The Homeward Mail from India, China and the East for Saturday 19 December 1908 lists Mrs Theodore Bent among the passengers of the “S.S. Britannia, from London, Dec. 24, 1908 and Marseilles Jan 1., 1909; for Gibraltar, Marseilles, Port Said, Aden, and Bombay….” The P.&O. Britannia (6525 tons) was in her last year, having been launched in 1887. Disembarking at Port Said, Mabel is on her way to Palestine again; the Holy Land being almost exclusively her focus after the death of her husband, the explorer Theodore Bent, in 1897.
On a visit to Jaffa during this trip (still beautiful and peaceful then, nestled in the ‘plain of Sharon’), Mabel has a tour of the English Hospital there – in Ajami Street (now Yefet Street), opposite the Tabeetha School. She was visiting shortly after the death of the co-manager, Constance Newton, daughter of Charles E. Newton, the wealthy Derbyshire banker and landowner. Founded in the 1870s, the “Jaffa Mission Hospital was owned and operated by Mildmay Missions, an organisation which worked in conjunction with the Church Missionary Society. Constance [Newton] together with another missionary, Miss Mangan were responsible for running the facility with the help of a Syrian physician Dr Keith Ghoreyeb. After Miss Mangan’s death in 1885, the hospital was rebuilt into a functional medical facility. In 1892, Mildmay Missions bequeathed the Jaffa Mission Hospital to Constance Newton and Edith Eleanor Newton for full ownership and operation. After Constance became ill, the hospital was run by Edith and Dr. Ghoreyeb. Following her death on 19 August 1908, Constance left behind an endowment of £10,000 for the running of the hospital.” (Wikipedia) The hospital was left to the care of the Church Missionary Society and in 1944 had 160 beds and served nearly 3000 patients. A doorway survives.
One of the nursing sisters at the hospital, Sister Marie, has left an account of Mabel’s visit; it is a rare article, emphasising the celebrity status of this irresistible force. From this lengthy article in The British Journal of Nursing (Vol. 42, March 13, 1909, pp. 213-215), the paragraphs relating to Mabel are included here, under their heading “Our Foreign Letter: Under the Syrian Sun”, finding the impressionable Sister Marie carried away by the magic of the Levant and an ‘ardent lover of the East’; she loads her pen with purple ink:
“Picture to yourself an interminable garden of orange, pomegranate, and palm trees, with the plain of Sharon and the blue hills of Judea in the distance, this on one side, and on the other the sea, shining and sparkling as if the crest of each wave were studded with a thousand diamonds! … At nine the doctors come, and everything must be straight and tidy as in English hospitals back home… The doctors were late, and some of the children were getting impatient, when, instead of doctors, several travellers appeared in the corridor, one of whom was a lady, and, if she will pardon me the proclamation, may I add a very charming one? It was Mrs. Theodore Bent, who, as everyone knows, is an ardent lover of the East. After excusing herself for calling so early, she was taken round the wards, where she chatted gaily with the patients in their own language. This delighted them very much, and one woman declared she must be an Arab lady to speak so well. Before the visitors left the ward I noticed a small boy getting out of his bed, and making his way to Mrs. Bent. I looked at him and said…’Go back to your bed, Nuchly’. He paid no heed, but walked up to Mrs. Bent and said in broken English, ‘I see you one very nice lade, you come with me and I show you one very nice box in ze corridor, you will put money in, not so?’ and the Sister will buy for us one very nice muzeeka.”’ I felt so embarrassed, and wished my poor little at Jericho, especially when he added: ‘Why you looking cross, Sister? You teach me how to say it, in English, French, and Arabic. “Would you like to put somezin in the box?” You say I must sat that to all ze travelling ladies and gentlemen.’ I was much relieved when Mrs. Bent very kindly added her donation to the box, and we could pass on to another ward without the persistent little Nuchly. Through the kindness of many friends, we have our music box now, it is such a nice one, and plays ten tunes; it is a great pleasure to the patients, and had helped many of them to forget their aches and pains for a time. The women love it, and sometimes the children dance to it.”
Death of a noted Baildonian – Theodore Bent, 5 May 1897
Theodore Bent died on this day (5 May) in 1897. The adventurer was susceptible to malarial infections ever since his visit to Andros in the Cyclades in 1884. The diary of his wife Mabel, his permanent travel companion, records this initial event: “Wednesday [12 March 1884, Gavrio, Andros]. I did not go to bed or undress last night. I had no bed to go to and T’s temperature was a little over 104. I rolled myself up in my fur cloak and screwed myself up on the corner of the bed and would have been more comfortable if there had been no ﬂeas. The doctor came last night and this morning. He says it is from cold. I don’t know what it is… The doctor, who constantly strolled in and screamed at T, is only an old man with some knowledge of herbs. He wanted to give T kina and was not at all satisﬁed that quinine was the same thing.” [The Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol. 1, 50-51, Archaeopress 2006]
This predisposition did not prevent Bent from risking his health in dangerous conditions in the Levant, Africa and the Middle East for the next 13 years, until, on his last explorations, he and Mabel found themselves malaria victims and stretcher-cases east of Aden in the spring of 1897. Mabel’s book Southern Arabia (1900) has the full, and very sad story. Thanks to their long-term Anafiote dragoman, Matthew Simos, the couple were taken by boat back to Aden, where they recovered somewhat in the infirmary there (their hospital bill has outlasted them both).
After a few weeks they were fit enough to travel, and an unnamed steamer took them via Suez to Marseilles. It seems that southern France disagreed with Theodore and his malarial symptoms returned. Alarmed, Mable rushed with her patient by train and ferry to their London home, where he died a few days later on 5 May 1897. On Theodore’s death certificate, Dr A. Elliot M.D. registered that the cause of death was “Malaria 6 weeks, Pneumonia 5 days”. The recurrence of fever as the predominant symptom tends to suggest that Theodore’s illness on his final tour was more likely to have been malaria rather than other diseases such as pneumonia or dysentery, although it would be consistent with other infections such as typhoid: there would seem to be no reason to question the diagnosis.
