Thomas Cook & Son rest houses & Steamers

Thomas Cook & Son rest houses & Steamers

Thomas Cook & Son Cairo Headquarters at the Old Shepheard Hotel
Thos. Cook & Son Cairo Headquarters at the Old Shepheard Hotel

Funny, how one sometimes sees, walks by, takes photographs of or films something, without really knowing what it is or what it’s significance in history might have been.

Maybe this is because we are focused on something completely different, or just because they are of no interest to us whatsoever.

This article is not about expedition houses, dig houses or by which ever other name, you would like to remember them by, but interesting houses nonetheless. They are the rest houses, run by Thomas Cook & Son Travel Company.

Since no great names were involved, the only information available comes from occasional references in tour guides and, of course, from the Tomas Cook archives.

Great places are involved, especially in the case of Cook’s rest house near Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri, called “Chalet Hatasoo”.

Thomas Cook & Son used to exploit two of these houses: the one mentioned above , and one called “Half Way House” because it was situated midway along the new Cairo-Suez motor road.

But, first things first; The history of Thos. Cook and Son.


A simple train excursion in the UK from a small town called Loughborough to the city of Leicester marked the beginnings of Thomas Cook Limited.

The founder of the company, Thomas Cook, seized every opportunity to expand his business and, in 1851, he led his first tour to Europe. By 1864 his tours were crossing the Alps, pushing south through Italy and across the Mediterranean.

Thomas Cook is considered a pioneer in his field as his business was one of the first to set and establish the practices of the modern travel agent. Cook’s early tours resembled, to a large degree, a family outing rather than a commercial undertaking.

Travellers shared accommodation and meals together which led to the development of a strong sense of comradeship. Tourism was first introduced to Egypt in 1869 when Thomas Cook brought a party of people from Great Britain to witness the opening of the Suez Canal. The ceremony was a monumental event which opened up the world by creating a sea route to the Orient.

The 163 km canal brought immediate benefits for European shipping, freight, trade – and travel. For Thomas Cook the opening of Suez meant a potential new market. Later, in 1872, the first travel agency was established in Egypt when Thomas Cook’s son, John Mason Cook, opened an office in the grounds of Cairo’s famous Shepheard’s Hotel and business began to flourish.

Advertisement for Thos. Cook & Son 1905/1906In the late 1880s Thomas Cook began to lease steamers from the Khedive in order to reach the ancient sites in Upper Egypt. These cruises became the linchpin of Cook’s tours to Egypt and eventually a shipyard was established at Boulaq where Thomas Cook’s Nile fleet was born.
Advertisement for Thos. Cook & Son 1905/1906In the late 1880s Thomas Cook began to lease steamers from the Khedive in order to reach the ancient sites in Upper Egypt. These cruises became the linchpin of Cook’s tours to Egypt and eventually a shipyard was established at Boulaq where Thomas Cook’s Nile fleet was born.

During the Second World War, Cook’s steamers were used as rest centres and officers’ clubs and the Boulaq shipyard built coastal patrol boats. The Suez Crisis in 1956 was a disaster for Thomas Cook in Egypt. The headquarters building was burned down and the Nile fleet was dispersed or confiscated. But, never to be deterred, in the early 1960s Thomas Cook reopened its offices and branches and tourism resumed.

In 2009 Thomas Cook has been operating for 140 years in Egypt. Over the years the company established the popularity of Nile cruises. From the beginning customers travelled with Thomas Cook because they knew they would be guaranteed a level of service second to none. The pioneering spirit which was the hallmark of Thomas Cook’s Egypt is still evident today and customers continue to enjoy the unrivalled customer service and attention to detail first provided in 1869.

Today the company has five retail branches in Cairo, including a 24 hour emergency service, along with sixteen implants. It also staffs ten offices in major cities (Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada, Sharm El Sheikh, Alexandria, and Port Said) and airports throughout the country.

In addition Thomas Cook operates a business travel centre, a leisure travel call centre and e-commerce business.

“Châlet Hatasoo”

"Châlet Hatasoo" round 1935 (Reproduced with kind permission of Thomas Cook & Son Archives)
“Châlet Hatasoo” round 1935 (Reproduced with kind permission of Thomas Cook Archives)
"Châlet Hatasoo" round 1935 (Reproduced with kind permission of Thomas Cook & Son Archives)
“Châlet Hatasoo” round 1935 (Reproduced with kind permission of Thomas Cook Archives)

First mention of this rest house is In Thomas Cook & Son’s “ Excursionist and Tourist Advertiser” from 1 October 1898.

First mention of the Châlet Hatasoo (Reproduced with kind permission of Thomas Cook Archives)
First mention of the Châlet Hatasoo (Reproduced with kind permission of Thomas Cook Archives)

Now, The Thomas Cook Archives only mention one rest house at Deir el-Bahri, while in fact there have been two. The first one demolished by Herbert Winlock’s team, working at Deir el-Bahri for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Demolished, with consent and cooperation of Mr. T.A. Cook, then the company’s supervisor in Cairo.

