Two unpublished letters from Theodore Bent to William Paton – 1890

Grandhome, Aberdeen, Scotland, the Paton Family estate (Google maps)

Following on from Alan King’s well-researched, recent piece (September 2019) on the Bents’ friends William (1857-1921) and Irini (1869/70-1908) Paton, it was a pleasant surprise to have access to two unpublished letters from the Paton great estate, Grandhome, just outside Aberdeen – Bent to Paton.  In their correspondence, the men refer to recent explorations and successes in Cilicia (notably Bent’s discovery of the site of Olba), and the second letter is of particular interest in terms of Bent’s almost immediate departure for Great Zimbabwe, perhaps his most notorious work. These two letters are published below for the first time and we are most grateful to the present William Paton, Bent’s friend’s great-grandson, for kindly allowing us this opportunity.

Laird William Paton was a fascinating man of complex nature – a great, perhaps maverick, classicist, traveller and philhellene – it’s not hard to see in him the early shades of later and similar great Brits, why not Leigh Fermor, Durrell, Pendelbury, Dunbabin….? One can make a fair list.

William Paton’s presumed route from Aberdeen to the Turkish coast by sea, some 4000 km (Google maps)

The only son, William becomes laird of Grandhome after the death of his father, John, in 1879, a JP in 1884, and Deputy-Lieutenant in 1893. But by the mid 1880s he has settled on Kalymnos, running his Scottish estates and managing his responsibilities from a great distance, obviously with a team at home to oversee things (his elderly widowed step-mother, Katherine, survived until 1919), and relying on regular trips back to north-east Scotland: and this trip home from the isles of Greece (then Turkish), by steamer, presumably via Marseilles (the same way the Bents travelled) and Dover and Edinburgh, to Aberdeenshire – a distance of some 4000 km each way; but the Scots are tough and he was young.

Of the two, Bent and Paton, the latter was five years older, and taller, but this didn’t prevent them apparently from being mistaken for bothers, as Mabel Bent was quick (even proud?) to note in her diary:

“We were very much amused on landing [on Kalymnos] to hear ‘William has returned’. ‘No, it is his brother.’ ‘He is exactly the same.’ ‘How very like he is.’ ‘No, it is not him.’ And these sentences never cease to be buzzed round wherever T[heodore] goes. At the British Museum they have been taken for one another and a gentleman came and shook hands with him and said ‘When did you come’ and then ‘Oh! Excuse me. I thought you were the son-in-law of Olympidis’.” (The Dodecanese; Further Life Among the Insular Greeks, Theodore and Mabel Bent, Oxford, 2015, page 159)

One of Paton’s finds from Kalymnos – a Mycenaean double-handled cup now in the British Museum (The British Museum).

Both young men went to Oxford and were intended for the Bar, but both were side-tracked by the lure of ancient Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean. Bent had studied history at Wadham and his early studies took him in search of Genoese adventurers on Chios and elsewhere. Paton, the young classicist of rigourous intellect, and self-confessed ‘Orientalist’, soon found himself after University College, hunting for pots and publishing inscriptions in Lycia and Cilicia, inter alia.

Surprisingly, promptly marrying the obviously beguiling and young Irini Olympiti, he settled on Kalymnos, nowadays a municipality in the southeastern Aegean, belonging to the Dodecanese, between the islands of Kos and Leros, and 20 km from the Turkish coast opposite. Soon, along with the even more erudite E.L. Hicks, later Bishop of Lincoln, and also a Bent collaborator (but, another story), Paton became a go-to-man for British academics wanting advice on the region.

William Paton in Greece, undated (The Kemény Archive).

Thus, although a truer scholar than Theodore Bent, it is quite natural that they should have met and become acquainted,  both lovers of ancient Greece, the new discipline of archaeology, and working on inscriptions in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 1880s; as Mabel noted above, they often bumped into each other at the British Museum, the offices of the Hellenic Society, and many academic events in London and elsewhere.

And we know that Bent at least once travelled up to Aberdeen to stay with Paton, the latter reminiscing in a letter, from Vathy on Samos, in the early 1920s: “I also had the privilege of meeting [E.L. Hicks] personally… at my own house in Scotland, where the late Mr. Theodore Bent and Professor W. M. Ramsay were present, and I had the full advantage of the conversation of these three distinguished people…”

Edward Lear on Greece

“It seems to me that I have to choose between two extremes of affection for nature – towards outward nature that is – English or southern – the former, oak, ash and beech, downs and cliffs, old associations, friends near at hand, and many comforts not to be got elsewhere. The latter olive – vine – flowers, the ancient life of Greece, warmth and light, better health, greater novelty, and less expense in life. On the other side are in England cold, damp and illness, constant hurry and bustle, cessation from all topographic interest, extreme expenses…” [Edward Lear, c. 1860, taken from a letter, in Edward Lear: A Biography by Peter Levi (1995, p. 192)]

Great travellers the pair, too, the Bents not limiting themselves to the Med (later famous in Africa and Arabia of course), and William living, for those days, an unorthodox double-life, divided between where his ‘head’ lay, i.e. serious responsibilities as a large landholder in northern Scotland (his descendants still run the estates), and his heart, the Kalymniotissa Irini – and soon several children. Perhaps he had Edward Lear’s lines in his head (substituting Scotland for England clearly).

By the mid 1880s, William’s reputation as an epigrapher (and archaeologist, in the terms of the day) was in the ascendancy; any of his published papers reveal a clarity, ingenuity and level of scholarship that soon marked him out. His first major work was at the site of Assarlik (Caria), on the Turkish mainland, on a steep mountain-top in the southern part of the Halicarnassus peninsula, the site offering a perfect view of the coast, both east and west.

W.R. Paton, ‘Excavations in Caria’ (JHS 8, page 74)

He is to publish his findings (1887) as ‘Excavations in Caria’ (JHS 8, 64-82), with, coincidentally, Theodore Bent having an article on inscriptions from Thasos in the same issue (pages 409-438). William had a further piece on ‘Vases from Calymnus and Carpathos’ in the same volume (pages 446-460).

In 1900, the University of Halle awarded him an honorary degree.

 

W.R. Paton: A select bibliography 

1891: The Inscriptions of Cos (With E.L. Hicks)

1893: Plutarchi Pythici Dialogoi tres.

1896: (with J.L. Myres) “Karian Sites and Inscriptions”, JHS 16: 188-271.

1898: Anthologiae Grecae Erotica, London, David Nutt.

1899: Inscriptiones insularum maris Aegaei praeter Delum, 2. Inscriptiones Lesbi, Nesi, Tenedi, Berlin.

1915-18: “Greek Anthology”, vols 1-5, Loeb Classical Library/Heinemann, London and New York.

The two previously unpublished letters (1890) from Theodore Bent to William Paton

Letter 1

Letter from Theodore Bent to William Paton, 27 May 1890 (The Paton Archive)

To W.R. Paton, Grandhome, Aberdeen, Scotland [no envelope] note 1 

13 Great Cumberland Place, W. note 2 
May 27 [1890]

Dear Mr Paton

I am much obliged for your congratulatory note.

