By Andrea Byrnes. Published in Egyptological, Magazine Edition 8, 18th April 2013
Marianne Brocklehurst was the daughter of a wealthy Victorian silk manufacturer (figure 1). On the one hand she was, by all accounts, charming, bright, and full of curiosity, with a love of travel and history. She was articulate, an engaging writer and a talented painter and cartoonist. But travelling to Egypt in the early 1870s Marianne became a self-confessed amateur smuggler, enthusiastically joining in with the popular pastime of purchasing black-market objects to take home.
Victorian England, the tumultuous pinnacle of the Industrial Revolution, produced a widely contrasting artistic legacy. The new industrialists had money to spend on what they liked, and what they liked was quite different from the refined portraits and rural scenes favoured by the eighteenth century aristocracy. New ideas were expressed in both painting and poetry, and the exotic was actively celebrated. In an era which produced the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Crafts movement, the bright, luxurious colours and fascinating mysteries of Egyptian art found a welcoming home. In northwest England wealthy industrialists invested in private collections of both contemporary art and ancient antiquities, the former often echoing the latter.
In Macclesfield, in the heart of the textile manufacturing industry, a tiny red-brick museum was built in 1898 with private funds (figure 2), just on the edge of a park that was itself created by voluntary public subscription. The West Park Museum housed a surprising collection of Egyptian artefacts. Marianne Brocklehurst assembled the core of the collection, consisting of some 500 objects. She and her brother Peter paid for the museum that still displays the best of the objects that were collected by Marianne and her companion Mary during her three trips to Egypt, as well as items donated by other parties. The collection includes items from the Predynastic to Roman periods, purchased from all points along the Nile. The most notable items are the shabtis from the Royal Cache at Thebes, the small statue of a young Queen Tiye and a beautifully painted Third Intermediate Period coffin, but the entire range of the collection is what makes it well worth the visit.
Part 1 looks at Marianne and her travels in Egypt. Part 2 looks in detail at the collections of the West Part Museum.
Marianne Brocklehurst is best known through the diary she kept as she travelled through Egypt in 1873, collecting antiquities along the way. She was a typical product of a wealthy Victorian upbringing, until her father rejected her choice of marriage partner, after which, remaining single, she followed a substantially different route through life.
Marianne was born in 1832, the youngest of six children. Her father was a wealthy Macclesfield silk manufacturer and the town’s MP. Marianne was educated at home by her sister Emma, ten years her senior, with whom she was very close until her Marianne was in her late 30s. Following her marriage in 1847 Emma and her husband John Dent invited Marianne on numerous foreign holidays, giving inspiring her with an enthusiasm for travel and an interest in the past. When a Roman villa was found in the grounds of the Dents’ home. Sudeley Castle, she became involved in the excavations. Marianne also became fascinated by photography and, following her father’s rejection of her engagement, set up a photography business with one Mary Isabella Booth, a middle child in the large family of a Yorkshire landowner, who became her life-long companion. The two Marys were collectively referred to as the “MBs.”
It was not until 1873, when Marianne was 41 that she and Mary Booth departed for Egypt for the first time, accompanied by Marianne’s unappealing nephew Alfred and their gregarious footman George Lewis. With vast quantities of luggage, they spent much of their time crossing Europe reading books including those volumes by Champollion, Margaret Murray and Auguste Mariette. Crossing from the port of Brindisi in Italy, en route to Alexandria, the party met Amelia Edwards and together the two parties travelled first to Alexandria and then to Cairo, where they stayed at the famous Shepheard’s Hotel.
A popular pastime, particularly following the visit to Egypt by the Prince of Wales in 1872, travel through Egypt was considered to be something of an adventure, albeit a quite well practiced one, with standardized routines in place for all sorts of travel options. The two alternatives for travel up the Nile were steamboat or much smaller sail- and oar-powered dahabeiyas. After some negotiations and arguments the MBs rented a dahabeiya and the necessary crew and domestic staff in Cairo. Originally named the Lydn, they nick-named it Bagstones after the house Marianne had built on her brother Philip’s estate, and it offered them a floating home.
Edwards, the MBs and the other dahabeiyas crossed each others paths constantly. The Philae hired by Amelia Edwards and the smaller Bagstones had been moored alongside each other at the beginning of their trip south from Cairo, and the occupants of both vessels met frequently on their travels: “Close behind the Philae lies the Bagstones, a neat little dahabeiya in the occupation of two English ladies and of whom we have seen so much ever since that we regard them by this time as quite old friends” (Edwards 1877). When they reached Luxor, there were twenty five dahabeiyas, of which Edwards estimated that nine were occupied by English travellers, nine by Americans, two by Germans and one each by Frenchmen and Belgians (figure 4). As well as sharing evening entertainments on each others’ boats, Amelia Edwards and the MBs were both interested in obtaining ancient Egyptian antiquities.
Marianne’s travels in Egypt are best known through her own beautifully illustrated journal of this four month trip, and from references to the “MBs” in the book “A Thousand Miles Up the Nile” by Amelia Edwards. Unlike Amelia Edwards, Marianne did not publish her journal or paintings, and excerpts were only published by Millrace in 2004, so hers is a much less familiar story, rarely referred to in books about travel and collecting in Egypt during this period.
