Mabel – with thoughts of diamonds on the soles of her shoes

The Queen’s Hotel, Kimberley, around 1880.

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).

Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicle’ for 1891 – Central Africa.

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).

(1856-1920) (Wikipedia).

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.

Opening page of Mabel’s 1891 ‘Chronicle’.

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!

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 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 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 included several pieces from Mabel Bent’s collection 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! 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: to the memory of the kind William Pryor Binney, H.B.M. Consul on Syros and friend to the Bents

The kind William Pryor Binney (21 July 1839 – 12 March 1888), date unknown, presumably the 1870s, and perhaps wearing the medal of Chevalier from the King of Greece, or ‘the order of the Saviour and Order of the Iron Cross from the Emperor of Austria’. (From the‘Genealogy of the Binney family in the United States’ 1886)

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’:

William Binney’s grave in the Westerners’ cemetery, Syros (detail) (The Bent Archive).

“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.”

The year of Binney’s birth, however, is given as 1840 in an arcane ‘Genealogy of the Binney family in the United States’, published by Charles James Fox Binney in 1886 (Albany, N.Y., J. Munsell’s Sons):

“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.”

Stephen Binney (1805–1872), William’s father (from ‘Genealogy of the Binney family in the United States’, 1886).

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’.

Pryor-Binney House, 5178 Morris Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J, Canada (Heritage Division NS Dept. of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, 2005)

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.

The former premises of the Eastern Telegraph Company, Syros, now the Merchant Marine Academy of Syros for Marine Deck Officers.

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.

Announcement of William Binney’s appointment as ‘Her Majesty’s Consul in the Islands in the Greek Archipelago’ (‘The London Gazette’, 24145/5113, Tuesday, October 27, 1874).

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:

A watercolour of Syros in the mid 19th century by Edward Lear; ‘that sparkling pile’ he called it.

“[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

The Syra British Cemetery
The Syra British Cemetery, Ermoupoli, near the junction of Taxiarchon and Katramadou, on the way to Ano Syros (photo: Alan King).

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]

William Binney’s grave in the Westerners’ cemetery, Syros (The Bent Archive).

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]

Matthaios Simos – Anafiot dragoman extraordinaire!

The plaque in the Anafiot Association of Athens in the 1950s, recording the Simos family as benefactors (courtesy of Margaret Kenna).

A superficially unremarkable photograph sent in recently by Anafi specialist Prof. Margaret Kenna contains a remarkable clue. The clue is a family name – Simos – on a plaque commemorating benefactors to the Association of Anafi Islanders (Greek Cyclades) in the early 1950s: a relatively prosperous family, thanks to one Matthaios Simos.

In his nineties, the Bents’ Greek friend and dragomános, Matthaios Simos, from the Cycladic island of Anafi. He sits (Athens (?) in the 1930s (?)) with a cat between two of his granddaughters – Maria (left) and Irini (photograph © Andreas Michalopoulos 2010).

There is an archetype waiting for psychoanalysts to explore – the dragoman, the person you employ to facilitate your travel in foreign lands. Wiktionary helps here (if you want more, you are on your own): ‘From Middle English dragman, borrowed from Old French drugeman, from Medieval Latin dragumannus, from Byzantine Greek δραγομάνος (dragomános), from Arabic تُرْجُمَان‎ (turjumān, “translator, interpreter”)’.

What type you get depends on your luck – from an Aristotle to a Zidane – and all travel narratives contain them, none more so than our great 19th-century accounts. And Theodore and Mabel Bent had an extraordinary one: not their first, Kostandinos Verviziotes (for the couple’s 1882/3 visit to Greece and Turkey), nor their second, George Phaedros from Smyrna, who started with the Bents as they left for the Cyclades in the winter of 1883. Theodore and Mabel engaged George on the recommendation of Mr Dennis at the Smyrna consulate. That he was only a moderate success may be inferred by Mabel’s initial lack of enthusiasm when he joins them again, at Ermoupolis, Syros, in December 1883. Apparently he enjoyed a drink, but he was also a grumbler and a terrible sailor – a distinct disadvantage when island-hopping, out of season, on small fishing boats. By Naxos, a few weeks later, the Bents had had enough of him, and one day, high up in a mountain village, they find themselves sitting in a warm room, and, “When Mr. Konstantinides our host came home he found 10 people drying their clothes, us two and Phaedros, Mr. Swan, and a man called Mantheos, a native of Anaphi who is to show Mr. Swan mines there…” George was dismissed on Naxos in January 1884 – with just five words in Mabel’s notebook: “We left Phaedros at Naxos”. The Bents went on, of course, to explore Anafi a few weeks later.