From an epigraphical view we have been very successful this winter, having thoroughly solved the problem of Olba and placed one or two other doubtful Cilician towns. note 3 

Of course we regarded it as hopeless attempting to bring away any spoil or to do any digging beyond turning over a stone or so, for we were rigorously watched. note 4 

At Smyrna I was asked after the health and well being of my brother, which mythical personage I discovered after sundry questions to be you.

I hope Mrs Paton is well, please give our kindest remembrances to her. note 5  I hope as you pass through London next you will give us the pleasure of seeing you both at the above address.

Yours very sincerely

J Theodore Bent

Letter 2

Letter from Theodore Bent to William Paton, 15 October 1890 (The Paton Archive)

To W.R. Paton, Grandhome, Aberdeen, Scotland [no envelope; the Bent family crest has been torn from the top-left corner] note 6 

13 Great Cumberland Place, W. note 7 
Oct 15, 1890

My dear Paton  note 8 

I am writing to ask if you would have any objection to my using one of your admirable photos of Greek costume note 9  to illustrate a frivolous little paper I have written for the English Illustrated on a Greek marriage. note 10  Don’t hesitate to refuse if you have any other plans for your pictures.

I hope your Kos work is progressing favourably. note 11  I am still over head and ears in Olba and getting rather tired of it. note 12 

We talk of starting again about the middle of January to explore the adjoining district. note 13  At present we are enjoying the comforts of home and are not too anxious to resume our nomad life.

I hope we may see you in London before we start.

With our kind regards, believe me

Yours sincerely

J Theodore Bent

Postscript

As a PS, there are two addenda; one a granite obituary in the Aberdeen Daily Journal of 14 May 1921 that covers well the life-journey from Aberdeen to the Greek and Turkish isles:

W.R. Paton, in later life (The Paton Archive)

“The late Mr W. R. Paton of Persley, Eminent Greek Scholar. Greek scholarship has sustained a severe loss in the death of Mr William Roger Paton of Grandhome and Persley, Aberdeenshire, which took place at Vathy, Samos, New Greece [sic], on April 21, in his 65th year. The son of the late Colonel John Paton of Grandhome, the deceased, who was regarded as one of the finest classical scholars in Europe, belonged to a very old and highly respected family which had been in possession of the estate of Grandhome and mansion-house, situated between Parkhill and Stoneywood, for at least 200 years. A number of Mr Paton’s ancestors are buried in Oldmachar Churchyard, and the records of the family go back to 1700. Educated at [Eton] and at University College, Oxford, Mr Paton very early acquired a strong interest in everything connected with Greece, and particularly with Greek literature. He had already done a good deal of Greek study before he left in 1893 to take up his residence in France. For a number of years he had lived in the island of Samos, in the Aegean Sea, travelled in Asia Minor and among the Isles of Greece, and made a number of important contributions to Greek literature. In particular, he edited the works of Plutarch, and was preparing a large edition at the time of his death. He also collected many inscriptions found in the Aegean Islands; and his archaeological discoveries in Lesbos, Tenedos, and other isles of the Greek Archipelago were communicated to the Berlin Academy and form part of the Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum. He published an edition with translations of the love-poems and epigrams in the Greek Anthology. Mr Paton was recognised as one of the greatest Greek authorities of his time. His scholarship was of a very finished character, and he had also a wide knowledge of modern Greek. No one really knew more about Greek life, thought, and literature in all periods, and he was man of remarkable accomplishments, who if he had not been a country laird would have adorned a University chair… In 1900 the University of Halle conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws on Mr Paton. Personally Mr Paton was a man of charming manners and a delightful companion of the most finished culture. A year or two ago he was expected to come home and spend the end of his days in Aberdeen, but he did not carry out his intention. Mr Paton was twice married to Greek ladies, and he leaves a widow and family. He died on 21 April 1921 in the town of Vathy, Samos.”

A final and quirky note goes to J.H. Fowler, who was in touch with Paton while compiling a memorial volume to E.L. Hicks (see above). He gives us this astonishing, perhaps envious, pen-portrait of Paton:

“At this time too [Hicks] became associated with another Greek scholar, Mr. W. R. Paton, who took up his abode in the Island of Cos and made a careful collection of the inscriptions to be found there. Hicks collaborated in the deciphering and interpretation of the inscriptions, and wrote the introduction for the Inscriptions of Cos (Clarendon Press, 1891). A friendship grew up between the two men, unlike as they were, the one equally at home in the practical and in the theoretical life, the other a dilettante scholar who became at last so completely ‘orientalized’ (to use his own expression) that he was reluctant to revisit England, and who never earned anything in his life till he was paid for his translations from the Greek Anthology in the Loeb Library.”

Notes to Letter 1

Note 1:  Grandhome or Grandholme. “(Location stated as NJ 8980 1170). Grandhome House. Site of manor/mansion house. Mansion on E-plan; harled, crow-stepped gables; N wing 17th century incorporating earlier work; S wing 17th century. The two wings are linked by the 18th century W range; forestair to door in centre of second floor. The estate belonged successively to the Keiths, Ogilvies, Buchanans, Gordons and Jaffrays until the late 17th century when it passed to the Patons of Farrochie, Fettercairn, who changed the earlier name for the property, Dilspro, to that presently used.” Return from Note 1

Note 2:  From the late 1870s until Mabel Bent’s death in 1929, the Bents lived in Great Cumberland Place, London, a Regency/Georgian sweep of properties, a stone’s throw from Marble Arch, and for nearly twenty years they would leave their comfortable London residence together every winter for the hardships and inconveniences of travel in the Eastern Mediterranean, Southern Arabia and Africa – greater contrasts it is difficult to imagine. Originally the couple leased Number 43 Great Cumberland Place, with its adjacent mews entrance passing underneath their drawing rooms, until the early 1880s, following which they moved closer to Marble Arch, again leasing, at Number 13: the latter was bombed, alas, but the latter still stands Return from Note 2

Note 3:  Paton was referring to Bent’s archaeological successes along the coast of western Turkey over the winter of 1889/90, chief among which was his discovery of the ancient Greek site of Olba. Bent published the results in a number of articles, the reader should refer to the years 1890 and 1891 in the Bent bibliography. Return from Note 3

Note 4:  Unlicenced in the main, Bent (and not for the first time) had always to be one step ahead of the authorities, at that time headed by polymath Osman Hamdi Bey, in charge of antiquities in Istanbul. By the end of April 1890, Bey, infuriated, complained to HM Ambassador in Istanbul. As well as digging where he shouldn’t, Bent was being accused of espionage. A consular official was tasked with writing to him: “Private – Adana, April 9, 1890. Dear Mr. Bent, The Governor General, having received information that you are revisiting the same places you had already visited some time ago on the road to Selefka, and that you are taking photos or plans of the various places, requests me to make you acquainted with the fact that the taking of photos or plans of the places is not allowed without the special permission of the government. His Excellency therefore requests me to invite you in a very polite manner to discontinue from taking photos, etc., as above mentioned. Complying with His Excellency’s request, I ask leave to add that it would be better if you came back to Mersina in order to avoid any possible troubles with subaltern officials. The best way to continue your scientific investigations unmolested is, in my opinion, to request His Excellency, Sir William White, to obtain for you from the ministry at Constantinople the required permission. N. J. Christmann” (The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent, vol 1, pages 320-1, Oxford, 2006) Return from Note 4