Some quotes from H.E. Winlock’s book :

We knew that the mound on which Cook’s rest house stood at that time was an enormous dump made by NavilIe when the Egypt Exploration Fund cleared the temple about thirty years before”

Chalet Hatasoo in 1926
Chalet Hatasoo in 1926

“When Naville began to clear the temple of Deir el Bahri in 1893 the deep burrow-pit was a tempting place to dump the rubbish from his excavations……… In this way he had disposed of over fifty thousand cubic meters-nearly 1,800,000 cubic feet-of dirt…………… For Cook’s Rest House, which was built just after the Naville excavations were finished, it had been an excellent location.”

Chalet Hatasoo in 1928
Chalet Hatasoo in 1928

“The fact that the Rest House covered something we called first to the attention of the Chief Inspector of the Service des Antiquités, Tewfik Effendi Boulos, and afterwards to that of M. Pierre Lacau, the “Directeur General”, and both of them showed a most helpful interest. They discovered that the Rest House had been built with the understanding that Messrs. Thomas Cook and Son were to occupy the site only so long as the Egyptian government agreed, and would vacate it on demand. The occasion seemed to justify such a demand, and the Cairo managers of Cook and Son acceded to it with the utmost willingness. We, on our part, cleared a site for a new Rest House some little distance to the east, and at the end of the 1926-27 season all arrangements were made for Cook’s to put up a new building and vacate the site of the old one before our season began on November 1 927-an arrangement which was adhered to by Cook’s most punctiliously.”

(All quotes from:Excavations At Deir el-Bahri, 1911 – 1931, p.p.155-156)

Now, here comes the part we were referring to in the beginning of this article, where we were completely unaware of the houses presence, and that this particular house remained intact until as recent as 2006. In 2006 it was still in use as a rest-house and a place to for tour-guides to shield “their” tourists from the blazing sun at Deir el-Bahri.

It wasn’t until after we became interested in dig houses and other old houses in Egypt and after Mr. Paul Smith, Cook’s company’s archivist, mailed me a picture of the house, that I realized that I had seen the house before.

So, we started sifting through our 30.000 and something database of photographs from Egypt (unfortunately not categorized yet) and after a couple of hours I did find the photo’s I was looking for; and, it was the same house! The photos were taken during a photographic survey of the west bank, we had taken in a hot-air balloon in 2006.

Chalêt Hatasoo in 2006
Chalêt Hatasoo in 2006

In 2008, the house was demolished, in order to make place for the new visitor’s centre at Deir el-Bahri and although reasons can be found for removing buildings (e.g. because they have been built on archaeological sites) such as this, part of me pities that they seize to exist; simply because they do have a history (in this case a 102 year old history) of their own.

“Halfway house”
Cook’s second Rest House was opened in the summer of 1936 “almost midway along the new Cairo-Suez motor road”; Hence the name.

Cook's "Half-way House", days after it was opened in 1936. (Reproduced with kind permission of Thomas Cook Archives)
Cook’s “Half-way House”, days after it was opened in 1936.
(Reproduced with kind permission of Thomas Cook Archives)

According to the August 1936 “Traveler’s Gazette”, this Rest House was a simple building of “reconstructed” stone, containing a “comfortable” lounge, a buffet supplying drinks and light refreshments, and up-to-date sanitary arrangements.

It was to remain open “day and night” serving both “the ever-increasing number of travellers who make the overland journey from Port Said to Suez, or vice versa” and “those who drive out from Cairo for a picnic in the desert, especially on warm, moonlight nights”.

To mark its opening, a number of Egyptian Ministers and other dignitaries, both Egyptian and English, were invited to an evening reception at the Rest House.

It is unknown to me, whether the house still exists or not.

Cooks Nile Steamers

Three other interesting objects, are the Nile Steamers “Fostat” (now this one was in use as a “dig house” for some time, the Nile Steamer “Memnon” and of course, The Nile Steamer Sudan; now in use as a luxury Cruise ship.

“Cooks Steamer Fostat”

The steamer Fostat goes back to the Glory days of Nile travel. The Fostat was only one of a large fleet of Steamers, but worth mentioning here, because it has been in use as a “dig house”.

Cook's Nile Steamer "Fostat"
Cook’s Nile Steamer “Fostat”

The Fostat was in regular use by tourists in the early 20th century, and then was employed as a floating dig-house in the Nubian campaigns in the 1950s-60s, before it was permanently moored on the Giza side of the Nile in Cairo (near the Cairo Zoo), when it was used by ARCE to house many expeditions and scholars.

