] a fine commentary on the areas through which they travelled.” - (page 83 of Voyages and Visions: Nineteenth-century European images of the Middle East)

We can perhaps see the scrapbook as joining these coffee table books in depicting the distant lands of Egypt and Jordan, or even playing a part in inspiring the expedition.

We also have a record of photographers who were working in the Middle East at this time through the names which can be found on several of the photographs. There is:

Thus we can see just how much information we can glean from the pages without even knowing who the original creator was.

Elizabeth Carter, Digital York