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James Augustus St. John (1795-1875) was a Welsh journalist proficient in Arabic who visited Egypt on his own, arriving there on 8 November 1832 for a stay of two years. In 1834, he returned to London, where his book,
Egypt and Mohammed Ali; or Travels in the Valley of the Nile, was published that year in two volumes.

Mohammed Ali Pasha was the radically modernising governor of Egypt under nominal Ottoman suzerainty. As explained in his introduction, St. John’s purpose in visiting Egypt was to discover how far Mohammed Ali had succeeded in regenerating it.

Part of this book, including the first passage, but not the second, was reproduced in St. John's later and shorter book, Egypt and Nubia, Their History and their People (London, 1845).


CHAPTER V.  Tuesday, Nov. 29.

Mohammed Ali Pasha by Auguste Couder, 1840

LXXIII.  A description of St. John’s visit to the Pasha’s children while being shown around his palace in Cairo.  On his way to them, …

While passing through a small antechamber we saw a young Mamalook — a Greek or Georgian boy, about nine years old, beautiful as an angel. His exquisite little mouth, his fair complexion, his dark eyes, and finely arched eyebrows, his smooth lofty forehead and clustering ringlets — every thing conspired to enhance his loveliness. Any where else I should have supposed it to have been a girl in disguise.



Visiting the slave market in Cairo, St. John digressed into describing the condition of female slaves there, then turned to boys …

DCI. Most of the Europeans in Cairo, — who, leaving their own countries without any fixed opinions, easily adopt those of the Orientals, — endeavour to palliate the deformities of slavery by dwelling on the habitual kindness of the Turks towards their dependants. But should they, on the contrary, be cruel and merciless, what is to prevent them? It is known with what design young and beautiful boys are purchased. Is this what is called being kind and indulgent? We are, indeed, told, as a presumptive proof of the humanity of the Turks, that, on all occasions, their youthful slaves display the utmost fidelity and attachment towards their owners; but, degraded, humiliated, infamous, with no place, save their master's house, wherein to hide their heads, they are constrained to nourish some kind of attachment for that house, the only one on earth where their infamy is no bar to advancement. This is the origin of their fidelity. Among these youths, the greater number are Greeks, whom Otho[1], if he would deserve the crown bestowed on him, should peremptorily demand from the Pasha. It is reported that ten thousand individuals of this unhappy nation still remain in slavery in Egypt, notwithstanding the efforts made by Europe to redeem and return them to their friends, and the delusive professions of the Pasha and his family; who, when they pretended, a few years ago, to deliver up their Greek slaves, are said to have made an exception of all those possessing youth or beauty. I have seen, in Cairo, young men and boys, kidnapped in their infancy, who, though the names of their parents, and the place of their birth, had been obliterated from their memory, still cherished the recollection that they were of the Greek race.

Sea Urchins by Edward Armitage, 1882


[1] The King of newly-independent Greece.




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