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(In search of John Gordon 1804)


Roger O. De Keersmaecker



            Researches made into 19th century copies of The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, concluded a long, and at times difficult, investigation (1). It all started in 1965, when I noted down and also photographed, a graffito of a certain John Gordon who had visited the location in 1804. Over the years several other graffiti, made by the same person, were to be found.

            Born in 1776 (2), as the eldest of three brothers. John Gordon was well-descended and educated. He was above the middle-size, of stout athletic build and possessed a hardy constitution (3). His parents were Charles Gordon of  Braid and Cluny, Aberdeenshire, who died on 13 May 1814, and Johanna, maiden-name Trotter, who had passed away on 7 September 1798 (4).

            John Gordon was successively appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Aberdeenshire Light Infantry on 2 December 1800, Lieutenant in the 7th Company of the 55th Aberdeenshire Militia on 25 April 1804; Major on 11 August 1808; Lieutenant-Colonel on 6 June 1820 and a Honorary Colonel in 1836 (5).

            In addition to his military career, he also was M.P. for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis from 27 June 1826 until 24 July 1830 (6).

            After the death of his father, and his uncle Alexander, John became the proprietor of large estates in Cluny, Braid, Slains and Kinsteary, along with other properties in the West Indies. He also purchased the islands of Benbecula, South Uist and Barra in the Hebrides and amongst others, the estates of Shiels, Kebbaty and Midmar. This made him the richest commoner in Scotland, leaving between two and three millions pounds at the time of his death (7).

            He built a magnificent addition to the old Cluny Castle, transforming it into a completely new castellated front. Today the exterior represents one of the finest pieces of architecture in the north, making it one of the three most famous castles in Cluny (8).

            John Gordon of Cluny made a Grant Tour “avant la lettere”, travelling through Europe, the Near East and Egypt and returned home from his voyage,  by the way of Gibraltar. There he boarded H. M. S. Victory, which also brought home the mortal remains of Admiral Horatio Nelson, and arrived back in England around 4 December 1805 (9).

            With regard to his voyage, John didn’t leave behind any form of  information like a diary or letters (10). But through the diaries of the Fourth Earl of Aberdeen (11), we can from ourselves a clear picture of his travels in  the Near East. Both men met March 1803 in Naples, where John Gordon was in the company  of William Drummond of Logie Almond (12), who was to succeed Lord Elgin (13), as British Ambassador to Turkey, and Messrs. Fenwick and Findlay. They embarked on the Medusa which sail from Naples on 15 March (14), reaching Malta five days later where the ship remained until the 28th. On the first day of April they reached the island Melos, where they were detained for several days due to adverse winds. Weather permitting, they continued their journey, arrived at Piraeus on 17 April, and stayed in Athens until 28 April (15). On 1 May they arrived off the Dardanelles, where they had to wait a few days for favourable winds.

            Everything went well and they finally arrived at Constantinople on 13 May (16). On 21 May, Drummond had his formal audience of the Sultan, together with the Earl of Aberdeen who was permitted to accompany him. According to the present author, John Gordon was also invited because “Drummond and the Vizier ate at one table, Drummond’s friends at another” (17). A few days later, they received letters of introduction to enable them to visit Jerusalem (18).

            The Earl of Aberdeen, John Gordon and the artist Preux, embarked on the Hannah on 2 July, to visit Try. They spent some time at Bournabashi and Bayramic, and stayed at the residence of Osman Bey, the Turkish Governor of the region (19). On 15 July they sailed for Alexander Troas, and Mytilene and on the 20th  of the same month, they were lying at anchor in Smyrna harbour (20). Again they continued their journey, arriving on 13 August at the nearest port to Ephesus, after which came Samos an a visit to Patmos. It was from Patmos that Johon Gordon and the artist Preux departed for Jerusalem, on Saturday 20 August 103, the Earl of Aberdeen went back to Athens (21).

            Through John Gordon’s graffiti, we have been able to reconstruct his voyage up the Nile.

            Beyond a doubt, we can be sure that he visited the Pyramids, and left his name on them, later obliterated by names of those that followed over the years.


            He visited the Dendara temple where he climbed on the roof of the outer hypostyle and wrote his name and the date, with meticulously carved capital letters, in a rectangle.



            In the temple at Edfu he climbed on the pylon and wrote his name in a rectangle, but made a mistake when adding the last number of the date. He had to erase it and carve the correct number into the stone.

RDK 71


RDK 420

            Tomb of  Paheri (PM V, p. 177-81) East wall, centre: A banquet


RDK 440


            Tomb of Paheri (PM V, p. 177-81) West wall, south end: The official functions of Paheri

            During his visit on tomb of Paheri in Elkab, he wrote his name twice the one on the right side with no date. The one on the left side where he mentions the date, the name Gordon has been erased, albeit remaining legible. He was the first to write his name in the tomb, only preceded by some erased an 8 French graffiti. He was also lucky that, at that time, he could see the then still standing temple remains, in the middle of the brick wall enclosure


RDK 902

            Further to the south in the temple of Esna, we can see his name and date on one of the columns in the hypostyle hall. [PM VI, plan p. 112 (8)]


RDK 535

            When he visited Gebel el-Silsila, he left his name and the date on a rock-stelae.


RDK 42

            In Thebes he admired the great columns of the great hypostyle hall in the temple at Karnak, and wrote on one his name with the date, underneath the King’s cartouche.

[PM II, plan p. X (2)].



RDK 790

            From the top of the pylon of the Luxor temple, he overlooked the landscape and wrote his name but this time without a date.( Photograph Dr Lanny Bell).


