Wolverhampton BTW

Sarah Belzoni

Belzoni, Sarah née Banne, 1783—1870

Sarah Banne [?] was born in Bristol, although nothing further is known of her parentage and even her maiden name is not definitive. In 1803, she married Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778-1823; ODNB), actor and strongman, later Egyptologist. Over the next dozen years, her husband's touring theatre work took them throughout the British Isles and to Ireland, Spain, and Portugal.

In 1815, they travelled to Egypt where Giovanni Belzoni's work building a water wheel for Mehmet Ali, pasha of Egypt, led him to make the acquaintance of the traveller John Lewis Burckhardt (1784-1817; ODNB) and Henry Salt (1780-1827; ODNB), British consul-general, for whom he engineered the removal of the granite head of Ramses II for transport to the British Museum.

Sarah Belzoni accompanied her husband on many excavations between 1816 and 1819, but equally spent periods of time on her own, notably in Luxor (1816), Philae (1817), an island in the First Cataract of the Nile (now Lake Nasser), and Rosetta (1818). She also travelled without her husband to the Holy Land from around March to November 1818, visiting Jerusalem, Jordan, and Nazareth, whenever possible in the company of local peoples. Information gathered from this journey and from her many conversations with Egyptian women informed her 'Trifling Account' appended to Belzoni's Narrative (1820), written swiftly after their return via Italy to England in 1819.

In 1823, Sarah Belzoni accompanied Giovanni Belzoni as far as Morocco on his fatal attempt to discover the source of the Niger River. Returning to England, she attempted to earn a living through sales of artefacts and an unsuccessful exhibition of her late husband's models and drawings (1825), but she could not rally her finances and relocated to Brussels for economy from 1833. She received a Civil List pension in 1851, and in 1857 moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands where she died in 1870.

Sources

Manley, Deborah. ‘Belzoni, Sarah (1783–1870)’. ODNB.

Waanders, Ingeborg. ‘Sarah Belzoni, Some New Additional Biographical Notes’, Armenian Egyptology Centre Newsletter, no. 22, n.s. (27 Feb. 2012): 3-4.

Texts

Title Published
Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries [...] in Egypt and Nubia 1820 (Contributor)