The Irish Pasha

By Louise Foxcroft

The astonishing private and public lives of a maverick Edwardian Egyptologist

Friday, 28 February 2014

Psychic tomb-robbing

Many thanks to all who are pledging for The Irish Pasha - the book is already written and it's ready to go! (Once we've reached 100% that is.)

Here are four gobbets on Pum's collecting ...

From his early days as a collector Pum had experienced a ‘meant feeling’ about certain objects, one of inevitability and of wonder, accompanied by unusual happiness. He believed that on these occasions a telepathic bond was set up between himself and the particular antique concerned, whereby a ‘Beauty in Distress’ called to him - distress due to neglect, or lack of appreciation, danger or destruction. These sensations seemed to him to be far more than merely odd coincidences; they were psychic influences at work, a certain paranormal quality to his ‘apprehension’ when touching an object.


Pum found talking with Lord Kitchener a little unnerving because he seemed to look sideways over his head due to a cast in one eye, but they shared a mania for collecting even if Kitchener was a bit too ‘keen and rather indiscriminate’ for Pum's liking. Ronald Storrs of the Arab Bureau of Intelligence said that ‘where another man would fondle a woman, “K” gets his satisfaction from fondling an antique’. His ruthless acquisitiveness was well-known in Cairo and once, when he was being taken round the Government offices in Dongola Province, he spied a locked door and, told that there was a room full of antiques recently found and due to be sent off to the museum in Khartoum, Kitchener said, ‘Don’t do that, send it to me at the Residency’. And they did. Pum believed Kitchener to be, if not overtly unscrupulous, then at the very least coercive in obtaining what he wanted, and he decided Kitchener would never get near his own collection.


In the years up to 1914, Pum had done an extraordinary amount of dealing and collecting. As a recruiting officer travelling the length of the Nile several times a year, he got to know local traders who would dash up to him wherever his boat docked to show him their finds. Small objects fascinated him and were easily portable: scarabs, figurines, jewellery, glassware, seals, crystal, ostraca; a favourite piece was a tiny phallic emblem of Ptah (who he said was the god of learning and lechery) and which he wore continuously until he died. 


Pum collected for Arthur Conan Doyle, too, whose interest in Spiritualism and antiquities, meant that they got on well together. Writing a note from Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo, Conan Doyle asked, ‘If you have an Isis carrying Horus among your ‘spares’ I should be glad to have it if it is within my means. I have some thoughts (if I have any spare cash) of making a little Cabinet museum of Comparative Religions - are there not some old Egyptian figurines of a man-God put to death between two malefactors. I seem to have read of it. A figurine of an old Egyptian priest showing where our vestments and tonsure came from, would also be the sort of thing. Have you any pieces which bear upon this - or are they attainable? Expect you at 8 tomorrow - if you can come a little earlier do’.

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