Women of the PEF: Baroness Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts

By Adam John Fraser, PEF Librarian

Did you know the PEF got its start from a woman, the Victorian philanthropist and banking heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts? I was recently reading Charles Watson’s The Life of Major-General Sir Charles William Wilson (1909). Wilson was an officer in the Royal Engineers and was one of the most important early members of the PEF. He was responsible for conducting the first scientific survey of Jerusalem in 1864. In Wilson’s biography I came across this interesting statement:

The survey of Jerusalem originated in Miss Burdett Coutts’ wish to provide the city with a better water supply. She was told it was first necessary to make an accurate survey of the city, and for that purpose she placed £500 in the hands of a Committee, of whom the late Dean Stanley was one. He applied to the Secretary of State for War (p. 41)

This brief reference to Burdett-Coutts got me thinking about the women and history of the PEF. Having recently reviewed Kathleen Sheppard’s biography of the Egyptologist Margaret Murray, I’d become more aware of the fascinating history of women in archaeology. Here, I will shine some light on women in the history of the PEF, in particular Angela Burdett-Coutts.

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An illustration of Angela Burdett-Coutts, after a portrait by J. R. Swinton in the Royal Marsden Hospital.

Coutts is an international private banking group; its long history spans over 300 years. In 1837, 24 year old Angela Burdett inherited the interest in a Trust and a half share in the Coutts Bank. As the heir to the banking family she became the public face of the Bank. This would have made her one of the wealthiest women in England (if not, the wealthiest).

Angela was actively involved in the affairs of the bank and also donated large portions of her private wealth. She was engaged in a great deal of philanthropic work; housing the destitute, caring for neglected children, extending women’s industrial opportunities, the exploration of Africa, protecting dumb animals, caring for those wounded in combat and scientific and technical education. Among her wide social circle was the novelist and keen social observer Charles Dickens. Together they set up Urania Cottage, a house for helping women who had fallen to prostitution.

The Water Relief project of Jerusalem in 1864 was an extension of Angela’s philanthropic work. The pre-existing water systems in Jerusalem consisted of cisterns which were contaminated by rainwater running through the streets.

The British public were horrified at the reality of the most holy city in Christianity being plagued with disease. Angela Burdett-Coutts established the Water Relief Committee to find a means to solve the problem. It was suggested that a survey of Jerusalem be undertaken in order to provide the city with a better water supply. In charge of the survey were the soldiers of the Royal Engineers, deemed to be the best in the Empire for this work.

Detail from Wilson's Survey of Jerusalem 1864-1865 showing the Old City and surrounds. Existing water cisterns are coloured blue. (PEF-M-OSJ 1864-5 PLAN 1- )

Detail from Wilson’s Survey of Jerusalem 1864-1865 showing the Old City and surrounds. Existing water cisterns are coloured blue. (PEF-M-OSJ 1864-5 PLAN 1).

Out of this Water Relief Fund that the PEF was born. The survey was a great success and the popularity that it garnered was enough to establish the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1865. Without her it is unlikely that the PEF would have emerged as it did (or even at all!)

Angela Burdett-Coutts had a remarkable life; this blog entry is nowhere near enough to discuss all the things she accomplished. But as we are celebrating our 150th anniversary this year, it is fitting to celebrate the women of the PEF as well as the men!

Further Reading

Healey, E. 2012. Coutts, Angela Georgina Burdett- suo jure Baroness Burdett-Coutts. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [Online]. Oxford University Press.

Sheppard, K. L. 2013. The Life of Margaret Alice Murray: A Woman’s Work in Archaeology. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books.

Keeping a Diary: The Softer Side of Exploration

By Adam John Fraser, PEF Librarian

The image of the explorer keeping a diary is a powerful one. It has been maintained and repeated in popular culture: Ralph Fiennes as Count de Almásy with his sand-beaten book of Herodotus filled with his drawings and notes and love letters, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones finding his way to the Holy Grail with the assistance of his father’s heavily foxed Grail diary. These leather-bound books are filled with descriptions of exotic places and clues about possible discoveries.

Of course, we all know what is depicted in archaeological feature films does not always reflect reality. But in the case of diaries the reality is not very far from the stereotype. On site it is common for excavators to have a notebook to fill with data collected in the field. These books are filled with measurements, descriptions, weather conditions etc. It is also common for some people to keep a travel diary to record the places they have seen in foreign countries.

Wilson diary, ca. 1870.

Wilson diary, ca. 1870.

Wilson Diary, ca. 1870.  Looks like Wilson is homesick.

Wilson Diary, ca. 1870. Looks like Wilson is homesick.

We have a substantial collection of field notebooks from the mid to late 19th Century at the PEF .  They are not yet fully catalogued but it is clear that they are from surveys and projects occurring in various parts of Sinai, Palestine and even up to Anatolia. They are thought to belong to Major General Sir Charles Wilson, who was an integral figure in the PEF’s early days. Wilson began the Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem in 1864 and while this survey was being carried out the PEF was formed in 1865. When Wilson returned to Britain the PEF Committee sent him back to Palestine to ascertain what it might take to carry out a survey of western Palestine. It is likely that these books date to this initial project, but it is also possible that they date to Wilson’s time as as Consul-General in Anatolia (1879-1883).

Wilson Diary, 1881. A leather  binding that would make Harrison Ford and Ralph Fiennes jealous.

Wilson Diary, 1881. A leather binding that would make Harrison Ford and Ralph Fiennes jealous.

Wilson Diary 1881. Ryman’s should start making these notebooks again.

Wilson Diary 1881. Ryman’s should start making these notebooks again.

The books are filled with all sorts of data, from Turkish troop movements and descriptions of general local feelings towards the Turks to how the number of wells in each city and the location of nearby lakes. With his keen observations recorded in minute detail, it’s not hard to see why Wilson went on to become the Director of the Topographical Department at the War Office and Assistant Quartermaster-General to the Intelligence Department.

Wilson Diary 1881. Photographs were very costly so panoramic sketches could be valuable if they were accurate.

Wilson Diary 1881. Photographs were very costly so panoramic sketches could be valuable if they were accurate.

Wilson Diary 1881. This sketch is spectacular. The man should have been in the Royal Academy.

Wilson Diary 1881. This sketch is spectacular. The man should have been in the Royal Academy.

Wilson Diary? 1879.

Wilson Diary? 1879.

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Wilson Diary? 1879.

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Wilson Diary? 1879. Supplies list and sketches of livestock.

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Wilson Diary? 1879.

These notebooks are the tip of the iceberg – Wilson’s life is far more interesting than the brief outline I’ve given here. The books need much further study but hopefully these images will encourage researchers to make the journey to the PEF to see them.