Note 5:  For the brotherly reference, see Mabel’s diary entry above. Smyrna (Izmir) was the important hub for regional steamer traffic: and one’s call before Constantinople. In 1885 Paton had married Irene Olympiti (1869/70-1908), daughter of the prodromos of Kalymnos, Emmanuel Olympiti. Return from Note 5

Notes to Letter 2

Note 6:  See note 1 above. Return from Note 6

Note 7:  See note 2 above. Return from Note 7

Note 8:  Note the change in familiarity compared to Letter 1. Return from Note 8

Note 9:  These illustrations are untraced. Return from Note 9

Note 10:  1891 ‘A Protracted Wedding’. English Illustrated Magazine, Vol. 93 (Jun), 672-7; a reworking of Bent’s 1888 article ‘A Protracted Wedding’. The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 265 (Oct), 331-41. There are no illustrations. This bucolic Greek wedding, allegedly on Tilos (also in the Dodecanese, down the line en route for Rhodes), was unaccountably imagined by Bent – Mabel makes no reference to it in her diary. This explains why Theodore could not use Mabel’s photographs: there weren’t any. Return from Note 10

Note 11:  Paton was then busy publishing some material from Kos with E.L. Hicks. The work was published in 1891. For a brief bibliography, see the panel above. Return from Note 11

Note 12: Click for the Bents and Olba. Return from Note 12

Note 13: This is the most intriguing extract from either letter. It proves that in mid October 1890 the Bents were still planning to revisit the Turkish littoral the following year. However, it transpired that Cecil Rhodes’s agent, E.A. Maund gave a lecture on Mashonaland (Zimbabwe) at the Royal Geographical Society on 24 November (1890), at which Theodore was present. It changed his career. On 30 January 1891, husband and wife, and having miraculously organised everything in a couple of English winter months, were on the Castle Line Garth Castle for Cape Town. Ahead lay a year exploring the archaeological remains in and around Great Zimbabwe,  leading to his controversial book, The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892): it transformed him into a celebrity archaeologist and explorer, opening the way for his famous treks over the next few years into Southern Arabia and the Wadi Hadramawt. It can also be said to have led indirectly to his early death from malarial complications in May 1897, subsequent to his last adventure, east of Aden. Return from Note 13

No “no rooz” for the Bents – well, maybe one

Nowruz (or “no rooz” for Mabel), a moveable feast, is the Persian New Year, and the Bents found themselves caught up in the celebrations for it in the Spring of 1899, during their amazing journey on horseback, south–north, through Persia that year. Theodore wrote a piece on it; Mabel makes several references to it in her ‘Chronicle’ – they were even introduced to the Shah, who takes an obvious shine to Theodore’s wife. Nowruz 2020, by the way, is March 20th.

Eight Western New Years out of fourteen saw the intrepid Bents on the road somewhere, or at sea, leaving freezing, foggy England (and their fine townhouse near Marble Arch) in their dust either for the Eastern Med, Africa, or wider Arabia, where they would spend three months or so exploring for antiquities, customs, costumes, folklore, and any other material Theodore could weave into a book, article or lantern-slide talk (based on Mabel’s photos).

Trekking, the Bents seem too preoccupied or tired to do too much in the way of celebrations, and they were moderate in their habits anyway. Perhaps the two occasions they were at sea on comfortable steamers might have been more jolly; but Mabel makes no mention.

If you have an idle few minutes you can follow the couple via these interactive maps on our site.

For those who enjoy lists, here is where the Bents celebrated, or slept through, New Year’s Eve away from London, between 1883–1896 (Theodore’s last New Year – health? It brought him none; he died of malarial complications in May 1897, at only 45).

New Year’s Eve 1883 – Naxos in the Cyclades

New Year’s Eve 1888 – On their way to Aden on the P&O Rosetta

New Year’s Eve 1891 – On the return journey from Cape Town to London on the Castle Line Doune Castle

New Year’s Eve 1892 – En route to Massawa in the Red Sea

New Year’s Eve 1893 – Trekking monotonously through the Wadi Hadramawt, Yemen “[Sunday, 31 December 1893] Our journey was utterly monotonous and again we camped near wells. Lunt’s tent [their botanist from Kew] put up the first thing for him to get to bed with orders not to leave till the sun was on us in the morning, and we all decided to stay at home till that time as again the camels could find food. I like camping near water because the camels can fetch it quietly from the wells instead of noisily from their own insides.”

New Year’s Eve 1894 – Dofar “New Year’s Eve. Did not get off till 10, though we breakfasted before sunrise. Every rope we had round our boxes is taken off and in use, and every bit of rawhide rope we possess is in use and great famine prevails in this respect. Theodore’s camel was a very horrid one and sat down occasionally and you first get a violent pitch forward, then an equally violent one back and a 2nd forward; this is not a pleasant thing to happen unexpectedly… We were all most dreadfully stiff and tired and again too late to do anything in the way of unpacking more than just enough for the night.”

New Year’s Eve 1895 – Kosseir (modern Quseir/Qoseir) in the Red Sea: “New Year’s Eve 1895. We went ashore in a bay guarded by savage reefs, and were glad to leave our rolling ship. There was a good deal of vegetation and Theodore seriously began his botanical collection with a good booty. Nothing was shot but 2 birds, which fell into the sea and were snapped up by a shark.”

New Year’s Eve 1896 – Socotra

If you want to read Mabel’s New Years, her ‘Chronicles’ (archived in London, under the care of the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies) have been published by Archaeopress, Oxford.

Lear, Bent & Tozer

 

H. F. Tozer (Wikipedia)

Neither a firm of county-town solicitors,  nor nonsense to soon find a link between Theodore Bent and Edward Lear (1812-1888). The Oxford academic and traveller to the Eastern Med, Henry Fanshawe Tozer (1829-1916) – himself somewhat Learesque – visited the artist, a lover of Greece, but by then too infirm to travel, in his San Remo villa in 1885, and sent him a copy of Bent’s newly published and seminal work: The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks (London, 1885).

Edward Lear (Wikipedia)

Lear is soon writing to his friend Chichester Fortescue: ‘Tozer of Oxford sends me a charming book…by Theodore Bent…all about the Cyclades. (Dearly beloved child let me announce to you that this word is pronounced ‘Sick Ladies,’ – howsomdever certain Britishers call it ‘Sigh-claides.’)…’ (Lear to Chichester Fortescue, Lord Carlingford [30 April 1885, San Remo]).

