In earlier blog about a recent ACCES meeting at Manchester Museum I discussed the careers of two northern collectors of Egyptology with links to the North West. One was Aquila Dodgson. The other collector, Thomas Sheppard, was a larger-than-life character (seen holding up the local antiques shop in a cartoon above) who has been described as ‘one of the most successful museum curators of the first half of the 20th century’. Sheppard’s success in creating new museums in Hull was largely down to his collecting activities. He collected practically anything and everything during his 40 year career, including Egyptology. The reason for talking about him at a seminar about Egyptology in the North West was an unexpected link to the Manchester mummy Ta-sheri-ankh brought to my attention by Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and the Sudan at Manchester Museum.
Campbell told me that Ta-sheri-ankh came to Manchester Museum via Salford Museum, which had acquired her and her coffins from Newport Museum in South Wales. Sir George Elliot MP (1814-1893) donated the mummy to Newport in 1888, and this is where Sheppard comes in. In the 1930s Sheppard purchased a mummy from Whitby Museum. The museum authorities were rationalising their collection and Sheppard bought the mummy and its handsome coffin for £15. The Whitby mummy had been presented by none other than Sir George Elliot MP who lived at the town’s exclusive Royal Cresent. So both mummies, Ta-sheri-ankh and the Whitby mummy, came from Sir George Elliot originally.
This common origin may shed light on speculation that it was the mummy from Whitby that inspired Bram Stoker (1847-1912) to write The Jewel of Seven Stars, a horror novel, first published in 1903. Stoker had an interest in ancient Egypt from contact with Egyptophile William Wilde, the father of Oscar, in Victorian Dublin. Stoker is known to have visited Whitby in August 1890 and on certain websites is said to have stayed with Sir George Elliot. Barbara Belford in her biography of Bram Stoker describes the stay in Whitby in some detail. It provided Stoker with inspiration for part of his Dracula story. But she does not refer to Elliot. So when it is claimed that this was when Stoker saw the mummy now in Hull Museums and that this inspired The Jewel of Seven Stars I ask what is the evidence for this connection with George Elliot?
What is much more interesting to my mind is the fact that in publicity about his acquisition of the Whitby mummy, Sheppard referred to the mummy as being that of an Egyptian princess, although he couldn’t be sure of the translation of her name.
That Sheppard referred in the publicity to Hull’s mummy being the mummy of a princess is interesting but not unusual, as royal pedigrees were commonly given to mummies to add to their attraction. In reality, there is no reason to consider the mummy in Hull Museums – in a plain coffin – to be a princess. However, of the two mummies once owned by Sir George Elliot MP in Whitby, the mummy of Ta-sheri-ankh is the more likely candidate for royalty, with her gilded coffin face, mask and brightly painted coffin. Is it possible that this information somehow got transposed to the other Egyptian mummy, the one that Sir George gave to Whitby Museum, and which was purchased by Thomas Sheppard? Was the claim that the mummy that went to Hull was a princess simply repeated by Sheppard for publicity purposes? That would certainly fit his M.O.
What I am suggesting is that when Sheppard bought the Whitby mummy there some lingering memory at Whitby Museum of a mummy once owned by Sir George Elliot that was believed to be an Egyptian princess. This is, after all, what underlies the headline of the publicity surrounding the mummy that ended up in Hull. In Hull Museum’s documentation of this mummy it is noted that the mummy was once believed to be a princess, although CT scanning in the early 2000s for a TV documentary revealed it was a male.
Of course the biggest obstacle to the mummy of Ta-sheri-ankh having inspired Bram Stoker is the fact that the latter is said to have visited Whitby in late July/August 1890, when Sir George Elliot had given Ta-sheri-ankh to Newport in 1888. However, Ta-sheri-ankh was a visually stunning female Egyptian mummy, and perhaps Bram Stoker had access to information about her mummy at Sir George Elliot’s residence in Whitby, if that is indeed where he stayed or the residence he visited. Did Bram Stoker visit Whitby at an earlier date but everyone refers to the 1890 visit because that is what inspired some of the Dracula story? I don’t know but if this were the case, it would make Ta-sheri-ankh the source of Stoker’s inspiration, rather than the Whitby mummy, later acquired by Hull Museums. Or could Stoker have seen the mummy later acquired by Thomas Sheppard of Hull Museums at Whitby Museum? We know he used the library in Whitby. Could the Whitby museum authorities at that stage have used information originally referring to Ta-sheri-ankh in their documentation of the mummy they’d acquired from Sir George Elliot?
Is it possible that Thomas Sheppard’s press release about the mummy of a princess from Whitby, then confirms that he was drawing on information transposed from the mummy of Ta-sheri-ankh? If that happened, could not Bram Stoker have had access to the same information?
Sir George Eliot gave Ta-sheri-ankh to Newport, and in time she came to Manchester Museum via Salford. Could Manchester’s mummy then claim to be the mummy that inspired Bram Stoker to write The Jewel of Seven Stars?
Of course we can’t be absolutely sure and any additional information about Sir George Elliot MP and his mummies would be very much appreciated.
Thanks are due to Campbell Price and Anna Garnett who kindly shared information about the Newport mummy and to Paula Gentil, Curator of Archaeology at Hull Museums, who provided the wonderful photograph of Thomas Sheppard with the Whitby mummy. The mask that Ta-sheri-ankh wearing in the photograph has been conserved and can be seen in the Egypt Room in the Discovery Centre at Manchester Museum.