BARD versus BENT – A birthday tribute

For Theodore Bent’s birthday today (30 March 2023; born 1852) we thought we would present him with his very own (Google) BARD resumé! It was generated from a request for “A short account of the life of the explorer J. Theodore Bent”.

And here it is, experimentally of course, paragraph by paragraph, followed by our corrections: we would not want some of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) data appearing in a school essay!

BARD (for it is he or she, etc.): “James Theodore Bent was an English explorer, archaeologist, and author. He was born in Baildon, Yorkshire, England on March 30, 1852. Bent was educated at Malvern Wells preparatory school, Repton School, and Wadham College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1875.

BENT ARCHIVE (thus this is us): Actually Bent was born in Liverpool (his uncle, a successful brewer, had been Lord Mayor). He was brought up in Baildon (between Bradford and Leeds); that he was born there is a long-perpetuated myth. The educational details are correct; Bent took a History degree from Oxford.

The expeditions
The expeditions of Theodore & Mabel Bent, 1883-1897 (drawn by Glyn Griffiths © Glyn Griffiths and Gerald Brisch)

BARD: “After graduating from Oxford, Bent travelled to the Aegean Islands, where he began his archaeological career. He later travelled to Bahrain, Cilicia Trachia, Mashonaland (now in Zimbabwe), Ethiopia, and the Arabian Peninsula. Bent was a prolific writer, and his travels and archaeological research resulted in a number of books, including The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892), The Land of the Sun (1893), and The Southern Arabs (1895).

BENT ARCHIVE: Bent’s first researches were in Italy, he did not reach the Aegean in any meaningful way until 1882; he married Mabel Hall-Dare (1847-1929) in 1877. The reference to the Mashonaland volume (1892) is accurate, but arguably his most successful book, The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks (1885), was not picked up by BARD in this search. Bent’s 1893 monograph on Aksum (Ethiopia) was called The sacred city of the Ethiopians; his great work, Southern Arabia, was published posthumously in 1900. Click here for our own full bibliography.

BARD: “Bent died in London on May 5, 1897, at the age of 45. He was survived by his wife, Mabel, and their two children.

BENT ARCHIVE: By all means quote the first sentence, but ignore the second: the Bents had no children.

BARD: “Bent was a pioneer in the field of archaeology, and his work helped to shed light on the ancient cultures of Africa and the Middle East. He was also a gifted writer, and his books continue to be enjoyed by readers today.

BENT ARCHIVE: Impossible to argue with that. Bravo BARD, nice try, you will get there no doubt. Meanwhile, it will be amusing to see how long it takes for Bent’s two imaginary children, Lionel and Mabel, to appear online! We pressed BARD (29/3/2023) a little more on them: “Did the explorer J. Theodore Bent have any children?”

BARD: “Yes, James Theodore Bent had two children with his wife Mabel Hall-Dare: Lionel Bent (1880-1943) [and] Mabel Hall-Dare Bent (1881-1971). James Theodore Bent died in 1897, when his children were still young.

BENT ARCHIVE: Fascinating. Happy Birthday Theodore!

Where the Bents celebrated their birthdays: a review based on Mabel Bent’s Chronicles, 1884-1897

The accompanying interactive map below plots these birthdays: Mabel in green, Theodore in blue. (NB: London [13 Great Cumberland Place] stands in for unknown locations in Great Britain; the couple could have been away visiting family and friends in Ireland or England, including at their property ‘Sutton Hall’, outside of Macclesfield.)

Theodore’s last (45th) birthday took place on 30 March 1897 on the island of Sokotra. Within a few months he was dead, back in London, succumbing to a recurrence of malaria, probably initially contracted in the Cyclades in 1883/4.

There were 28 Bent birthday events (2 x 14) between 1884–1897 (the years covered by Mabel Bent’s diaries). Of these 28, only 5 (18%) were not spent in the field, and only 7 times (25%) does Mabel refer to a birthday in her notebooks directly. In the above Table, column 1 gives the year and ages of the Bents on their birthdays; columns 2 and 3 give their birthday locations. Events in red are when Mabel refers directly to their birthdays. ‘London’ is standing in for unknown locations in Great Britain. If not at their main residence (13 Great Cumberland Place), the couple could have been visiting family and friends in Ireland and England, including at their property Sutton Hall, outside of Macclesfield.