During her project to catalogue, scan and transcribe the ‘Early Correspondence’ in the Lucy Gura Archive (read more here), Dr Brigitte Balanda recently worked on collection COR.08, containing documents exclusively related to the Society for the Preservation of the Monuments of Ancient Egypt (SPMAE). Here she rediscovers one character from that Society but on the way encounters a few familiar names and a murder mystery!

During my recent discovery of the SPMAE correspondence collection, I was not entirely surprised to find that I was familiar with several of the names preserved on SPMAE supporter lists as many overlapped with those of the EEF. For example, Amelia Edwards, one of the founders of the EEF and Hon. Sec. 1882-1891 was a member of SPMAE in 1888; Sir Edward Maunde Thompson, member of the EEF committee 1885-92 and Vice President 1891-1908, also served on the committee of SPMAE from 1888-1891; Sir Edward Poynter, Honorary Secretary of SPMAE from its founding in 1888 to its end in 1910, had been a subscriber to the EEF 1885-86 and 1887-88. There are many more individuals who can be found in both societies, although most members of SPMAE were member only of that society.

The SPMAE archive now kept in the Egypt Exploration Society Lucy Gura Archive
The SPMAE archive now kept in the Egypt Exploration Society Lucy Gura Archive

As a tool to better understand the history of the EEF and the people associated with it, I compiled a list of the people who had served on the committee of the EEF, based on the Annual Reports from 1882-1923. With the help of Who Was Who in Egyptology (4th edition) and some research online I could complement these entries with biographical information for most of them, giving some idea about their professional and/or social background. The majority of persons associated with the EEF either had an archaeological or Egyptological background though, as was to be expected, some were clergy, businessmen, wealthy collectors, politicians, and a few artists. Out of curiosity I decided to do the same for the members of SPMAE. Interestingly, very few had a background in Egyptology, not even archaeology; some were architects and engineers, but there were quite a few artists, many of them associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. They included William Holman Hunt, Edward Burne Jones, Val Prinsep, Edwin Long, George Boyce, Lawrence Alma Tadema and Sir Frederic Leighton – the latter two also subscribers to the EEF – and not to forget their Honorary Secretary Sir Edward Poynter. This distinction in the membership profile of each society seems to reflect quite clearly their aims: on the one hand the explorers and excavators, supported by those interested in the discovery of ancient sites for scientific reasons or to find traces of the Bible, and not least, the acquisition of antiquities for museums or private collections, and on the other hand those interested in the preservation of the ancient monuments, primarily for their aesthetic appeal and as inspiration for their own works of art. Of course this distinction, drawn from a cursory survey of the members of both societies, merits some closer study, and delving into the biographies of the well-known and attested members of either society might shed some more light on their individual motives for support.

However, not all members of SPMAE (and the EEF for that matter) are easily or at all traceable online. Persons with fairly common names, especially when their first name is only listed as an initial, are particularly difficult, or even impossible, to find. Women are also difficult to find because often they are either listed under the name of their spouse, or just as Miss or Mrs (e.g. Miss L.B. Courtenay – possibly a composer of popular songs? Miss Herbert – perhaps a relative of the Earl of Carnarvon? Miss Cordelia L. Treely, all those ladies are listed as members of SPMAE in 1891), unless their name made headlines in one way or another. A case in question is that of Mrs Garnett-Orme, also a member of SPMAE in 1891.

An initial search online with the name “Garnett-Orme” took me to a property site, describing Scosthrop Manor in Airton, which “ … was bought in the early 1900's by a West Yorkshire industrialist for his daughter Miss Garnett-Orme, and after extensive re-modelling it was her home for many years, during which time she received royalty there.” This looked like a promising clue, since the profile seemed to fit for a supporting member of SPMAE (wealthy industrialist, moving in upper class social circles) and now I also had a place name associated with that lady and/or her family.

The next link, however, was a surprise. It took me to the Savoy Hotel in Mussoorie, India, where, in 1911, a 49 year old spiritualist, Miss Frances Garnett-Orme was found murdered by poison. The prime suspect was her travelling companion, another female spiritualist, who had to be acquitted due to the lack of evidence. It is said that the ghost of Miss Garnett-Orme still haunts the hotel. The case was never solved, but attracted the attention of Rudyard Kipling, who related the story to Arthur Conan Doyle. While Sherlock Holmes never made it to India to solve the case apparently, Conan Doyle told the story to Agatha Christie, whose first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) was inspired by this case.

The Mysterious Affair at StylesWas Agatha Christie’s first novel based on the murder of a member of SPMAE?

As a side note: it is interesting that Rudyard Kipling was the nephew of Sir Edward Poynter through his wife, Agnes MacDonald – one of the three famous MacDonald sisters! Thus, this story was somewhat, even if only tentatively, linked to SPMAE and the social circle of its members. Not to mention the later connections of Agatha Christie with the EES through her marriage to Max Mallowan – stories for another day!

