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Aristocrats and Archaeologists reviewed in the Daily Mail

on Sat, 12/30/2017 - 14:41

How idyllic it sounded: escaping from the rainy English winter of 1907-8 to go on a leisurely, three-month, sun-warmed paddle steamer trip along the Nile, as personal physician to the Duke of Devonshire.

You would be waited on hand and foot and stop off at all the most famous tombs and temples in the heyday of Edwardian excavations. No wonder the young London doctor and keen amateur Egyptologist Ferdy Platt said ‘Yes, please’ to this offer of paid work combined with travel. 

But, as this enthralling collection of letters from Ferdy to his wife May during the journey reveals, spending three months on board that paddle steamer in the company of the aged Duke and Duchess and their snooty entourage could make a young, middle-class doctor feel as lonely as a mummy in a tomb.

The letters were kept for nearly a century in a beautiful wooden box, which was lovingly decorated by Ferdy with Egyptian figures and hieroglyphics as a present for his daughter Violet.

On Violet’s death in 1992, she bequeathed the box to her younger cousin, Julian Platt, who, with the Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson, has now brought the letters to the public. To read them feels like lifting the lid on the stifling world of the Edwardian aristocracy.

Ferdy’s travelling companions were the 74-year-old Duke of Devonshire who, as a wild young man, had been known as ‘Harty Tarty’ by the Prince of Wales, but was now arthritic and consumptive, and his wife the Duchess, who liked to be carried up sandy hills in a chair by four sweating servants.

They were joined by the unfriendly Earl and Countess of Gosford and their chillingly aloof daughter Lady Theodosia Acheson, and Sir Charles Cradock-Hartopp, a divorced friend of the Duke whose only interests were huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ and card-playing and who took no interest whatsoever in the sights of Egypt.

Read full review here

Aristocrats and Archaeologists: An Edwardian Journey on the Nile
Toby Wilkinson
The American University in Cairo Press
ISBN 9789774168451
Hardback, £24.95

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