THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: Cleopatra’s needle arrives in London from Egypt

From the News Letter, January 24, 1878

By Darryl Armitage
Sunday, 24th January 2021, 6:00 am

There was much excitement in London this week in 1878 reported the News Letter with the arrival of Cleopatra’s Needle to the capital city and had been docked at Blackwell.

Made of red granite, stand about 68ft high and weighs about 180 tons and is inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The material of which they were cut is granite, brought from the quarries of Aswan, near the first cataract of the Nile.

Cleopatra's Needle in London seen from The Thames. Picture: Wikmedia Commons

The Needle had been originally situated in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis on the orders of Thutmose III, around 1450 BC.

The inscriptions were added about 200 years later by Ramesses II to commemorate his military victories.

The obelisks were moved to Alexandria and set up in the Caesareum – a temple built by Cleopatra in honour of Mark Anthony – by the Romans in 12 BC, during the reign of Augustus, but were toppled some time later. This had the fortuitous effect of burying their faces and so preserving most of the hieroglyphs from the effects of weathering.

The needle was brought to England by the efforts of Sir William James Erasmus Wilson at a cost of £10,000.

The monument’s journey to London was a fraught one. On October 14, 1877 the ship, which had been dubbed the Cleopatra, which it was being transported on capsized in the Bay of Biscay with the loss of six lives. Although the ship was “abandoned and sinking” she was rescued later by Spanish trawler boats.

School children, noted the News Letter, at Gravesend were given the day off so that they could go and watch the Cleopatra arrived in England.