Belzoni, Sarah née Banne, 1783—1870
by Benjamin Colbert
Sarah Banne [?] was born in Bristol, although nothing further is known of her parentage and even her maiden name is not definitive. In 1803, she married Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778-1823; ODNB), actor and strongman, later Egyptologist. Over the next dozen years, her husband's touring theatre work took them throughout the British Isles and to Ireland, Spain, and Portugal.
In 1815, they travelled to Egypt where Giovanni Belzoni's work building a water wheel for Mehmet Ali, pasha of Egypt, led him to make the acquaintance of the traveller John Lewis Burckhardt (1784-1817; ODNB) and Henry Salt (1780-1827; ODNB), British consul-general, for whom he engineered the removal of the granite head of Ramses II for transport to the British Museum.
Sarah Belzoni accompanied her husband on many excavations between 1816 and 1819, but equally spent periods of time on her own, notably in Luxor (1816), Philae (1817), an island in the First Cataract of the Nile (now Lake Nasser), and Rosetta (1818). She also travelled without her husband to the Holy Land from around March to November 1818, visiting Jerusalem, Jordan, and Nazareth, whenever possible in the company of local peoples. Information gathered from this journey and from her many conversations with Egyptian women informed her 'Trifling Account' appended to Belzoni's Narrative (1820), written swiftly after their return via Italy to England in 1819.
In 1823, Sarah Belzoni accompanied Giovanni Belzoni as far as Morocco on his fatal attempt to discover the source of the Niger River. Returning to England a widow, she received £50 from the Royal Literary Fund and attempted to earn a living through sales of artefacts and an unsuccessful exhibition of her late husband's models and drawings (1825). Failing to rally her finances, she relocated to Brussels for economy in 1833, and was awarded later that year an additional £25 from the Royal Literary Fund in recognition that '83 pages of Belzoni’s Travels had been written by her'. A correspondent of John Murray reported Belzoni's continued state of 'destitution' in January 1841 and Belzoni herself appealed once more for Literary Fund assistance in April 1848, recounting various initiatives on her behalf short of a 'settled pension'.
In 1851, Belzoni finally received a Civil List pension, and in 1857 moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands where she died in 1870.
Manley, Deborah. ‘Belzoni, Sarah (1783–1870), traveller’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sept. 2004. Web. 31 Aug. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/52064
Royal Literary Fund. Registered Case No. 516, Vol. 15: Mrs Sarah Belzoni, Widow of Giovanni Battista Belzoni, the Egyptian Traveller. MSS. BL Loan 906 RLF 1/516. British Lib., London.
Waanders, Ingeborg. ‘Sarah Belzoni, Some New Additional Biographical Notes’, Armenian Egyptology Centre Newsletter, no. 22, n.s. (27 Feb. 2012): 3-4. Web. 31 Aug. 2017.
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