Amelia Edwards: A Victorian Trailblazer

Amelia Edwards was a fascinating woman who popped her head above the parapet of  convention and made a real impact in her own lifetime. And this was an era when women were supposed to stay at home and not be noticed. Not only did she support herself with her writing, both as a novelist and  journalist, but she fell in love with Egypt and the consequences were absolutely wonderful.

Inclement weather during a hiking holiday in France, and a pioneering spirit, led Amelia to Egypt in the autumn of 1873. Mere chance, but it changed her life completely. Already an experienced travel writer, she took to the land of the pharaohs with a passion and wrote about her experiences in A Thousand Miles Up the Nile.

I came across the book by chance while undertaking research for my second Lucy Lawrence novel, Footprints in the Sand. I was astonished when I first read the book for it could have been written today. There was none of the stilted dryness you would expect from a Victorian writer but humour and a fascinating insight into Egypt’s heritage and its people. For anyone with an interest in Victorian women (who broke the mould!) or indeed Egyptology, I highly recommend investing in a copy. She even did the wonderful illustrations in the book (example below)!

Amelia was born in London in 1831, daughter of an ex-army officer and an Irish mother. She was educated at home and soon showed a talent for the written word. She produced her first full length novel in 1855 – My Brother’s Wife. Her poetry, stories and articles were published in magazines including Chamber’s Journal, Household Words and the Saturday Review and Morning Post. Her many novels proved popular.

By the time Amelia was 30, both her parents had passed away. Against the conventions of the time, she decided to go travelling (without the proper male escort!) and had the funds to do it because of her writing success. With a female companion, Lucy Renshawe, she set off, only hiring male servants or guides as required. Her first trip was to Belgium in 1862 and in June 1872 the pair explored the Dolomite Region of Northern Italy (Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys).

Credit: Amelia Edwards

But over the winter of 1873-74, Amelia and Lucy sailed up the Nile to Abu Simbel. Unlike most travellers who saw Egypt as another pleasure-ground, Amelia was keenly aware of the underlying political and cultural problems of the country. To her shock, she witnessed the results of the highly lucrative and extensive illegal trade in antiquities. Sites were being pillaged and destroyed by all and sundry. All of this was happening in an unstable political climate with rivalry and tension between French and English explorers added to the mix. Saddened and disturbed by what she saw as the desecration of Egypt’s heritage, she returned to England determined to do something about it.

Flinders Petrie

Amelia was convinced a more scientific approach was needed to preserve Egypt’s treasurers. She studied Egyptology and formed lasting friendships with the likes of Gaston Maspero, who would later become director general of excavations and antiquities for the Egyptian government, and one of the greatest Egyptologists, Flinders Petrie. Amelia promoted the founding of an Egyptological society, culminating in its first meeting in 1880 at the British Museum. Two years’ later, it became the Egypt Exploration Fund, its main purpose to study, conserve and protect ancient sites in Egypt. Amelia’s campaigning paid off, and soon they were able to fund the exploration work of Flinders Petrie in Egypt.

Subsequently, Amelia undertook grueling lecture tours and even gave up her successful novel writing to concentrate on all matters Egyptological. Eventually, her work earned her honorary degrees from several American universities and in honour of her work, she received an English civil list pension for “her services to literature and archaeology”.

In the early 1890s, Amelia’s health began to deteriorate, and in January 1892, Lucy Renshawe, the woman who had travelled with her and shared her home for nearly thirty years, died. A few months later, Amelia succumbed to influenza. She is buried at St. Mary the Virgin, Henbury, Bristol.

Amelia left a library and collection of Egyptian antiquities to University College London and a bequest to established the first English Chair in Egyptology. Fittingly, Flinders Petrie was the first appointed to the Edwards Chair in UCL.

I cannot deny that the Egypt described by Amelia in her book presented countless possibilities for mischief to a mystery writer. Her descriptions of Cairo and the many sites she visited, transported me back to Victorian Egypt like no dry contemporary source could do. My heroine, Lucy Lawrence, shared some of Miss Edwards’ qualities of curiosity and determination and so Footprints in the Sand quickly transformed from a vague plot idea to a novel.

Cairo, Autumn 1887: A melting pot of jealousy, lust and revenge. Who will pay the ultimate price?

Lucy Lawrence throws caution to the wind and embarks on a journey of self-discovery in the land of the pharaohs.

Travelling to Cairo as the patron of the charming French Egyptologist, Armand Moreau, Lucy discovers a city teeming with professional rivalries, and a thriving black market in antiquities which threatens Egypt’s precious heritage.

When the Egyptian Museum is burgled, Lucy is determined to solve the case, much to the annoyance of the local inspector of police, and the alarm of Mary, her maid. But when an archaeologist is found murdered in the Great Pyramid, Lucy is catapulted into the resulting maelstrom. Can she keep her wits about her to avoid meeting a similar fate?