There is a sad letter (in English) from George folded into Mabel’s 1883/4 diary asking for remuneration, and although diversionary, no apologies are given for including it here, just skip it if you wish:

[C/O British Consulate Smyrna 1st February /84] Dear Mr Bent I am happy to learn from your favours of 20th January which I received on the 30th of the same, that both you and Mrs Bent are quite well. I have been always thinking of you how you managed with the continuation of your excursion, and how you got on with the unusual rough winter of this year exposing yourselves so, to the mercy and providence I dare say of God. As regards my passage to Smyrna after we departed, you will please learn that your hopes did not prove as expected for I did not escape of what I was fearing. The wretched steamer ‘Eptanisos’ which took you from Naxos on Monday the 7th of January 1884, did not come back to that island to pick me up for Syra until Wednesday the 9th January, (and about noon) and subsequently she kept going so slow, that I missed the Messageries steamer for Smyrna which was leaving Syra (bound for that town) on the same day. I have been waiting consequently six days in Syra and was obliged to spend almost all the money you gave me at Naxos, (viz: the 100 francs) that is to say in expenses for the Hotel in Syra, in changing my broken and shabby hat, and in paying for my passage or fare ticket to Smyrna which brought me home almost penniless. And my wife had already spent also, what I had sent her from Syra in buying some necessary things for the house, with the cause of the holidays etc. So my friends who expected me to return quite a rich man, contemplating, in their idea and opinion that I was getting £T5 [Turkish pounds] per day in consideration of the winter season travelling, were quite disappointed to find that I was obliged and in need to borrow money off them. Mr Dennis also told me that he did not think it was right for me to pay out of my pocket my passage to Syra and back and the expenses for the delay in waiting you in Syra etc., etc. As regards the salary I do not exactly appreciate the opinion of my friends, but I think it is fair that you should make a little allowance for the winter season, that is to say if you do not find it so inconvenient, so as to make it worth my while, as I am a fellow with a family as you know. I left Syra on the evening of Monday 14th January. I don’t know where you have spent that fearful evening and night but it was in my destiny to find myself in a most violent gale, but fortunately in a brave Arab steamer with Greek captains which was fighting with the elements of the nature that night and stand up like a giant against them. All the plates and glasses are broken and the water found its way in to the cabins. We overtook a steamer called ‘Simiotis’ and saw her bow deeped into the water and we thought she was going to be lost but we learnt that she turned back to Tinos. We kept up but we suffered until we faced the Bay of Smyrna. The impression of that night is still very brisk in my memory. But the necessity of a man is superior to the impression of fear. Although I foresee still bad weather going to be, I made up my mind to come and accompany you again and to be at Syra on the 16th February with the hopes that we shall ahoy the caïques and you will pay for my passage, etc. Please send through Mr. Binney some money for my travelling expenses, etc., enabling me thus to make my start. With my best regards to Mrs. Bent and Mr. Swan. I remain yours sincerely…  George Phaedros.

This proved a letter in a bottle however and no reply to him is referenced. Within a few days of Phaedros’ abandonment, a whiskery Ariadne on Naxos, and Matthaios Simos (Mabel Bent spells him a multitude of ways over the next fifteen years, but ‘Manthaios’, awkwardly, seems to predominate) gets the top job as dragoman for the Bents, and begins a partnership – friendship really – with Theodore and Mabel that continues until 1897 and Theodore’s death. Missing only two or three seasons, Theodore (using the English telegraph station at Ermoupolis to reach him) wires Matthaios from London that he might be, on such and such a date, at Syros, or Rhodes, or Chios, or Alexandria, or Port Said, or wherever, to act as their translator, guide, cook, lodgings officer, victualler, foreman and general factotum. This small and wiry islander, who waited to marry until he had finished his career with the Bents, having by then sufficient resources, ‘plusios’ even, and a good catch. (As was the case with so many young Greeks who ventured far afield to escape difficult conditions back home.) Matthaios left his footprints in the sands of Southern Arabia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Socotra, Yemen, as well as all around the Aegean.

