The fascination of Wallis Budge (1857–1934) with the ancient Near East began at an early age when he would visit the British Museum regularly. From the age of fifteen he spent much of his spare time away from his job, as a clerk with W.H. Smith, studying Hebrew and Syriac.
In this he was helped by the British Museum curator Sammuel Birch who taught him Assyrian. Budge would often study in the surroundings of St Paul's cathedral, and it was the organist here that recognised Budge's hard work and suggested that he study at university. With the assistance of his employer, W.H. Smith, and the former Liberal Prime Minister, W.E. Gladstone, revenue was raised to cover the cost of a university education, and Budge went on to study Semitic languages, including Hebrew, Syriac, Ethiopic and Arabic, from 1878 to 1883 at Christ's College, Cambridge.
After graduating, Budge took up a position in the Assyrian section of the British Museum. He was soon transferred to the Egyptian department, where he began to study the ancient Egyptian language under Samuel Birch until the latter's death in 1885. Budge's energy and enthusiasm for this subject is reflected in his enormous bibliography of published works. However, in order to publish at such a prolific rate, detail and accuracy were often sacrificed, and his works today, although widely available, are considered to be misleading and inaccurate.
The Fitzwilliam benefited from Budge's interest in the collection, and he produced the first catalogue of all the Egyptian antiquities in the Museum in 1893. He also tried to improve the scope of the collection and found funds to purchase artefacts.
Courtesy of Budge are a number of key artefacts that are now on display, including the painted shabti box in case 11, Gallery 19 and the painted limestone shabti of Sendjem in case 7, Gallery 20.
Following Budge's death, a fund in memory of his wife (the Lady Wallis Budge Fund) was established at Christ's College, Cambridge, where it remains to this day to support the work of young and upcoming Egyptologists.