E.g. Dr Stephen P. Harvey lived on the Fostat in 1987 while participating in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts expedition to Giza directed by W. K. Simpson and E. Brovarski.

The Oriental Institute of Chicago used the boat during their Nubian Expeditions.

The boat has been mentioned in several traveller’s accounts from the 1920s when it was still in use for tourism, and archaeological mentions of its use in Nubia (notably in Michael Hoffman’s book “Egypt Before the Pharaohs (1979)”

Technical Information
Technical Information about “Fostat” (Extracted from document entitled “Particulars of Steamers on Nile Service” (Thos Cook & Son Ltd, Boulaq, Cairo, 6 April 1937))

  • Type of steamer: Stern-wheel
  • Length overall: 114’-0”
  • Length BP: 100’-0”
  • Beam: 18’-0”
  • Depth: 4’-6”
  • Draught: 3’-0”
  • Displacement: 113 tons at 3’-0”
  • Date of building: 1907
  • Engine type and HP: Compound Surface 185 H.P
  • Size of cylinders and Stroke: 15” x 30” / 42”
  • Boilers and type: 1 Loco type
  • Speed: 4 miles per hour
  • Consumption (Cairo-Assouan-Cairo – 1190 miles): 36 tons
  • Consumption (Assiout – Assouan – Assiout – 690 miles): 21 tons
  • Coal per mile for all purposes: 30.3 kgs
  • Deck space (upper deck): 688 sq ft
  • Deck space (promenade deck): 776 sq ft
  • Size of cabins: 6’-9” x 6’-2” (No.1); 10’-8” x 6’-9” (No.3-6); 13’-9” x 11’-7” (double x2)
  • Type of dynamo & engine: Turbine single reduction & tandem enclosed
  • Volts & amps: 44 amps / 28 amps
  • Heating arrangements: Plugs for heaters in cabins & public rooms
  • Bathrooms: 3 public, 1 in each double cabin
  • Water supply system: Hot & cold in every cabin
  • Passengers occupying berths: 9
  • Day excursion passengers: 45
  • Filters: 2 large & 1 small
  • Fire appliances: 1 hose, 6 extinguishers, 6 buckets
  • Fans: None
  • Size of dining room: 16’-2” x 13’-8”
  • Size of observation room: 24’-0” x 19’-6”
  • Size of writing room: 7’-11” x 13’-9”

Cook’s Steamer Sudan. (More info can be found here)

Cook's Nile Steamer "Sudan"
Cook’s Nile Steamer “Sudan”

The S.S. Sudan was the last (and largest) vessel in Cook’s Nile fleet to be constructed (in 1921).

The Sudan was a sister vessel to both the Arabia (built, by Thorneycroft of Southampton, in 1911) and the Egypt (built 1907), all three of which were virtually identical in design.

The Sudan was also the last of Cook’s Nile fleet to be sold by Thomas Cook – to His Excellency Fouad Serag El Din Pasha on 14 March 1950.

Fouad Serag El Din Pasha
Fouad Serag El Din Pasha

Later, the vessel changed into the hands of King Farouk.

Today, the Sudan is owned by French company “Voyageurs du Monde

Now, should you think: “I have heard the name Sudan before”, then you are probably right. After all, it was the vessel, parts of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile was filmed on, right?

Well, not entirely true!

Some photo’s

The S.S. Sudan
The S.S. Sudan
S.S. Memnon (A.K.A. Karnak), as seen in "Death on the Nile"
S.S. Memnon (A.K.A. Karnak), as seen in “Death on the Nile”
S.S. Memnon in 1926
S.S. Memnon in 1926

The same as a lot of people want you to believe that Howard Carters house is the one on top of the hill (which it’s not), entering the road to the valley of the kings, a lot of tour guides want you to believe that the Sudan is “Dame Agatha’s” boat.

Death on the Nile (1978) was filmed on a different Cook vessel, though. In the film it was called “Karnak”, Thos. Cook and Sons exploited the boat under the name Memnon.

The re-run, however (BBC 2004) was shot on the “Sudan”

Today, the Memnon’s condition is much different from the time when the vessel knew it’s heydays. In fact it’s cut in half. Not beyond repair (both its superstructure as well as its engine have been put in storage for future restoration), but still….

S.S. Memnon in 2010; Cut into pieces. (copyright LMS Egypt)
S.S. Memnon in 2010; Cut into pieces. (copyright LMS Egypt)

Maybe one day, someone will find the time and money to restore the Memnon to its former glory. (The boat is for sale and can be bought in its current state or completely restored to its former glory.


  • Paul Smith, Company Archivist for Thomas Cook UK & Ireland, for his invaluable help, gathering information and providing me with photographs.
  • Connie Tindale from Luxor Marine Services, for providing me with all sorts of information on the Memnon
  • Alan Dumelow from Cruise Project Management, for the same reason