Henry Honychurch Gorringe, a 19th Century naval officer, discovered an mountain range, brought Cleopatra’s Needle to New York and almost ended-up on a wildlife adventure with Teddy Roosevelt. His name is also one of the very few words in the English language rhyming with Orange
In Sparkill buried lies that man of mark
Who brought the Obelisk to Central Park,
Redoubtable Commander H.H. Gorringe,
Whose name supplies the long-sought rhyme for “orange.
Thus goes a quatrain by humourist Arthur Guiterman, referencing Gorringe’s final resting place in Rockland Cemetery, in Sparkhill, a suburban hamlet in the Town of Orangetown, Rockland County, New York. Henry Honychurch Gorringe’s main claims to fame, beyond his name being a rare rhyme for “orange”, are discovering an underwater mountain range named “The Gorringe Ridge” after him, and bringing the Obelisk known as Cleopatra’s Needle from Alexandria in Egypt to New York’s Central Park.
Born in Barbados- at the time a British colony- on August 11, 1841; Henry Honychurch Gorringe came to the US at a young age; with the ambition of joining a military career. He entered the Merchant Marine and later, during the Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Navy. Quickly moving through the ranks, from Mate to Ensign, Master and eventually Lieutenant Commander, he decided to stay in the Navy after the War was over.
In the 1870’s, the US Coast Survey embarked on an ambitious program to map the seafloors of the world’s main ocean-ways. This was made possible by scientific advancements including the invention of the Thomson Sounding Machine by William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, none other than the guy in whose name we state absolute temperatures in degrees Kelvin (he calculated the value of absolute zero).
Lord Kelvin was an enthusiastic yachtsman, and had done quite a bit of sailing in his life as well, on scientific expeditions and engineering projects for the installation of transatlantic telegraph cables, which made telecommunications between the US and Europe possible throughout the 19th Century and until the 1950’s, when telegraph became obsolete. He also invented a method of deep-sea depth sounding using a steel piano wire; his wires would glide to the bottom of the sea easily, taking soundings while the ship moved at full speed and registering depths with a pressure gauge.
Aboard the USS Gettysburg, a steamer that Union Soldiers had captured from the Confederates during the Civil War, Captain HH Gorringe used Lord Kelvin’s sounding machine to discover and map the underwater range we now know as the Gorringe ridge, a seamount in the Atlantic Ocean located about 130 miles west of Portugal, between the Azores and the Strait of Gibraltar.
The Gorringe Ridge is about 60 km wide and 180 km long in the northeast direction. If we were to measure it from the bottom of the Tagus Abyssal Plain, the ridge would measure more than 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in height, which would make it Portugal’s highest mountain. The Ridge is home to over 850 loving species, including corals, such as gorgonians and deep-sea sponges; and its peaks are covered by kelp forests.
There are two ancient Egyptian obelisks re-erected in the Western world during the nineteenth century: one in London and one in New York. They are known as Cleopatra’s Needles, despite not actually being created for Cleopatra or, really, having anything to do with her. They were originally made during the reign of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III, and would have been over a thousand years old by the time Cleopatra ruled. Originally from Heliopolis, they were brought by the Romans to Alexandria, and set up in the Caesareum — a temple built by Cleopatra in honour of Julius Caesar. There, they remained until the 19th Century.
In 1877, Mehmet Ali Pasha, the Khedive (Viceroy) of Egypt gifted the Obelisk to the United States, in return for remaining a friendly neutral as the European powers — France and Britain — maneuvered to secure political control of the Egyptian government. Only two years later, he would be removed from power at the behest of Great Britain, who pressured the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II to depose him. He would live the rest of his days in Italy and then Instanbul; TIME magazine claims that he died while trying to guzzle two bottles of champagne in one draft.