It is fascinating to see in print and photographs how such a relationship developed. In his great book “The Cyclades”, this is Theodore in 1885: ‘My first experiences [of the islands] were made with the assistance of a dragoman; but, on better acquaintance with the language, I learnt to despise his services, and took as servant a native of one of the islands, who became invaluable in assisting me to discover points of folklore which without him it would have been impossible to arrive at.’

A modern registry listing of the birth (1846, no. 6) of Matthaios Simos on Anafi (courtesy of Margaret Kenna).
Theodore Bent’s own reckoning of expedition costs to the Sudan in 1896, showing Matthaios’ payment at line 6 (The Bent Archive).

In the Community offices of Anafi, two hours’ ferry ride away and a little southeast of Santorini, the early registers of births (men only) record the arrival of Matthaios in 1846, son of a subsistence farmer, like nearly every other child. The chance that led him to Naxos and a meeting with the Bents in 1884, aged nearly forty, alters his life (there is a later reference by Theodore that he might have had a tobacco shop on the island as a younger man). In Mabel’s 1897 ‘Chronicle’, the year of her husband’s death, there is a list of travel costs payable, in Theodore’s hand. Matthaios’ wages for the trip to Socotra and Aden are £50, about £5000 today, and a huge sum for a Cycladic farmer at the turn of the 19th century; he is able to effectively retire to Anafi, marry, have a family (his descendants are now in Athens and no Simoses remain on the island), and tell of his adventures in foreign lands as dragoman and friend to an extraordinary English couple. He died in the mid-1930s, five years after Mabel’s death.

At camp on Socotra: Matthaios Simos, background, with Theodore Bent, assistant Ammar, and Ernest Bennett. From Theodore and Mabel Bent ‘Southern Arabia’ (1900), facing page 365. Private collection.

Mabel took his photograph on several occasions, the final one in Bent’s last camp, on Socotra in 1897: Theodore is on the left, taking down notes for his arcane dictionary of Socotran dialects. As well as their assistant Ammar, an unmistakable English figure in a topee, one Ernest Bennett, sits to the right. And between the two, just in the background, and alas not clear, stands a middle-aged man in his working clothes… this is Matthaios Simos. (There is also another splendid image of him sitting on a Sudanese camel.)

Early 1896, Matthaios Simos at his chores, behind a tent (right) in the Elba Mountains, Sudan (photo by Mabel Bent, from the Bents’ ‘Southern Arabia’, 1900, opp. page 304).

There was another serendipitous meeting for Matthaios Simos. The writer Vincent Scott O’Connor travelled in the Cyclades in the 1920s and found his way to Anafi. O’Connor had a copy of Bent’s book on the islands and jumped at the chance of an interview with Theodore’s famous (at least on Anafi) dragoman. He records him one evening, up in Chora, “The story-teller relaxed from his labours; a fine little old man with a curved nose and clean-cut features…” Manthaios tells of how he ‘saved’ the Bents from pirates on Samos in 1886: “At Samos,” he said, “there were pirates, who had made up their minds to kidnap the English travellers, and for that reason my master was unable to leave the island. It was I who circumnavigated their wiles… But it was not in these isles that we had our greatest adventures, it was in Arabia… Mrs. Bent was always eager to press on. One night we slept in a damp spot, and while there I had a dream in which I saw two horses and a chariot in Anaphe; but there was no driver, and one of the horses fell down and died. The chariot was overturned. My interpretation of the dream was that this portended a disaster to our party. But Bent only laughed at my fears. He said dreams were nothing but dreams. Nevertheless, as I expected, Mrs. Bent fell seriously ill of a fever which each day grew worse. She could ride no more, and the Arabs refused to carry a Christian, especially a woman. But the Sheikh put his shoulder to one end of the litter, as I did to the other; and so we carried her till the rest of them became ashamed and each took his turn. We arrived at the sea and the Sheikh sent out some milk for the lady, but she was so ill that she could not retain it and daily she became worse; yet she went on, saying that it was only a little fever, and she would not hear of our abandoning the journey… I decided then to act upon my own initiative, and a dhow having come into the harbour, I spoke to the Captain and contracted with him to take us to Aden. Then, for I knew how obstinate are these English, I went to Bent and said, ‘Kyrios, why not take ship to Aden?’ ‘Nonsense,’ he replied, ‘you know very well that there is no ship.’ ‘Maybe, Kyrios, but suppose that there were one, would you take it?’ ‘Well! Yes,’ he said, ‘I would, for she is very ill.’ I took him to the top of a hill and showed him the Dhow at anchor! So we started; but on arriving at Aden, there was a ‘quarantine’ and Madame was not allowed to land. The Governor however intervened in her favour and a doctor came at once to see her. He was only just in time, but her life was saved. It was after this that Bent himself began the illness that ended in his death… All were agreed that here was a great traveller, one like unto Odysseus himself.”