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Victorian Tourism: Thomas Cook

Today, everyone is familiar with the guided tour or cruise, but such things were virtually unheard of in the early years of the Victorian age. The man who changed that, and who is now considered the inventor of modern tourism, was Thomas Cook.

Who was he?

Thomas-Cook
Credit: Thomas Cook Group

Thomas was born in 1808 in Derbyshire, England, and left school at ten years of age to work. In 1826, he became a Baptist minister, becoming an itinerant evangelist, distributing pamphlets and sometimes working as a cabinet maker to earn money. Eventually, Thomas settled in Market Harborough and while there, was persuaded by the local Baptist minister to take the temperance pledge. As a part of the temperance movement, Thomas organised meetings and held anti-liquor processions. In March 1833, Thomas married Marianne Mason at Barrowden in Rutland. They went on to have three children, John, Henry (who died in infancy) and Annie.

The First Excursion

Cook’s initial idea of offering excursions came to him while walking to Leicester to attend a temperance meeting, thus taking advantage of the extended Midland Counties Railway. On 5th July 1841, Thomas escorted almost 500 people, who paid one shilling each for the return train journey. It was the first publicly advertised excursion train in England.

A Growing Business

Soon after, Thomas moved to Leicester, and set up as a bookseller and printer, specialising in temperance literature but also producing guidebooks. Then, in 1846, he took 350 tourists by train and steamboat to Glasgow. For customers travelling for the first time, he offered a guidebook entitled Cook’s Scottish Tourist Practical Directory. One particular chapter bore the heading: Is it Safe for Ladies to Join in Highland Tours? [I’d love to know the answer!]

Credit: Thomas Cook Group

In the early 1860s, Thomas ceased to act as a personal guide and became an agent for the sale of domestic and overseas travel tickets to countries such as America and Egypt. As the decade progressed, alpine journeys became popular and in 1864, parties began to venture into the newly united Italy. Thomas opened a London premises on Fleet Street, London, and in 1872, he went into partnership with his son, John, and renamed the company Thomas Cook & Son. Around this time, the firm started to use ‘circular notes’, which were eventually known as travellers’ cheques.

Thomas retired in 1878, following a disagreement with his son. He moved back to Leicester where he lived quietly until his death in 1892. The business passed to his only surviving son, and was subsequently taken over by Thomas’s grandsons in 1899. The company continued to be run as a family firm until 1928.

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Nile Cruise Poster 1922

The ‘Cook tour’ rapidly became famous during the Victorian era. However, not everyone thought highly of them. One critic referred to them as ‘everything that is low-bred, vulgar and ridiculous’ (Blackwood’s Magazine, February 1865).

Not surprisingly, the worst critics were the wealthy English, now finding their exclusive haunts overrun by the middle-classes. Another gripe was that tourists were ruining the places they visited by importing their customs, such as tea, lawn tennis and churches!

In my novel, No Stone Unturned, Lucy Lawrence does not travel as part of a Cook tour to Egypt, however, she does encounter many tourists in Cairo who have. As Lucy is fairly occupied trying to solve a robbery, and subsequently a murder, she doesn’t pay them much heed. However, it was her upper class of Victorian male who traditionally did the ‘Grand Tour’, the forerunner of the guided tour. It was frowned upon for a woman, even a widow such as Lucy, to travel without a male escort. Thankfully, there were women prepared to break the mould, and I talk about one of them in my next post on Victorian travel.

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Footprints in the Sand – Book 2 of The Lucy Lawrence Mysteries

Cairo, Autumn 1887: A melting pot of jealousy, lust and revenge. Who will pay the ultimate price?

Lucy Lawrence throws caution to the wind and embarks on a journey of self-discovery in the land of the pharaohs.

Travelling to Cairo as the patron of the charming French Egyptologist, Armand Moreau, Lucy discovers a city teeming with professional rivalries and jealousies and a thriving black market in antiquities which threatens Egypt’s precious heritage.

When the Egyptian Museum is burgled, Lucy is determined to solve the case, much to the annoyance of the local inspector of police, and the alarm of Mary, her maid. But when an archaeologist is found murdered in the Great Pyramid, Lucy is catapulted into the resulting maelstrom. Can she keep her wits about her to avoid meeting a similar fate?

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The Shepheard Hotel Cairo

By the middle of the Victorian era, foreign travel was much easier and tourism was flourishing. One of the most popular destinations was the land of the pharaohs – Egypt. The ‘leisure’ classes took advantage in their droves and some could even afford a Thomas Cook Tour up the Nile. A forty-day round trip from Cairo to Luxor in the 1850s cost about £110, the equivalent of £12,856 today. 