His early death (he was just 45) prompted eulogies in America and Europe, such was his reputation as a cavalier explorer and archaeologist. His many achievements can be seen via this link. It seems appropriate to quote from (among dozens of obituaries) the following from his local newspaper, The Shipley Times of Saturday, 15 May 1897 (the town of Shipley is a few miles from Bradford and Baildon, where Theodore grew up; the paper also misinform us of Bent’s place of birth incidentally):
“Death of a noted Baildonian – The death recently took place at his house in Great Cumberland Place, London, of Mr Theodore Bent, the well-known traveller and archaeologist. He was the only son of the late Mr James Bent, of Baildon, and was born in 1852 in the house at Low Baildon now occupied by Mr Smith Feather. Mr Bent was educated at Malvern Wells, Repton School, and Wadham College, Oxford, where he took his honours in the history school. After his marriage, in 1877, to Mabel, daughter of the late Mr Robert Westley Hall-Dare, D.L., of Newtonbarry House, County Wexford, and Wennington House, Essex, he, with his energetic and accomplished wife, spent several months each year in exploring little known districts and sites, from which he never failed to reap a rich harvest of geographical and archaeological knowledge. Mr Bent was an excellent linguist; he spoke modern Greek like a native. One of his earliest visits was to the Republic of San-Marino, on which he wrote an interesting little volume. He travelled extensively in Greece and Asia Minor, and in 1885 published a volume on “The Cyclades; or life among the Insular Greeks”. He afterwards visited the Bahrein Islands, on which he contributed a paper to the Royal Geographical Society. Perhaps he is best known by his investigations of the Zimbabwe ruins in Mashonaland, which he and Mrs Bent visited in 1891. The narrative of this interesting expedition has gone through several editions. In 1893 they visited Abyssinia, and made some valuable investigations among the ruined cities of that country. The last and fatal visit was the third visit to Southern Arabia, where Mr Bent succeeded in adding considerably to our knowledge of the Hadramut country. In 1895-96 the western shores of the Red Sea and the north of Suakim was the scene of Mr and Mrs Bent’s explorations, and here amongst the coast some remarkable remains of old Roman gold workings were discovered. Thus year after year Mr Bent continued to do good work for archaeology and geography, and he has at last fallen a martyr to his zeal. Mr Bent’s death will be a great shock to a wide circle of friends, to whom his kindly, genial, unaffected disposition had greatly endeared him. He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Royal Geographical Society; of the latter he had been a member of Council. On October 11th, 1894, Mr Bent delivered a lecture to the members of the Bradford Philosophical Society on his travels in Arabia.”
Mabel was devastated by the loss, and her own full potential as an explorer and photographer was never to materialise; she died in 1929. The couple are buried together in the Hall-Dare (Mabel’s Essex and Irish family) plot in St Mary’s, Theydon Bois. Go visit, take some flowers.
It seems Theodore Bent visited Cycladic Amorgos, briefly, twice, once for Orthodox Easter in 1883 (April 28 – 1 May, Old Style) and then again in February the following year. Mrs Bent presumably joined her husband for the first visit (although Mabel does not make this clear), after they had been to Tinos for the “great pilgrimage on the Greek March 29th, that is in the beginning of our April 1883”. There are no first-hand accounts of Amorgos in Mabel’s Chronicles, but she makes clear in her 1884 diary that “During the last week of my stay [on Antiparos], T went to Amorgos. I was not well and remained for further rest. I joined [him] on the steamer Eptanisos at Paroikia on Ash Wednesday, February 27th, after having waited a day and a night as the weather was stormy”. Theodore chose to end his great book on the Cyclades (1885) with an account of these two visits, suggesting how much he/they enjoyed this lovely and fascinating island that acts as a stepping stone between the distinct styles of the Cyclades and the Dodecanese.
Bent’s Amorgos chapter in The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks is well known and can be easily found freely on line. Less well known is the article he wrote first for Macmillan’s Magazine, Easter Week in Amorgos (1884, Vol. 50 (May/Oct), 194-201; reprinted in Littell’s Living Age, Vol. 162 (1884), 402ff), and on which he generously based his chapter, no doubt supplementing the latter with material from his second visit (a Cycladic figurine he acquired there is in the British Museum). Thus a longish, edited, extract from the Macmillan’s piece follows, and will, we trust, entertain and perhaps inspire an Easter visit for 2020!
EASTER WEEK IN AMORGOS – J. Theodore Bent
“This, the remotest island of the Cycladic group, and the bulwark, so to speak, of the modern Greek kingdom, would well repay a visit at any other time than Easter week, for its quaint costumes and customs, and unadulterated simplicity; but Easter week is the great festival of Amorgos, and is unlike Easter in other parts of Greece, for the Amorgiotes at this time devote themselves to religious services and observances, which now scandalise the more advanced lights of the Hellenic Church, and greatly annoy the liberal-minded Methodios, Archbishop of Syra, in whose diocese Amorgos is situated, and who cannot bear the prophetic source for which this island is celebrated, and would stop it if he dared; but popular feeling, and the priests, who gain thereby, prevent him.
“The steamer now touches here once a week a dangerous enemy, indeed, to these primaeval customs, but pleasanter than a caique so we availed ourselves of it, and carried with us a letter of introduction to the Demarch of Amorgos from the head functionary in these parts, the Nomarch of the Cyclades. It is seldom calm between Amorgos and her neighbours; the full force of the Icarian sea runs into a narrow channel which separates her from some smaller islands. This fact, again, prior to the advent of the steamer, tended to keep the Amorgiotes to themselves.
“The first object which struck us was the costume of the elderly women; that wretched steamer has brought in western fashion now, so that the younger women scorn their ancestral dress, but the old crones still seem to totter and stagger beneath the weight of their traditional headgear. There is a soft cushion on the top of the head, a foot high at least, covered with a dark handkerchief, and bound over the forehead with a yellow one; behind the head is another cushion, over which the dark handkerchief hangs half way down the back, and the yellow handkerchief is brought tightly over the mouth so as to leave only the nose projecting, and is then bound round so as to support the hindermost cushion. This complicated erection rejoices in the name of ‘tourlos’, and is hideously grotesque, except when the old women go to the wells, and come back with huge amphorae full of water poised on the top of it, plying their distaffs busily the while, totally unconcerned about the weight on their heads. Naturally a head-dress such as this is not easy to change, and the old women rarely move it until their heads itch too violently from the vermin they have collected within. We only saw the rest of the old Amorgiote costume on a feast day; with the exception of the ‘tourlos’, the silks and brocades of olden days are abandoned in ordinary life.
“The demarch received us rather gruffly at first; he was busy with the weekly post which had arrived by our steamer. He distributes the letters, there being no postman in the island. But when his labours were over he regaled us with the usual Greek hospitality, with coffee, sweetmeats, and raki, and then prepared to lay out a programme for our enjoyment. ‘Papa Demetrios’, said he, ” is the only man who knows anything about Amorgos.” So the said priest was forthwith summoned, and intrusted with the charge of showing me the lions of Amorgos. ‘We had better visit the points of archaeological interest first’, said he. ‘Next week we shall be too busy with the festival to devote much time to them.’ So accordingly the three next days were occupied in visits to remote parts of the island, old sites of towns, old towers and inscriptions, whilst the world was preparing for the Easter feast.
“I do not propose to narrate the usual routine of a Greek Easter, the breaking of the long fast, the elaborately decorated lambs to be slaughtered for the meal, the nocturnal services, and the friendly greetings of these everybody knows enough; but I shall confine myself to what is peculiar to Amorgos, and open my narrative on a lovely Easter morning, when all the world were in their festival attire ready to participate in the first day’s programme.
“First of all I must take the reader to visit a convent dedicated to the Life-Saving Virgin (Chozobiotissa), the wonder of Amorgos. It is the wealthiest convent in Greece next to Megaspelaion, having all the richest lands in Amorgos and the neighbouring islands, besides possessions in Crete, in the Turkish islands, and elsewhere. The position chosen for this convent is most extraordinary. A long line of cliff, about two miles from the town, runs sheer down 1,000 feet into the sea; a narrow road, or ledge, along the coast leads along this cliff to the convent, which is built half way up. Nothing but the outer wall is visible as you approach. The church and cells are made inside the rock. This convent was founded by the Byzantine emperor, Alexius Comnenus, whose picture existed until lately, but they suffer here frequently from rocks which fall from above, one of which fell not long ago and broke into the apse of the church and destroyed the picture of the emperor.
