The story started in March 1817 just over two centuries ago when workmen working on the site of a new hospital made a startling discovery. They were amazed to find two feet down a weird stone figure carved in the shape of an animal which was half human and half lion. But a man called Auriol Drummond-Hay was on hand. He realised that the animal was in fact a sphinx and thus of considerable archaeological interest. Fortunately he went on to publish an account of the discovery and record the finds spot.
Other discoveries that he witnessed during the works included Roman burials and a pottery kiln apparently containing some of the last pots to be fired in it. Auriol later gave three of these vessels to the Scottish Archaeological Society of which he was secretary. These, along with more of his finds from Colchester, are in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
When the hospital was opened not long afterwards, the sphinx was kept permanently on display inside. There the sphinx remained until 1860 when it was given to the Colchester Museum to take pride of place in the collections there for many years.