Wilbour's Legacy: Charles Wilbour in His Own Words - Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Charles Wilbour in His Own Words "Wilbour's Legacy"
August 18, 2005

Wilbour's character is apparent in the letters he wrote to family members during his travels and work in Egypt. Many of these from the period December 1880 to May 1891 were published under the editorship of the Belgian Egyptologist Jean Capart who was a curator at Brooklyn in 1932-1938. Some reflect Wilbour's natural inquisitiveness, sense of humor, and generosity in helping others to learn (here as an English tutor!).


Cairo, January 4, 1883. Yesterday I had a long walk in the twenty-acre garden of Zeynab Hanem, the great aunt of the Khedive, who is in Constantinople. It is full of trees, date-palm and orange and lemon and others ornamental, and Aly, the head gardener told me the names of tree and flower and how they grafted and budded--just as we do.

Lisht, January 22, 1883. This morning there was a sound of donkeys coming on board and then we began to move away up the peerless river through rare sprinkles of rain. When shall we get away from these English drops? We think we ought to sacrifice Charmes' pith helmet, but know not whether to burn it to the sun of throw it to the River God. [Gabriel Charmes was with the Journal des Débats]

Luxor, March 21, 1884. Mme. Maspero has read me six pages of English this evening and she gets on swimmingly. We find Amelia B. Edwards' Thousand Miles Up the Nile easier than Villiers Stuart's last book, and Herodotus easier than Miss Amelia.

Other letters show his passion for accuracy in the recording of ancient monuments and inscriptions, correcting earlier work by the likes of Champollion or, in this case, the Prussian Karl Richard Lepsius:

Luxor, January 11 and 12, 1889. I loafed in the morning and in the afternoon at Karnak found that the upper hieroglyphics on the Khonsu propylon were too much for my opera glass. ...I got a piece of joist at Aboo Shanab's house, the second story of which is begun, and made a connection between my telescope and my photographic stand. In the afternoon I took it to Karnak and succeeded in filling nearly all the lacuna in the bas-reliefs copied by Lepsius. He had left almost one third as illegible besides mistakes in the other two thirds.

Unlike some of his peers, Wilbour had the wealth to maintain himself and visiting family members in style. His letters provide a look at the social life of the European and American community in Egypt and his observations of fellow Egyptologists, such as Flinders Petrie, are a valuable record of the times in which they worked:

Rikkah, January 11, 1891. This is my first date in the New Year. We have been very busy though we do not seem to have done much. We made up our New Years cards for Egypt at Shepheards [Hotel] and we put in the last at Wasta yesterday. ...We had some twenty folk at tea the fifth and belated ones the sixth. The seventh we pulled up at Gizeh, whither I had ridden in the morning.

January 9, 1891. We all four went to the Pyramid of Meydoom where Petrie is at work. ...We breakfasted in his camp. He has a cot bed in the tomb of Nefer-maat, whither he retires at dusk to write and read, for he has a few miscellaneous books, "a pinch of books," he said, and two tents, one a kitchen with a petroleum stove. He lives mainly on London food, sent out to him from Civil Service Stores in boxes, each holding three weeks' rations, does his own cooking, lives with Arabs only and pays the men who dig for him by the cubic metre, they trusting to his fairness both for the measurement and the rate.

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© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America