“We entered by a drawbridge, with fortifications against pirates, and were shown into the reception room, where the superior, a brother of the member for Santorin, met us, and conducted us to the cells in the rock above, to the large storehouses below, and to the narrow church, with its five magnificent silver pictures, three of which were to be the object of such extraordinary veneration during Easter week. The position of this convent is truly awful. From the balconies one looks deep down into the sea, and overhead towers the red rock, blackened for some distance by the smoke of the convent fires; here and there are dotted holes in the rock where hermits used to dwell in almost inaccessible eyries. It is, geographically speaking, the natural frontier of Greece. Not twenty miles off we could see from the balcony the Turkish islands, and beyond them the coast of Asia Minor. Our friendly monks looked too sleepy and inert to think of suicide, otherwise every advantage would here be within their reach.
“Three of the five silver eikona in this church were to be the object of our veneration for seven days to come. One adorns a portrait of the Madonna herself, found, they say, by some sailors in the sea below, and is beautifully embossed and decorated with silver; one of St. George Balsaniitis, the patron saint of the prophetic source of Amorgos; and the other is an iron cross set in silver, and found, they say, on the heights of Mount Krytelos, a desolate mountain to the north of Amorgos, only visited by peasants, who go there to cut down the prickly evergreen oak which covers it as fodder for their mules.
“We were up and about early on Easter morning, the clanging of bells, and the bustle beneath our windows made it impossible to sleep. Papa Demetrios came in dressed exceedingly smartly in his best canonicals, to give us the Easter greeting. Even the demarch and his wife were more genial and gay. At nine o’clock we and all the world started forth on our pilgrimage to meet the holy eikons from the convent. The place of meeting was only a quarter of a mile from the town, at the top of the steep cliff, and here all the inhabitants of the island from the villages far and near were assembled to do reverence.
“I was puzzled as to what could be the meaning of three round circles like threshing floors, left empty in the midst of the assemblage. All round were spread gay rugs and carpets, and rich brocades; every one seemed subdued by a sort of reverential awe. Papa Demetrios and two other chosen priests, together with their acolytes, set forth along the narrow road to the convent to fetch the eikons, for no monk is allowed to participate in this great ceremony. They must stop in their cells and pray; it would never do for them to be contaminated by the pomps and vanities of so gay a throng. So at the convent door, year after year at Easter time, the superior hands over to the three priests the three precious eikons, to be worshipped for a week.
“A standard led the way, the iron cross on a staff followed, the two eikons came next, and as they wended their way by the narrow path along the sea the priests and their acolytes chanted montonous music of praise. The crowd was now in breathless excitement as they were seen to approach, and as the three treasures were set up in the three threshing floors everybody prostrated himself on his carpet and worshipped. It was the great panegyric of Amorgos, and of the 5,000 inhabitants of the island not one who was able to come was absent. It was an impressive sight to look upon. Steep mountains on either side, below at a giddy depth the blue sea, and all around the fanatical islanders were lying prostrate in prayer, wrought to the highest pitch of religious fanaticism. Amidst the firing of guns and ringing of bells the eikons were then conveyed into the town to the Church of Christ, a convent and church belonging to the monks of Chozobiotissa, and kept in readiness for them when business or dissipation summoned them to leave their cave retreat. Here vespers were sung in the presence of a crowded audience, and the first event of the feast was over. Elsewhere in Greece on Easter day dancing would naturally ensue, but out of reverence to their guests no festivities are allowed of a frivolous nature, and every one walks to and fro with a religious awe upon him.
“Monday dawned fair and bright as days always do about Easter time in Greece. Again the bustle and the clanging of bells awoke us early. There was a liturgy at the Church of Christ where the eikons were, and after that a priest was despatched in all hurry up to the summit of Mount Elias, which towers some 2,000 feet above the town. Here there is a small chapel dedicated to the prophet, and this was now prepared for the reception of the eikons by the priest and his men, and tables were spread with food and wine to regale such faithful as could climb so far. Meanwhile we watched what was going on below in the town, and saw the processions form, and the eikons go and pay their respects to other shrines prior to commencing their arduous ascent up Mount Elias. It was curious to watch the progress up the rugged slopes, the standard-bearer in front, the eikons and priests behind, chanting hard all the time with lungs of iron. Not so my friend the demarch, with whom I walked. His portly frame felt serious inconvenience from such violent exercise, so we sat for a while on a stone, and he related to me how in times of drought these eikons would be borrowed from the convent to make a similar ascent to the summit of Mount Elias to pray for rain, and how the peasants would follow in crowds to kneel and pray before the shrine.
“It is strange how closely the prophet Elias of the Christian Greek ritual corresponds to Apollo, the sun god of old; the name Elias and Helios doubtless suggested the idea, just as now St. Artemidos in some parts has the attributes of Artemis. When it thunders they say Prophet Elias is driving in his chariot in pursuit of dragons, he can send rain when he likes, like Zeus of ancient mythology, and his temples, like those of Phoebus Apollo, are invariably set on high, and visited with great reverence in times of drought or deluge.
“After the liturgy on Mount Elias the somewhat tired priests partook of the refreshments prepared for them, for Phoebus Apollo was very hot to-day, and the eikons were heavy, and my host, the demarch, enjoyed himself vastly, for his pious effort was over, and the descent was simple to him. All the unenergetic world was waiting below, but we who had been to the top felt immensely superior, and Papa Demetrios gaily chaffed the lazy ones on the way to vespers in the metropolitan church for their lack of religious zeal. Here the eikons spent the second night of their absence from home. I was very curious about the next day’s proceedings, for on Tuesday the eikons were to visit the once celebrated church of St. George Balsamitis, where is the prophetic source of Amorgos. So I left the town early with a view to studying this spot, and if possible to open the oracle for myself before the crowd and the eikons should arrive. It is a wild walk along a narrow mountain ridge to the Church of St. George, about two miles from the town. Here I found Papa Anatolios, who has charge of this prophetic stream, very busily engaged in preparing for his guests. A repast for twenty was being laid out in the refectory, and he said a great deal about being too much occupied when I told him I wished to consult his oracle.
“On entering the narthex Papa Anatolios still demurred much about opening the oracle for me, fearing that I intended to scoff; but at length I prevailed upon him, and he put on his chasuble and went hurriedly through the liturgy to St. George before the altar. After this he took a tumbler, which he asked me carefully to inspect, and on my expressing my satisfaction as to its cleanness he proceeded to unlock a little chapel on the right side of the narthex with mysterious gratings all round, and adorned inside and out with frescoes of the Byzantine school. Here was the sacred stream which flows into a marble basin, carefully kept clean with a sponge at hand for the purpose lest any extraneous matter should by chance get in. Thereupon he filled the tumbler and went to examine its contents in the sun’s rays with a microscope that he might read my destiny. He then returned to the steps of the altar and solemnly delivered his oracle. The priests of St. George have numerous unwritten rules, which they hand down from one to the other, and which guide them in delivering their answers. Papa Anatolios told me many of them. These and many other points Papa Anatolios told me, and I thanked him for letting me off so mercifully. To my surprise on offering him a remuneration for opening to me the oracle he flatly refused and seemed indignant.
