Weatherwatch: the perilous sea journey of Cleopatra’s Needle

Paul Brown
·1-min read
<span>Photograph: Print Collector/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Print Collector/Getty Images

One of the oddest boats in history, a 28-metre metal cigar, was purpose built for one voyage, to carry an Egyptian obelisk from Alexandria to London. The 3,500-year-old 224-ton piece of granite was given to Britain in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt to commemorate the victories at the battles of the Nile and Alexandria.

The UK government, while pleased, was too mean to pay for its transport so it was not until 58 years later that benefactors and public subscription raised £15,000 to build a ship to house Cleopatra’s Needle and tow it to London.

A terrible storm in the Bay of Biscay caused the vessel to roll so wildly that a six-man rescue mission was launched from the towing ship to bring off the crew. These volunteers drowned in the attempt when their boat was swamped. The towing vessel, the Olga, eventually managed to get alongside and save the cigar’s crew but left the boat and its cargo to sink. However, four days later when the storm subsided, the drifting cigar was spotted and towed into Ferrol in Spain.

After further adventures and arguments Cleopatra’s Needle was finally erected on the Victoria Embankment along the Thames. Appropriately the names of the six men who lost their lives are inscribed at its base.