Marianne’s descriptions of the sites that they visited are well observed and demonstrate her reading of the available literature. An early visit to Saqqara on December 14th is a good example:
We join Miss Edwards and Renshaw with donkeys for a day amongst the pyramids and tombs of Sakara. These ladies being in sole command at present are proportionally jolly. The mutual dinner parties given and the champagne that flowed need not be mentioned here. The Tomb of Tih is one of the finest and oldest in Egypt. It interested us so much. The figures are so well drawn and so slim. Tih was evidently a gentleman of humgumtion. He lived 6000 years ago and built his own tomb and had it carved and painted in all its chambers with scenes that represented his various possessions and occupations, his farms, his beasts, his slaves and all they did, while he himself is often represented of a considerable size, which showed his general superiority.
Marianne’s entry for December 15th at Memphis reads simply “Set up a tent at Memphis. Sketching, grubbing,” grubbing being her term for digging in the sand to look for artefacts. At the temple of Denderah the MBs were unimpressed with the exterior “which looks flat and half hid in the sand and of the Egyptian shape, which we don’t like” but they approved of the “grand figures and massive pillars in the great gloomy hall” and the scenes of the king ”triumphant over his enemies, entering with offering and received by various gods”. Even then there was apparently a prejudice against Graeco-Roman temples: “it is little more than 2000 years old! and consequently regarded as quite a parvenu, and right minded critics tell you it is overdone with hieroglyphics and figures. This did not appear to our admiring and astonished gaze!” (January 6th).
She commented on the risk to Kom Ombo on March 10th (figure 6), describing it as “that beautiful temple in the cliff which is half buried in the sand and threatened with final destruction by being undermined by the river.” Edfu, they decided on March 12th, was a mixed blessing. Although “large and magnificent” she was not keen on some of its other features, saying flatly: “The pylons are immense but we do not like pylons.” At El Kab on March 13th, Marianne was much taken, as so many visitors have been, with the pet monkey painted on one of the tomb walls: “Lady and gentleman sitting on the same chair, to which a pet monkey is tied, receive their guests, entertain them with music, are capital figures”. On March 18th they considered Deir el Bahri to be “the sweetest thing in white limestone and sculpture.” I particularly liked Marianne’s verdict, the same day, on the Colossi of Memnon, which they knew to represent Amenhotep III:
We have often passed and were much impressed by their quiet dignity and size. Seventy feet high is as much as any man might reasonably wish to see himself sitting in a sand-stone armchair, his wife and mother standing no higher than his elbows. I supposed the kings of the day liked it, as they seem no sooner to have done one big stone cut for a portrait than they ordered another or two to match.
The MBs returned home via the Levant. They went back to Egypt and the Middle East twice. Their first return visit was in 1876-1877. Different accounts offer different dates but Hayward (2011b) says that her sketchbooks make it clear that these were the dates of the second trip. This time they were accompanied by a different nephew of Marianne’s, Johnnie Brocklehurst, who was an officer in the Household Cavalry recovering, at that time, from a serious hunting accident. An altogether more attractive personality than his younger brother Alfred he was introduced by introduced the MBs to General Charles Gordon, Governor of Sudan who referred to them as “the Foreign Office.”
Marianne and Mary visited again in 1890-1891 but Marianne again kept few records of this trip, confining herself to sketching and painting what she saw. Many of these paintings tell their own story, such as these two watercolours of the transportation of the recovery of mummy coffins from the Twenty-first Dynasty “Cache II”.
It seems odd that as Marianne and Mary were professional photographers there are no records of them having taking photographic equipment with them. There are certainly no photographs of Egypt mentioned in any of the available sources.
Although Marianne’s passion for acquiring antiquities resulted in a valuable collection of Egyptian objects, it would be a mistake to consider her anything other than a collector, and a somewhat scruple-free one at that, although some accounts refer to her as an Egyptologist. She undoubtedly became very knowledgeable, but on her first visit she certainly operated outside the rules laid down by the Mariette’s department. Unlike many collectors whose Egyptian collections were assembled by investment in legitimate excavations, for which they received a selection of artefacts in return, Marianne had a more hands-on approach. Some items in her collection were found by “grubbing” in the sand at sites, such as this entry for March 6th:
We have a grub at Elephantine, that pretty island opposite, which a governor of the day pulled down to build himself a house at Assouan. It is a heap of heaps of earth and fragments of pottery of all dates . . . . Some pieces with Greek writing in a flowing hand are found and considered curious.