And the same, of course, must be said of the dragomános extraordinaire, Matthaios Simos, of Anafi in the Cyclades, and all points south-east!

(The excerpts above are mostly taken from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent, Vol. 1’, Archaeopress, Oxford, 2006)

Mabel Bent and Matthaios Simos on their camels near Mohammad Gul, Sudan (1896, detail). From a photograph (February 1896) by Alfred Cholmley. Glass lantern slide (detail), LS/217-10. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

 

Mabel and the Virtue of Patience

On 21 December 2017 an email arrived in the Bent Archive inbox; an enquirer wrote:

I have in my possession a little book (roughly 2 inches x 2.5 inches) by Mrs. Theodore Bent titled ‘Patience Pocket Book’, can you tell me anything other than is listed on your website quite briefly? It states it was published by J. W. Arrowsmith of Bristol, printed in London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Limited… It is a fascinating little piece of history and one would assume it kept Mabel amused during her mourning period, however given that it was ‘different’ to her other works what do you know about its fruition?

We replied the same day:

Thanks so much for your interesting email: you are lucky to have a copy of this rare little book! Sorry, we can’t add much other than the same sort of ideas you will have. It seems that Mabel and Theodore liked to travel with cards to amuse themselves now and then on their travels over many years, so we can assume that Mabel would have played from an early age with her brothers and sisters in Ireland, and, as you say, would then have continued with ‘patience’ in her widowhood…The Bodleian Library has a copy of the book and inside is a folded letter from Mabel dated just ‘May 6’ to the card-game specialist and collector F. E. Jessel, who was keen to see Mabel’s ‘little whist markers’. She writes that she would have replied to him earlier, but having “…only just come home from Jerusalem…I wonder if you could call tomorrow afternoon after 4 as then I am sure to be at home. If not we must fix another time. Yours faithfully, Mabel V. A. Bent”. Jessel included Mabel’s book in his standard English bibliography on playing cards (1905, 18, item 100).

Just over a year later, thanks to the generosity of John Beale, a copy of this very rare and tiny book is now in the Bent Archive’s collection. It was published in Bristol in 1903 by J. W. Arrowsmith.

The title page proclaims: ‘A Patience Pocket Book, plainly printed, put together by Mrs Theodore Bent’, and as Mabel’s preface explains: ‘This tiny booklet, with its hundred games, condensed into few words, recommends itself by its plain print, small size, and light weight. It hopes to be your constant companion as a reminder of games, which you, perhaps already know, as many of them are very ancient but of which it is easy to forget the details. it will be as simple for a Patience player to understand as a knitting book is for a Knitter, and to beginners, the unravelling of its mysteries will be a new game of Patience.‘ Judge for yourselves, here are Mabel’s ‘Rules and Abbreviations’ in her own words: “In counting the value of cards, A. counts 1, Kv. 11, Q. 12, K. 13. Ace packets are always piles in ascending sequence, i.e. Ace, 2, 3, &c. (Asc. seq.). King packets in descending sequence (desc. seq.), i.e. K., Q., Knave, &c. Sk., or Stock, means all the cards, one or more packs. Lines are perpendicular; Rows are horizontal. R.H., or Rubbish Heap, on which cards are played, which cannot at the time be used, and which gradually must be worked off. Piquet pack excludes all below 7. If you want to divide the packs and play a 1 pack game, after having used 2 packs, take out 4 suits, without minding if they all have the same backs. When all the cards are thus in suits it is easy to take out the low cards for a Piquet pack. One may help one’s self by Running Cards. When the Ace and King packets of one suit have respectively 6 and 7, move the 7 from the King packet, or pile, to the Ace pile, and continue till a place is found for (say) a 10 on the Ace pile, or vice versa. F.S. means Follows suit; N.F.S., Not Follows suit. With the help of these rules beginners will soon become experts.’