Lear, like Bent, struggled with the tug between sunshine and showers:

“It seems to me that I have to choose between two extremes of affection for nature – towards outward nature that is – English or southern – the former, oak, ash and beech, downs and cliffs, old associations, friends near at hand, and many comforts not to be got elsewhere. The latter olive – vine – flowers, the ancient life of Greece, warmth and light, better health, greater novelty, and less expense in life. On the other side are in England cold, damp and illness, constant hurry and bustle, cessation from all topographic interest, extreme expenses…” [Edward Lear, c. 1860, taken from a letter, in Edward Lear: A Biography by Peter Levi (1995, p. 192)]

‘Theodore Bent’s Turkish embroidery bequest’ – The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston

The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, UK (Wikipedia)

In the Collections Development Policy statement (2011) of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery (Preston, UK) there is a fascinating, and, for the Bent Archive, startling reference on page 30:

‘In the long term, the following areas of the collection have been identified as under-researched areas, but these would only be tackled in the context of potential for use and visitor engagement … […] Theodore Bent’s Turkish embroidery bequest.’

This casual aside makes the Harris Museum one of only three public collections in the world, to our knowledge, to hold a collection of textiles originally acquired by Theodore and Mabel Bent over the 20 years of their travels, the other two being the Benaki Museum, Athens, and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. (We are not including here the few clothing and other items, some made of bark, that the Bents brought back from Great Zimbabwe that are now in the British Museum.)

‘Theodore Bent’s Turkish embroidery bequest’ at the Harris Museum consists of four items (we are assuming they represent the entire ‘bequest’), and, thanks to the kind assistance of curator Caroline Alexander, we believe that this is the first time they have been ‘published’.

Detail from PRSMG 1970.2 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

The museum’s Accession Book refers to the pieces as ‘Turkish Embroideries’. In the 1880s, the decade the Bents spent mainly in the Eastern Mediterranean, the islands off the Turkish west coast belonged to Turkey, taken and held by the Ottomans from early medieval times until the early 20th century. The  Dodecanese islands were only returned to Greece in the 1940s.  Thus the Bents’ acquisitions (some with the intention of selling on to British collectors and institutions) reflect a wide blend of styles and influences – the distinctions between ‘Greek’ and ‘Turkish’ being generally moot points. Beautiful things, made painstakingly, to be given, worn, or displayed, remain beautiful things irrespective.

Detail from PRSMG 1970.4 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

The four items (1970.1; 1970.2; 1970.3; 1970.4) in the Harris Museum were donated in May 1970, rather mysteriously, by someone who introduced herself as ‘the great-niece’ of Theodore Bent. There seems to be no mention of the gift in the museum’s Donation Book, an interesting fact, nor does any name appear in the museum’s accession records unfortunately. The museum’s Accession Book includes the following handwritten note stapled to the relevant entries: ‘Query re T. Bent’s niece [sic]. No details of this donation in the donation book. Contact V & A to whom T. Bent donated embroidery.’

Enquiries are under way (December 2019) to try and find out who the donor may have been, and why the Harris should have been chosen as the recipient.

Theodore Bent had no siblings, but several cousins, who in turn had issue. There is a chance that one of these might be our donor, and there is a local connection. Theodore Bent himself had property just outside Macclesfield , and his uncle John was Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1850.  The family were influential local brewers, and, indeed, Theodore was born in Liverpool (1852). Bent’s Brewery Co. Ltd remained in business until the 1970s, as part of Bass Charrington. The Bents can be traced back to the Liverpool region in the 1600/1700s, and were potters and brewers – one, a medical man, was the famous surgeon who amputated Josiah Wedgwood’s leg!

Detail from PRSMG 1970.3 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

Thus perhaps it was a member of this energetic and successful family who donated the embroideries in 1970; but somehow we doubt it. The Bents were great collectors (and dealers) in embroideries, etc., on their travels in the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey in the 1880s, the period, we assume, when the four pieces now in the Harris were acquired by the exploring couple. On Theodore’s death in 1897 all his estate went to his wife Mabel, and they had no children. Just over thirty years later, on Mabel’s death (1929) all her  belongings, including her textiles, went to her surviving nieces – they, in turn, had daughters, who would thus have been the ‘great nieces of Mrs Theodore Bent’. Of these, it seems only Kathleen Prudence Eirene Bagenal (1886-1974) was alive in 1970. (For the Anglo-Irish Hall-Dare family click here.)

We may, therefore, tentatively, and for now, propose Kathleen Bagenal (or her agent) as the donor of the Bent textile bequest to the Harris. The mystery remains why the Harris? Kathleen’s family home was in Scotland (Arbigland, on the Solway Firth), and we know that she was actively selling off her great-aunt’s textiles from the 1930s. We will, of course, update this theory if more information comes our way.

Detail from PRSMG c1970.1 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

In her lifetime Mabel exhibited some of her fabric collection – we know of two events, but neither seem to have included any of the four items donated to the Harris in 1970.

  • A lecture Bent gave to the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland in 1886, during which his Mabel displayed a range of their textiles. These are published in ‘Insular Greek Customs’. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 15 (1886), 391-403. [With an Appendix by ‘Mrs. Bent’].
  • At the 1914 embroidery exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London, Mabel Bent showed a good part of her collection (see later in this contribution).

The Bent textiles in the Harris Museum, Preston

PRSMG c1970.1. ‘Fine linen cloth embroidered at both ends’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: c1970.1 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry:  ‘Embroidered with silk and gold plate thread, at both ends. Repeating pattern of formal plant motifs. Pink, blue, gold and brown on natural linen.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘April May 1970′.

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Fine linen cloth [dimensions not provided] embroidered at both ends with intricate floral pattern of mainly peach and blue silk embellished with gold. Probably embroidered using a tambour. Possibly Turkish. Note: 2015, Asia from British Museum visited, said possibly Turkish with the use of flattened gold thread.’

PRSMG 1970.2. ‘Embroidered panel of fine linen’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: 1970.2 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry: ‘Short strip embroidered at ends with formal design of cyprus tress and flowers in urns. Embroidered patch appliquéd on.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘May 1970′.

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Embroidered panel [dimensions not provided] of fine linen. Embroidered both ends with motifs of pinecones and eight-petalled flowers in pots worked in blue, dark brown beige and cream threads. Probably machine worked as no evidence of starting or finishing. Machine worked down two edges. Also central panel later addition in pale blue, beige and cream floral motifs.’

PRSMG 1970.3. ‘Embroidered panel of fine linen’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: 1970.3 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry: ‘Long strip embroidered with flower motif repeated seven times. Red, brown and blue silk embroidery with blue border on three sides.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘May 1970′.

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Embroidered panel of fine linen [dimensions not provided]. Embroidered with floral motifs along length. Motif of red and blue flowers in repeated and alternating pattern. Appears to have been the edge of a larger panel. Believed Turkish c 19th century.’

