The Bedawin, Theodore Davis’s Dahabieyh

The Bedawin (By John Adams)

When Theodore M. Davis decided he would spend every winter in Egypt in 1896, he ordered the construction (in Egypt) of a dahabiyeh, a unique type of sail – powered houseboat designed for sailing up and down the Nile. Davis’s boat, named the Beduin (the spelling varies from time to time but on the boat’s stationary and in his mistress’s journal it is always “Beduin”), had two masts and was one of the most luxurious boats on the River; it featured a grand piano in the salon, a crystal chandelier in the dining room, a library, four bedrooms and bathrooms with tubs. The furnishings were the finest money could buy, and a large United States flag always flew from the stern. On U.S. holidays, the Beduin was always decorated with additional flags and bunting.

When he picked up the boat on January 9, 1897, Davis covered the large upper deck with carpets and placed brown, hooded wicker chairs along with easy chairs there. The crew of around twenty included sailors and kitchen staff; all the crew wore white turbans and brown cardigans with the name of the boat stitched in blue across the chest. Usually as it travelled the river the boat pulled a floating poultry cage behind it, the birds providing eggs and main dishes for the five course dinners Davis and his guests dined on. Davis and Emma Andrews (his mistress) usually brought company with them on their voyages, and Davis’s English butler and Emma’s French maid rounded out the group. The boat would tie up every evening on the banks of the Nile, the crewmen pounding large pilings into the shore and securing the boat with strong ropes. During his excavating seasons in the Valley of the Kings, the boat tied up to the west bank of the river, and Davis would travel to the Valley on a donkey or, on special occasions, in a carriage.

The boat served as Davis’s social headquarters in Egypt; Emma’s journal is crammed with details of lunches, teas and dinners when the most prominent Egyptologists and travelers of the day (including J.P. Morgan and the Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s third son) joined them. On several important occasions (after the discovery of the tomb of Yuya and Thuyu and the “Gold Tomb,” for example) the Beduin hauled the most precious and fragile antiquities to Cairo for deposit in the Museum. During the majority of the year, when Davis was not in Egypt, the boat’s captain lived on it in Cairo. By 1905 technology had moved past the “golden age” for sailing dahabiyehs, and Davis frequently was forced to rent a steamer to tow the yacht when winds were uncooperative

Davis’s last trip to Egypt ended in early 1914. After his death in 1915, while a contentious legal battle raged over his estate, Howard Carter wrote to Emma and asked what disposition was to be made for the boat. Emma replied that it was her property (being far from the reach of American lawsuits), and Carter negotiated a sale of the Beduin to Davis’s old friend, the Egyptologist Percy Newberry.

Partly based on Emma B. Andrews “A journal on the Bedawin