Coincidental bedfellows most strange – Balfour, Bent, and Blouet (November 1895)

Jabez Balfour as caricatured by “Spy” in Vanity Fair, March 1892 (wikipedia).

Mabel Bent, of course, was a Hall-Dare: a very wealthy Essex (London) family with connections to large tracts of land and grand properties. One of these was Ilford Lodge, Barking, which had been carved from the much larger adjoining estate of Valentines; it had passed into the hands of Mabel’s great-grandfather Robert Hall, who was previously a tenant there, before 1810. It remained within the various Hall-Dare families until 1883, before its acquisition by the larger-than-life character, and crook, Jabez Balfour, and his Liberator Building Society – which collapsed in 1892, and saw Balfour imprisoned for embezzlement.

Our great coincidence occurs at Balfour’s second trial: “In the Queen’s Bench yesterday [Thursday, 21 November 1895], before Mr. Justice Bruce and a Special Jury, the second prosecution of Jabez Balfour was commenced. The indictment charged that he, being a Director of the House and Land Investment Trust (Limited), fraudulently applied to uses and purposes other than the uses and purposes of the Company, divers large sums of money, between February 4, 1886, and October 15, 1887.”

Ilford Lodge, Barking, Essex (London), one of the country properties of the Hall-Dares. It was sold to Jabez Balfour in 1883 (from Edward Tuck, ‘A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford’, Barking, 1899?, pp.52-53).

And who should appear now but Theodore Bent – husband of Mabel, née Hall-Dare, and one, no doubt, acquainted with Balfour’s Barking mansion, the erstwhile family demesne! In court that day an application was made “that no Juryman, interested in any of the Balfour group of Companies should be permitted to serve… Only one Juryman, however, was interested, he being a shareholder in the London and General Bank, and, accordingly, he was excused. Another Juryman was excused because he was a manager of a bicycle Company, and he was the only person to look after the interests of the Company at the Cycle Show.” And, now for our surprise, “Mr. J.T. Bent was also excused in consequence of being about to start upon an expedition to Africa on behalf of the Geographical Society…”

What Balfour’s legal team would have made of it had they discovered that juryman Bent was the husband of a Hall-Dare, whose relatives had sold their client his Ilford estate in 1883, we will never know!

Mr. Paul Blouet, aka Max O’Rell (wikipedia).

The above newspaper quotations are from the London Standard of Friday, 22 November 1895. The Westminster Gazette of the same day was slightly less po-faced:  “The number of jurors who claimed exemption at the commencement of the second Balfour trial yesterday [Thursday, 21 November 1895] were far less than on the previous occasion. ‘B’ was the fatal letter from which the panel was drawn. Amidst the private individuals came two celebrities, Mr. Paul Blouet [aka Max O’Rell] and Mr. Theodore Bent. The genial Max O’Rell did not appear, as an Irishman would say, to offer any explanation for his absence. Mr. Theodore Bent, however, had more respect for the majesty which Mr. Justice Bruce represents, and expressed his willingness to attend, subject to the necessity imposed upon him of going to Africa on a delimitation commission. In this journey, as in many another, he will be accompanied by his wife. They are sailing in a day or two [The Bents left from Charing Cross station for the Red Sea on 2 December 1895].”

It’s very gratifying to see the Bents labelled ‘celebrities’. The couple are now at the height of their fame – having explored Great Zimbabwe (1891) and regions of Ethiopia (1893) and Yemen (1894-).

Θαυμαστὸν μὲν ἴσως οὐκ ἔστιν, ἐν ἀπείρῳ τῷ χρόνῳ τῆς τύχης ἄλλοτε ἄλλως ῥεούσης, ἐπὶ ταὐτὰ συμπτώματα πολλάκις καταφέρεσθαι τὸ αὐτόματον…  (Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 1)