Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - Cleopatra's Needle

      This obelisk of ancient Egypt, which has been left lying so long half buried in the sand at Alexandria, is now about to be made an ornament to the city of London. Its removal has been considered a matter of such great expense that the British Government has not felt justified in undertaking it and, had it not been for the private generosity of Dr. Erasmus Wilson, and the ingenuity of the engineer, it would most likely have remained to form the foundations of the new houses leading to the Alexandria Railway Station....
    The consulting engineer is Mr. B. Baker, well known by his connection with the Metropolitan Railway, and the work will be performed by Mr. Dixon. The removal of this obelisk will be accomplished in the following manner: A wrought-iron cylindrical pontoon, 92 feet long and 15 feet in diameter, tapered at each end to a vertical edge, will be its only support in the water. Its draught is 9 feet, and displacement 270 tons. If completely submerged, its power of floatation is equal to 705 tons, and as the weight of the obelisk is only 150 tons, with 30 tons ballast, it is evident that there is no chance of its foundering.
    The pontoon is furnished with a series of bulkheads, or diaphragms, which support the obelisk at about every 10 feet, and suitable elastic packing secures it from shocks. The obelisk is 66 feet long over all, and the base (8 feet 6 inches square) will be placed forward, giving great buoyancy to the forepart, as the apex is close to the stern, which will be furnished with a rudder. On top of the pontoon and near its centre, will be placed a small deck house, with steering-wheel in the forepart and accommodation for three men. There is a long narrow hurricane-deck above the steering-room, and a short mast with two small sails surmounts the whole ... The boat will be towed by steamer to London, the sails being merely used for steadying purposes. It is calculated that the roll will not be excessive....

source: Illustrated London News, March 10th 1877

Cleopatra's Needle. Victoria Embankment, opposite the end of Salisbury-street, Strand, between Waterloo-bridge and Charing-cross. NEAREST Railway Station, Temple; Omnibus Routes, Waterloo-bridge and Blackfriars-bridge; Cab Rank, Embankment.

source: Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

Cleopatra's Needle stands on the Victoria Embankment, left hand of the river. This famous monolith of red granite, from Alexandria, originally stood at Heliopolis, and was presented to this country by Mehemet Ali in 1819. No ministry was bold enough to face the difficulty and expense of transporting it across the Bay of Biscay, and for many years it lay half buried by sand at Alexandria, at the foot of its still erect sister, which, according to some people, is the real original Cleopatra's Needle. In the Alexatndrian sand the English obelisk would probably have remained until the end of time (unless, indeed, the British tourist had not carried it away piecemeal in the form of relics) but for the public spirit of Mr. Erasmus Wilson and Mr. John Dixon, the well-known civil engineer. Mr. Wilson put down £10,000 for the expenses of transport, and Mr. John Dixon undertook to deliver the monument in the Thames for that sum on the principle of "no cure, no pay" - no obelisk, no £10,000. A special cylinder boat was designed, in which the needle was encased, and justified Mr. Dixon's expectations by making good weather of it until it became unmanageable and untenantable in a heavy gale in the Bay of Biscay. Abandoned by the steamer which had it in tow, after the sacrifice of six lives in a last gallant attempt to save the Cleopatra, few people doubted that the needle would find its last resting-place at the bottom of the sea. Fortunately a passing steamer succeeded in securing it, and towed it into Ferrol, whence it was safely transferred to its present site. Much ingenuity was shown in the machinery designed for its erection, the difficulties of which will readily be understood when it is stated that the obelisk is over 68 feet in height, and weighs 180 tons. NEAREST Steamboat Piers and Bridges, Waterloo and Charing-cross; Railway Sattions, Charing-cross (Dist. & SE.) Omnibus Routes, Waterloo Bridge and Strand.

source: Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881

Cleopatra's Needle - photograph


Conspicuously placed on the Victoria Embankment is the famous granite obelisk known as Cleopatra's Needle. It was put up at Heliopolis by Pharaoh Thothmes II., about 1500 B.C., and twenty-three years before the Christian era it was erected at Alexandria -- Cleopatra's city. For centuries the obelisk lay neglected in the sand; but in 1819 it was presented to the British nation by Mohammed Ali as a memorial of Nelson and Abercromby. Dr. (afterwards Sir) Erasmus Wilson expended £10,000 upon its removal to this country in 1877. Owing to stormy weather the transport ship had to be abandoned in the Bay of Biscay but fortunately the monument was rescued, and in the following year it was placed in its present position, near Waterloo Bridge. It is 68.5 feet high, and weighs 180 tons. The sphinxes are modern.

source: The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896