King's College London
Online Exhibitions
West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

Social life in Egypt

Portrait of an Egyptian lady with Islamic headdress and clothing entitled, A daughter of the EastPortrait of a daughter of the EastStanley Lane-Poole (1834-1931) was a historian, archaeologist and numismatist, who, like other members of his close family, spent his working life involved in the study of the Arabic and Islamic world. He catalogued Islamic coins at the British Museum under the tutorship of his uncle, as well as working at the Khedival Library at Cairo, for the Egyptian government.

The attitude of Western powers, including Britain, to the procurement of antiquities from colonial territories for display and collection in national museums was lax by modern standards and many items from across the former Empire and elsewhere are now housed in Britain. Disputes over items such as the Greek Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, taken to Britain from Egypt in 1801, still wrangle today.

Lane-Poole spent considerable time in Egypt and the book featured here illustrates – using techniques of both wood and steel engravings – a diverse array of Egyptian customs. There are illustrations of grand mosques in Cairo and Alexandria; street scenes of townsfolk in their daily lives and depictions of life on and around the Nile. The illustration reproduced here is a steel engraving of ‘A daughter of the East’.

The history of Britain’s involvement in Egypt went far beyond the study of antiquities. From 1882 to 1956 British forces were stationed in the country; at first under the guise of various declared protectorates and, following the granting of nominal independence in 1922, as guarantors of British interests in the region.

Following the Suez Crisis of 1956 (see the final section of this online exhibition) the last British troops were forced off Egyptian soil in a humiliating episode that vividly illustrated Britain’s declining imperial might.

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