PRSMG 1970.4. ‘Embroidered panel of floral motifs on fine linen’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: 1970.4 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry: ‘Red silk cloth square extended at corners. Two  embroidered panels joined to form centre piece, with blue silk strips on two sides. Floral design.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘May 1970’. [This entry in a different hand]

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Embroidered panel [dimensions not provided] of floral motifs on fine linen comprising two pieces joined in the centre. Primarily terracotta red, blue, green and mustard thread working arabesque floral design. Panel has terracotta coloured narrow lace edging. Panel has been mounted on dark red silk backing panel with sleeves top and bottom for hanging. Possibly Turkish. c 19th century.’

The 1914 embroidery exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, London

As mentioned above, Mabel Bent showed a good part of her collection at the 1914 embroidery exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London. There is an an online catalogue. The prize exhibits were a collection of fine dresses from the Dodecanese, now in the Benaki Museum, Athens, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  The exhibition cabinets displayed a wide range of Mabel’s other textiles, but none of the four items now held in the Harris Museum seem to have been shown to the public in 1914, but more research is needed to confirm this (i.e. future access to the exclusive photographs of the exhibits). Readers may be able to identify the Harris pieces in the catalogue (search ‘Bent’ in the online catalogue search box that appears on the page), and if so we would be delighted to hear from them. Similarly, if any Preston readers can provide information on the four Harris pieces before they entered the collection in 1970, we would also be most interested.

Mabel Bent’s diaries are, occasionally, a useful primary source for information on the thousands of artefacts the couple returned with to London during the twenty years of their travels in the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, and Arabia. There are hundreds of references to dress, costume, embroideries, fabrics, etc. Unfortunately, Mabel does not always give precise details of gifts and acquisitions and it has not been possible to identify the four textiles in the Harris bequest in her notebooks.

“This afternoon we have been to the doctor Venier, of a Venetian family. Dr. Venier showed us the hangings of a bed, in which King Otho slept when he visited Pholégandros. All gold lace, silver lace and the most beautiful silk embroidery on linen. The curtains were striped silk gauze with gold lace insertion. The pillows gold edged real silk. We were also shown lace-edged sheets and gold embroidery. It was a really splendid sight and fit for a museum.” (February 1884, Folégandhros in the Greek Cyclades; ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent’, vol 1, page 44, 2006, Oxford)

In conclusion, the four textile pieces discussed, once in the collection of Theodore and Mabel Bent and donated to the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, represent an important revelation, and are published, it is thought, for the first time here. If you have any comments on any aspect of this content, including the origins, or technical/stylistic features of the four textiles, do please write in.

Mabel Bent and Gertrude Bell – two B’s in a pod

Gertrude Bell – a still from the BBC’s publicity.

A fascinating profile of Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) in Baghdad the other night (December 2019)* on BBC 4 (a re-showing of a progamme from 2017) –unquestionably an important and extraordinary figure – Arabist, archaeologist, diplomat, agent provocatrice: and no match for Mabel Bent (1847-1929), the latter, it seems, giving her short shrift the few occasions they met in the early 1900s, in Palestine and around. Bell, in the bully spectrum, of course took an instant dislike to Mrs Theodore Bent – as much no-nonsense as she was herself.

Mabel Bent and Manthaios Simos, the Bents’ dragoman, on their camels near Mohammad Gul in the Sudan in 1896 (a detail from a rare lantern slide in the RGS, London).

Bell writes to her stepmother Dame Florence Bell, 6 February 1900: ‘I met Mrs. Theodore Bent, but having thrown the Salaam, as we say in my tongue, I rapidly fled, for I do not like her. She is the sort of woman the refrain of whose conversation is: “You see, I have seen things so much more interesting” or “I have seen so many of these, only bigger and older”… I wonder if Theodore Bent liked her.’ He did; very much.

* Randomly repeated it seems; a VPN may help outside the UK.

A bookplate without a book…

The Hall-Dare family bookplate, circa 1830. (c) The Bent Archive

We all know that books attract to us like iron filings to a magnet, and that, mysteriously, over the decades, the poles reverse, and they fall away, mostly unmissed. Their residue? – more than likely some brown envelope stuffed with futureless bookplates.

Here is one, it came to the Bent Archive the  other day (late November 2019) after a casual search online. It is the bookplate of Robert Westley Hall-Dare (1789-1836), the 1st, the explorer Mabel Bent’s grandfather. (Tradition had it that the eldest boy would subsequently have the same name, thus RWHD II (1817-1866) was Mabel’s father; RWHD III, her brother (1840-1876); RWHD IV, her nephew (1866-1939); and RWHD V (fifth and last, 1899-1972) her great-nephew. Pedants will have spotted ‘Westly’ for ‘Westley’ – it’s no typo; early family members were flexible.)

Detail from a portrait believed to be of Robert Westley Hall-Dare (1789–1836), Mabel Bent’s grandfather. (c) Private Collection (artist unknown).

There was substantial wealth in the Hall-Dare family – rich estates in distant sugar-lands and not-so-distant Essex. Eton and Oxford boys, the Hall-Dares had lots of books, and bookplates for them. For their coat-of-arms, assembled from various matrimonial alliances (Dare, Hall, Westley/ Westly, Eaton, King, Grafton, Mildmay, et al.), we have only to turn to page 263 of Burke’s 1884 edition (London) of The general armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; comprising a registry of armorial bearings from the earliest to the present time.

No doubt there will be those now in candlelit studies, ticking grandfather clocks, cigars, brandy glasses on green-baize tables, who will be waiting for a description. Here it is in full:

“Dare (Hall-Dare, Newtownbarry, co. Wexford, and Theydon Bois, Co. Essex). Quarterly, 1st and 4th, az. a lion ramp. ar. betw. three lozenges or, each charged with an increscent gu. in chief a cross crosslet gold, for Dare; 2nd and 3rd, sa. on a chev. engr. betw. three battle-axes erect or, as many eagles displ. of the field, for Hall. Crests — For Dare: A demi lion ramp. az. bezantée, charged on the shoulder with a cross crosslet or, and holding betw. the paws a lozenge charged with an increscent as in the arms; for Hall: A horse’s head couped sa. semée of mullets or, armed ppr. bridled ar. on the head two ostrich feathers of the first and third, and holding in the mouth a battle-axe or. Motto — Loyauté sans tache.”

The motto is archaic French; nothing to do with troubling Victorian moustaches: Fairbairn (Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland, 1905, part II, page 47) gives us “Loyalty without spot” – unblemished loyalty, large words to live up to, or not.

A bookplate without book… is still a book lost…

Mabel, Theodore, and Thomas Cook & Son

“Thomas Cook (22 November 1808 – 18 July 1892) was an English businessman. He is best known for founding the travel agency Thomas Cook & Son.” (Wikipedia)

Mabel, Theodore, and Thomas Cook & Son

In the news once more, the seemingly persistent vicissitudes of the once-venerable Thos Cook & Sons (and all so symptomatic of British management for decades, especially in terms of brand stewardship) have sent the Bent Archive (late August 2019) back to Mabel’s diaries for references to the eponymous tour operator – for the couple, like thousands, tens of thousands, of travellers– relied upon Thomas Cook (1808-1892) for their occasional Nilotic episodes in the 1880s and ‘90s. The entrepreneur began his Egyptian tours in 1869.

