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Brodrick, Maryfree

  • David Gill

Brodrick, Mary (1858–1933), archaeologist, was born at 18 Navarino Terrace, Dalston Lane, Hackney, London, on 5 April 1858, the eldest child in the family of at least three daughters and two sons of Thomas Brodrick (b.1825/6), solicitor, and his wife, Mary Smith Haviside (b. 1828/9). Thomas Brodrick was in practice in London and in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Little is known about her early years, though in 1881 she was lodging in Hove, Sussex.

Brodrick's first visit to Egypt was probably made in 1888, when she was thirty, apparently so that she could avoid the English winter. Her first journey up the Nile was in a party with one of the Nile inspectors. Occupied by the British in 1882, Egypt had become a popular destination owing to the excursions arranged by Thomas Cook and the interest stimulated by Amelia Edwards's A Thousand Miles up the Nile (1877). Edwards was keen to develop British archaeological work in Egypt, and her enthusiasm brought about the foundation of the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882.

Brodrick was inspired to study Egyptology, but found it almost impossible to do so in London. As a result she looked to Paris, determined to study at the Sorbonne under Professor Gaston Camille Charles Maspero (1846–1916), who had served as the director-general of the Egyptian antiquities service (1881–6). He was not immediately sympathetic, reputedly saying, 'But we don't take little girls here' (Egypt Papers, vii–viii). At Maspero's suggestion she approached Joseph Ernest Renan (1823–1892) at the Collège de France, who was equally reluctant to allow her to attend lectures: 'I have never taught a woman in my life, and I never will!' (ibid., viii).

Maspero, however, raised Brodrick's case with the council of the Sorbonne, and as a result she was permitted to attend lectures at both the Sorbonne and the Collège de France. She studied Egyptology with Maspero, Eugène Charles Revillout (1843–1913), professor of demotic, Coptic, and Egyptian law at the École du Louvre, and Paul Pierret (1837–1916), curator at the Louvre. Renan, who had undertaken archaeological work in the Lebanon at the prompting of Napoleon III, taught her Hebrew, ‘Semitic archaeology’, and Roman law and history. Maspero wrote to Amelia Edwards in spring 1888 about Brodrick's attendance at his lectures. Although the other students were not immediately accepting of her, in one instance pouring ink down her back, she was able to make lifelong friends during her time in Paris. These included a number of Egyptologists: Georges Legrain (1865–1917), Émile Chassinat (1868–1948), Georges Aaron Bénédite (1857–1926), and Philippe Virey (1853–1922). William N. Groff (1857–1901), the American Egyptologist, extended hospitality to Brodrick, permitting her to work at his parents' home in Paris.

Brodrick returned to London and enrolled at the women's hall of residence, College Hall, Byng Place, London, in order to pursue her study of archaeology and in particular Egyptology. She was trained by some of the key figures in British Egyptology. Records at University College, London, show that she was a fee-paying student for the 1890–91 session under Reginald Stuart Poole (1832–1895). She enrolled under Flinders Petrie, whose chair in Egyptology had been endowed through Amelia Edwards's bequest, for the 1893–4 and 1894–5 sessions, and continued as a student at University College, London until 1906.

Brodrick had developed close links with the British Museum, perhaps from winter 1888 (Egypt Papers, xv), working with Peter le Page Renouf, keeper of the department of oriental antiquities at the British Museum, whom she recalled giving her a hieroglyphic inscription to read: 'I took it back humiliated and told Renouf that I could make nothing of it. The old man looked up with a charming smile and said: “Neither can I,” and added that he had given it to me to see if I had any grit' (ibid., ix). She also acknowledged the influence of Alexander Stuart Murray, an early member of the Egypt Exploration Society's committee, who had excavated at Tanis.

Brodrick was permitted 'to deliver two courses of lectures and one set of Demonstration Classes on Roman Antiquities at the British Museum' (Egypt Papers, ix). Although it has been claimed that Brodrick was the first woman to fulfil this role, she was following in the footsteps of other women. These included Jane E. Harrison, who had lectured on Greek art and archaeology in the British Museum during the 1880s, and Margaret Harkness and Helen Mary Beloe (Lady Tirard; 1854–1943), who lectured to groups of women at the British Museum to support the Egypt Exploration Fund (1884–6).

