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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Artist, the Engineer, the Dinner & an Obelisk for London

Edward A. Goodall
What on earth did an English artist, who thought parrots made an excellent soup and was accused of being a Russian spy in the Crimea, have to do with the move of an obelisk from Egypt to the Thames Embankment in London?

The Beginning Dinner

It seems that the artist held a dinner which had momentous consequences for an ancient obelisk that had fallen down on the seashore in Egypt, at the foot of the one that was moved to Central Park in New York City:
At a dinner held at the home of Edward A. Goodall, several artists were invited including John Dixon the engineer. Conversation eventually centered on Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt and John Dixon suggested that it be brought to England by private means since the government had estimated that the cost would be too great. He said that if he had the money he would do it himself. Shortly thereafter, Sir Erasmus Wilson the celebrated surgeon and Freemason, called on John Dixon and offered the money to bring the obelisk over.
In 1865 Edward Goodall was living at 3 Fitzroy Rd., Regents Park, in London and the St. George's Square house, which Edward owned, was his studio. In 1884 he and his wife moved to 57 Fitzroy Rd. where they remained.

The Dixon Brothers

John Dixon (1835 – 1891), a civil engineer, and his younger brother, Waynman Dixon (1844 – 1930), also an engineer, moved the obelisk to London. In 1876, Sir Erasmus Wilson, a leading surgeon and Freemason, agreed to pay John Dixon 10,000 pounds to move the obelisk, with payment only to be made if Dixon erected the obelisk on the Thames Embankment.

The Dixon brothers had been involved for some time in Egypt, mostly on engineering tasks, and Waynman Dixon had also spent time accurately measuring the Great Pyramid (he found some ancient relics which the original builders had left inside the pyramid, and John sent them to England).

The obelisk was first erected in Egypt by Pharaoh Thutmose III - the pharaoh who, according to the Royal Annals – saw around 1,500 B.C. fires in the sky above the desert, and centuries later was gifted to the British government in 1819 in recognition of Nelson's victory over the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

From one Freemason to Another

Included in A Short History of the Egyptian Obelisks, by William Ricketts Cooper, published in 1877, is a short narrative by Erasmus Wilson of his first meeting with John Dixon, including this:
As a sailor's son I took an interest in the matter ... I soon found that Mr. Dixon was a Freemason, hence, all formality and ceremony were at once banished. He told me that he had
long contemplated bringing the obelisk to England, and he hoped some day to do it himself, when he should be rich enough ... He then said, I should enclose the monolith in boiler plate, and then roll it into the sea ... and tow it to England.
Erasmus Wilson liked Dixon's idea of encasing the large granite pillar in iron, and hired him to do the job.

The Wanderings of Goodall

Edward A. Goodall (1819 – 1908) was an interesting man. He was a landscape and orientalist painter, the eldest sone of Edward Goodall, the well known line engraver; his brother was the celebrated Royal Academy painter Frederick Goodall.


In 1841 Goodall joined a Government-sponsored commission which was to define the boundaries of British Guiana, tasked with sketching the landscape, flora, fauna and inhabitants. It was here that he had parrot soup, and once, when food ran low, ate a spider monkey. He also singed his eyebrows , eyelashes and hair when gunpowder that was being prepared to salute departing members went off.

And he fell in love:
The entire party was much taken with the beauty of the local women, but Goodall must have been more so than most as he impetuously asked the father of one of them if he could marry her.
It seems that Goodall wore his rejection by the father well, and in 1854 he went to the Crimea as artist correspondent for the Illustrated London News, which was the most widely read journal in Britain, with 150,000 copies sold.

Edward A. Goodall - home at 3 Fitzroy Rd., Regents  Park
Goodall had access to the frontlines and battlefields, and observed the battle of Balaclava – scene of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade against the Russians on 25 October 1854, captured so eloquently by Lord Tennyson's poem - and the siege of Sebastopol:
At Inkerman in the spring of 1855, Goodall witnessed the melting snow reveal the bodies of dead Russian soldiers who had lain unburied throughout the winter. Crocuses were seen growing between the fingers of dead soldiers.
He had a short-lived spot of trouble due to mistaken identity, though:
Even so the [Naval] Brigade could not save Goodall from being arrested on suspicion of being a Russian spy. Ironically, the officer who arrested Goodall turned out to be a friend of Goodall’s brother, Frederick.
Cloeopatra's Needle arrives in London
Goodall stayed in the Crimea for a year, and then travelled widely, paying fifteen visits to Venice, as well as sketching and painting in France, Portugal, Morocco, Italy, Gibraltar and Spain.

In Egypt in 1870 Goodall was on the Nile riverbank sketching ancient Memphis when he saw a woman bend down to fill her pitcher, and tumble into the river. He jumped into the Nile and after a struggle brought her safely to the riverbank:
The next day she received several offers of marriage, being considered under "Divine protection."
Queen Victoria liked his work and gave him permission to paint from any window in the palace.

Cleopatra's Needle being raised in London
Cleopatra's Needle on the Thames Embankment, London
Cleopatra's Needle being placed in iron cylinder in Egypt by John Dixon

Cleopatra's Needle in London viewed from the Millenium Wheel

Cleopatra's Needle in London - from book by Erasmus Wilson
Cleopatra's Needle - Cover of book by Erasmus Wilson
Edward A. Goodall's studio was here at St. George's Square
Erasmus Wilson's grave at Swanscombe, Kent
Raising of Cleopatra's Needle - from the London Illustrated Times
Bridge of Sighs in Venice by Edward A. Goodall
Venice scene by Edward A. Goodall

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