21st January 1878. Cleopatra’s Needle.

Cleopatra’s Needle which arrived at the Thames estuary Today has no connection with the much later Ptolemaic Cleopatra VII of Egypt.

Indeed it would never have been acquired but for the surgeon Sir Erasmus Wilson (1809-1884), who defrayed the costs of its transportation.


1896 view of the Needle. Getty Images.

The obelisk lay in the Egyptian sands for centuries before discovery in 1801 by Sir Ralph Abercrombie’s troops, and was one of a pair removed in antiquity to Alexandria there to be positioned by Caesar Augustus before Cleopatra’s Palace.

Having been erected originally in Heliopolis and constructed in the reign of Pharaoh Thutmos III in 1460 (BCE), it was in 1820 that Mehmet Ali, ruler of Egypt and Sudan offered the column to George IV, as a coronation gift, only to be turned down.(1)


Early 20thc view of Embankment. Victorian History Image.

When it did arrive in 1878 the children of Gravesend were given the day off to see the sight of the paddle-tug SS Anglia towing its cargo to its eventual resting place on the Embankment.

The sea voyage however from Alexandria, was not without drama as it cost the lives of six men when it had to be abandoned in the Bay of Biscay only to be salvaged by the Spanish at Ferrol.

Encased in a metal cylinder it was whilst being towed into the Bay that a violent storm caused a violent yawing, forcing the captain of the tug to cut it adrift-with eight men still clinging to its superstructure. A lifeboat foundered with its crew, the Needle being saved only with the aid of a passing steamer.

In the pedestal of the column a time-capsule was placed which gives some intimation of what the Victorians deemed suitable. It included twelve photos of the best looking English women of the day, a set of imperial weights, a Bradshaw’s Guide, Whitaker’s Almanack, a razor, toys, set of coins, boxes of hairpins and cigars, map of London, ten daily newspapers… and a portrait of Victoria.

The Needle is ‘guarded’ by two faux bronze sphinxes, designed by G.J. Vulliamy; the originals would have been of basalt.


Hieroglyphs on column.

(1a) Thutmose III is regarded as the creator of the first empire in history when after defeating the Syrians at Megiddo, (St. John the Divine’s Armageddon) he advanced across the Euphrates.

He attempted to air-brush his aunt Hatshepsut from all monuments after she became the first female pharaoh after the death of her husband Thutmose II.

(1b) Egypt was indebted to Britain after Nelson’s destruction of Napoleon’s fleet in the Battle of the Nile (1798) which undermined his planned invasion of Egypt, and this with Abercrombie’s land victory in 1801, removed the threat to British India.

Ref: Wikipedia.org.cleopatra’s_needle.

Ref: projectbritain.com.

Ref: 123RF .com/Pic of hieroglyph.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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