The Man Who Brought an Egyptian Obelisk All the Way to New York

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

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he Obelisk’s the trip by rail across Central Park; illustration from H.H.Gorringe’s book Egyptian Obelisks; via Linda Hall Library.
Portrait of H.H. Gorringe. Source: Wikipedia
Photo by SGR on Unsplash

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 They were originally made during the reign of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III, and would have been over a thousand years old by the time Cleopatra ruled.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.

Cleopatra’s Needle being brought to England, painting by George Knight, 1877. Source: Royal Museums Greenwich
The Obelisk’s the trip by rail across Central Park; illustration from H.H.Gorringe’s book Egyptian Obelisks; via Linda Hall Library.
Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park. Photo by Ingfbruno, via Wikipedia.

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.

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.

View of the Blorenge from Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. Source: Wikipedia
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