Ernest Ayscoghe Floyer
1852 - 1903
by Dr. Vaughan Cornish
Ernest Ayscoghe Floyer, Inspector General of Egyptian Telegraphs, who died at Cairo on December 1st, at the age of 51, was the eldest surviving son of the Rev. Ayscoghe Floyer and of Louisa Sara, daughter of the Hon. Frederick John Shore, of the Bengal Civil Service. He was educated by the Rev. C. Boys, at Wing Rectory, Rutland, and afterwards at Charterhouse. He was in Saunderites, his house master being the Rev. T. G. Vyvyan. He had attained the Sixth Form, when in his seventeenth year, he received an appointment in the Indian Telegraph Service. During the next seven years he was stationed in the trying climate of the Perso-Baluch Coast of the Persian Gulf. In Jan, 1876, when he received his long leave, although at the time seriously ill, he started on his own responsibility for the unexplored interior of Baluchistan. His observations and surveys on this difficult and dangerous series of journeys were of considerable interest from the geographical and from the linguistic points of view as well as being of political value. The last of the journeys was prolonged through Persia by way of Kirman and Ispahan and thence to Baghdad and Basra. He arrived in England in May 1877, having achieved the reputation of a bold and intelligent explorer at the age of three and twenty. His account of these journeys is contained in a volume entitled Unexplored Baluchistan published in 1882 by Messrs. Griffith and Farran. Before the close of 1877 he was appointed Inspector General of Egyptian Telegraphs, and went out to take up the appointment in January 1878. This post he held for twenty five years, until his death in 1903. The department, which had hitherto been conducted at a heavy loss, he so re-organized as to yield a substantial annual surplus. For his services to the military authorities he received the medal "Egypt 1882" for the campaign of Tel-el-Kebir, to which was added a clasp "The Nile 1884-5" for the Gordon Relief Expedition. He also received the Khedivial Bronze Star.
In 1887 he was able once more to devote time to exploration and surveyed "Two Routes in the Eastern Desert of Egypt" between the Nile and the Red Sea (described in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society). In 1891 he was appointed by the Khedivial Government to the command of an important Expedition in the more southern part of the same desert, the Dervish power having now been pushed further south. He explored a wide tract of country, and located and examined extensive emerald mines which have been worked at various epochs from very early times, and last in 1819 under Muhammed Ali. Mr. Floyer descended one of the old shafts, at considerable risk, and there found baskets containing ore and emeralds in the matria, all ready for bringing up. Apparently the mines had been suddenly abandoned. These baskets with their contents he brought to London and showed to Mr. Streeter, the jeweller, who sought and obtained a concession from the Khedivial Government to work the mines from which they came. The region has undoubtedly considerable wealth of minerals; gold, copper and lead having been found in the vicinity of the emerald mines. The results of the Expedition of 1891 were fully described by Mr. Floyer in his official publication Etude Sur la Nord-Etbai and in papers in the proceedings of the Royal Geographical, Royal Asiatic and Geological Societies of London. In some of these writings he showed remarkable aptitude for dealing with historical and linguistic questions, as he did also in his account of subsequent Explorations in Upper Egypt, described in the proceedings of the Institut Egyptien. He never lost his Charterhouse scholarship, which stood him in good stead in much of his work.
The economic development of the desert lands of Egypt had a fascination for him as great as the study of their history and physical geography. He originated the "Nitrate Mission" to Upper Egypt, himself directing the work Extracting the Salts; and also became "Director of Plantations, State Railways and Telegraphs of Egypt." The management of this sub-department "for growing trees and economic plants which may be profitably cultivated upon waste land" was his particular delight. He set himself to win back for cultivation a strip of land which has been lost through the encroachment of drifting sand upon the western margin of the Delta, and the present writer can testify to his success in getting plants to grow and thrive under what appeared to be most unpromising conditions. He cultivated the cactus (for fibre) the casuarina (telegraph poles), the ficus elastica (yielding rubber), besides the hyoscyamus muticus (yielding a valuable alkaloid) and many other plants.
Professionally, he was known as an authority upon questions of telegraph tariff. By the learned he will be remembered for his writings upon desert lore. But perhaps the best memory of all is that which is cherished of his widely spread administration, by the native employees, of whom one generation grew old and another grew to manhood under his kindly rule. Doubtless his perfect mastery of the Arabic was a great help towards the development of their confidence in him, but more was due to the deep-seated kindliness of his nature.
Lastly, those who have "learned to think Imperially" will not forget that the strength of England's position in the East is largely due to the attachment of Orientals to such men as Ernest Floyer.
He married in 1887 Mary Louisa, eldest daughter of the Rev. William Richards Watson, of Saltfleetby, St. Peters', Lincolnshire, and leaves three sons, Ernest Ayscoghe, William Antony and John Wadham.
VAUGHAN CORNISH, D.Sc., F.R.G.S.
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