George Alexander Hoskins (1802-1863)

by Robert Morkot

George Alexander Hoskins, caricature by John Paget, c. 1842
(© Peggy Joy Egyptology Library, Michigan, USA)

George Alexander Hoskins was born in 1802, the second son of George Hoskins and his wife Mary Alison, of Liverpool. The family owned property (later called Higham Hall) in Setmurthy Cumberland.

Hoskins visited Egypt and Nubia in 1832-3. He became acquainted with Robert Hay, Francis Arundale, Frederick Catherwood, and Joseph Bonomi, and left a description of Hay's house at Qurna. Along with Bonomi, Hoskins accompanied Hay on his journey to Kharga Oasis. The result of Hoskins's stay in Egypt was two volumes, Travels in Ethiopia, above the second cataract of the Nile; exhibiting the state of that country, and its various inhabitants, under the dominion of Mohammed Ali; and illustrating the antiquities, arts, and history of the ancient kingdom of Meroe (London: Longman, etc., 1835) and Visit to the Great Oasis of the Libyan Desert; with an account, ancient and modern, of the oasis of Amun, and the other oases now under the dominion of the Pasha of Egypt (London: Longman, etc., 1837). Both are important as early published accounts in English of the regions and their monuments.

Returning to Britain, Hoskins trained as a Barrister at the Inner Temple (1837-40). He was Secretary and Treasurer of the While Nile Association in 1839. He later travelled in Spain, writing Spain as it is, in 1851. His interest in the prison system led to further publications (1852-53) and comparison of the British system with that of Europe.

He returned to Egypt in 1860-61 for his health, and wrote A Winter in Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt (1863), a volume condemned by one reviewer for its ponderous style and lack of interesting descriptions of the monuments, but praised for its practical information. He died at Rome 21 November 1863. He had married, 31st August 1843, Mary, the youngest daughter of James Thornton of the Elms, West Derby, near Liverpool, and had two sons and a daughter.

Hoskins - like many of his contemporary travellers in Egypt and Sudan - was not an 'Egyptologist' but an educated young man with some financial resources. Like many of his contemporaries who also spent time in Egypt, he employed an artist, Luchese Bandoni. Hoskins made a valuable contribution to the developing discipline through publishing his travels, which many other travellers never got around to doing. In addition to the straightforward narrative of the journey, in Travels in Ethiopia Hoskins collected all of the relevant available material and wrote a history of 'Ethiopia', i.e. Nubia and northern Sudan. Hoskins followed the Greek and Roman authors and dated many of the monuments - such as the pyramid cemeteries - as earlier than those in Egypt. He was criticised in a contemporary review (unfortunately anonymous) for this, as it was already being argued that the pyramids at Meroe were far later than those at Giza: the reviewer classed these southern monuments as 'decadent' in style. Hoskins also includes relevant monuments cited in the first volumes of Ippolito Rosellini's Monumenti Storici. So, although Hoskins' was the first 'history' of the Nubian-Kushite kingdom and Meroe in English, it belonged to an older tradition that still gave primacy to the Classical traditions whilst trying to integrate some of the recent developments.

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