Emily Paterson was born in Edgbaston on 11th March 1861, the child of Alfred Sweet Paterson and Sarah Clark (Bierbrier 2012: 418). Her early life is largely unknown, but in 1888 she was employed as the assistant secretary to the renowned Victorian novelist, travel writer and women’s rights activist Amelia Edwards.
To escape wet weather in southern France during the winter of 1873, Amelia travelled to Egypt and embarked on a journey up the Nile on a traditional dahabiyeh. This voyage, which she later wrote about in A Thousand Miles Up the Nile (1877), introduced Amelia to the incredible history of Egypt and its many monuments. She witnessed first-hand the destruction of these remains at the hands of looters, untrained scholars, and tourists. On her return to England she immediately set about increasing awareness among the public of this damage, and in 1882 succeeded in forming the Egypt Exploration Fund. Now named the Egypt Exploration Society, its mission is largely unchanged since the days of Amelia:
– To explore ancient Egyptian sites and monuments
– To create a lasting record of the remains
– To generate enthusiasm for, and increase knowledge and understanding of, Egypt’s past
– To raise awareness of the importance of protecting its heritage
Amelia was made Honorary Secretary of the newly established Fund and worked tirelessly to promote its activities enlisting the work of pioneer explorers and archaeologists such as Édouard Naville, William Matthew Flinders Petrie, Francis Llewellyn Griffith, Percy Newberry, and Howard Carter to name just a few. To help with the enormous task of maintaining excavations and increasing the numbers of donating subscribers to the Fund the Committee agreed on 21st March 1888 to employ an assistant secretary to assist her (CM.1888.90). Initially a Miss Hilbury was approached, with a salary of £100 per year offered, however she later rejected the opportunity (CM.1888.107). At this point Emily Paterson was approached and in the minutes of 23rd May 1888 she is listed as Amelia’s assistant secretary, in a trial period over the course of Amelia’s American tour planned that year (CM.1888.103).
Over the course of the next three years, Amelia and Emily would work closely together on Fund matters including writing letters to the various Committees, organising the distribution of artefacts to subscribing museums from excavations in Egypt, and continuing to generate enthusiasm for the Fund’s activities. Amelia writes explicitly of the aim to train Emily (MEM.PAT.01):
‘I am carefully training Miss Paterson in the work of the Fund. I find her exceedingly apt, business-like and methodical. Already she is interested in the objects and aims of the Society; and I find her memory for all the details regarding subscribers and their various peculiarities excellent.’
Reginald Stuart Poole, co-founder of the Fund and joint Honorary Secretary, alongside Amelia, wrote to Emily on 13th July 1888 to say (COR.09.G.60):
‘When I suggested you to Miss Edwards I knew that you would work with conscientiousness, and I am very glad that you have succeeded so well.’
Indeed the Fund had secured a diligent and careful character who, unbeknownst in 1888, would continue to serve the cause for 30 years.