Good luck! Among the 100 games, favourites include: Neighbourly Love, Home Circle, Patchwork, Great Pyramid, Grandmother’s Game, Great Grandmother…

Mabel ran a small bookshop in Jerusalem in the early 1900s and presumably this miniature volume, the size of a biscuit, would have been stocked there, perhaps with her other book, the very esoteric AngloSaxons from Palestine; or The Imperial Mystery of the Lost Tribes (London: Sherratt & Hughes, 1908), the reading of which, indeed, requires great patience!

Over the rainbow with the Bents

Ships played a central role in the lives of the Bents; they were as familiar and essential to the couple as planes and airports are to us.

The Oceania cruise ship ‘Riviera’ shown in the rainbow (the photograph was taken from Rhodes, looking northish, and roughly from the area (‘Kum Burnú’) the Bents had their modest lodgings).

So let’s steam, then, into 2019 along one of the Bents’ favourite waterways – the narrow straits separating Rhodes from Marmaris and the Turkish coast – only the vessels they travelled on in their time were a little different than the Oceania cruise ship ‘Riviera’ shown in the rainbow (the photograph was taken from Rhodes, looking northish, and roughly from the area (‘Kum Burnú’) the Bents had their modest lodgings, in early 1885, being not allowed, as Christians, to overnight in the Old Town).

Mabel notes in her diary: “We are at a clean little inn in the separate village called Neo Marás, the Christian quarter quite close to the sandy and windmilly point Kum Burnú at the north of the isle. It is quite a little walk to the town where no one but Jew or Turk may remain after sun set… There are quantities of smooth black and white shingles which are extensively used for paving floors and court yards in all sorts of designs. The passage outside our door and the dining room too have very pretty patterns.” (‘The Dodecanese; or Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks’, Archaeopress 2015, page 108).

In early 1885, Theodore and Mabel Bent arrived in Rhodian waters, via these extended straits in the photograph, from Alexandria, on the Austrian Lloyd ‘Saturno’ (1845 tons, built in 1868, in service until 1910), and left a few weeks later on the much smaller steamship ‘Ρούμελη’ (297 tons, 155 feet), which linked the smaller islands of the eastern Mediterranean. Originally named ‘Operculum’, and Clyde built, she comes into view several times in Mabel’s diary pages. She was ultimately broken up at Savona in 1933, a few years after Mabel’s death. In another twist of fate, the ‘Operculum’ also covered the South Arabian seas between Aden and Socotra, the setting for one of the last journeys Theodore Bent was to make, in early 1897, months before his death. How wonderful these old ships were, although Mabel was not so fond of this one:

Well! The Roúmeli is a dirty little ship, and Theodore and I slept in the very smelliest cabin, destined for ladies by the English builders. As it was a passage room for all the passengers a quilt was hung across, but the steward was often within our side. At 11.30, two hours after we left Rhodes, we reached Simi and in the dark and by starlight I could see that we remained in a little land-locked bay for 2 or 3 hours. It looked lovely but no doubt by day it looks bare enough and like Chalki, which we got to about 7, a most hideous island, stony like Syra and not even the picturesque town to redeem it. We did not land there; there is a revolution about the tax on sponges and the Pasha of Rhodes was just going there so we came on to Nisiros, which we reached about 12.30.” (‘The Dodecanese; or Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks’, Archaeopress 2015, page 111).

If anyone has an illustration of the ‘Roúmeli’, please let us know!

All together, the Bents sailed over the rainbow here in these waters, between the tip of Rhodes and Marmaris, at least five times – check them out via the interactive map on our site.

Gold, Frankincense, and Mabel – The Bents at Christmas

The pottery incense-burner, intended for frankincense and other aromatic resins, that the Bents brought back from the Wadi Hadramaut in 1893/4. It remained in Mabel’s possession until 1926, when it was donated to the British Museum (As1926,0410.37, not currently on display).]

For famous travellers, the Bents preferred to be homebirds come Christmas time, swapping solar topees for deerstalkers, and quitting their London townhouse at 13 Great Cumberland Place for their country place at Sutton Hall, Macclesfield, or Ireland (Mabel’s family home at Newtonbarry, Co. Wexford). Of their nearly 20 years of explorations (in the 1880s and ’90s), they were only out of the country on 25 December, or so the archives indicate, for 1882 (Chios – for Orthodox Christmas), 1883 (Naxos), 1891 (steaming home from Cape Town), 1893 (Wadi Hadramaut), 1894 (Dhofar), 1895 (Suez), and 1896 (the island of Sokotra).

