John Punshon Denton (1800-1871)

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Worth a mention, just to prove that not all 19thcentury Dentons were downtrodden. His connection to us is currently elusive, but the story was just too good to leave out!

There was a ship called the SS Denton built in Hartlepool in 1864 for the Khedive Ismail of Egypt (the equivalent of a Viceroy). The ship famously transported the 220-ton obelisk Cleopatra’s Needle from Egypt to New York City. This necessitated a hole being cut into its starboard bow. The Cleopatra is just a populist name; in fact the obelisk is from Luxor and dates to the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Hatshepsut. One of a pair, the other is beside the Thames in London. Cleopatra VII lived a thousand years after the obelisk was fabricated.

‘Cleopatra’s needle’ being loaded on the SS Denton

The original name SS Denton is not that surprising as Hartlepool was where a John Punshon Denton operated as a shipbuilder, initially with his own Denton’s Yard in the Middleton district of Hartlepool. In 1863 Denton went into a 55:45 partnership with William Gray who was running a successful local drapery business. They formed Denton, Gray & Co to build iron ships which were just beginning to replace wooden ones. With this injection of capital Denton’s yard was extended and their first ship was launched on 23 January 1864. This was the Dalhousie, later renamed the Sepia. It was Denton, Gray & Co that then built the SS Denton.

The obelisk was a gift from the Khedive and set sail on 12 June 1880. The voyage was not without event. The propeller shaft broke and she proceeded under sail while a spare was fitted. It arrived in Manhattan on 20 July 1880. The ship was later renamed as the SS Desouk for an Egyptian town near Alexandria and operated for the Egyptian postal service.

The sailing was not the end of the journey. A local report took up the saga, The obelisk and its 50-ton pedestal arrived at the Quarantine Station in New York in July 1880.  It took 32 horses hitched in 16 pairs to drag the pedestal alone through the streets of the city.  Once the pedestal was in place on the summit of the Graywacke Knoll in Central Park, the obelisk was then hauled through Manhattan.  It travelled at the rate of 97 feet a day, taking 112 days to arrive at the knoll.  The shaft was raised in January 1881 before more than 10,000 jubilant New Yorkers.

Note on shorthand acronyms being used in the DFB:
GGF1 / GGM1 – means first great-grandfather /mother;
GU11 / GA11 – means eleventh great-uncle / great-aunt;
1C3 – means first cousin three times removed

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