Thursday, 15 July 2010

Baron de Kusel (Bey): An Englishman's Recollections of Egypt 1863 to 1887

I have a fascinating book which I hope may well be of interest to visitors to Egyptology News Network. It is 'An Englishman's Recollections of Egypt 1863 to 1887' by Baron De Kusel (Bey) and published in London, 1915, by The Bodley Head.

Samuel Selig Kusel (the 'de' was an affectation added later in life) was born in Liverpool, England, on 12th June 1848, the son of naturalised German immigrants, and spent half his life living abroad, mostly in Egypt, then Italy, before returning to England in 1908-09 to settle in Surrey.

In Egypt, Samuel Selig Kusel worked as Controller-General of the Egyptian Customs. He was created a Bey by the ruling Turkish Khedive in Egypt in May 1882 in recognition of his services during the Egyptian crisis. (Bey roughly translates as the Turkish for chieftain.)

On the 17th May 1876, he married an Italian, Elvira Chini, of Leghorn (now Livorno), Italy, and Cairo. This connection explains the years spent living in Italy after he left Egypt.

On 23rd October 1890, Samuel Selig Kusel was created Barone Kusel by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. Nothing appears to be known as to the reasons for the grant of the title. However, Queen Victoria (8th February 1893) granted a Royal License for him to assume and use this title in the United Kingdom.

Kusel, as the New York Times remarked in its review of his book on 24th October 1915, "seems to have known nearly everybody of consequence in Egypt, and he speaks of them in an offhand, easy way which shows a deep familiarity with all that had transpired in Egypt."

In later posts, I shall quote what Kusel has to say about the pyramids, the sphinx and the drama surrounding the sending of Cleopatra's Needle to England. He also met the mega rich brewery heir Sir Henry Meux and his wife Lady Valerie Meux in 1880 when they arrived on their yacht Vanadis in Alexandria. Lady Meux went onto created a stunning collection of Egyptian antiquities which she kept at her country house Theobald's Park, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. It seems Kursel play a part in the Lady Meux's collecting activities.

"I was also able to assist these visitors with the Egyptian Authorities, to procure a permit for the exportation of the different mummies and antiquities they had purchased in Cairo," the Baron wrote.

The Meux collection was auctioned following her death in 1910 and has effectivley vanished.

I have not yet been able to trace when Baron de Kusel (Bey) died, probably in England. But, at the age of 66, his heart remained in Egypt: "I hear the East a-calling. And the thought of the colour and sunny skies of the mysterious Nile and the gorgeous sunsets, makes me very sad and despondent and when the cold east wind cuts through me, I feel inclined to return once more to Egypt if only to hear that familiar cry of the East, 'Allah el Akbar La Illah, illa Allah wa ashhadwar Mohamadur Rasul il Allah'."

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