Most, however, were sourced in bazaars and via dealers. The MBs sometimes acquired items in an overtly clandestine way to disguise their activities, elaborately flouting the antiquities service regulations that had been put in place by Auguste Mariette (himself a somewhat controversial character) to make it both illegal and difficult to take antiquities out of Egypt. On January 10th she says simply “Much secret conference over antiquities. Old fox. Miss my magnifier afterwards!” In Aswan, on March 6th, she is a little more expansive: “A Mr Chester, sharp in antiquities, calls” and later in the day she writes “Abdullah got us a nice alabaster mortar.” They collected a large number of scarabs, all unprovenanced, and having enjoyed the Colossi of Memnon were pleased to have purchased a large scarab showing Amenhotep III and his Queen: “we have a large scarab (something broken by the rim) we luckily purchased at Keneh – found, they said, at Kopt – on which are the figure and cartouches of this Amunoph and his queen and which we believe to be of the same date and undoubtedly genuine”. On March 30th they were able to buy another Amenhotep III scarab showing both king and queen, for the price of “a moderate sum of money, a bottle of castor oil and an old railway reading lamp of Alfred’s.” One of the most high-profile purchases was a set of five blue-glazed faience shabtis from the so-called Royal Cache, or Cache I, found in 1881 and purchased during the 1890 visit.
The most dramatic of these smuggling projects was, as Sarah Pearce observes, “an interesting feat when the items included a mummy and a sarcophagus” (p.112). Marianne’s diaries make it clear that she knew that she was smuggling rather than merely transporting, and she appears to have regarded this as something of a game. Her diary entry during the purchase of the mummy and coffin describes how she revelled in the act of “smuggling on a large scale under the nose of the Pasha’s guards.” The “Pahsa” was Auguste Mariette, director of Egyptian monuments, who she refers to elsewhere as “King Cole”. It was agreed that if the negotiation for the purchase of the mummy and its coffin, conducted on their behalf by a middleman, should be successful, the mummy was to be brought to the dahabeiya at night, to be handed through a cabin window, and after some difficulties this is what eventually happened. They sawed open the coffin and unwrapped the body, but were disappointed to find that the mummy was unaccompanied by papyri, amulets or other items of interest. They re-wrapped the body and buried it by the side of the Nile, declaring the coffin to be “altogether a festive object” before hiding the coffin in a linen cabinet on board the dahabeiya. At the end of the trip they smuggled it successfully out of Alexandria. When they returned to England, Marianne asked the British Museum to translate the hieroglyphs on the coffin and “he” turned out to be a she, a temple singer named Sheb-Mut.
Marianne’s attitude to the antiquities of Egypt always seems somewhat in conflict with her attitude to the damage she observed at numerous sites. Her concerns about Edfu are mentioned above, but she also commented, with disgust on graffiti, saying “it is abominable to disfigure temples and tombs”, and she expressed concern about fading colours at Beni Hasan and the overall condition of the Tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings :
Fifty years’ exposure have much injured it. The savants have knocked off the cartouches and other wise men have washed off the paint with their nasty squeezes of damp paper, and the water has rushed in at times” (March 31st).
Her comment on March 13th about the emptying of tombs in El Kab, blaming Greeks, Romans and Persians, observes that if they hadn’t done the job, the British Museum would have done so “but not for greed!” The implication here is that she believed that it was alright to loot sites as long as the items taken were later used for educational purposes, a not uncommon view of the period.
During their 1890-1891 visit they were in Luxor at the time of the discovery of the cache of Twenty First Dynasty coffins, referred to in the Macclesfield catalogue as Cache II, discovered by the Abd el-Rassoul family at Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple in Deir el-Bahri. Marianne was on hand to sketch the mummies as they were arranged on the sand, and then as they were carried on men’s shoulders towards the Nile, and apparently took advantage of the discovery to purchase some small shabtis for her collection, now recorded in an analysis of the Macclesfield shabtis by Glenn Janes (2010).
Conclusion to Part 1
Marianne Brocklehurst’s account of the 1873-1874 trip, together with her sketches and paintings from all three journeys, brings the European experience of late Victorian Egypt to life. Using her own financial resources she was able to accumulate a collection of some 500 pieces, which she and her brother Peter presented to the public in a purpose-built museum.
Smuggling objects out of Egypt seems like a contradictory activity for someone who regretted the decay of temples, the presence of graffiti and the fading of paintwork. In this, however, she was no different from the many travellers who departed from late Victorian England to explore Egypt and the Middle East, returning with private collections as souvenirs from their travels. Whatever her motivations for collecting Egyptian antiquities, the result of Marianne Brocklehurst’s activities is a small but valuable selection of items from all periods of Ancient Egyptian life.
In Part 2, I look at the items collected by Marianne Brocklehurst and how they continue to be used in the museum built by herself and her brother. You can find Part 2 at:
With many thanks to Alan Hayward, Honorary Curator of the Egyptian Collection at the West Park Museum for the time taken to source various assets for the article, for answering all my questions, for checking over the finished article and for being such a knowledgeable guide to the Egyptian collection at West Park Museum.
Thanks too to Jan Picton, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, for arranging the trip to the West Park Museum.
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs were taken by Alan Bardsley and are copyright of Alan Bardsley and the of the Macclesfield Museums Trust, used with kind permission of the West Park Museum.
Figures 1, 2 and 3 were taken by Andrea Byrnes and published with kind permission of the West Park Museum.
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