At this time there were few Egyptological textbooks in English. Brodrick was one of several women, including Kate Griffith (d. 1902), Anna Anderson Morton (1876–1961), and Lady Tirard, who prepared a series of revisions of key Egyptological works and translated them into English. Among Brodrick's translations were Egypt under the Pharaohs: a History Derived Entirely from the Monuments (1891) and Outlines of Ancient Egyptian History (1890), from the works of Heinrich Ferdinand Karl Brugsch and François Auguste Ferdinand Mariette respectively.

The Egypt Exploration Fund, renamed Egypt Exploration Society in 1887, had received support in North America from its earliest days from the Revd William Copley Winslow of Boston, Massachusetts. In the face of growing criticism, in particular from Cope Whitehouse, the society had sought to strengthen its position, and Amelia Edwards herself made a lecture tour in 1889 and 1890. Brodrick served as English honorary secretary in the United States of America for the society. In July 1893 her work in America was acknowledged by the award of a University of Kansas PhD degree by the College of the Sisters of Bethany, Topeka, an Episcopalian foundation. She was also elected a member of the advisory council and of the committee of philology and literary archaeology at the Columbian International Exposition (c.1898).

From 1894 to 1896 Brodrick held a Pfeiffer fellowship awarded by the council of College Hall. She continued to lecture at the British Museum, and travelled in Italy, Greece, and Egypt. Brodrick was invited to revise Murray's Handbook for Egypt (1895), and then to prepare a new expanded edition to include the Sudan, A Handbook for Travellers in Lower and Upper Egypt (10th edn, 1900). After her fellowship expired, she worked in Egypt (1897–1908) under Maspero, now the director-general of Egyptian antiquities. This was a fruitful period for Egyptology, which saw the opening of the Cairo Museum of Antiquities (1902). There was also a growing number of British women actively involved in Egyptology. Among them were Kate Bradbury (d. 1902), the companion of Amelia Edwards, who married F. L. Griffith in 1896; Emily Paterson, Edwards's secretary, and subsequently the secretary of the Egypt Exploration Fund; Margaret Alice Murray; and Margaret Benson, who travelled in Egypt between 1894 and 1900, and excavated at the temple of Mut at Thebes with Janet Agnes Gourlay (1863–1912).

Brodrick was particularly active, collaborating with Renouf on The life and confession of Asenath: the daughter of Pentephres of Heliopolis, narrating how the all-beautiful Joseph took her to wife (1900), a study based on 'the Greek version of the Armenian MS. in the Abbey of Beauvais'. She collaborated with Anna Anderson Morton, who had also studied Egyptology at University College, publishing a study of the tomb of Pepi-Ankh near Sharuna in the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology (1899) as a result of a brief visit in 1896. Brodrick and Morton then produced A Concise Dictionary of Egyptian Archaeology: a Handbook for Students and Travellers (1902), which appeared in five editions. By 1906 the Daily Mail could report, 'Miss Brodrick is perhaps the greatest lady Egyptologist of the day' (Daily Mail, 26 Nov 1906; Egypt Papers, xv).

Brodrick's winters were often spent on a dahabiyeh on the Nile, 'with my own crest embroidered pennant flying' (Egypt Papers, ix). She was frequently joined by parties which included other archaeologists, artists, and government officials. In March 1890 the American Charles Edwin Wilbour came across her in an all-women party ('no white man with them') on the Gameeleh, a steel-hulled dahabiyeh ('one of the prettiest and fastest … on the river'; Sayce, 260) sometimes used by the Assyriologist Archibald H. Sayce (Travels in Egypt, 564). Brodrick recalled one incident at Luxor, when grave-robbers smuggled a mummy onto her dahabiyeh, at night and against her wishes, so that Maspero would not find it. Brodrick also kept in touch with Petrie, visiting him, for example, at the Egypt Exploration Society excavation at Dendera in winter 1897–8.

Brodrick was an active member of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, and was a committee member of the Egypt Exploration Society. She was closely involved with the Society for the Preservation of the Monuments of Ancient Egypt, a body first convened in August 1888 by the painter Edward Poynter. Poynter forwarded one of Brodrick's letters to The Times; in it she made a report of some of the problems faced in Egypt, noting, 'I caught two Egyptian soldiers in the act of cutting their names on the entrance of Aboo Simbel' (letter of 4 July 1890). Her observations had no doubt been made in the spring tour of that year mentioned by Wilbour.

