African tour 1

Mabel and Theodore Bent in Egypt: January to February 1885

The first few pages of Mabel’s 1885 Chronicle represent the account of a brief stopover that she and Theodore made to visit the major sights of Cairo while en route for that season’s destination – Rhodes and the (then) Turkish islands of the Eastern Mediterranean, in the spring of that year. Theodore is building a name for himself as an archaeologist/antiquarian specialist in the region and, before returning to the islands, he and his wife take advantage of the regular steamer connections to Egypt to see the treasures of the great Egyptian cultures that seemed to be coming to light with every spade turn. Despite several visits to the country however Theodore never showed any inclination to become an Egyptologist – although it is a little known fact that he did dig at the Pyramids (burying some picnic rubbish below the Sphinx)! The 1886 trip, however, was enough to arouse an interest in the fascinations of Ancient Egypt that was never to leave him – e.g. we know he attended a meeting of the Egypt Exploration Fund on 8 December 1886 in the theatre of the Royal Institution, Albemarle Street, London.

For the Bents, their Cairo stay was a brief but happy interlude (21 January to 4 February 1885): Mabel’s notes and asides of flea-markets, pyramid climbs, and tea parties, could be those of any Cook’s Egyptian tourist of the period. What makes the mundane poignant however is the way this account contrasts with Mabel’s acute isolation and depression when she returns to Cairo in 1898; with Theodore dead barely nine months her memories would have been acutely painful.