“About midday we heard the distant chanting of the procession, and soon the three eikons and their bearers were upon us. After the liturgy was over and the religious visit paid, we had a very jolly party in the refectory. Papa Anatolios produced the best products of the island lambs, kids, fresh curdled cheese, wines, and fruits and it was not till late in the afternoon that we started on our homeward route, still chanting and still worshipping these strange silver pictures from the convent.
“We were all rather tired that evening on our return from the oracle, so next morning the bells failed to wake us early, and I was glad to learn that the eikons had started on a visit to a distant place where I had already been, Torlaki, where is an old round Hellenic tower; so during the early part of the day I strolled quietly about the town. I was strong enough that evening to walk down to the sea-shore to see the arrival there of the eikons, with their wonted accompaniment of chanting and festivity. The little harbour village was decked with flags, the caiques and brigs were also adorned, and a good deal of firing was going on in honour of the event.
“That night the eikons and I passed by the harbour certainly to my personal discomfort, for never in the course of my wanderings did I rest under a dirtier roof than that of Papa Manoulas. He is a proverbial Greek priest, having a family of eleven children; he keeps a sort of wineshop restaurant for sailors, and excused the dirtiness of his table by saying that men had been drunk in his house the night before. He cooked our dinner for us in his tall hat, cassock, and shirt sleeves, and then put me to sleep in a box at the top of a ladder in one corner of the cafe, which was redolent of stock-fish, and alive with vermin. I wanted no waking next morning, and was pacing the sea-shore long before the eikons had begun their day’s work ; it was fresh and bright everywhere except in Papa Manoulas’ hole.
“To-day was to be the blessing of the ships, and as every Amorgiote, directly or indirectly, is interested in shipping, it was the chief day in the estimation of most. When the procession reached the shore the metropolitan priest of the island entered a bark decorated with carpets and fine linen, carrying with him the precious eikon of the Life-Saving Madonna (Chozobiotissa); he was rowed to each ship in turn, and blessed them, whilst the people all knelt along the shore, and as each blessing was concluded a gun was fired as a herald of joy. The rest of the day was spent in revelry. I was glad not to be going to pass another night under Papa Manoulas’ roof, for I felt sure that it would be dirtier than ever. Friday and Saturday were passed by the eikons and priests in complimentary visits, and liturgies in the numerous churches in and around the town. I did not accompany them on these journeys, and persuaded Papa Demetrios to come off with me on an excursion, for he too was tired of these repeated ceremonials, and was not sorry to transfer his eikon to inferior hands. The week’s veneration for the eikons was at an end, and the Amorgiotes were now prepared for enjoyment. Every one knows the beauties of the Greek syrtos, as the dance goes waving round and round the planetree in a village square, now fast, now slow, now three deep, now a single line, and then the capers of the leader as he twists and wriggles in contortions. Here in Amorgos the sight was improved by the brilliancy of one or two old costumes. One lady especially was resplendent; her ‘tourlos’ was of green and red, her scarf an Eastern handkerchief such as we now use for antimacassars, coins and gold ornaments hung in profusion over her breast, her stomacher was of green and gold brocade, a gold sash round her waist, and a white crimped petticoat with flying streamers of pink and blue silk, pretty little brown skin shoes with red and green embroidery on them. She was an excellent dancer, too, a real joy to look upon. The men wore their baggy trousers, bright-coloured stockings, and embroidered coats; but the men of Amorgos are not equal to the women. The beauty of an Amorgiote female is proverbial.
“My stay in Amorgos ended thus gaily. Next day the relentless steamer called and carried me off to other scenes.”
For an excellent introduction to the Bents on Amorgos, see the site simply called The Cyclades.
Stroll for a minute by Theodore Bent’s childhood home, wherever you are, even if, like the peripatetic Bents, you happen to be in Africa, Arabia, or excavating in the Eastern Med! This fine, Grade II listed, home consists of two dwellings, a cottage and house, now linked together. From the informative book ‘Baildon and the Baildons; a history of a Yorkshire manor and family’ by W.P. Baildon (1912, Baildon), we have it that the handsome residence also known as ‘The Rookery, Low Baildon… was probably built by Robert Holden; a stone on the south front [of the main house] has the initials “R. H.” and the date 1724; hence Holden Lane, which runs alongside; it was formerly known as “Baildon House.” William Holden of Low Baildon died in 1809, aged 71, leaving an only daughter, Anne, who married John Lambert. Mr. and Mrs. Lambert were both buried in Baildon Chapel, as also was their only son, William Holden Lambert… The property descended to two daughters, one of whom, Margaret Eleanor, married James Bent [Theodore Bent’s father]… Mr. and Mrs. Bent lived at Baildon House (The Rookery), and here was born, in 1852, their son, James Theodore Bent, the distinguished traveller and antiquary…’
In fact, Theodore was born in Liverpool on 30 March 1852, an only child at a time when large families were very much the norm – explained perhaps by the fact that his father, James, (1807-1876) was 45 when Theodore was born and his mother, Margaret (c. 1811-1873), 41; and their son’s name ‘a gift from God’ thus highly appropriate.
James Bent was was a member of a large and entrepreneurial clan, with, particularly, brewing interests; his marriage in April 1848 to a wealthy heiress, and with a grand house to boot, meant that he could semi-retire to Baildon, his wife’s village (as it was then), and enjoy a life of relative ease and manage quietly his estate and rents until his death in 1876. The mural tablet in the south aisle of the Bents’ local church, St John’s, suggests James’ comfort in his small, close, Baildon family (mercifully distant from the cutthroat, competitive and roller-coaster brewery businesses run by brothers John, William, Thomas and Rowland in Liverpool, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Macclesfield): ‘This Monument is erected in affectionate remembrance of Margaret Eleanor Bent, the beloved wife of James Bent, Esq., of Baildon House, who died November the eleventh, 1873, Aged 62. She was a loving wife, a devoted mother, and an humble Christian, Loving and greatly beloved. ” Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.” Isaiah, xxvi, 3 v. [‘Baildon and the Baildons’, p. 28]. (W.P. Baildon’s book also refers to the Bents having at their local church: ‘St John’s, Baildon: Pews 13 & 15 (latter for ‘servants’)… [and] a pew (34) for Major Bradley for his houses in Kirklands [pp. 193-4]; and page 195 lists James Bent as chapel trustee and ‘of Liverpool, common brewer’.)
James’ in-laws, the Lamberts (sometimes Lambarts) represented a prominent local family, Lords of the Manor of Baildon, with an elegant ‘Hall’ and local estates – memorials to them can be found today in St John’s church. (An harmonious coda followed when Theodore married Mabel, her Irish mother coming from a distant branch of this family.)