RDK 74

            In the great temple of Medinet Habu, he put his name and date on a column, second court, portico, first column right side, near the entrance to the first hypostyle.

[PM II plan p. XLVII (28)].


RDK 125

            In the mortuary temple of Ramesses II – or Ramesseum, he wrote his name and date on a column of the hypostyle. In later years the graffito was erased but is still legible.


RDK 126

            During his visit of the temple of  Sethos I (Qurna temple), he wrote his name on a column in the hypostyle hall.


            On the Western bank he went into the Valley of the Kings and, during this visit, he wrote his name and date, in the tombs 14 Tausert, wife of Sethos II and 15 Sethos II (22). Certainly he also visited the so-called Bruce’s of the Harper’s tomb, although almost all of the traveller’s graffiti have been erased.


            At Kom Ombo his name is probably on one of the redressed architraves of the hypostyle hall.We can also suppose that he was one of the first persons who wrote his name near the Desaix inscription, on the first pylon of the Isis temple at Philae, but all of the graffiti were later erased (23).


            Although John Gordon never married, he was the father of four children born out of wedlock (24).

            He died at his home, 4 St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh, on 16 July 1858, aged 82. His final resting-place is at the St. Cuthberts parish churchyard in the family vault (25).

            Colonel John Gordon of Cluny left a Disposition and Entail (a will) which was registered in 1859, a year after his death. On page 382 he nick-named a certain part of his property  “Egypt” (26). As concerns his voyage to Egypt, his graffiti and the nick-name are ll that our early Scottish traveller left us.



M. E. Lefébure, Les hypogées de Thèbes, Paris 1889, p. 168.


N° XX ANONYME (Hatshepsut)


Situé un peau au dessus du no 19, à gauche. Il s’ouvre dans la paroi même de la montagne. On lit à l’entrée, à gauche, à l’encre rouge :




Cela ne veut pas dire que cette excavation ait été découverte par Gordon, car elle était connue des membres de la Commission d’Egypte ; elle figure sur leur plan de la vallée des rois (Description de l’Egypte, II, 77).


We can assume that he used red ink in all the tombs he visited in the Valley of the Kings.




(1)       Obituary: Colonel John Gordon of Cluny, The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, September 1858, p. 310-311.

(2)       The contemporary newspapers wrote that he died at the age of 84, which places his date of birth in the year 1774. However, his death              certificate of 21 July 1858, states that he was 82 when he died. (1858, district 685/7 Heriot & Warriston, Edinnurgh, deat entry 262).              Information provided by Mr. R. Fenwick.

(3)       Banffshire Journal, 20 July 1858; The Scotsman, 21 July 1858.

(4)       Bulloch, John Malcolm, The Gordons of Cluny, from the early years of the eighteenth century down to the present time, Privately             printed 1911, p. 20; Stone 17, ST. Cuthberts parish churchyard. (GRO ref: 7.1.28). Left granite tablet. Information via Mr. R. Fenwick.

(5)       Bulloch. Op. cit. P. 33.

(6)       Boase. F. Modern English Biography, 6 vol., 1892-1921.

(7)       Banffshire Journal, 20 July 1858; The Scotsman, 21 July 1858; Forres, Elgin & Nairn Gazette 28 July 1858.

(8)       Banffshire Journal, 20 July 1858; The Scotsman, 21 July 1858; H. Gordon Slade, Cluny Castle, Aberdeenshire, in Proceedings of the             Society of  Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume III (1981), p. 454-492.

(9)       Banffshire Journal, 20 July 1858; The Scotsman, 21 July 1858.

(10)     Information from Mr Robin Linzee Gordon, former occupant of Cluny castle.

(11)     DNB vol., XXII, p. 200-203; Chamberlain, Muriel E. Lord Aberdeen, a Political Biography, London 1983, p. 34.

(12)     DNB vol., XVI, p. 51.

(13)     DNB vol., VII, p. 130-131.

(14)     Chamberlain, p. 35.

(15)     Ibid. p. 36.     

(16)     Ibid. p. 37.

(17)     Ibid. p. 38.

(18)     Ibid. p. 38.

(19)     Ibid. p. 39.

(20)     Ibid. p. 40.

(21)     Ibid. p. 41; John Bramsen, Travels in Egypt, Syria, Cyprus, The Morea, Greece, Italy. etc. etc. In a Series of Letters, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Distinguihed Persons and Illustrations of Political Occurrences. 2 vol., London 1820. vol., 1, p. 267, Jerusalem Convent of St. Salvador, 14th of August 1814, “The other door was also inscribed with several names, among which, John Gordon 1792, was yet distinctly legible”. We can speculate that John Bramsen made a mistake with the date, and that the date belongs to another graffito. Another John Gordon is doubtful.

(22)     Jules Baillet, Inscriptions grecques et latines des Tombeaux des Rois ou syringes à Thèbes, Le Caire 1926, p. VI.

(23)     Comtesse de Gasparin (Agénor), Journal d’un voyage au levant, 3 vol., Paris 1848, vol., II, l’Egypte et la Nubie, p. 171.

(24)     Bulloch, op.cit., p. 40.

(25)     Death entry 262; Stone 17 St. Cuthberts parish churchyard (GRO ref: 7.2.28). Information via Mr. R. Fenwick. 

(26)     Information from Scottish Record Office, The Disposition and Entail of Colonel John Gordon of Cluny, RD5/1084, ff 368-445.



The above article was first published in

Bulletin of the Association for the study of

Travel in Egypt and the Near East


No 6 – October 1998, p. 13-15


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