‘Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging…’ New Year, 2023

Title page to John Murray’s ‘Greece, etc.’ 1884 (archive.org)

At the end of the 19th century, between western ‘Christmas’ and the New Year, Mabel and Theodore Bent could be waved to embarking on their imminent winter/spring campaign, or putting last preparatory touches to its details; packing all their necessaries into dozens of bags and boxes, and trunks, mixed in with the travel books, and clothes; very important… the clothes, the books. One essential volume, for example and of course, would be a Murray: his Handbook for travellers in Greece…, the 1884 edition is referenced reverentially in Mabel’s travel diaries for 1885 (the Dodecanese).


And explorers (of all genders) into the Levant in 2023 should heed and endeavour to follow the dress code as stipulated by Murray; it was religiously adhered to by the Bents:

‘Let his dress at all times be obviously that of an Englishman…’ Travel poster boy Theodore Bent taken (pre 1895) in the studios of society-photographers, Russell & Sons. Three years later Mabel was to approve it for her husband’s obituary in the ‘Illustrated London News’ [May 15, 1897, page 669]
“Clothes. — These should be such as will stand hard and rough work. They must not be too light, even in summer; for a day of intense heat is often followed by a storm, or by a cold night. As some indication of the requirements of the case, we may observe that the traveller is not likely to err greatly if he selects for travel in Greece and Turkey much the same outfit that he would take for shooting in the Highlands. Let his dress at all times be obviously that of an Englishman, which he will find the most respectable and respected travelling attire throughout the Levant… Carelessness about dress in travelling, even in remote districts, cannot be too severely reprobated, especially in towns, however small.” [Handbook for travellers in Greece… 1884, John Murray, London, p.24]


An uncaptioned studio portrait of Mabel Bent. Possibly Cape Town, 1891 (The Bent Archive)

A decade later, July 1895, the Bents gave an interview to The Album, and Mabel opens the Bent wardrobe doors for us: “And have you any views on the best travelling costume?” [The interviewer enquires]. “Yes, inasmuch that we do not alter or modify our travelling costumes, wearing the same kind of clothes in both Africa and Asia. [Theodore] finds a Norfolk jacket and breeches the most practical and pleasant form of dress for either riding or actual exploring work. My travelling dress consists of a tweed coat and skirt, a pith hat, with breeches and gaiters. The skirt is made in pleats, and is so arranged as to act as riding habit when I am on horseback. When actually in camp, that is to say, during the heat of the day – for early morning and evening are the only safe hours to travel – I put on a linen shirt or blouse and ordinary skirt.”  [The Album: A Journal of Photographs of Men, Women, and Events of the Day (8th July, 1895, Vol. II, No. 23, pp.44-45)]

Best wishes for 2023 from the Bent Archive.

‘Not fare well / But fare forward, voyagers.’