Joseph Bonomi the Younger (1796-1878)
The hieroglyphs on Bonomi’s gravestone reflect his lifelong fascination with ancient Egypt
Joseph Bonomi, son of an Italian architect, began his career as a sculptor but became a noted artist. He travelled to Egypt, drawing the ancient temples and pyramids he found there. He learnt Arabic and wore local dress.
When Bonomi returned to England, he helped arrange the British Museum’s Egyptian exhibits and the Egyptian Court at London’s Crystal Palace. He also designed several Egyptian-style buildings, including the entrance to Abney Park Cemetery. In his later years, he became curator of the Sir John Soane’s Museum in the city.
Bonomi’s colourful life was touched by tragedy. In one devastating week in April 1852, all four of his young children died of whooping cough.
Joseph and his wife Jessie weren’t alone in suffering the terrible loss of their children. In late 19th century Britain, 15 out of every 100 children died in infancy.
In cities like London, many people lived in overcrowded homes with no running water or proper toilets. Vaccinations hadn’t yet been discovered. This meant that infectious diseases like whooping cough, cholera and typhoid spread quickly, and were often fatal.
Joseph and Jessie went on to have four more children, who all lived long lives, but the tragedy took its toll. Jessie died in 1859, aged just 34. Her youngest child, Marian, was only three months old.