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CAIRO HISTORY / EARLY TRAVEL & TOURISM IN EGYPT: Archive Relating to the Early History of the Shephard’s Hotel, Cairo Zoom

CAIRO HISTORY / EARLY TRAVEL & TOURISM IN EGYPT: Archive Relating to the Early History of the Shephard’s Hotel, Cairo


A wonderfully bizarre archive concerning the early history of Shepheard’s Hotel, for over a century the centre of British (and American) life in Cairo; being materials assembled in the 1950s by Michael W. Bird, the great-grandson of the hotel’s proprietor Samuel Shepheard, the highlight of which is a typescript copy of the hotels’ guestbook covering the years 1847 to 1858, made in 1951 only months before the hotel was burned to the ground during the ‘Black Saturday’ riot in January 1956.  

Place and Year:
Code: 67651

Documents mostly dating from the 1950s (please see below for details).

During the mid-19th Century, Cairo was a major destination for Westerners.  There were two main types of visitors; first, were British soldiers and officials who stopped off in city while traveling the ‘Overland Route’, crossing Egypt on their way to and from India and the Far East; and second, Westerners pursuing what was then the World’s ultimate experience in adventure tourism, visiting the Nile and the Pyramids, etc.  Travel to Egypt was then expensive and dangerous, as foreigners were vulnerable to local diseases, not to mention attacks by bandits.  While many Westerners were enraptured by the exotic magnificence of the country’s sites and sounds, virtually all pined at some point during their trip for a brief taste of “home”.

In 1841, Hills Hotel, popularly known as the “British Hotel” opened in the foreign quarter of Cairo.  It sought to be a ‘home way from home’ for weary British and other Western travellers, providing European-style food & beverage, décor and amenities.  

In 1842, a the 26-year-old Englishman, Samuel Shepheard (1816-66), arrived in Cairo.  Hailing from Northamptonshire, he apprenticed as a pastry cook, but having grown bored, joined the crew of a P & O Mail ship.  Having become involved in an unsuccessful mutiny, his captain chucked him off the vessel at Suez, whereupon he made his way to the Egyptian capital.  In Cairo he found work at the British Hotel, eventually working his way up to manager.  In 1846, he somehow gathered the funds to purchase the establishment, renaming the property after himself.  Shepheard was, by all accounts, a superb host, much beloved by his guests, greatly adding to the hotel’s popularity.

Shepheard was an avid hunter and this led him to meet the ruler of Egypt, Khedive Abbas, during a big game excursion.  The two men became good friends, and through the Khedive’s influence, in 1848, Shepheard was able to acquire the former palace of Alfi Bey, on Esbekier Square, considered the city’s prime address. Shephard moved the hotel into these quartets, which were described as comfortable, but far from luxurious, although better than almost any other public accommodation in Cairo.  Edward de Leon, the U.S. Consul in Cairo, recalled “In the year 1856 Shepheard’s Hotel presented more the aspect of a grim old barrack than of a hostelry”.  

That being said, Shepheard’s hotel was a trusted ‘safe space’ for weary, culture-shocked travellers, affording a good whiskey and the company of fellow Westerners.  The establishment was frequented by British military officers, bureaucrats, wealthy American travellers, and even some celebrities.  The hotel bar was the most important meeting place for British and American visitors to the city.  In 1858, the great Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, opined that “The English Tongue in Egypt finds its centre in Shepheard’s Hotel”.

Samuel Shepheard made an immense fortune from the hotel, benefitting from the great rise in traffic caused by the Crimean War and Indian Uprising of 1857, as well as the dawn of adventure tourism along the Nile.  In 1860, he retired to Warwickshire to live in the great estate he purchased, Eathorpe Hall.