Earlier, on 1819, a similar Obelisk was gifted by Muhammad Ali Pasha al-Mas’ud ibn Agha, the Wāli of Egypt and modern founder of the Egyptian nation, to the British state. It was too expensive to be brought to the UK though, so it remained in Alexandria until 1877, same year that Mehmet Ali Pasha gifted the other Needle to the Americans.
The Obelisk that went to Britain stands in London’s City of Westminster, on the Victoria Embankment near the Golden Jubilee Bridges. The one that went to the US can be found in New York’s Central Park, West of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. Made of red granite, the obelisk stands about 21 metres (69 ft) high, weighs about 200 tons and is inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The original idea to secure an Egyptian obelisk for New York City came from the March 1877 New York City newspaper accounts of the transporting of the London obelisk. A wealthy surgeon named William James Erasmus Wilson paid for the Needle gifted to Britain by Muhammad Ali Pasha to London. Soon enough the same year, Mehmet Ali Pasha decided to give the other obelisk to the US, as a gift for increased trade.
Railroad magnate William H. Vanderbilt donated more than US$100,000 (equivalent to over $2,400,0000 in our days) to the cause of bringing the Obelisk to New York. Henry Honychurch Gorringe supervised the movement of the obelisk. Together with journalist William Henry Hulbert and painter Frederic Edwin Church, one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he also got to decide where it should be placed.
The 200-ton granite obelisk was first shifted from vertical to horizontal, nearly crashing to ground in the process. Then, it was transported seven miles to Alexandria, where it was put into the hold of the steamship SS Dessoug, which set sail June 12, 1880. In order for the obelisk to fit in the ship, the Dessoug had to be heavily modified, with a large hole cut into the starboard side of its bow. The Needle was rolled upon canonballs, as it was the only way to load it through the ship’s hull.
The journey was difficult, as one of the ship’s propellers broke on the way; but nonetheless it arrived at the Quarantine Station in New York in early July 1880. Railroad ramps and tracks had to be temporarily removed and the ground flattened so that the obelisk could be rolled out of the ship, whose side had been cut open once again for the purpose. From there, it was transported to Central Park using 32 horses hitched in pairs and, on the last leg of the journey, a steam engine across a specially built trestle. All in all, the Needled journeyed for more than a month at sea and nearly four more months between Quarantine Station and Central Park.
A time capsule buried beneath the obelisk contains an 1870 U.S. census, a Bible, a Webster’s Dictionary, the complete works of William Shakespeare, a guide to Egypt, and a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence. Two years after his success, Gorringe wrote a book, Egyptian Obelisks, telling the artefact’s story.
When Roosevelt was a young New York Assemblyman, he gave a lecture on sin in politics. Gorringe, who by then had retired from his 21-year naval career and was managing a ship-building facility in Philadelphia, approached him to let him know he really enjoyed the talk. Roosevelt was keenly interested in naval history- a topic he had even written about during his time at Harvard-, and the two men bonded over their shared interests and shared thirst for adventure.
It is believed that Gorringe gave young Roosevelt the idea to go bison hunting in the Dakota Badlands. The two planned a hunting trip together but, for reasons lost to history, Gorringe backed out at the very last minute.
Roosevelt, on the other hand, proceeded on the trip anyway, without Henry Gorringe- and it changed his life. He was so exhilarated by the rural lifestyle he found, that he t invested $14,000 in a Dakota cattle ranch and spent the next several years commuting between his home in New York and his ranch in Dakota. He learned to ride western style, rope, and hunt on the banks of the Little Missouri; he started writing about frontier life for national magazines and even published three books about it; thus eventually becoming famous as America’s badass cowboy adventurer President.
A tragic death
Henry Honychurch Gorringe never married, and as far as we know had no children. He died aged only 43, from spinal issues and complication arising from an accident: he attempted to either board or get off from a moving train, and severely injured himself.
He shares this one with the Blorenge, a hill in Wales, overlooking the market town of Abergavenny. The Blorenge is believed to be “The purple headed mountain” referenced in Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander’s hymn “All Things Bright And Beautiful”.