PMF Study Day at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
22 April 2023
This PMF members-only event was led by our Chair, Lucia Gahlin. It was a fascinating day out for the Friends, and it raised over £500 to help fund future projects in the Petrie Museum.
The day began with a lecture by Lucia entitled Sarah Belzoni, Amelia Edwards and the History of the Bristol Collection. It soon became clear that the impact of both women was decisive in enabling collections to be founded and developed – in the case of Sarah Belzoni, in Bristol; in that of Amelia Edwards in Bristol and, as PMF members will know, in the Petrie Museum, London.
Sarah Belzoni (née Banne) was a Bristolian. She accompanied her husband, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, in his visits to Egypt. The discoveries made by Belzoni included the tomb of Seti I. Lucia outlined how, when it was first located in 1817, the entrance to the tomb was, in Belzoni’s words, ‘choked up with large stones’. Just four years later and after the tomb had been carefully recorded, Seti’s sarcophagus was transferred to London. The British Museum refused to pay the price demanded for it, and it was instead purchased by Sir John Soane. This hugely impressive item is, of course, still the most prized object in the Sir John Soane’s Museum.
After Belzoni’s death in 1823, his sketchbooks and collection of objects passed to Sarah. It was her family who, in 1900, donated them to the museum in Bristol where they became the core of the Egyptology collection. Sarah’s own notebook is part of this legacy.
Although born in London, Amelia Edwards lived for much of her life in Westbury-on-Trym on the edge of Bristol. Her visits to Egypt with her companion Lucy Renshaw became the subject of A Thousand Miles up the Nile. She was also a vigorous sponsor of Petrie whose British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account were supported by, among others, the Bristol Museum. In return, objects discovered by Petrie were donated to the Museum’s collection.
Amelia Edwards is buried at St Mary’s, Henbury. Lucia told us of a visit she made last November to the grave, which is marked by a stone obelisk and ankh, with Carl Graves (Director, EES) and Anna Garnett (Curator, Petrie Museum) on the occasion of the republication by the ESS of A Thousand Miles up the Nile.
The lecture was followed by an object-handling session led by Lucia and supported by Bristol Museum Senior Curator, Gail Boyle. Please see the photographs of Lucia and PMF members in concentrated action that follow this article!
The Bristol display is organised thematically under the headings of Belief, Life, Death and Afterlife. Lucia presented each section in some detail. The galleries are lit quite dimly, and so just a few photos are presented below. However, the entire collection is online and may be searched via this link: Bristol Collection
Thank you to Lucia Gahlin for a lively and varied programme, which provided much insight into the history, nature and importance of the Egyptological collection of the Museum.
Harry Parkes kindly provided the final image presented in the object-handling gallery below.
We are grateful to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery for giving us special access to the collection and permission to use photographs. All images of the collection are © Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.
If you are disappointed to have missed this sold-out event, please do consider signing up for the PMF day at the Manchester Museum on June 22nd.
The Museum and its Galleries