Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Postage and Packing not included

In 1819, in the wake of the Battle of the Nile and restoration of control of Egypt to the Turks, Mehemet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, offered Britain a token of thanks. In the form of a 200 ton obelisk of rose pink granite marking the victories of Thothmes III from a site at Alexandria. Know it better as Cleopatra's Needle. Although, this did not include postage and packing, so it was originally erected with its sister obelisk in Central park, New York.

In 1301 an earthquake had brought "Britain's' obelisk to the ground, where it remained for over five and a half centuries. None of the proposed plans to take the obelisk to England came to fruition until Sir Erasmus Wilson's proposal in 1876. He put up £10,000 to take the obelisk to Nelson on the Thames, and commissioned John Dixon, an engineer to arrange its passage. Dixon offered the help of his brother Waynman, a fellow engineer turned Egyptologist, who proved to play a key role on the project.

Dixon's plan was to encase the obelisk in a huge floating iron cylinder, 92ft (28m) long and 15ft (4.57m) in diameter. Cleopatra had a vertical stem and stern, a rudder, two bilge keels, a mast for balancing sails and a deckhouse for the crew. Progress was good until the 20th day of the journey when the Olga encountered a violent storm in the Bay of Biscay. In a desperate attempt to save Cleopatra's crew, six men were drowned and cargo cut loose.

However, the case with the obelisk inside was spotted five days later floating of the Northern coast of Spain. This set back cost £8000 in salvage fees. It finally made its triumphal journey up the Thames to the Embankment on September 12, 1878. One secret was never divulged; it has been alleged that Dixon discovered three sacred objects in the chamber, which he removed and gave to his brother John for safe passage to England. Legend has it they were placed within the pedestal on which Cleopatra's Needle now stands.

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