Arthur Weigall

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Arthur Edward Pearse Brome Weigall (1880 – 3 January 1934) was an English Egyptologist, stage designer, journalist and author whose works span the whole range from histories of Ancient Egypt through historical biographies, guide-books, popular novels, screenplays and lyrics.

Biography[edit]

Arthur Weigall was born in the year in which his father, Arthur Archibald Denne Weigall, an army officer, died on the North West Frontier. As a young widow, his mother, the former Alice Henrietta Cowen, turned missionary in the inner-city slums of late-Victorian England. So Arthur Weigall went from an unconventional home life in Salford to Wellington College, a school with strong establishment and military connections. He started work as an apprentice clerk in the City of London, but a youthful fascination with genealogy led him to the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt and so into Egyptology. A mysterious patroness encouraged him to apply for New College, Oxford. This was a mistake (Egyptology was not yet studied at Oxford) so he went on to Leipzig, and on his return to England found work with Flinders Petrie, first at University College London and then at Abydos in Egypt.

Life with Flinders Petrie was notoriously harsh, and after a while Arthur Weigall went to work for Friedrich Wilhelm von Bissing, a German Egyptologist. In early 1905 Howard Carter was staying with Arthur Weigall at Saqqara when after an incident with some French tourists, Howard Carter was forced to resign his post as Chief Inspector of Antiquities for Upper Egypt. Suddenly, at the age of 25, Arthur Weigall was appointed to replace Howard Carter at Luxor, responsible for protecting and managing the antiquities of a region that extended from Nag Hammadi to the border with Sudan.

At Luxor, Arthur Weigall threw himself with immense energy into aspects of the job that in his view had been somewhat neglected – the protection and conservation of monuments that were steadily vanishing into the ravenous markets of Europe and North America. He remained in Luxor until 1911. This was a time of intense activity – the discovery of the tombs of Yuya and Tuya, KV55, the tomb of Horemheb, travels in the Eastern Desert, a popular biography of Akhnaten, a Guide to the Antiquities of Upper Egypt. He worked with Alan Gardiner on the tombs of the nobles and may well have helped Howard Carter to the placement with Lord Carnarvon that led to the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. He was deeply enmeshed in the bureaucratic and social entanglements of Luxor and Cairo, coming into close contact with Flinders Petrie, Gaston Maspero, Theodore Davis, Percy Newberry, Howard Carter and others, and making friends with Sir Ronald Storrs and the glittering world of an Edwardian society in Egypt. It was too much for him. A breakdown took him from Egypt and World War I cut off his plans to create an institute of Egyptology for Egyptians.

In London during World War I Arthur Weigall became a successful set-designer for the London revue stage. An association with film began: he worked with Bannister Merwin, Jack Buchanan, and Phyllis Monkton on the film Her Heritage, and in the 1920s Lord Northcliffe appointed him film critic for the Daily Mail. Later, one of his novels was made into the film Burning Sands by the producer George Melford.

Journalism brought him back to Egypt. He covered the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun as correspondent for the Daily Mail, in direct opposition to Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon's attempts with The Times to monopolise the story, a monopoly which he regarded as both wrong and politically damaging to British relations with Egypt at a time when nationalist feeling was strong. At the tomb of Tutankhamun he saw Lord Carnarvon joke as he prepared to enter the tomb, and is reported as saying 'if he goes down in that spirit, I give him six weeks to live'.

Arthur Weigall died in 1934. During his first marriage to Hortense Schleiter, an American, he wrote vivid personal accounts of his life in Luxor and Upper Egypt. His second marriage (to a pianist, the sister of Beatrice Lillie) returned him to the world of show business as a talented writer of lyrics.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Arthur Weigall, A Guide to the Antiquities of Egypt, ISBN 0-09-185047-9
  • Arthur Weigall, The Life and Times of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, ISBN 0-7103-1001-3
  • Arthur Weigall, Personalities of Antiquity, ISBN 0-8369-1217-9
  • Julie Hankey, A Passion for Egypt: A Biography of Arthur Weigall, ISBN 1-86064-566-6
  • Arthur Weigall, Alexander The Great, ISBN 9989-920-86-9
  • Arthur Weigall, Laura Was My Camel (Thornton Butterworth Ltd, London, 1933)
  • Arthur Weigall, Paganism in Our Christianity, orig. pub. 1928, Kessinger Publishing 2003 reprint, ISBN 0-7661-3541-1
  • Arthur Weigall, The Life and Times of Akhnaton, Cooper Square Press, reprinted 2000, ISBN 978-0-8154-1092-8
  • Arthur Weigall, The Life and Times of Marc Antony, Garden City Publishing Company. New York, 1921

External links[edit]