Happy anniversary. Today (2 August 2021) is Theodore and Mabel’s wedding anniversary – they married (he 26, she 31) near Mabel’s family seat (Co. Wexford) on this day in 1877, in the little church of Staplestown, Co. Carlow.
The couple were perfectly matched and formed a happy, childless partnership, spent exploring for nearly the next 20 years the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa and Arabia, until Theodore’s untimely death in May 1897, returning from east of Aden – as fatal then as now.
Mabel was brusque, pragmatic, robust, fearless, obsessive and totally dedicated to Theodore’s work – their work – as expedition quartermaster, photographer, and chronicler. She was also to the right of fanatical. Theodore died in days, and Mabel found herself equally abruptly adrift – she turned to her faith and spent several years rootling around Palestine, soon becoming embroiled in the early doings of the Anglo-Israeli Association (various aliases) and remained a member for 30 years until her death in 1929. (One of the many archaeological ironies is that co-adherents desecrated the ‘Hill of Tara’ (Co. Meath, and just a few kms south-east of Mabel’s birthplace) in the early 1900s, looking for the ‘Ark of the Covenant’; and there is the on-going controversy about ‘The Bethel Seal’ – did Mabel plant it as a love-token for her dead spouse?)Arguably, none of this detracts, in the end, from Mabel’s Herculean (Amazonian?) efforts to support Theodore, and contribute to the many successes of their adventures in the field, from Aksum to Zimbabwe.
And the reason for the anniversary nod to her, anyway, is just to point out this aspect of Mabel’s nature (and he that is without, etc.), and note the arrival at the Bent Archive (thanks to Anna Cook) of a signed and incompletely dated card from Mabel to Charlotte Bellingham Wrench (addressed to her fine house, Killacoona, Ballybrack, Co. Dublin), asking if she (Mabel) could forward a magazine (presumably anti-AIA) to Lawrence Roberts, ‘our secretary’ (and committed AIAist), and write to ‘that man’ (Mabel could be a dogged and ruthless adversary).The year is hard to make out from the postmark, but thanks to John Enfield, President and Journal Editor of the British Postmark Society (pers. comm., July 2019), we have it catalogued as 1909. Mabel was in full voice and causing trouble in Jerusalem; unswerving in her views, she had just published her ‘Anglo-Saxons from Palestine; or, The imperial mystery of the lost tribes’ (1908, London: Sherratt & Hughes), based on her interests in British Israelism.
Never mind, ‘Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís – Her like will not be seen again’ (as goes the Irish epitaph later selected for one of Mabel’s great-nieces). She is buried with Theodore in St Mary’s, Theydon Bois, outside London, go visit her…