For a glimpse of this area of Yorkshire (Aireborough, Baildon, Bingley, Shipley) in 1889/91 (when Theodore Bent was still a property owner there) there is an evocative 1894 OS 6″ map; and for delightful armchair ‘walks’ of Baildon, settle down with the series of on-line booklets produced by Baildon Local History Society (Commissioned by Baildon Parish Council) and no-nonsensely illustrated by Roy Lorrain-Smith (good maps by Vic McLindon). Their ‘Threshfield Walk‘ (revised 2016) includes the Lamberts’ ‘Baildon Hall’, the Bents’ ‘Baildon House’, and sections on Theodore Bent’s assets at ‘Brook Hill’, a portion of which “… is said to have been one of the properties sold by James Theodore Bent to finance his trip to Zimbabwe to visit the ruins in Mashonaland in 1890/91” – but this is uncorroborated.
After his father’s death, Theodore kept Baildon House, renting it out, residing with his wife at their (rented) house in London (Great Cumberland Place, first 43, then 13) and their larger manor at Sutton Hall, outside Macclesfield. On Theodore’s death in 1897, the Baildon property was sold to a Mr. Smith Feather, J. P.
The Wikipedia page for Baildon House provides informative architectural and design details: ‘Cottage and house, now single residence. Cottage: initialled and dated “R H M” 1 7 1 5 (Holden family); House initialled and dated “RH” 1724… Hammer-dressed stone, stone slate roofs, two storeys. A long range with cottage to left. This has two 1st floor windows. Doorway with tie-stone jambs with 2-light flat-faced mullioned window above; tripartite sashed windows with same above; doorway (blocked) with date stone over and a semicircular-arched window (blocked). Coped gable with kneelers and weathervane to left. Large stack to right gable. Linking passage to house, breaking forward, has 3-light windows to each floor. House: 3-room plan with four 1st floor windows. Quoins. Outer bays have mid-C20 canted bay windows with 4-light window above. 2nd bay has altered doorway with date stone over in decorative plaque with single-light window above. 3rd bay has 5-light window to each floor. 1st-floor windows have recessed flat-faced mullions with an inner chamfer. Moulded eaves cornice, coped gables with stacks… Interior: most rooms have richly moulded cornices. Stairhall has closed string staircase with wreathed and ramped handrail, slender turned balusters, 2 to each riser, pair of cast-iron columns the capitals enriched with acanthus decoration. Semicircular-arched doorway with impost, architrave and keystone.’
… and having completed your stroll, you will have earned a bottle or two of Bent’s Ales!
Poor Theodore Bent spent his 45th, and last, birthday (30 March 1897) in hospital in Aden, malaria stricken. Just a few weeks beforehand, however, he and his wife Mabel were happily wandering on camels through the plains and mountains of Socotra – a speck a centimetre west of the Horn of Africa on most maps – looking for archaeological remains and enjoying the fantastical scenery; Mabel took photographs while Theodore sketched in watercolour in his naïve way. How far back did he work at this style? As a Yorkshire Baildon boy? Or at Repton and Wadham? In any event he obviously took pleasure in the art and his illustrations later assisted his studies in the field (reminiscences, maps, plans, inscriptions, etc.); he felt assured enough to have his views published in all his books and, editors permitting, in many of his articles that had to do with the couple’s adventures in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ethiopia, Great Zimbabwe, Southern Arabia, Persia…
Mabel’s diaries often refer to her husband’s drawing materials and sketches, calling the latter ‘pretty’. Theodore was sketching on his last trip, in 1897, to Socotra and Aden, as his wife records: “[Thursday] February 4th . The mountains of the Haghier range [Socotra] are most beautifully peaked and needled, and here look red, not being smothered by the smooth, grey lichen. We were, though sorry to quit the mountains, glad to reach the plain, cross a river on stones and mount our camels and reach Suk… We encamped by a lagoon and had a pleasant afternoon and evening walking by the sea, and also choosing places for photography on the morrow and Theodore sketching. We had to keep the tent open at night it was so warm and still.’ [‘Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent’, Vol. 3, Southern Arabia, 2010, page 303]
Several of Bent’s watercolours of Socotra are illustrated in the couple’s great work ‘Southern Arabia’. His sketch book (17.5 x 25 cm) obviously survived the rigours and maladies of the hard journey and return home from Aden at the end of April 1887. Although Theodore and Mabel were still terribly ill, once out of hospital, and barely fit for travel, they embarked immediately for Marseilles. There Theodore had a relapse and although rushed back to their London home, he died a few days later in early May (1897). His sketch book remained unopened until Mabel felt strong enough psychologically to have the watercolours photographed and prepared as plates for ‘Southern Arabia’, the anthology of their years spent in the region.
As for the original watercolours now, who knows? But by a miracle, one has survived in a private collection – it probably never travelled back to Marble Arch with the invalid couple in the spring of 1897: it is a scene of ‘Kalenzia’ (Qalansiyah), a coastal village at the extreme east of Socotra (a Google image of the area is also shown here below); we are looking west, it is sunset, the mountains above the village sombre; in the foreground, among palm trees, are a few simple huts and what looks like a mosque with its minaret. Theodore has signed his name bottom right, with the inscription ‘Kalenzia, I[sle] of Socotra, 1897’.
The DNB of 1901 adds to Bent’s entry that “[his] notebooks and numerous drawings and sketches remain in the possession of Mrs. Bent.” A few of his notebooks are in the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies, London, but where are his “numerous drawings and sketches”? Do please let us know if you have any information on Theodore’s unpublished ones!
Let’s be clear, although Theodore made hundreds of them, surviving original watercolours by him are as rare as evidence of the elusive Queen of Sheba he spent his last years looking for. A portfolio of watercolours of Great Zimbabwe and its surroundings is thought to be in Harare… and that’s it, apart from the aforementioned scene of ‘Kalenzia’, a detail of which is appropriately used for Theodore’s last birthday card (heading this post). This mesmeric scene is not reproduced in the Bents’ ‘Southern Arabia’, but it would surely have if Mabel had been in possession of it as she worked assembling her book in London in 1900. As mentioned previously, the chances are the picture never reached Marble Arch with the rest of their travel gear in the early summer of 1897. Did Theodore give or sell it in Aden, or on the long journey home by steamer, through Suez, to Marseilles. Did someone say, ‘That’s nice’, and Theodore present it with a bow – perhaps to Henry Watts Russell de Coëtlogon (1839–1908), with whom the Bents dined in Aden on their last, sad, journey? It surely could not just have been lost (or stolen) before the Bents reached England? The happy coda is that, whatever happened to it since it materialised in Qalansiyah some 120 years ago, it appeared at auction in Germany in 2013, selling for 100 Euros, and is now, presumably, being privately and luckily enjoyed; if by you, please let us know. Happy birthday Theodore.