Shepheard’s Hotel remained the centre of the Anglo-American community in Cairo.  In the 1890s, the hotel was rebuilt into an ultra-luxurious palatial edifice.  In the coming years it hosted the majority of the famous foreigners in the city, including Henry Morton Stanley, Lawrence of Arabia, Howard Carter and Winston Churchill.
During the rise of Egyptian nationalism in the 1940s, Shepheard’s Hotel became a lightning rod for controversy, as it was a prime symbol of British colonial hegemony over Egypt.  During what became known as ‘Black Saturday’, anti-Western riots broke out across Cairo on the night of January 26, 1952.  Dozens of British and other Western establishments were torched – Shepheard’s Hotel burned to the ground.  The demise of the institution prefigured the death of British control over Egypt, which was soon swept away by Gamal Abdel Nasser. 

The Shepheard’s Hotel brand lives on to the present day as the name is preserved in an entirely new establishment on the Nile Corniche. 

The Present Archive in Focus

In the early 1950s. Michal W. Bird (b. 1914), Samuel Shepheard’s great-grandson, gathered materials to write a biography of his forefather and his legendary establishment, which was eventually published as Samuel Shepheard of Cairo: A Portrait by Michal Bird (London: Michal Joseph Ltd., 1957).  With the exception of no. 4 below, the present archive consists of materials created during that time.

However, the archive features something of considerable interest to the history of 19th Century Cairo and early tourism in Egypt.  In 1951, mere months before Shepheard’s Hotel was torched on ‘Black Saturday’, the establishment’s manager, Mr. A. Foerster made a typescript copy of the hotel’s early guestbook (refer to nos. 1a & 1b below).  Covering the years 1847 to 1858, the typescript features the names of hundreds of the hotel’s guests, along with notes as to their origin and destination, as well as often the names of ships on which their sailed the Nile.  Also, present are some very amusing observations on the nature of the country and the hotel itself.  The list includes several famous names; most of the guests were British, however, what is remarkable are the large number of American guests who made the long, dangerous trip to Egypt.  There are many military officers, crown officials, wealthy travellers, as well as writers and artists.  This is likely the only surviving record of this guest book, and as a result it is a highly important archival source for this period.



A. Foerster to Michael W. Bird, September 6, 1951.
Typescript Letter (quarto, on Shepheard’s Hotel Letterhead), 1 p., signed (Good, but upper-left corner missing with slight loss to letterhead, small marginal tears, creasing).

This is a letter written by Mr. A. Foerster, the manager of the Shepheard’s Hotel, to Michael Bird, dated September 6, 1951, responding to Bird’s letter of May 12, of that year.  Here he notes that “I am glad to send you herewith a complete typed copy of this book”, referring to the “Golden Book”, being the early guest book for the hotel.  One gains the impression that the original guestbook was then in an incomplete and damaged condition, but evidently contained some illustrations not duplicated in the typescript, as noted “The typed copy misses much of the charm of the original book: illegible or half destroyed word have not been reproduced and all drawings of flags adorning the Nile boats are of course missing”



[Untitled Typescript Copy of the Text from the Shepheard’s Hotel Guestbook, 1847 - 1858].
Cairo, 1951.
77 pp. typescript (quarto) with sporadic Mss. additions, loose, paginated as pp. 3-31, 31 bis, 23-35, 35 bis, 36-43, 43 bis, 44-76 (Good, some creasing and marginal tears).

The highlight of the archive is the typescript copy of the Shepheard’s Hotel guestbook that Foerster sent to Bird less than four months before the hotel (and presumably) the “Golden Book” was consumed in flames.  The typescript, as it remains today, is paginated prom p. 3 to 76, with a few ‘bis’ pages inserted; the level of completeness viz. how it was in 1951 is unclear.  The organization of the typescript is a bit chaotic, with pp. 3-4 referring to entries from 1858; pp. 5 -25 concerns November 1856 to February 1857; pp. 26 – 28 covers November to December 1857; pp. 29 concerns January to March 1858; while pp. 30 – 76 features entries from October 1847 to early 1855.

Importantly, the guestbook is not duplicated within Michael Bird’s book – this may be the only surviving record of this information.

The entries feature the names of hotel guests, and sometimes their origins and destinations; the names of their vessels that brought them up the Nile; as well as comments on the hotel or on Egypt generally.  The entries provide a very rich insight into the nature of Western travel and tourism in Cairo and the Middle East during the mid-19th Century.  

