Cleopatra’s Needle (not to be confused with the one in the United States) was presented to the British Government in 1820. However it weighed over 200 tones and although there had been plans to bring it back in 1801 it was not until 1877 that it found its way to the grand metropolis that was the centre of the British Empire, London.
It was presented to Great Britain by Mohammed Ali, Viceroy of Egypt as a ‘worthy memorial of our distinguished countrymen Nelson and Abercromby’ celebrating the victories over the French in Egypt. The Needle was originally carved Tuthmose III and the Hieroglyphics praise him and commemorating his third ‘sed’ festival, this festival would be celebrated after 30 years of a king’s rule and thereafter every three years. The ritual was supposed to provide regeneration and was meant to assure a long reign in his afterlife. The other inscriptions were added by Ramesses II to commorate his victories…so quite a fitting gift.
However, how do you move such a huge object over such a huge distance?
Well first off you encase it encased in an iron cylinder which was then rolled by means of levers and chains down a track into the sea, yiou then fit it with a deckhouse, mast, rudder and steering gear…and voila you have a very special, if not heavy ocean going craft.
The ship was named, not surprisingly the Cleopatra and was to be towed to Great Britain by the steamship Olga and set sail with a Maltese crew and captained by Henry Carter who also had supervised her construction.
They set sail on 21 September 1877 but the journey was not without it’s problems. Because of the weight the two vessels could only make 7 knots and disaster struck in the Bay of Biscay when the tow ropes had to be cut in a violent storm.
Sadly six men were drowned attempting to get others off the Cleopatra but eventually Captain Carter and his crew were rescued, the Cleopatra was cut loose and drifted away in the storm and assumed lost. However it was sighted by the Fitzmaurice and towed to Ferrol Harbour, Galicia in North Western Spain, she was towed back to England by the paddle tug Anglia arriving at Gravesend on 21 Janaury 1878, a journey of some 4 months and costing 6 lives from the Olga.
Those who died were:
William Askin, Michael Burns, James Gardiner, William Donald, Joseph Benton, William Patan. Perished in a bold attempt to succour the crew of the Obelisk Ship Cleopatra during the the storm October 14th 1877. (this plaque is at the base of the obelisk)
The Obelisk was raised on the thames embankment and far more fitting than a large ferris wheel in my opinion!
There are two large bronze Sphinxes which lie on either side of the Needle, not Egyptian by any means but Victorian.