I am often asked whether I am related to the man who owned and operated the Shepheard Hotel in Cairo, Egypt. The answer is, as far as I can determine and from records as far back as I can go, “No!” But it has been interesting to learn about the man. Maybe somewhere back in the Middle Ages we might find a connection.
In the meantime, I am happy to collect references and information about all the famous, and possibly infamous people with the same last name. As I am embarking – slowly – on a one-name study of Shepheard, I am curious to find out about all the people with whom I share that surname.
Of course I have known about the Shepheard Hotel for many years and often wondered whether our family had any connection to it. Our name is not a usual spelling so you never know where or when you might find a connection. I finally obtained a book written by Michael Bird, a great-grandson of Samuel Shepheard. It is simply titled, Samuel Shepheard of Cairo and was published by Michael Joseph Ltd., of London, in 1957. The author uses original documents from the Shepheard Hotels as well as a great deal of family correspondence saved by Samuel’s descendants and other relatives. He wrote to his family in England often and we are lucky to have the letters preserved so that people like Michael Bird could reconstruct his story.
One can search the Internet, of course, and find all manner of articles and pictures about Samuel and the hotels. I say hotels because there was more than one building with that name. The latest one was built in 1957 replacing one that burned down in the anti-British riots of 1952.
Samuel Shepheard was born at Little Preston manor in Preston Capes Parish, Northamptonshire, on 21 January 1816. His parents were Richard Shepheard (1785-1820) and Jane Berwick (1788-1817). His mother died the following year from consumption; his father’s death came not long afterward, in 1820, also from the same disease. With the loss of both parents, Samuel’s care was taken over by his father’s oldest sister, Esther Stanley and her husband, Joseph, who lived in Leamington. Joseph was the landlord of the Crown Inn which undoubtedly is where Samuel learned the victualling and catering businesses.
A brother, Richard Shepheard went to live with a great-uncle, Benjamin Shepheard, apprenticing as a butcher but spending most of his life as a farmer in Hunningham, Warwickshire. Michael Bird indicated there was also a sister however nothing is known about her.
Samuel’s education was limited. He laboured at farming and apprenticed for a while as a pastry chef, under three different masters before leaving that behind. From country life, Samuel eventually found himself at sea, quite possibly as a cook to start with. His marine career did not last long either. In 1842 he found himself in Cairo, Egypt, having just been put ashore for having taken part in insubordinate activities against the captain. The date was 30 January 1842, Samuel had just past his 26th birthday and he had one shilling in his pocket.
Samuel’s first job was in a Greek café. So began his sojourn in a foreign land as well as in the hospitality business. He made many new friends and cultivated new business associates in Cairo, including a man named Hill, a manager at the British Hotel, with whom he eventually worked. It was not long before circumstances and opportunity allowed Samuel to become part owner of the hotel. By 1845 he was the sole proprietor.
Samuel Shepheard owned and operated the Shepheard Hotel for the next 16 years. The hotel was moved to a new location at Ezbekier Square in 1848 and renamed the Shepheard Hotel. Over the next decade it was renovated, refurbished and expanded. He sold the establishment in 1861 and retired to Warwickshire, England. The history of the hotel itself can be found in many sources and I won’t dwell on it here.
|1850 newly opened Shepheard Hotel at Exbekier Square|
Samuel met his wife, Mary Rangecroft when she and her family were travelling through Cairo on their way to India. They married in 1844 in Alexandria, Egypt. Mary divided her time between Egypt and England over the years. They had eight children, six of whom were born in Egypt. Sadly four died in infancy or as toddlers in Cairo. One died in Warwickshire at the age of 10 years. Only one, Jane Mary, eventually married (to Arthur Bird) and had children. Two daughters, Sarah and Mable lived together in Devon as spinsters until the 1930s.
Samuel Shepheard spent only 19 years in Egypt but in that time he built an impressive reputation as an hotelier and acquired a substantial fortune. His name continues to live on one of the world’s premier hotels. He was a notable character, strong of will and of exceptional ability in dealing with others.
Edwin de Leon, the American consul in Cairo during period Samuel live there, wrote of the man, “Shepheard himself, who founded and gave his name to this hotel in the early days of Waghorn [influential in the development of Egypt business and infrastructure] and Mehemet Ali [ruler of Egypt], was a character and an original. He was a short, sturdy, strongly-built John Bull of the old type, both in looks and manner, independent and brusque to the very verge of rudeness and often beyond, no respecter of position or of person, yet full of geniality and generous impulses, concealing a heart of gold under a round husk.”
Samuel died at his home at Eathorpe Hall, Parish of Wappenbury, Warwickshire, on 12 June 1866, at the age of 50. He is buried in the parish church cemetery. Samuel left an estate valued in 1868 at £8,000.
Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.