In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on Egypt I have divided the long entry into separate documents, expanded abbreviations for easier reading, and added paragraphing and links to material in the Victorian Web. Unless otherwise noted, charts and illustrations come from the original Gazetteer. — George P. Landow


As soon as the waters have retired, the Egyptians sow their wheat and barley, which are quite ripe in May in the Delta, where the produce of the field arrives at maturity generally a month later than in Upper Egypt. Durrah (Sorghum vulgare], the grain on which the natives chiufly subsist, and millet, are sown later, and gathered earlier. Of maize, two crops are often raised in the year. Rice, the sale of which is a monopoly of the Government, is a novelty to the Egyptian husbandman, and is grown chiefly in the low grounds near Rosetta and Damietta. Beans, lupins, lentils, and various kinds of pulse, with onions, bamieh (Hybiscus esculentus), and mallow, are cultivated, and consumed in great quantities.

Sakyah for Raising Water. From Description de l’Egypte. Click on images to enlarge them.

The system of husbandry is probably the same now as it was 3000 years ago, wherever the Government has not interfered with it, by introducing new objects of culture. The Egyptian peasant is extremely tenacious of ancient usages; his plough at the present day exactly resembles that figured in the hieroglyphics : fora harrow, he uses a roller made of a piece of the trunk of a palm tree; and he allows no rest to the inundated land, but relieves it only by change of crops. The efforts of the Government, however, to in crease the commercial resources of the country, have disturbed the traditional routine. The cultivation of cotton, begun in 1821, has now extended widely; indigo succeeds in the Fayoum and Upper Egypt. The growth of the sugar-cane being carried on at Minyeh. For the sake of the silk manufacture, three millions of mulberry trees have been planted in Egypt; but the hot winds often prove fatal to the silk worms. The cultivation of the olive, also, is now encouraged; and attempts have been made even to naturalize the coffee plant, clove, and cinnamon.

Wild swine are still numerous in the marshes and thickets bordering the Delta, but they are little molested by a Mahometan population.

Traditional Industries

The branch of industry for which Egypt is peculiarly adapted by nature, is agriculture; yet in that country, where three successive crops may be gathered in the year, agriculture is still in a very low state; the necessary consequence of the wretched condition and extreme poverty of those engaged in it. The Egyptian husbandman is ill supplied with the implements of agriculture; he has little stock; he knows nothing of the rotation of crops, or of the use of manure, and, being habitually oppressed, he cherishes no hope of personal advantage to be derived from the improvement of his art. The Egyptians still adhere to their ancient custom of uniting the followers of each business or profession into a guild or corporation, governed by their chief or sheikh, who acts, if need be, as their representative. These guilds are exceedingly numerous, as might be expected, among people whose social organization reaches to a remote antiquity.

The business of tanning, also, is one in which the Egyptians succeed perfectly, by a process peculiar to them selves. They make excellent morocco leather, which is goatskin dressed and dyed in a particular manner.

The pottery of Egypt, also, deserves a word of praise, chiefly for the merit of the bardaks or water-jars. The best bardaks are those made at Keneh, which, besides being impregnated with a fine and lasting perfume, are, in various degrees and forms, permeable to water: so that while some serve as filters, others exude the purified fluid, and keep it cool by evaporation, which effect, in such a climate as Egypt, is a matter of great importance. These jars are transmitted to Cairo in a singular manner.

Pottery Float on the Nile. From Hay’s Sketches of Cairo.

They are tied together in large numbers, with their mouths downwards, and thus forming long rafts, floated down the Nile. But what may be called the indigenous industry of Egypt, though it could supply a long list of trades and occupations, is too rude and primitive to figure in commerce, or even to supply the wants of the coun try under the new system of things.

Modern Manufacturing

The manufactures, on a large scale, in Egypt, which are carried on with skill and capital, and the aid of machinery, all owe their establishment Mahjommed Ali, and are, in fact, the property of the Government. That energetic ruler had incautiously em braced the doctrine, that it is always more advantagaoaa to produce than to purchase, and, consequently, he sought to suppply all the wants of the country from within, imagining that every branch of industry which flourished elsewhere, would prove profitable in Egypt also. He established above 20 cotton mills, on a large scale, horses or oxen being em ployed as the moving power. His linen manufactories deliver annually 3,000,000 pieces, and compete in Italy with those of Germany and England. The manufacture of silk, as well as the rearing of the silk-worm, received from him a powerful impulse. Then woollen cloth, hempen cordage, sugar, indigo, oil, gunpowder, and various chemical products, all engaged his attention; and in every case he established manufactories, to be conducted on the public account. He even went so far as to establish an iron-foundry at Boulak, a suburb of Cairo, on the Nile. This experiment, made on a handsome scale, in a country not affording either iron- ore or fuel, and where machinery is soon destroyed by the fine sand, and the corro sion of the atmosphere (owing perhaps to the presence of carbonic acid), must necessarily have proved a serious loss. His establishments for the manufacture of fire-arms, and of military accoutrements in general, merit commendation on grounds of policy, if those of economy be insufficient.

For exports and imports, see Alexandria, the principal port.


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive. Inline version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 31 July 2020.

Last modified 1 August 2020