Although intrigued by that murder mystery, of course there was no certainty whether this was the woman I was looking for (even if spiritualists are no strangers to the field of Egyptology), and I decided to dig a bit deeper to find, if possible, a bit about the family of Miss Frances Garnett-Orme. And indeed, in the UK Census Records of 1901, I found a Miss Frances M. Garnett-Orme, born in 1863 in Skipton, and aged 38 at the time of the census. She was recorded as living on her own means, in Stirton-with-Thorlby, Yorkshire, in a household shared with her mother Mary H. Garnett-Orme (age 69), her brother George H. Garnett-Orme (32), and her sisters Emily and Lucy, aged 37 and 36 respectively. Her father, George Garnett-Orme (1828-1892), had passed away by the time of this census.

Savoy Hotel, Mussoorie, India (1995) image by Nick Kenrick
Savoy Hotel, Mussoorie, India (1995) image by Nick Kenrick (https://www.flickr.com/photos/zedzap/14591171294)

Armed with a little more information about Frances Garnett-Orme’s family background, I returned to the archive records. A search through the current transcripts found that William Matthew Flinders Petrie mentioned a Miss Orme in his report about the season in Abadiyeh, dated Dec. 23rd 1898. Alongside a Miss Lawes, whose task was the drawing “of whatever was wanted”, Miss Orme had the task to mark the bones of 200 skeletons (COR.01.c.014). In a letter dated Oct. 31st, probably also 1898, to Miss Paterson, secretary of the EEF, Petrie wrote that “Our party will consist of Mr Mace and myself on the Fund account, my wife; and a friend of hers, Miss Orme, who is active and capable; Miss Lawes who is good at drawing and comes at her own expense – as does Miss Orme” (COR.01.c.028). If Miss Orme was a friend of Mrs Petrie, she might perhaps also feature in correspondence between the Petries – something easily checked in the index of Letters from the Desert by Margaret S. Drower. Unfortunately, the first name of Mrs Petrie’s friend was Beatrice! So clearly the wrong Miss Orme, a dead end, and a bit of a disappointment.

Still, I had two more letters with that name, although one clearly referred to a man. On Nov. 7th 1905, Edouard Naville wrote to Herbert A. Grueber, Honorary Treasurer of the EEF, about the participation of volunteers in the coming season at Deir el-Bahari, saying: “Therefore if Dennis wishes to come, let him come as Orme did last year as a looker on, helping us occasionally with the supervision of the work, but without any authority at all”, and a little further down “Last year Hall was very strongly prejudiced against Orme, who is a very nice man, and was very useful.” (COR.07.a.020). Somewhat puzzled about this Mr Orme I looked at the final document, COR.05.h.075. This short letter was sent from Astrop, King’s Sutton, Banbury, dated Nov. 1st 1904 and addressed to Herbert A. Grueber, saying:

Many thanks for your note. I’m sorry the house at Deir el-Bahari is not available, but shall camp out. It seems very hard that after putting it up the Museum should not be entitled to use it. As I shall be very glad to become a life member of the E.E.F. I enclose a cheque for £25. I expect to be in London tomorrow but go to Skipton the day following.
Yours very truly
H. Garnett-Orme

Finally things fell into place! Mr Orme, the man who volunteered at Deir el-Bahari with Naville was George H(unter) Garnett-Orme, the brother of Frances Garnett-Orme, the murdered spiritualist. Two links confirm this connection: on the one hand he mentions his intention of going to Skipton, a place to which this family had close ties as described above, and on the other hand, Astrop House was the seat of the family of the wife of George Hunter Garnett-Orme (Alice, a daughter of Sir William Richmond Brown), whom he married in 1904.

Deir el-Bahari during excavation
The Society’s excavations at Deir el-Bahari where George Hunter Garnett-Orme assisted Edouard Naville during the 1904-5 season

While all this online sleuthing did not deliver any firm proof that the Mrs Garnett-Orme mentioned as a member of SPMAE in 1891 was indeed the victim of murder at the Savoy Hotel in Mussoorie in 1911 – after all she was not married, and thus her title should have been stated correctly as Miss – her age at death of 49 rather indicates that she may indeed have been the Frances Garnett-Orme born in 1863. The only other candidate in this family at the time to be the Mrs Garnett-Orme of SPMAE was the mother of George and Frances. Of course, there is the possibility that a female member of a different family of the same name was a supporter of SPMAE, although I was not able to find a second family. The fact that Frances’ brother George at some point volunteered at Deir el-Bahari, further shows the interest of this family in Egypt and its ancient monuments (in the EEF Annual Report of 1905-06, page 16, it is stated that his place was taken by Mr H D P Dalison – another story to be told at some point!)

Without doubt, both the EEF and SPMAE had many prominent supporters, well attested individuals from a great variety of backgrounds. Often they were connected, through family ties, social circles, professions or other interests. However, these networks and connections are not always immediately apparent, and a bit of digging and sleuthing sometimes uncovers the most amazing and unexpected stories – which in the end makes this kind of research rewarding and great fun.