Some background; Jan Morris, none better:  “Thomas Cook, the booking clerk of the Empire… and ‘leave it to Cook’s’ had gone into the language. Cook’s had virtually invented modern tourism, and their brown mahogany offices, with their whirring fans and brass tellers’ cages, were landmarks of every imperial city. They held the concession for operating steamers on the River Nile: all the way up to Abu Simbel the banks of the river were populated by Cook’s dependents…’ (‘Pax Britannica, The Climax of an Empire’. London 1998, page 64)

The Bents’ first reference to the firm is in early 1885. Theodore and Mabel are off to explore the, then Turkish, Dodecanese, but opt to start with the steamer from Marseilles to Alexandria, via the Straits of Messina, and a brief detour to Egypt. Mabel busies herself with her diary:

“In the evening of Saturday [17th January 1885] we went out to see Stromboli. We could dimly distinguish the fire but when lightning swept low on the sea behind it the whole black form of the island was shown. We went very slowly, whistling through the Straits of Messina. We ought to have been in Alexandria on Tuesday but only got to the desired port about 2 o’clock on Wednesday [21st January], quite as glad to get into the Land of Egypt as ever the Children of Israel were to get out. We had our little feelings as we sat in a boat with a Union Jack and ‘Cook’s Tours’ upon it. We got through the custom-house very well and my box of photographic things was never opened anywhere though it was hastily put into a box with ‘Matière Explosive, Dynamite’ upon it.” (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa’. Oxford 2012, page 6)

Some Pyramid scalers in 1885 (the year of Mabel’s ascent), by J. Pascal Sébah. Obviously clambering all over them was the thing to do back then; it is not recommended today.

Moving on from the port of the famous Library, a few pages further in her diary Mabel details their sightseeing around Cairo – and, of course, at the Sphinx and its sentinels. Then, as now, tourists everywhere are suspended by their heels and well shaken; Mabel, in charge of the Bent coffers, is having none of it: “Monday 26th [January 1885]. By the bye, [Thomas] Cook, when asked, would send us to the Pyramids for £3 and I think we only paid £1 and 1 franc.” (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa’. Oxford 2012, page 11)

The Bents’ first visit to Egypt was carefree and fun; Mabel’s diary pages read whimsically and breathless in 1885. Not so in 1898. Theodore’s (early, aged 45) death in May 1897 – Jubilee year – deprived Mabel of the focus for her life: the need to be somewhere else remained, but now with whom? And why? Typical of her she made plans immediately to visit Egypt on a ‘Cook’s’ tour in the winter of 1898 and chronicled the trip, ending with a return via Athens. The melancholy heading she gives this section of her diary is – ‘A lonely useless journey’. Her writing reveals her understandable depression. It makes unhappy reading, contrasting so markedly with her opening thrill of being in Cairo on that first visit with Theodore in 1885.

No doubt encouraged by her relatives, Mabel elected to put together for herself a ‘Cook’s Tour’ to Egypt and the Nile. But, often a mistake to revisit sites of earlier happiness, Mabel’s Egyptian pages echo a series of muted contrasts, sighs, and signs of near despair. That image of a confident, smiling Mabel climbing the Giza Pyramids on her birthday in 1885 is not the one that reappears as she groans ‘so sadly to Mr. Aulich’ of the Cairo Hôtel d’Angleterre, or rides ‘alone and unknown and unknowing’ around the great sites.

The famous travel company, however, is soon on the scene. They do their best to cheer her up: “Wednesday 19th [January 1898]. Port Said… We reached Ismailia about 10 p.m. I landed myself quite unaided and got to bed while the people [Thomas] Cook’s man was looking after, and a lady met by a government officer, were still in the custom house. I took a walk in the town next morning and started for Cairo… I was horrified by a note from Mr. Aulich, the manager of the Hôtel d’Angleterre, to say neither he nor the [Grand] Continental had a room and one had been taken in the Hôtel du Nil. I dined among many Germans, with their napkins tucked under their chins, leaving their elbows on the table and picking their teeth. My cupboard had such smoky coats hung in it that I dared not put in my dresses. Friday 21st [January 1898]. I went and groaned so sadly to Mr. Aulich that a garret was found for me – no bell or electric light – and thither I took myself before dinner. As I was in the Mouski, I thought I could walk in the bazaars so I put on my hat and made the best of my opportunity. Saturday 22nd [January 1898]. I went to Cook’s arsenal and chose a saddle to come with me with one of my own stirrups. On Saturday also I did all my final shopping and remembered when we were last here (or last but one). How we laughed …” (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa’. Oxford 2012, page 268)

“Tuesday 25th [January 1898]. Embarked on ‘Rameses III’, a very comfortable ship.” The Thomas Cook First-Class passenger steamer ‘Rameses’ (236x30ft). From an original archive photograph. © Thomas Cook Archives 2012.
A few days later, Mabel takes, on one of Cook’s fantasy barges, to the river – that river – that has fed Egypt for millennia: “Tuesday 25th [January 1898]. Embarked on ‘Rameses III’, a very comfortable ship. I had a tiny cabin, the last one to starboard, but made myself very snug; the passengers chiefly American. About 20 English, of whom 13 with strong Scotch accents, and a few Germans. All the Germans for Wadi Halfa and none of the Americans or Scotch. Cook’s programme was carried out daily, it being announced at dinner the night before. It was very strange the first day riding alone and unknown and unknowing in such a troop. (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa’. Oxford 2012, page 269)

Mabel is writing on her Nile cruise boat. By 1904 the Cook Nile fleet comprised all these paddle-steamers (P.S.) for First Class passengers: ‘Rameses’ (236x30ft); ‘Rameses the Great’ (221x30ft); ‘Rameses III’ (200x28ft); ‘Amasis’ (170x20ft); ‘Prince Abbas’ (160×20 ft); ‘Tewfik’ (160x20ft); ‘Memnon’ (131x19ft). The steam ‘dahabeahs’ included the ‘Serapis’ (125x18ft); ‘Oonas’ (110x18ft); ‘Nitocris’ (103x15ft); and ‘Mena’ (100x18ft). Although Cook’s still have records for most of their steamers that travelled the Nile between 1890-4, they have no details for the period 1895-1900 and no booking records for Mabel’s journeys have been found (Cook’s Company Archivist, pers. comm., 2012).

