I became interested in Egyptologist Amelia B. Edwards (1831-92) through a number of sources. Firstly, I was amazed by her tomb in Henbury churchyard, now in the northern suburb of Henbury, Bristol. It is unique in having an obelisk, and the Egyptian sign Ankh, a thoroughly unChristian symbology in sacred space.
Then I saw a one woman show on her life at Blaise House, the mansion near to the church. She epitomised so many elements of those extraordinary creatures, Victorian women. She and a friend were on holiday in the Dolomites, and saw a mountain. They asked if it had been climbed, told, no, they went and climbed it. Simple!
She was the daughter of an English army officer turned banker and was home educated by her Irish born mother. She showed a talent for writing at an early age, producing poems and articles for journals and newspapers until her first novel, ‘My Brother’s Wife’ was published in 1855. She spent much time and effort on researching her work, which paid off when she really became famous with her book on bigamy, ‘Barbara’s History’ of 1864.
She wrote several other novels and ghost stories, but in the winter of 1873/4 she went to Egypt with some friends, and found her lifelong passion – Egyptology. In 1876 she published ‘A thousand Miles Up the Nile’ which she illustrated, and it became a huge best seller. Whilst travelling she became aware of the risks to the ancient monuments, so helped found the Egypt Exploration Fund with Reginald Poole of the British Museum. In 1889-90 she toured the United States lecturing and raising awareness. These talks were then published as ‘Pharoahs, Fellahs and Explorers’
She caught influenza in 1892 and died at Weston super Mare, but is buried at Henbury where she had lived from 1864. She bequeathed her collection to University College London and left a bequest of £2,500 to fund The Edwards Chair in Egyptology.
In 2012 a production of Aida was produced in the round at the Albert Hall, based on a story by Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, and includes Amelia B in a non singing role. The story is about an archeological dig, told from Amelia’s viewpoint.