One Angry Egyptian Princess

Late tonight and into tomorrow morning will mark one hundred and ten years since the tragic sinking of the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 people in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. The terrible accident was a difficult lesson in the critical value of good safety procedures, plentiful life boats, and respect for vengeful deceased Egyptian princesses.

Titanic leaving Southampton. Anonymous Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Or at least one particularly angry deceased Egyptian princess who might not have been a princess at all, whose name may or may not have been Amen-Ra, and whose mummy curse has been blamed for numerous deaths, countless sicknesses, the loss of an appendage or two, and as many as three sinking ships.

Amen-Ra, or whatever her real name was, has been busy in her afterlife which was presumably fairly peaceful for millennia. Then in the late nineteenth century three mummy-obsessed Englishmen engaged in a bit of good old fashioned grave robbing in the vicinity of Thebes.

Cover of 1909 Pearson’s Magazine featuring the story of the Unlucky Mummy, before she sank the Titanic (British Museum ref AE 22542). Pearson’s Magazine, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Englishmen cast lots to determine who would keep the linen-wrapped treasure and that was that. Soon after the discovery, their Egyptian guide was seen wandering disoriented into the desert and was never heard from again. The two who had not won possession of the mummy soon died, and the lucky winner, Thomas Murray, lost an arm in a hunting accident before boarding a ship back to England with his newly acquired princess.

That’s when the real trouble began. Everywhere the mummy went, tragedy occurred, until finally Murray decided to unload her on the British Museum, where rumors of her malicious intentions soon spread. She was dubbed the “Unlucky Mummy” by those unfortunate enough to incur her wrath and live to tell the press about her.

One member of that press was investigative journalist W. T. Stead, famous for shining lights on the need for important social changes in England, and in this blogger’s humble opinion, kicking off the slide down a slippery slope away from journalistic integrity we’ve been experiencing ever since. He also had something of an obsession with spiritualism and loved the tale of the unlucky mummy.

In fact, there is no evidence that the mummy of Amen-Ra, whose brightly painted coffin lid is still displayed in the British Museum, ever left her final resting place in Egypt, let alone traveled on the Titanic after a relieved British Museum pawned her off on a wealthy American. There is a pretty good chance Stead and his buddy Murray made up the story in the first place.

Curse or not, I personally enjoy a good mummy tale.

There’s also no record of a mummy aboard the Titanic, but W. T. Stead did travel on the doomed ship and went down with her to the ocean floor just one day after regaling other passengers with a dinnertime tale of the Unlucky Mummy and all the chaos she had caused.

The story was later recalled by survivors of the Titanic tragedy. From those recollections, it wasn’t a big leap to the assumption that the mummy of Amen-Ra had been an unwilling passenger on the unsinkable ship, nor that she made it onto a lifeboat and survived to sink two more vessels, including the Lusitania of World War I fame.

I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson to learn in there somewhere, something about it being easier to blame the supernatural for tragedy than it is to address its causes or consider what decisions might have prevented it. Or maybe the lesson is that journalists should be careful when wielding their power for stories because one never knows when one might go down with the ship. Or just maybe there’s a really powerful curse emanating from an angry Egyptian mummy causing havoc all over the world because she’d like her coffin lid back.

If I could, I’d probably give it to her. It might at least be worth a try.

9 thoughts on “One Angry Egyptian Princess

  1. Stead also facilitated ‘leaks’ from Royal Navy officers in 1884, via the Pall Mall Gazette, when Cabinet was debating naval funding. Hmmn… being relentlessly chased by an angry mummy, or incurring the wrath of both William Gladstone AND the Sea Lords? A balanced choice, really, if you ask me…

    1. I don’t know a great deal about him really, but that action definitely tracks with what I have read. He sounds like a man with a good grasp of just how influential and potentially dangerous the press can be, and also like a guy who was perfectly happy to exploit that.

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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