SS DESSOUK BUILT IN HARTLEPOOL
USED TO TRANSPORT ANCIENT OBELISK FROM ALEXANDRIA TO USA
On 1st September 1864, at Denton, Gray & Co. Hartlepool the SS Dessouk was launched (her name at launch was Dolmebaktchi but she was renamed by her owners after delivery). She was an iron steamship built for the Khedive Ismail of Egypt. She measured 233ft in length, 83ft beam, 23ft depth and was 1367 tons. She was used in the Egyptian Postal Service. (There is a town called Dessouk, near Alexandria in Egypt).
In 1869, keen to encourage trade between Egypt and America, the Khedive presented an obelisk to New York. It was alleged that this had been at the suggestion of the editor of ‘The New York World’. Ismail asked “have you a particular obelisk in mind?” The editor replied “….any old obelisk will do”. There followed many years of wrangling over this ‘gift’.
At 69’6” and weighing 224 tons, the obelisk chosen dates from 1475BC during the reign of Pharaoh Tutmosis III (reigned 1504-1450 BC). In 13BC, when the Romans were ruling in Egypt, it had been moved from Heliopolis to Alexandria. At this time the base of the obelisk was damaged and four large bronze crabs were cast, with dowels that fitted into both the obelisk and it’s pedestal to hold it secure. So the obelisk had stood for 1462 years in Heliopolis (near Cairo) and 1880 years in Alexandria before it was shipped to New York.
In 1879 Lieutenant Commander Henry Honeychurch Gorringe, an experience mariner, was appointed to oversee the transportation to New York. Gorringe bought the SS Dessouk for £6100 for this task. She had not been overhauled since her launch and was in a sorry state. A box float was built to transport the obelisk from her position to the ship. Gorringe had a hole cut in the starboard bow of the ship, 30 ft long and 12 ft high. The obelisk was slid into the hold via the gap, by sliding on canon balls and then on rollers mounted on steel bars.
The Dessouk set sail on June 12 1880 and arrived in Manhatten on July 20 1880. During the voyage, on July 6th, her propeller shaft broke. Fortunately a spare shaft was on board and this was fitted, some reports say this work was carried out whilst the ship continued under sail.
“The obelisk and its 50-ton pedestal arrived at the Quarantine Station in New York in July 1880. It took 32 horses hitched in 16 pairs to drag the pedestal alone through the streets of the city. Once the pedestal was in place on the summit of the Graywacke Knoll in Central Park, the obelisk was then hauled through Manhattan. It travelled at the rate of 97 feet a day, taking 112 days to arrive at the knoll. The shaft was raised in January 1881 before more than 10,000 jubilant New Yorkers.”
The SS Dessouk was bought by the Ocean Steamship Company for it’s service between New York and Savannah. In 1896 after a long and useful life the old steamship was sent to the marine graveyard at Cow Bay, Long Island where she would have been broken up. So, in her 32 years of service, on 3 continents, Hartlepool built SS Dessouk had played her part in British Shipbuilding and Egyptian/American trade and history.
Compiled by Ann Eglintine
This brief account compiled from various internet sources, which sometimes give conflicting ‘facts’, but mainly from “The New York Obelisk or How Cleopatra’s Needle Came to New York and What Happened When It Got Here” by Martina D’Alton. I highly recommend this book for the description of the engineering involved in the move, and some wonderful and helpful illustrations. It reads a bit like ‘ripping yarns’. Although the book doesn’t specify where the ship was built, saying only ‘England’, it is definitely the Dessouk. Another complication is that they call it the Dessoug, and the illustrations in the book do show that name. My own thoughts are that it could have been misspelled when the ship was repaired etc. Or maybe the artist’s mistake.