Appropriately, these 1890s tours at Christmas time took them to the lands of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, or associated finds they could link to Theodore’s theories of trade links and contacts between the populations of Southern Arabia and the various regions around today’s Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. In particular it was the famous frankincense (a fragrant gum that dribbles from several species of ‘Boswellia’) trail, and the branch that began in Dhofar, that fascinated the explorer. Bent wrote several articles on the subject, including ‘Exploration of the Frankincense Country, Southern Arabia’ for The Geographical Journal, (Vol. 6 (2) (Aug), 109-33), and ‘The Land of Frankincense and Myrrh’ for The Nineteenth Century (Vol. 38 (224) (Oct), 595-613).

We won’t quote from them, tho they are both worth tracking down, but rather let’s let Mabel fill in some Christmas 1894 details from her ‘Chronicle’. The couple are in their camp on the far coastal regions of Dhofar; Mabel is entertaining and they do well, of course, in not celebrating Christian rites in front of their Muslim hosts:

“Christmas Eve [Monday, 1894]. On waking, the smaller boy came to kiss my hand and before I was up the ladies said they were coming. I was afraid to put them off. First I sat up and put on a jacket, and finding time allowed, I put on a skirt and got up. Combed down my hair and feeling sure that stockings would not be missed, I sat with bare feet, refreshing my memory with civil speeches. About 6 came, very smart with bourkas on their faces a sort of square frame of gold braid and spangles, with a black stick down the middle. They had a great deal of coarse jewellery on with mock pearls and very bad turquoises.

“About 6 came, very smart with bourkas on their faces a sort of square frame of gold braid and spangles, with a black stick down the middle.” (Mabel’s own doodle drawn in her ‘Chronicle’ as she wrote. The archive of the Joint Libraries of the Hellenic and Roman Societies, London)

Christmas Day [Tuesday, 1894]. We rose with the sun and walked off to a mass of ruins about a mile off. There was a great deal of vegetation and sheets of a most lovely creeper with a large flower, white when new, pink when older, and then there comes a red pear-shaped fruit, with hot seeds in it. The ruins are Himyaritic and reminded us of Adulis and Koloe in Abyssinia… returning we sat in a grove of coconut palms and drank much water from the nuts, which were showered from the trees in rather a terrific way. The men stuck their throwing sticks in the ground and by banging the nuts down on the points skinned them.

[Wednesday] December 26th [1894]. I was asked to go down to the harem early. The ladies had not so much finery on. They were most kind and gave me many things to eat, coffee, awfully sweet, and sherbet of orgeat, ditto, halweh and pahpa and nutmegs broken up and some seeds and some leaves called tamboul, and chunam, and things I did not eat for I do not want my teeth to become red… We had 2 more days of waiting and, at last, were told we should positively start on Saturday 28th and were expecting at least to start in the evening, but when at length all the camels were got together there were no ropes, sticks to tie the loads to, or any other thing, so we had to wait till next day.

Leave Dhofar. Sunday 29th December [1894]. We set off at 12. There was the greatest confusion over the loading; neither men not beasts were accustomed to deal with anything but sacks of frankincense. The camels roared incessantly, got up before they were finished and shook off their loads, or would not kneel, or ran away loaded, and then there was a great deal of unloading and abandoning everything and shouting and quarrelling and much difficulty about making up saddles for us. Theodore and Imam Sheriff and Hassan and I each have a separate camel and 6 of the servants ride in pairs while one walks.

New Year’s Eve [Monday, 1894]. Did not get off till 10, though we breakfasted before sunrise… 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. The quantities of flowers Theodore has already got must, I think, already exceed all the 150 of last year [in the Wadi Hadramaut]. There are a great many lobàn trees, or rather shrubs (frankincense)…” (extracts from The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol. 3, pages 249-50, Archaeopress 2010)

 

Mabel Hall-Dare: Chronicles of Mrs. Theodore Bent… reviewed by Janeite Kelly (Dec 2018)

Mabel Hall-Dare: Chronicles of Mrs. Theodore Bent… reviewed by Janeite Kelly (Dec 2018)

“A unique life brought again to life because of surviving journals. Reading about the diaries – how clear the writing is, for instance – and seeing samples (even of doodles) is part of the delight in these books.”