Thoughts of and for Beira. The terrible floods caused recently by Cyclone Ida in Zimbabwe and Mozambique have tragically inundated Beira, in the central region of the country, where the great Pungwe slides into the Indian Ocean. The Bents knew Beira in late 1891. Mabel Bent writes in her diary as their party heads down east to the sea, and home, from Umtali. Nature then, as now, cares nothing:
“[Wednesday, October 21st, 1891.] Ink all dried up. Hens too tough to eat. Rode among hills. I had a weary time as I had a toothache or neuralgia and felt many a time as if I would tie my horse to a tree and walk. We found no water for a long way; ridge after ridge we climbed, always hoping for water in the next valley. At last, having left the track to seek water, Theodore said, ‘We must go back to the last water’. But I cried, ‘Anything but to go back! I don’t care how far we go now onward to Beira’. ‘Very well. We’ll go on!’ said Theodore…” (Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicles’, Vol 2, Africa, page 141)
At last the Bents reached the Pungwe. In their day the river was navigable the 40 km or so from Beira only as far as Mpanda’s village and Neves Ferreira – and then only in the right season – by a few small steamers (reminiscent of the ‘African Queen’ for those who know the book/movie). One of these was ‘The Agnes’: “a fine, comfortable, flat-bottomed vessel built after the style of those boats one meets with on European lakes. She is the property of Messrs. Johnson and Co.” (D.C. De Waal, (trans. J.H. Hofmeyr de Waal), ‘With Rhodes in Mashonaland’. 1896, Cape Town, page 142)
Mabel continues: “At 2 next day [15/16 November, 1891] we rowed in a boat with about 25 others to the ‘Agnes’ at Neves Ferreira and went ashore… We went on board about 6. There were only Mr. Maunde and ourselves 1st class, but we were not sorted into classes at all and masters and servants, black and white, all eat at the same table in relays, for the saloon is very small and cockroachey [sic]. At 8.30 the dozen mattresses were served out and I rigged up my hammock and we all slept on deck. I went to the saloon and Theodore held up my dressing gown, for there were people there, and I undressed and in the morning made my toilette in the same way. We started at 9, to stop at 12, but at 11 got stuck on sand, so had to stay till 8 when the tide rose. We reached Beira about 12. The river is not interesting, though here and there are pretty huts nestling among palms, bananas and mangroves. We saw many rhinoceri and only one crocodile. We crossed what seems a lake to get to Beira, a most horrid place with few houses and much sand.” (Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicles’, Vol 2, Africa, page 158)
The popular Christian nurses Blennerhasset and Sleeman are a little more kindly about the place: “The said town [Beira]… may be described as a long flat reach of sand, over which a few tents were scattered. There were also two iron shanties, and that was all. The place looked, even from afar, the picture of desolation.” However they enjoyed the scene more two years later on their way out: “In 1893 we founds streets, stores, and charming houses of the American chalet type”. (R.A. Blennerhassett and L.A.L. Sleeman, ‘Adventures in Mashonaland, by Two Hospital Nurses’. 1893, London, pages 61, 324)
The Bents left poor Beira on the S.S. Norseman around 24th November 1891, for their home journey south and onwards to Cape Town and London.
The illustration is ‘The Agnes steaming up the Pungwe River’. From a sketch by ‘Mr. Doyle Glanville’. ‘The Illustrated London News’, 15 August 1891, page 202. Private collection.
Unmissable (if you can access it) – this 1958 episode of the BBC archaeology series ‘Buried Treasure’, in which Sir Mortimer Wheeler scrambles over the site of Great Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia). The 1891 explorer of this still-astonishing monument, Theodore Bent, is unfairly (only for this blog, of course) dismissed in Wheeler’s exposé as a ‘gullible antiquary’: Bent was paid to give some sort of explanation, and he did. ‘No ancient site in the world’, mutters Wheeler lugubriously through his pipe, ‘unless maybe for the Pyramids and Stonehenge, is more clogged than Zimbabwe with sticky romance…’ Wheeler explores the awe-inspiring stone ruins in the controversial company of Roger Summers, then Chairman of the Southern Rhodesia Historical Monuments Commission. The title of the episode is unhelpful – King Solomon’s Mines – but the programme is a delight for the fabulous black and white filming, and the sight of Wheeler in shorts chasing hippopotami. For modern interpretations of the Great Zimbabwe site, you must, of course, look elsewhere.
But let’s focus rather on the Queen’s Hotel, Kimberley; it still stands (at 10/12 Stockdale St). Well into its second century now it is not what it was, of course, but it stands for something. Theodore and Mabel Bent are on their way in early 1891 from Cape Town, by train, to explore the ruins of ‘Great Zimbabwe’ for Cecil Rhodes, and the couple stay at the hotel, a focal point and metaphor, from 26 February to 3 March 1891. The gables of the impressive structure, fashioned after the Dutch Cape Colonial style, bore the legend ‘1881 Queen’s Hotel’, carved in relief on inset panels. We clearly have a fancy brick edifice here, with elaborate, wrought iron verandas. At the time of the Bents’ stay the proprietor was probably one Henry Orkin, but the hotel’s prestige dates from the first phases of the diamond rush in the 1860s, and the later arrival of James and Catherine Jardine (Scots) from Pniel. Catherine bought the single plot, double-storey building and within a few years had added another twin double-storey structure to her hotel. But by the Bents’ arrival Catherine had retired back to Cape Town.
Kimberley, like it or not: the times were as they were, and all roads led to Rhodes. Arguably and extraordinarily, the diamonds from Kimberley (and gold from nearby) were used to buy what became Rhodesia, which went on to become Zimbabwe; and the wealth from these diamonds continues to circulate, somewhere – such forces don’t just disappear, we are talking Wagner here. Much of this (diamond Ring) story materialises within a couple of hundred metres of the Queen’s Hotel, Kimberley, in the second half of the 19th century, around the frenzied wheelers and dealers gravitating to southern Africa in search of fortunes, and totally heedless of the consequences of their activities, then and now. ‘Nothing in the external appearance… suggests either its fame or its wealth’, wrote Lord Randolph Churchill of Kimberley. Formerly ‘New Rush’, the town was named (June 1873) after John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley, and became the capital of the Northern Cape. Few places on earth have generated, so quickly, so much power, greed and exploitation, beginning, in 1871, with a rough diamond of some 83 carats found on the farm called Vooruitzigt, belonging to the brothers De Beer. The story of how most of Kimberley’s mines were gradually acquired by Rhodes and his cockney, maverick sidekick, Barney Barnato, under the corporate banner of De Beers Consolidated Mines, is the stuff of legend and business-school texts. The great workings in the town, the ‘Big Hole’, are a tourist attraction still: ‘[One] of the most astonishing memorials to the impetus of avarice… [The] whole vast mess of the Big Hole was covered in a mesh of ropes, gently shimmering in the hot wind like an enormous spider’s web… The Big Hole, disused since 1914, became the largest man-made hole in the world – a mile round the top and nearly 700 feet deep’ (Jan Morris, ‘Pax Britannica, The Climax of an Empire’, 1998).
The Bents’ planned adventure of 1891 had been the talk of London’s Royal Geographical Society for several months: ‘Mr. Theodore Bent’s Expedition to Zimbabye: Mr. Bent left England last Friday (January 30th) on his mission to explore the strange ruined buildings in the gold region of South-east Africa. An unfortunate error in our note on this expedition in the January No. of the ‘Proceedings’ escaped correction in proof. It is the Chartered South African Company (not the East African) which has interested itself in Mr. Bent’s archaeological and topographical exploration. This company and our Society have each contributed a grant of 200l. towards the expenses of the expedition’ (‘Geographical Notes’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Feb., 1891), 105).
