Happy wedding anniversary, 2021, Theodore and Mabel Bent, from Charlotte Bellingham Wrench

Mabel in her wedding dress.

Happy anniversary. August 2nd 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.

Staplestown Church, 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.

The announcement of the engagement of Theodore and Mabel in ‘The Morning Post’, of May 23, 1877.

We know the couple met in Norway, probably c. 1876, but the date/place has yet to be discovered. By May 23 the engagement was announced (e.g. The Morning Post, May 23, 1877. The wedding, as noted above, was August 2 – not very long to organize the event on both sides of the Irish Sea. It was clear that Theodore had no intention of residing in his native Baildon, Yorkshire. Both his parents were dead and within weeks of the wedding he was selling off parcels of his land there, e.g. at the Bradford Finance and Local Purposes Committee meeting of Tuesday, 14 August 1877, one of the items reports that it was agreed “to accept the offer of Mr. James Theodore Bent to sell to the Corporation certain lands and hereditaments situate in the township of Baildon, containing 25 acres, 2 roods and 18 perches, for the sum of £4,000… With regards to the purchase from Mr. Bent, it was of land lying on this side of Esholt, at a tolerably level portion near the river. The purchase was recommended with a view to using the land for sewage defœcation purposes, should it be required.”  (Leeds Times, Saturday 18 August 1877). The sum is the equivalent of £250,000 or so today – a nice wedding present.

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?)

“May I lend your magazine to the Reverend Commander Roberts RN – Rector of Ardley, Bicester – our Secretary – I think he would write to that man? Mabel Virginia Anna Bent, 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W. [Mabel’s London home], 28 April 1909” [A rare example of Mabel’s signature]
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.

 

 

 

Charlotte Bellingham Wrench from an on-line family history.

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).

Mabel’s correspondent: Mrs Charlotte Bellingham Wrench, Killacoona, Ballybrack [Co. Dublin]
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…