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Credit: Nationaal Archief

Two distinct groups of visitors tended to undertake the trip. The first were the military and government officials either stationed in Egypt or en route to India, via the Suez Canal. For many, a stop over in Cairo was an attractive proposition. Secondly, you had tourists drawn to Egypt by its romantic associations, unique antiquities and of course, the wonderfully mild winters. Both groups wanted ‘home from home’ comforts in their accommodation while staying over in Cairo.

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Samuel Shepheard

A canny Englishman, by the name of Samuel Shepheard, found himself in Cairo in 1842, having been thrown off a P&O ship for taking part in an unsuccessful mutiny. He found work at the British Hotel in Cairo and within a couple of years, had bought the hotel and renamed it after himself.

During a hunting trip he met and became friends with Khedive Abbas and two years later Shepheard, with the khedive’s help and influence, managed to buy a former palace on Esbekier Square, an area of park land with tropical greenery and rare trees, that was once occupied by Napoleon’s army and used as headquarters during his invasion of Egypt.

 

Shepheard's Hotel

Shepheard’s new hotel became known as a ‘safe haven’ for weary travellers who were guaranteed the best whiskey and the company of fellow Westerners. As the hotel grew in popularity, its guests included British military officers, bureaucrats, and wealthy American travellers. One of its most celebrated guests at the time was the novelist Anthony Trollope. Samuel was renowned as a superb host which contributed in no small part to the success of the hotel.

Shepheard made a small fortune from the hotel, benefitting from the dawn of adventure tourism along the Nile.  Shepheard sold the hotel in 1861 for £10,000 and retired to Eathorpe Hall,  Warwickshire, England. 

DiningDespite his departure, Shepheard’s Hotel remained the centre of the Anglo-American community in Cairo and in 1869, it hosted the celebration of the Grand Opening of the Suez Canal.

The hotel became the playground for international aristocracy where any person of social standing made a point of being seen taking afternoon tea on its famous terrace. 

In my novel, Footprints in the Sand, I base the Hotel Excelsior on Shepheard’s Hotel. It was the perfect setting for Lucy to mingle with the odd assortment of fascinating guests, who would eventually feature in the murder mystery. The famous dining room is the setting for one of the pivotal scenes in the book.

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Cairo, Autumn 1887: A melting pot of jealousy, lust and revenge. Who will pay the ultimate price?

Lucy Lawrence throws caution to the wind and embarks on a journey of self-discovery in the land of the pharaohs.

Travelling to Cairo as the patron of the charming French Egyptologist, Armand Moreau, Lucy discovers a city teeming with professional rivalries, and a thriving black market in antiquities which threatens Egypt’s precious heritage.

When the Egyptian Museum is burgled, Lucy is determined to solve the case, much to the annoyance of the local inspector of police, and the alarm of Mary, her maid. But when an archaeologist is found murdered in the Great Pyramid, Lucy is catapulted into the resulting maelstrom. Can she keep her wits about her to avoid meeting a similar fate?

Buy Link

Footprints in the Sand: New Release from Pam Lecky

The excitement of releasing a new book never dims. Amazon stole a march on me by setting the book live for pre-order in the middle of the night, however, it was a nice surprise to wake up this morning and see the link was there.

46203408._SY475_I think of all my books, this one will resonate with me the longest. It combines two great loves: Victorian adventure with a feisty heroine and ancient Egypt. How could I resist putting them together.

It was important to me for Lucy to grow more independent and to emerge from the shadow of Phineas Stone from the first book, No Stone Unturned. I know many readers will wonder why Phineas doesn’t feature much in this book (don’t worry – book 3 is all about him!), but I wanted Lucy to come into her own and shine.

And how could she fail with her devoted maid, Mary, by her side, always ready to bring her down to earth when Lucy’s enthusiasm takes her down the wrong path?

I don’t want to give too much away, other than this is another murder mystery which will keep you guessing until the end. Above all, I hope it entertains and leaves you wanting more! It might even tempt you to go on a journey up the Nile!

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What’s it all about?

Cairo 1887: A melting pot of jealousy, lust and revenge. Who will pay the ultimate price?

Lucy Lawrence throws caution to the wind and embarks on a journey of self-discovery to the land of the pharaohs.

Travelling to Cairo as the patron of the charming French Egyptologist, Armand Moreau, Lucy discovers an archaeological community plagued by professional rivalries and intrigue. It is soon apparent that the thriving black market in antiquities threatens Egypt’s precious heritage.

When the Egyptian Museum is burgled, Lucy is determined to solve the case, much to the annoyance of the local inspector of police, and the alarm of Mary, her maid. But when an archaeologist is found murdered in the Great Pyramid, Lucy is catapulted into the resulting maelstrom. Can she keep her wits about her to avoid meeting a similar fate?

Footprints in the Sand will be published on the 14th March. Buy Link HERE.

If you enjoy Lucy’s antics in Egypt, do, please, leave a review to let me know.

Thank you!