Resting at the Queen’s Hotel for a few days, Theodore and Mabel acquired the assets needed for their expedition (north to ‘Great Zimbabwe’) from the ‘Colossus’’ Alberichian lieutenant, Rutherfoord Harris. Dr Frederick Rutherfoord Harris (1856–1920) had qualified in Edinburgh, moving to Kimberley ten years before Mabel meets him. His rise in Rhodes’s service was rapid. Brian Roberts (‘Cecil Rhodes. Flawed Colossus’, 1987) describes him as a ‘coarse, ambitious adventurer… [who] came to be regarded as a loudmouthed braggart and born intriguer, whose penchant for mischief-making caused Rhodes endless trouble.’ But he clearly had something, and after his master’s death he is back in England by 1905, where he was ‘associated with some few finance Cos… and entered the arena of British politics in 1900 as Conservative M.P. for the Monmouth Burghs… Dr. Harris is a keen dog fancier, and is very popular in South Wales, where he spends most of his time’ (W. H. Wills and R. J. Barrett, ‘The Anglo-African Who’s Who & Biographical Sketch-Book’, 1905). Wikipedia adds a sad coda – that his widow, Florence, “hanged herself three months after his death in 1920, apparently overcome by grief”.
But thirty years before, in mercantile Kimberley, C. H. Weatherley, the B.S.A.C. Secretary in London, on Rhodes’ instructions, had already prepared Dr Harris to expect the Bents: ‘The Company’s contribution (viz: £200) towards… expenses has been paid to Mr. Bent, who has also been promised the Company’s assistance in the arrangement of his finances in connection with which he yesterday handed me a cheque for £1000. This sum has been placed to the credit of the Kimberley Office account, to be paid by you to Mr. Bent… [Please] provide Mr. Bent with letters of introduction… to any other persons whom you think can render assistance to [him] in his important and interesting expedition’ (B.S.A.C. ‘Out’ Letters, Rhodes House, MSS. Afr. s. 70-84, Folio 262/3, 22 January 1891). The ‘expedition’ was indeed important to Rhodes – Bent’s theories on the ‘Great Zimbabwe’ site suited his colonial ambitions for the territory.
Thus set up, by the end of February 1891, the Bents had reached Kimberley, Mabel Bent recording the approach and arrival in her ‘Chronicles’, the indispensable diaries she kept for every year of the couple’s explorations: “We saw Miss Olive Schreiner, the authoress of the ‘Story of an African Farm’ and started at 8 on the 26th [February 1891] for Kimberley, which we reached next morning. The train goes very slowly and stops a good time outside each station and any time else that the driver pleases. Once it went off too soon, without us but kindly came back. Between Worcester and Matjiesfontein we had permission to travel on the cowcatcher over the Hex pass. It was a delightful break in the monotony of the journey over the Karoo desert… On reaching Kimberley [Friday, 27th February 1891] we found that Dr. Harris had engaged rooms for us at the Queen’s Hotel. He belongs to the British South Africa Co. and had been kindly buying our wagons and having them fitted up; also 36 oxen and provisions for four people for 6 months… We went down the De Beers diamond mine, 800 feet, dirty and disappointing, and also went into the compound where black people live for 4 months, only going to the mines – that was more interesting. Most men were dressed in blankets and they certainly seemed to have any amount of trousers, but they were nearly all spread out on the ground or hung up. All the store of diamonds was very wonderful to behold. Very few were comparatively white and many looked like lumps of gum Arabic… On Tuesday [3rd March 1891] we left Kimberley for Vryburg. The wagons were on the train and the oxen and all the provisions, so we took up 10 trucks. We travelled more slowly than ever. One could hear the grasshoppers above the noise of the train…” (Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol. 2, pages 47–49).
Such a place was Kimberley then, and the Queen’s Hotel in Stockdale St. The grasshoppers will, no doubt, remain when the diamonds have gone… honey take me dancing.
Greek Dress at the Hellenic Centre, London – 4 February until 2 March 2014 – with Bent references!
Marylebone, in Central London, might seem an unlikely place for an exhibition of Greek costume, but it is the home of the Hellenic Centre, a focus for philhellenes and London’s Greek community. From 4 February until 2 March 2014, there was a rare opportunity to see an impressive range of Greek dress outside its native land. As part of the event (on Friday 28 February, 7.15pm), Ann French, Textile Conservator at the Whitworth Art Gallery, the University of Manchester, used selected embroideries from the 1914 pioneering embroidery exhibition (click for the online catalogue) at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London, to trace their individual collecting histories and reveal the different contexts, interpretations and values placed on them within UK based collections and museums. This exhibition, which drew on the leading collections of the day, primarily from the collection of Theodore and Mabel Bent and the archaeologists R M Dawkins & A J B Wace, of Greek Embroideries displayed, for the first time in the UK, historic Greek Embroideries as an art form. The exhibition features several of the Bent’s finest pieces and Ann refers to them in the last five minutes or so of her talk in a fascinating account of how, on Mabel’s death, one of her Karpathos frocks found its way back to Greece! (One other is in store at the V & A, and two more from Nisyros are untraced – if you have them, let us know!) The talk was called “Old Embroideries of the Greek Islands and Turkey: An Exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club 1914: A Celebration and Commemoration”, and can be seen on the video linked here, entitled ‘Patterns of Magnificence’.
People come and go; everyone travels; everyone leaves traces of their travels. You will find such a trace on a memorial in the rarely visited Westerners’ cemetery in Ermoupoli, on Cycladic Syros, near the junction of Taxiarchon and Katramadou, on the way to Ano Syros. The cross and monument of some grandeur is of fine Tinos marble; the inscription testifies to the trickiness of English lettering for Greek masons; it was expensive, and the deceased’s family wished to honour a significant man. There is no space for the word ‘kind’:
“To the Memory of William Pryor Binney, H.B.M. Consul, Divisional Manager Eastern Telegraph Company. Born in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada, the 21th [sic] July 1839, died at Syra the 12th March 1888. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1, 21.”
“William Pryor Binney, son of Stephen and Emily (Pryor) Binney, of Moncton, N[ew] B[runswick], was born July 21, 1840; married Polexine [Polyxena/Πολυξένη] Pateraki, daughter of the late George Pateraki[s], of Constantinople. Mr. Binney is the general manager of the submarine telegraph cable in the kingdom of Greece and Turkey, has held the office for twenty-five years past, and in 1884, lived at Syra, Greece. He is H.B.M. consul at Syra. Had no children in 1873. He had the title of Chevalier from the King of Greece and decoration of the order of the Saviour and order of the Iron Cross, from the Emperor of Austria.”
The first Binney to surface, one captain John, of Nottinghamshire, set sail with his wife Mercy in 1678 or 1679, for Hull, Massachusetts. There, with John now a ‘fisherman’ and ‘gentleman’, the couple (with their six children) became the ‘ancestors of almost all of the name’. In the 19th century one of their descendants, Stephen Binney (1805–1872), a merchant of Halifax, and later first mayor, married Emily Pryor (1808 and still living in 1884); the couple had seven children, one of whom was our William Pryor Binney and Mabel remembers him for posterity as ‘kind’. As Halifax mayor, in early 1842 Stephen made the long Atlantic crossing to London with a message of congratulations on behalf of the city to Queen Victoria on the birth of her son (later King Edward VII). During his extended absence his business affairs at home suffered and he sought new opportunities, buying property near Moncton (New Brunswick). From his new base, Stephen Binney set up a successful wharf and shipyard, making a new start as a wholesaler, trading in timber and agricultural produce. With its access to the Bay of Fundy, and William’s father thrived as a merchant ship-owner, with a vessel that bore his own name, the ‘Stephen Binney’.
