The curse of Cleopatra

Erected on the Victoria Embankment is probably the most unwanted, and unloved monument to be found in London.

‘Cleopatra’s’ Needle was presented to Britain in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt in commemoration of Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile.

We were touched by this generous gesture, but not grateful enough to bring it back to Blighty.

[I]t was a circus strongman turned Egyptologist one Giovanni Belzoni who with his engineering skill and personal money managed to do the impossible by transporting the obelisk as far as Alexandria.

The British might have been impressed by Belzoni’s feat, it had after all been thought impossible, but still resolutely ungratefully refused again to have it transported to these shores.

In 1877 Sir William Erasmus paid £10,000 (£10 million in today’s money) to ship the artefact, encased in a great iron cylinder and placed on a floating pontoon, en-route to London. Cleopatra showed her obvious displeasure at being moved from the shores of the Mediterranean and her spiritual home. Crossing the Bay of Biscay the pontoon broke away from its tow. Six sailors were sent to re-tether the mooring lines, not to be seen again.

It was eventually found adrift and successfully brought to England. We eventually erected it in 1887 on the newly constructed Victoria Embankment and at the time it had no ceremony to commemorate its successful arrival in London.

Again the Government seems to have refused to acknowledge its existence.


Cleopatra’s Needle being erected, August 1878

When the obelisk arrived in London there was indecision as to where it should be erected. The Palace of Westminster, St. James’s Park and the British Museum were some of the suggestions, but eventually the Victoria Embankment was chosen.

During World War I bomb landed close by and shrapnel damage can still be seen to the supporting plinth. No repairs were undertaken, there is just a small commemorative plate explaining why it looks so distressed.

It is now the most popular suicide spot on this stretch of the Thames come here at night to witness two ghosts who are seen jumping into the river.

You cannot help but feel that the needle is waiting for the day when it can return home to stand proud under the hot Egyptian sun.

Photo: Cleopatra’s Needle Tony Hisgett (CC BY 2.0)

Isle of Dogs Life has an excellent account of The Strange Story of the Transportation of Cleopatra’s Needle

2 thoughts on “The curse of Cleopatra”

    1. The relative value of £10,000 at 1877 prices today is £840,700 if you use the percentage increase in the RPI from 1877 to 2015. However the best measure of the relative value over time depends on if you are interested in comparing the cost or value of a commodity, income or wealth. If you want to compare the value of £10,000 relative to the wealth of the nation is answer is considerable higher. As incomes have risen so does its relative comparable cost, in fact it then rises to £14,790,000. Thanks for your comment, and aren’t we lucky nowadays?


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