Most of the guests are British; however, a surprisingly large number are Americans, including some from as far away as San Francisco (then a brand-new city).  Many of the guests are military officers and government officials, while some are wealthy tourists seeking to discover the antiquities of the Nile.  Some entries note people traveling through Cairo on their way to India or Hong Kong, while others are going on to visit the Gizeh Pyramids; Jerusalem; Petra; Thebes; or the First and Second Cataracts of the Nile.

Some of the comments include “a dreadful country – wonderful Pyramids and excellent hotel”; “Perfectly satisfied”; “received the kindest of attention from Mr. Shepheard”; and “W.C smells rather strong otherwise all satisfied”.  Amusingly, a Mr. Connay Poole notes: “Hotel good / Dragoman named Hassan very attentive / cheats less than the others by a good deal…Advise visitors who attend the Pyramids to stand no Humbug” from the locals.

While a more forensic investigation might turn up more luminaires, we have noted that the list features several famous names, including: Captain Lord Charles William Brudenell-Bruce (1834 – 1897), styled Lord Charles Bruce, a British soldier and politician (“Left for Upper Egypt December 19th 1856”, p. 15); Antonio Schranz (1801 - 1863), a well-regarded Maltese painter (December 21, 1847, p. 34); Lucius Bentinck Cary, 10th Viscount Falkland (1803 - 1884), who served as the Governor of Bombay, 1848-53 (February 9, 1848, p. 39); Rear Admiral Sir Francis Augustus Collier (c. 1783 - 1849), on his way to serve as the British naval commander at Hong Kong (1848, p. 40); Brigadier-General Sir Henry Lawrence (1806 - 1857), a famous soldier and surveyor who distinguished himself in India, killed during the Siege of Lucknow (1848, p. 40); Sir Arthur William Buller 1808 – 1869), a British Liberal MP and author of education reforms in Canada; George William Curtis (1824 - 1892), an American writer and abolitionist (December 15, 1849, p. 48); Sir Charles Augustus Murray (1806 - 1895), an esteemed British author and diplomat (March 20, 1852, p. 60); General Hon. Thomas Ashburnham (1816 - 1872), the Commander of British Troops in China and Hong Kong (February 19, 1854, p. 72); Charles Greely Loring (1828 - 1902), a young American tourist, later a Union general during the Civil War and the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (December 6, 1854, p. 74).


Michael W. BIRD.
‘Samuel Shepheard of Cairo’
[Draft of the Preface to Bird’s Eponymous Book published in 1957].
[Surrey, England, 1956].
Carbon Copy of Typescript, 2pp. legal size, with a single typed correction (Very Good, old clean vertical folds).

This is a carbon copy draft of the Preface to Michal Bird’s book, Samuel Shepheard of Cairo; the text here is identical that that which subsequently appeared on pages 11 and 12 of the final published work.


[Photograph of a Clay Hippopotamus].
England, mid-20th Century.
Photograph (12 x 17 cm), mounted to a larger piece of card (25.5 x 20.5 cm) featuring a typed description.

In 1850, Abbas, the Khedive of Egypt, sent Queen Victoria a live hippopotamus, which resided at the London Zoo, amazing thousands of visitors.  In 1849, Samuel Shepheard had a clay model made of the hippo, which he brought back with him to England upon his retirement in 1860; the model was presented to the London Zoo in 1947.  Present here is a photograph of the clay hippo, along with its story.


Photograph of “Eathorpe Hall”, Warwickshire.
Mid to late 19th Century.

Photograph, 18.5 x 24.5 cm (curved upper corners), with title on verso in pencil.

This is the only part of the archive that dates roughly from Samuel Shepheard’s era.  It is photograph of the grand manor home of Eathorpe Hall, near Leamington, Warwickshire, where Shepheard lived in retirement from 1860 to 1866.

References: Cf. Michael W. Bird, Samuel Shepheard of Cairo: A Portrait by Michael Bird (London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1957). 

Availability: Out of stock