Over the next few weeks (February 1898), Mabel makes several more references to Cooks as she visits the great sites and sights. The company, it seems, provides all comforts and care:  “Thursday, February 3rd [1898]. Medinet Habou, Colossi, Dier el Bahàri, Gourna Ramesseum, and after tea I did the Luxor Temple alone; so nice and quiet and much less lonely than among so many strangers. Up to this we had awfully cold weather. I had, besides the Cook’s blanket and quilt, 2 blankets of my own, a shawl, dressing gown, newspaper, cloak and Ulster on my bed.” (The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa. Oxford 2012, page 270)

On 22 February 1898 Mabel, at Luxor, meets John Mason Cook (1834-1899), the only son of the founder. (Wikipedia)

On 22 February 1898 she has a visit by the famous man himself: “Reached Luxor Tuesday evening, but did not go to live ashore at the Luxor Hotel till Wednesday. Mr. Cook came on board that evening with Major and Mrs. Griffiths, off his dahabeyah ‘Cheops’, which we had been towing all day. (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa’. Oxford 2012, page 273)

Although with only a year to live, Mabel’s ‘Mr. Cook’ here is John Mason Cook (1834-1899), the only son of the founder, Thomas. The Luxor Hotel, to the east of Luxor Temple, was established by Cooks to accommodate the increasing number of tour groups along the Nile.

After Theodore’s death Mabel met the designer Moses Cotsworth in the Middle East and provided another Cook’s story. Moses had sailed to Beirut in December 1900 to visit the Sun Temple at Baalbek. In Beirut, he was ‘stranded in quarantine’ at Thomas Cook’s travel bureau. It was too late in the season for tourists to attempt the overland journey to Jerusalem and he was unable to afford a private guide. While waiting there he overheard a conversation between some other travellers who were also trying to attempt the same trip. Professor G. Frederick Wright and his son, Fred, were talking to Rossiter S. Scott from Baltimore, USA. They all wished to travel to Jerusalem. Wright invited Cotsworth to join their party as between them, and Scott, they could afford to hire a guide. The party set out for Damascus by the narrow-gauge railway over the mountains of Lebanon taking a slight detour for Cotsworth to visit Baalbek. By 17th December they had reached Damascus and organised a caravan of mules to carry them to Jerusalem. They had no tents but ‘depended on finding shelter wherever we should happen to be.’ In Hineh they sought shelter in the house of a Russian priest and had to remain there for two days to escape a snowstorm. Once on the move again they passed Lake Huleh where they were accosted by a Bedouin gentlemen who spoke English and asked them to drink coffee with him. The party then planned to visit the southern end of the Dead Sea. Wright recounted that ‘In this we were joined by Mrs. Theodore Bent, whose extensive travels with her husband in Ethiopia, southern Arabia, and Persia, had not only rendered her famous but fitted her in a peculiar manner to be a congenial and helpful travelling companion.’

Cook’s, of course, went bust inevitably and finally in September 2019 and  future Mabels will no longer take to their beds, board, berths, flights, guides, and countless other services. Nor will their agents still greet them, smiling, at stations, harbour-sides, arrival gates, and pullman halts.  Never more (unless reincarnated) will there be, Morris again, “Thomas Cook, the booking clerk of the Empire…”? All aboard? All abroad?

Mabel’s diary extracts are from Volume 2 of her Chronicles.

VIDEO – Manolis Pelekis: A lament for the great tsabouna player from Anafi

Circa 1885 map showing Anafi, east of Santorini. It is a detail from the map illustrating Bent’s 1885 classic – ‘The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks’. Anafi was home to the great tsabouna player, Manolis Pelekis.

VIDEO – Manolis Pelekis: A lament for the great tsabouna player from Anafi.

The Bent Archive has been slow with its tribute to the late Manolis Pelekis (†2019) – legendary Anafiot citizen, musician and tsabouna player; for many decades no Anafi island event (Greek Cyclades, east of Santorini) was ever complete without his plaintive accompaniment…

Manolis Pelekis playing on Anafi one Easter (photo: The Bent Archive)

Theodore and Mabel Bent, tsabouna serenaded, travelled in the Cyclades in 1883/4, recording many occasions of musical evenings in their writings; here is Mabel in her diary in early 1884 making reference to an Anafi ball (probably hearing somewhere the skirls of the tsabouna):  “After dinner a fine tall handsome niece of Matthew’s called Evtimia Chalaris [appeared], dressed in a beautiful old costume of silk, violet flowered brocade skirt, green velvet bodice, gold embroidered stomacher and a short pink satin jacket edged round the cuffs and down the front with pink fur… There was a regular ball and the Demarch danced most actively.”

The Matthew referred to is the Bent’s long-serving assistant Matthew Simos, who was born on Anafi.

Theodore Bent’s tsabouna, now in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

A year later, 1885, Theodore Bent acquired a tsabouna of his own – it is now on display in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. The couple were great collectors of things to make music with – wherever they  travelled to. The British Museum has some of their instruments from Zimbabwe, and  the Pitt Rivers also holds a lyra from Karpathos and various Cycladic pipes made from eagle bones, and other items. It’s time for a themed display with musical offerings for enthusiasts.

The main difference to the instrument played by Manolis Pelekis (over 100 years later) is that Bent’s Oxford tsabouna lacks the poignant brass cross on the chanter…

RIP Kyrie Manolis; listen to him play…

(The video of Manolis is an excerpt from a longer YouTube film you can see here.)

The tsabouna has a special place in the repertoire of the Cyclades and greater Greece; its history and etymology are fascinating. Take a look at our video exploring Theodore’s relationship with the instrument.

Coincidentally, on Santorini, just two hours east of Anafi (although it took the Bents close to twenty), you will find the musician Yannis Pantazis who crafts his own instruments and demonstrates them in his artisan workshop in Santorini, at SYMPOSION by La Ponta, in the traditional village of Megalochori.


Happy wedding anniversary, 2019, Theodore and Mabel Bent, from Charlotte Bellingham Wrench

Mabel in her wedding dress.

Happy anniversary. Today (2 August 2019) is Theodore and Mabel’s wedding anniversary – they married (he 26, she 31) near Mabel’s family seat (Co. Wexford) on this day in 1877, in the little church of Staplestown, Co. Carlow.

Staplestown Church, Co. Carlow.

 

The couple were perfectly matched and formed a happy, childless partnership, spent exploring for nearly the next 20 years the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa and Arabia, until Theodore’s untimely death in May 1897, returning from east of Aden – as fatal then as now.

Mabel was brusque, pragmatic, robust, fearless, obsessive and totally dedicated to Theodore’s work – their work – as expedition quartermaster, photographer, and chronicler. She was also to the right of fanatical. Theodore died in days, and Mabel found herself equally abruptly adrift – she turned to her faith and spent several years rootling around Palestine, soon becoming embroiled in the early doings of the Anglo-Israeli Association (various aliases) and remained a member for 30 years until her death in 1929. (One of the many archaeological ironies is that co-adherents desecrated the ‘Hill of Tara’ (Co. Meath, and just a few kms south-east of Mabel’s birthplace) in the early 1900s, looking for the ‘Ark of the Covenant’; and there is the on-going controversy about ‘The Bethel Seal’ – did Mabel plant it as a love-token for her dead spouse?)