Brodrick was also involved with British society in Egypt. A contemporary newspaper cutting noted: 'Miss Brodrick holds very strong views on the lasting benefit done to Egypt by the British occupation and, in common with all who really know Egypt, asserts that if British rule were withdrawn the result would be utter chaos' (Egypt Papers, xv). Her memoirs give brief glimpses of her Cairo circle. In 1901 or 1902 she attended the luncheon in Cairo to discuss the plan by Cecil Rhodes to connect Cape Town and Cairo by railway and boat. She also made a visit to Khartoum, where she apparently took the ‘salute’ at the Gordon memorial service (1913–14).

Brodrick's interests were not confined to Egypt, and her earlier training in the archaeology of the Near East brought about an invitation to prepare the Murray's Handbook for Travellers in Syria and Palestine (1903). Lectures on Christian themes were published as a book, The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (1908). She lectured widely in Cairo, England, Scotland, and Italy. Her friend and executor Eversley Chaning Robinson (d. 1949), the wife of Sir Arnold Percy Robinson (1879–1960), wrote that when Brodrick spoke:

People, places, things rose again as the lecturer described them with punctilious accuracy, clearness, humour and insight into character. The dry bones of the past awoke again to life as she caught their spirit and clothed them with imagination, tempered by patient historical research.

Egypt Papers, xii

One of her last lectures was on the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in November 1922. Her excitement was clear: 'The intense interest lies in this, that here for the first time we have the complete equipment of a royal tomb made and decorated at the moment of the highest point of Egyptian art—and perfect' (ibid., 67). A selection of Brodrick's lectures and newspaper articles were republished in a volume, Egypt (1938), edited by Eversley Robinson.

Brodrick received several recognitions for her work as an Egyptologist. In 1896 she was elected a life member of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, as well as a life member of College Hall, London. In 1899 she was elected a life member of the Comité de la Société Française d'Égyptologie. In 1913 she was made a dame of grace of the order of St John of Jerusalem. She was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (1916) and an honorary fellow of the American Geographical Society (1925).

Brodrick was grateful for the support given by College Hall and University College, London. In 1913 she made a modest donation to the appeal set up to purchase Petrie's Egyptian collection. In 1924 she established the Mary Brodrick prize in geography at University College (since 1964 the Brodrick–Parry prize). In 1929, when College Hall was expanding, she gave a generous donation towards the new building. Indeed she bequeathed her archaeological library to College Hall; in 1964 the Egyptological volumes were placed on loan with the Edwards Library at University College, London. Her contribution to College Hall was acknowledged by Dr Louisa Macdonald, in an address in London in November 1933: 'It is not only as a benefactor that we commemorate her, she was among the most distinguished that belonged to us. She was one of the best-known pioneer women Egyptologists' (Egypt Papers, xiv).

In her later years May (as she was known to friends) Brodrick resided at the Villa Primavera in Bordighera, Italy, where there was a sizeable English community. She died at Stoneycrest, Hindhead, Surrey, on 13 July 1933. She never married. An appreciation in The Times (22 July 1933) noted her 'fine head and brow, with its upstanding short white hair, keen eyes, and vivid smile, the spare form always clothed in black'. It also described her as 'one of the kindest, wisest, most generous and true of friends'.


  • The Times (22 July 1933)
  • Egypt: papers and lectures by the late Mary Brodrick, ed. E. Robinson (1938)
  • W. R. Dawson and E. P. Uphill, Who was who in Egyptology, 3rd edn, rev. M. L. Bierbrier (1995)
  • R. M. Janssen and J. Janssen, ‘Excavating in the Petrie Museum’, Studies on ancient Egypt in honour of H. S. Smith, ed. A. Leahy and J. Tait (1999), 151–6
  • W. R. Dawson, ‘Letters from Maspero to Amelia Edwards’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 33 (1947), 66–89, esp. p. 86
  • Travels in Egypt (December 1880 to May 1891): letters of Charles Edwin Wilbour, ed. J. Capart (Brooklyn, 1936)
  • R. M. Janssen, The first hundred years: Egyptology at University College London, 1892–1992 (1992)
  • T. G. H. James, ed., Excavating in Egypt: the Egyptian Exploration Society, 1882–1982 (1982)
  • M. S. Drower, Flinders Petrie: a life in archaeology, 2nd edn (Madison, 1995)
  • A. H. Sayce, Reminiscences (1923)
  • A. M. Copping, The story of College Hall (1974)
  • b. cert.
  • census returns, 1861, 1881


  • UCL, Edwards Library, books
  • UCL, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, antiquities


  • N. Fulcher, portrait, priv. coll.

Wealth at Death

£46,352 6s. 8d.: probate, 21 Aug 1933, CGPLA Eng. & Wales