Sir John Logan Campbell, an eminent Aucklander, travelled to Egypt in 1849 on a two-and-a-half year Grand Tour. His extensive travel journal captures his impressions from a voyage on the Nile.
An ambitious man who liked to travel
Sir John Logan Campbell was a prominent New Zealand public figure, a successful entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Campbell was also a traveller, who long held an ambition to "[embrace] the ascending Nile, Holy Land, Turkey and Greece, and in the grand general way the Continent of Europe". This page explores the Nile leg of this voyage, which influences Campbell's commission of the One Tree Hill obelisk much later in his life.
His Grand Tour captured in detail
In June 1848, having been in New Zealand since 1840, Campbell seized an opportunity to make an extended 'Grand Tour', as was fashionable in the mid-19th century.
This voyage abroad is extensively documented in letters that Campbell wrote to his family and in his immense travel journal, written in eleven chapters and comprising over 75,000 words.
As each chapter was completed, it was posted to Edinburgh to be read by Campbell's family. The journal is a compelling read; Campbell interwove fiction with fact, often embellishing his very personal observations of the cultures he encountered.
Campbell journeyed to Egypt via Sydney, Singapore and Calcutta. He stepped foot in Suez on 4 January 1849 and made for Cairo to meet with his dragoman (guide) and to hire a dahabieh (a passenger boat).
While waiting for the dahabieh to be prepared, Campbell explored Cairo and visited the Pyramids at Giza. It was perhaps during this time in Cairo that he may have acquired the small antiquities that were donated to Auckland Museum in 1877, such as an alabaster vessel and this set of highly collectable 'mummy beads'.
Sailing the Nile
On 10 January 1849, Campbell finally set sail on the Nile. The first month saw the dahabieh sail up-stream to the Second Cataract, near the border of Egypt and Sudan, and return downstream with visits to Abu Simbel, Philae, Edfu, Aswan, Karnak, and Luxor. Campbell was charmed by the obelisks at the temples of Luxor and Karnak:
The clean sharp, beautifully proportioned outline, cutting its way through the clear atmosphere until it leaves the pale cloudless sky near the horizon and is thrown out in beautiful relief by the deep, deep blue sky.
For the most part, however, Campbell considered his Nile voyage to have fallen short of his youthful expectations; he did not labour under the "hieroglyphic fever" that was fashionable among his peers. Campbell quickly left Cairo and made for Alexandria, where he boarded a steam-packet bound for Trieste; he was in Europe within a week.
Bringing the wider experience home
While the experience of modern Egypt was not all Campbell had hoped for, his travel over two and half years left an indelible impression on him. When he returned to New Zealand in 1850, he sought to bring the experiences of his Grand Tour and choice items were ordered through English firms for his house in Auckland - furniture, sets of books, object d'art.
A reiteration of the Egyptian obelisk, which had captivated Campbell so completely, would, too, eventually make its appearance on Auckland's horizon, atop One Tree Hill in Cornwall Park - a visual focal point of Auckland's landscape.
Stone, R. C. J. (1987) The Father and His Gift: John Logan Campbell's Later Years. Auckland.
Stone, R. C. J. (1982) Young Logan Campbell. Auckland.
Cite this article
Sir John Logan Campbell in Egypt. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 20 May 2015. Updated: 29 June 2015.