“May I lend your magazine to the Reverend Commander Roberts RN – Rector of Ardley, Bicester – our Secretary – I think he would write to that man? Mabel Virginia Anna Bent, 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W. [Mabel’s London home], 28 April 1909”
Arguably, none of this detracts, in the end, from Mabel’s Herculean (Amazonian?) efforts to support Theodore, and contribute to the many successes of their adventures in the field, from Aksum to Zimbabwe.

 

 

 

Charlotte Bellingham Wrench from an on-line family history.

And the reason for the anniversary nod to her, anyway, is just to point out this aspect of Mabel’s nature (and he that is without, etc.), and note the arrival at the Bent Archive (thanks to Anna Cook) of a signed and incompletely dated card from Mabel to Charlotte Bellingham Wrench (addressed to her fine house, Killacoona, Ballybrack, Co. Dublin), asking if she (Mabel) could forward a magazine (presumably anti-AIA) to Lawrence Roberts, ‘our secretary’ (and committed AIAist), and write to ‘that man’ (Mabel could be a dogged and ruthless adversary).

Mabel’s correspondent: Mrs Charlotte Bellingham Wrench, Killacoona, Ballybrack [Co. Dublin]
The year is hard to make out from the postmark, but thanks to John Enfield, President and Journal Editor of the British Postmark Society (pers. comm., July 2019), we have it catalogued as 1909. Mabel was in full voice and causing trouble in Jerusalem; unswerving in her views, she had just published her ‘Anglo-Saxons from Palestine; or, The imperial mystery of the lost tribes’ (1908, London: Sherratt & Hughes) – it is an absurd tract, and, fortunately, almost impossible to read or obtain today.

Never mind, ‘Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís – Her like will not be seen again’ (as goes the Irish epitaph later selected for one of Mabel’s great-nieces). She is buried with Theodore in St Mary’s, Theydon Bois, outside London, go visit her…

Friedrich v. Vincenz assists Mabel Bent on Tilos in the Dodecanese: ‘All the women here are terrified at the idea of being photographed and my camera is rather a “white elephant”!’

‘Mrs Bent and her Camera. Photo by Russell & Sons, London, probably Spring, 1895’ (The British Library).

Although from 1885 Mabel Bent came equipped with the latest in cameras, and was appointed expedition photographer to the Bents’ explorations of the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, and Southern  Arabia, very very few of her photographs are published or known – other than what have appeared in their books and articles, or have been transformed into the few Bent lantern-slides remaining in the Royal Geographical Society, London.  No doubt more will turn up eventually, e.g. a folder of prints dated to the Bents’ trip to Great Zimbabwe in 1891 seems to exist in the Zimbabwe National Archives, Harare (for those interested in the source, please contact the Bent Archive).

An old photograph showing Tilos fifty years or so after the Bents’ visit (and fifty years before its current tourist development).

Next best, in the absence of Mabel’s own work, are those images taken by other photographers more or less synchronously. There are several to choose from, but a favourite must be from the Greek Dodecanese, the island of Tilos, between Kos and Rhodes, and a wonderful group of Tilian girls and women taken in the late 1890s, just a dozen years after Theodore and Mabel visited Tilos and the Dodecanese in 1885. The photograph (see below) appears in an article entitled ‘Ein Besuch auf der Insel Telos’ by one Friedrich v. Vincenz (possibly based at the time in Smyrna/Izmir) and published in the popular German magazine ‘Globus’ in January 1900 (pages 46-8). The original article has been scanned, but a comprehensive (and now possibly inactive ?) Tilos website also has a fine page or two reprinting the article (in German, but an English translation is available via the site – which, incidentally, has much else to enjoy: articles, photographs, and an Italian-era map that is not much reproduced). Vincenz’s article will be of interest generally, although some comments are inappropriate today, with antisemitic overtones – such a common feature of the turn of the century, and here and there also in the writings of the Bents. The author does not feature much on-line; he may have been residing at the time in Smyrna/Izmir, but he seems not to have written much, if anything, else, and no images of him pop up.

‘Frauern von Telos in alter Tracht’, a photograph by Friedrich v. Vincenz from his article ‘Ein Besuch auf der Insel Telos’, published in ‘Globus’ in January 1900 (pages 46-8).

Focusing now on the evocative Vincenz group photograph, infants to adults, dated around 1900 remember, the women and girls show off their distinctive island finery. The elder ones might easily have met the Bents (perhaps some viewer is related to them? Do write in if you are…), but in 1885 the inhabitants of Tilos were camera-shy, as Mabel records in her diary: ‘… all the women here are terrified at the idea of being photographed and my camera is rather a “white elephant”’.  Friedrich v. Vincenz had more luck (his article also features a photo of a local priest).

Mabel was always passionate about costumes and local dress. Her description of Tilian attire fits so well with the photo (as she writes in her diary at the end of February, 1885): “The men dress the same as all the other islanders we have seen, but the women look very like Laps. They wear a very rational dress. A shirt which comes a little below the knee, embroidered all round with red and green. Over this a light brown coat is wrapped by a scarlet belt. The shirt has a small square sailor collar of yellow and the open front of the shirt is filled with a piece of coloured embroidery, almost hidden by the great number of necklaces of different colours composed of numerous strings of glass beads, reaching nearly to the waist. On their heads they wear red pointed caps of red cloth with a bit of gold braid straight up the front and down the back. A handkerchief with the point turned up is tied across the front, and the hair, which is plaited rather high in front, is brought low over the ears and behind below the cap. Over all they tie a towel by its 2 front corners and sometimes also by the 2 back ones…” (Mabel and Theodore Bent, ‘The Dodecanese, or Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks’, Oxford, 2015, page 114).

‘Three ‘trahilia’’, after ‘Die Trachilia von Stamata Orfanou, oder der Kraplap von Tilos. Text und Fotos: An Moonen – Mit Dank an Frau Papantoniu (Athen) und Frau Dina Vagianou (Rhodos)’.

Mabel’s reference to the ‘open front of the shirt… filled with a piece of coloured embroidery’ is noteworthy. This piece of embroidery is the τραχηλιά (‘trahilia’), presumably developed and designed to facilitate breastfeeding. Friedrich v. Vincenz also describes it: ‘Auf der Brust befindet sich ein vom Halse mehr oder weniger tief herabreichender Ausschnitt, der durch bunte kunstreiche Stickerei, meist in Schwarz, Rot und Grün, ausgefüllt ist, auf dem die mit großer Vorliebe getragenen Schaumünzen, sowie bunten Halsgehänge in Glas und Bernstein hängen.’

The Tilos website already mentioned above also has a delightful page (several years old now and perhaps no longer updated?) describing the three examples shown above, as well as photographs and stories of venerable matriarchs. [If any of the site’s contributors would care to get in touch, we would be delighted to acknowledge them, rectify any errors, and thank them for such interesting material (July 2019).]

Those interested in the Bents and Tilos are directed to ‘The Dodecanese, or Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks’, Oxford, 2015 (locals [2019] can hop on a ferry and get a copy from Rhodes’ Akademia Bookshop).