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Henry Salt, Esq.

As Consul General for Great Britain in Egypt, Henry Salt established a friendly understanding with the free Albanian Viceroy Mohamed Ali. John Brinton describes how, through their relationship, Salt was able to rescue many treasures of ancient Egyptian art.

In the long history of England’s role in Egypt, Henry Salt is one of the more remarkable characters. Britain had been commercially represented in Egypt since 1580, but it was not until Henry Salt was appointed to the post of Consul General in 1815 by Lord Castlereagh, that the status of the representative was changed from being merely an agent of the Levant Company to that of an official of the Foreign Office. An exception was Col. Missett, who had been in Egypt since the British military occupation came to an end in 1803.

Since Egypt was the half-way house on the Red Sea route to India, the invasion of 1798 by Napoleon posed a real threat to England’s line of communication. England now required a diplomatist rather than a commercial representative. Henry Salt was the ideal man to shoulder the responsibilities in Egypt.

He was already well acquainted with the country and had made a survey of the Red Sea, publishing his findings in an excellent book. Although he was inexperienced in diplomacy, he possessed an inquisitive mind, and a pleasing disposition. He was enough of a romantic to be happy with his role as one of the small band of chosen representatives, protecting His Majesty’s interests.

In the days before Queen Victoria’s reign, an English Foreign Secretary was able to keep personal control over the details of his office. An entire year’s accumulation of documents and dispatches would be less than a week’s accumulation to-day. The small cadre of devoted civil servants was easy to manage, and the Foreign Secretary was able to appoint outstanding characters whom he considered to be experts on their areas. Diplomatic experience was not always necessary.

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