It was Stephen’s father (William’s grandfather), Hibbert Newton Binney, who forged links initially with the Pryors, when the two families cooperated on the building of a fine house in Halifax in 1831, and which H.N. Binney then bought outright in 1834. The ‘Pryor-Binney House’ still stands at 5178 Morris Street, Halifax.
One of William’s brothers was Moncton’s head of Customs, Irwine Whitty Binney (b. 1841). It was probably Irwine, as prosperous clan head, who supervised in some way William’s funeral in 1888, in the quiet Westerners’ cemetery on Syros. William’s widow, Πολυξένη, being Orthodox, probably rests in the Greek cemetery a few 100 metres away. We don’t know when the couple married (1860s?); Polyxena’s father, George Paterakis, was from Constantinople, and probably of some standing. The Binneys had had no children by 1873.
And of William’s career? And how he came to Syros? Follow the money. William, as part of a very well-to-do and successful extended family who made their livings from commerce, merchant-shipping and the sea, was clearly ambitious to compete and strike out on his own; and quite prepared to travel and leave traces of his own. By the mid 1880s maritime nations were being linked by the invention of undersea cable-telegraphy, and the needs of the British Empire provided a booming market for companies in this sector. One of these was the Eastern Telegraph Company, a consolidation, in 1872, of a dynamic group of telegraphy businesses, involving some 23,000 miles of cabling by the late 1880s. This enterprise, of course, morphed eventually into today’s Cable and Wireless plc. A pivotal routing and operations hub for the Eastern Mediterranean, and British interests East, was based on Syros, and its capital, Ermoupoli, the main ‘port’ for all (‘new’) Greece before the growth of Pireaus around 1900. It was plain commercial sense that the Eastern Telegraph Company’s regional cable station and depot should be built on a (then) disconnected rock (Νησάκι), a hop from Ermoupoli’s seafront. The solid building (which probably housed Binney’s consular office too) still stands and now houses the island’s Merchant Marine Academy.
William Binney held the important post of general manager for ETC’s Syros hub by 1883 at least, if not earlier; it is recorded that he had already been an employee for 25 years by around that date. His skillset obviously included diplomacy, and in 1874 we learn that “the Queen has been graciously pleased to appoint William Pryor Binney, Esq., to be Her Majesty’s Consul in the Islands in the Greek Archipelago, to reside in the Island of Syra [Foreign Office, September 5, 1874. The London Gazette, 24145/5113, Tuesday, October 27, 1874, and ‘The Morning Post’ of Wednesday, October 28, 1874].
Presumably this appointment helped Binney acquire his gongs, i.e. “the title of Chevalier from the King of Greece and decoration of the order of the Saviour and order of the Iron Cross, from the Emperor of Austria.” His duties would have included looking after his country’s interests and personnel in the region and reporting on the activities of potential rivals. Copies of communications between William and the UK Foreign Office can be found in the FO Volumes of the British Consuls in Greece, in the National Archive, Kew (i.e. 1881 FO 32/534; 1882 FO 32/546; 1892 FO 32/644; 1893 FO 32/653).
And as well as all this, Mabel Bent refers to William as not only fastidious, but ‘kind’ (she adds ‘so’ and underlines it). Theodore Bent met Binney first in Athens, in late November 1883. He became a friend it seems as well as Consul, providing the Bents with information and letters of introduction to contacts in the Cyclades generally. Theodore at this time was not particularly influential and it seems that Binney was being helpful to a British citizen as part of his consular duties. One of the contact names he slipped into Theodore’s pocket was Robert Swan, a Scottish miner on Antiparos. Swan was later to be central to Bent’s expedition to ‘Great Zimbabwe’ for Cecil Rhodes in 1891. But by then Binney was dead.
Let’s leave the last paragraphs on kind William Pryor Binney to Mabel Bent, as recorded in the pages of her Greek ‘Chronicles’. The final reference to his fatal illness comes as a shock:
“[Saturday, 1 December 1883] We had a quick but very rough passage, starting at 7 and getting [to Syros] about 3.30 a.m. Wednesday [28 November]. The ‘Pelops’ was quite new and very clean and I should have slept well but for the ﬂeas. We landed at Ermoupolis at 6.30 and sat on the balcony overlooking the port for 2 hours as there was no bedroom vacant, nor did we get one till 5 o’clock. Mr. John Quintana, H.B.M. Vice Consul on whom Theodore called, came and fetched us and we spent 2 hours at the Consulate in Mr. Binney, the Consul’s room, very large and nice and so tidy. Mr. Binney must be a most orderly man for everything was ticketed and docketed. Theodore called on him in Athens, says he is like a slight Greek, foreign accent and Greek wife.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, pages 7–8]
“[Tuesday, 18(?) December 1883]. Rode 1½ hour to the nearest point to Antiparos carrying only our night things and a card of introduction from Mr. Binney for Mr. R. Swan who has a calamine mine on this island.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 21]
“[Saturday, 22 March 1884] We fortunately got a room at the Hôtel d’Angleterre [Syros] and thoroughly enjoy ‘taking mine ease in mine inn’. We packed a box of our spoils for England and this afternoon I rode and the others walked to Ano or Upper Syra, a hideous place with a view over this barren island. We got very tired of Syra by Friday and as we found a kaïke of Kythnos or Thermiá we packed and prepared to start. But the strong Boreas would not permit ships to leave the port so after constant expectations up to Sunday morning the 23rd we gave up and went to church, a very poor little place and very ‘low’, according to the wishes of Mr. Binney the Consul. Afterwards we lunched with Mr. Binney, Mr. Quinney the parson, being there also. N.B. Mr. Binney’s clerk is Mr. Finney.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 54]
“[Thursday, 26 January 1888] We only got to Syra on Thursday. We landed
and found to our sorrow that our kind consul Mr. Binney was dreadfully ill.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 228]
“[Saturday, 25 February 1888] On Thursday… about 4 we left ‘The Town’ [Constantinople] in the ‘Alphée’ for Syra, picking up letters at the post on the way. We had no remarkable fellow passengers and reached Syra on Saturday morning about 4… We went to church on Sunday to a tidy little chapel, which they say will be closed if Mr. Binney is no longer there to keep it up.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 234]
Kind William Pryor Binney died 16 days after Mabel’s last reference to him, on 12 March 1888, of what she doesn’t say. (Appropriately, the new British Cemetery behind where he lies takes in the scattered Commonwealth war burials from the islands of the Cyclades.) He was not yet 50. Another William took over from him as Consul at Syros, W.H. Cottrell. People come and go; everyone travels; everyone leaves traces of their travels.
[The extracts from Mabel Bent’s diaries are taken from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent’, Vol. 1. Archaeopress, Oxford, 2006]