And delighted we are to post up this kind review of Mabel Bent’s Chronicles by “Georgian Gems, Regency Reads & Victorian Voices”:

Do click on the link above to read the full review, which begins:

“Dedicated editors/biographers and small presses sometimes turn up the most exciting books. This post concerns the three books of travel edited and compiled by Gerald Brisch from the travel diaries of Mabel Bent, née Mabel Hall-Dare.”

‘Mabel was I ere I saw Olba’: 1 – Around Athenian tables, February 1890

Map: ‘Part of Cilicia Tracheia’. Theodore Bent’s own map of their routes in the area of Olba.

“The ruins of Olba, among the most extensive and remarkable in Asia Minor, were discovered in 1890 by Mr. J. Theodore Bent. But three years before another English traveller had caught a distant view of its battlements and towers outlined against the sky like a city of enchantment or dreams.” (Fraser, ‘The Golden Bough’, Vol 5, 151ff). [Actually, James, it may be claimed to be Mabel!]

Constitution Square, in the era of the Bents, and their base in Athens. Their hotel was located here.

It is early 1890; we will reach Olba later. But for the moment Mabel and Theodore Bent are in Athens, having arrived on 25th January from Patras – their ship the NGI ‘Rubattino’ from Ancona. They meet their dragoman, the long-suffering Anafiote, Matthew Simos, and, before finalising their plans for the season’s explorations, settle comfortably into the Hôtel des Étrangers in Constitution Square, the very heart of bustling, late-19th century Greece.

Theodore had been ten years an ‘archaeologist’ and was at last something of a name (and something of a thorn in his peers’ sides too, as we shall see). By 1889, the archaeologist had ‘excavated’ in the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Thasos, down along the Turkish littoral, and way East, to the ‘mounds of ‘Ali’ in Bahrain. But his 1890 season found him rather aimless in Attica, with his wife, dragoman, and all his bundles of exploratory gear. Where should they go? The answer was ‘Olba’ and (luck being really everything) 1890 was to see Bent’s career soar: within 12 months he had been sponsored by Rhodes (the man, not the island – although he visited there in 1885) to dig for him at ‘Great Zimbabwe’ and this truly made him a celebrity (again, with notoriety). He was only to live seven years more, alas, but in those few years he and Mabel rode around the Yemen, Ethiopia, Sudan, and back to Yemen. East of Aden he aggravated the malaria he first contracted on Andros in the winter of 1883/4, the finale of which was an early death, at 45. But let’s cut back to Athens in the very early spring of 1890.

The Bents had a busy week in the capital, their arrival previously ‘announced in the papers’, as Mabel recalls in her ‘Chronicle’: “Theodore arrived with the influenza, so did not go out on the Sunday [Jan 26]. I went to church and then drove to the British School of Archaeology to call on the Ernest Gardners. We dined with the Gardners. We made a party to drive up with Sir John Conway and Mr. Bourchier and there were 4 students. We also lunched with the Schliemanns. There were the Gardners and Mr. Kavadias of the Museum and old Mr. Rangabe, a great poet and authority on the language and literature. I was very glad to meet him and he was delightfully surprised that I could speak Greek. Dr. Waldstein, the Rector of the American School, was there too and the daughter Andromache and little son Agamemnon. Afterwards we went to the Pireaus to see the Consul and Mrs. de Puy. We knew them at Volo and liked them. They were not surprised to see us and only wondered at our not coming before as our coming has so long been announced in the papers. I need not say the Acropolis and Museums were not neglected.” (‘Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent’, Vol 1, 271ff, Archaeopress, 2006)

Alexandros Rizos Rangavis (Rakgabis)(1809–1892), Greek man of letters, poet and statesman.

Their brief, hectic stay is a sequence of lunches, teas, and dinners. Around all these tables we have notable figures, so let’s add some notes: The Schliemanns require no introductions; Ernest Gardner (his wife was Mary Wilson) was director of the British School until 1895.

James David Bourchier (1850–1920). Irish journalist and political activist.

Other guests were the colourful James Bourchier, Balkan correspondent of the ‘Times’, Irish, he would have been doubly of interest to Mabel; Panayiotis Kavvadias went on to become General Inspector of Antiquities and a founder member of the Academy of Athens; very disrespectfully (and were they flirting? The chances are he was teasing Mabel about her Greek!) ‘old Mr. Rangabe’ was Alexandros Rizos Rangavis, the man of letters, poet and statesman; Charles Waldstein (later Sir Charles), director of the American School until 1893, was an Anglo-American archaeologist with a distinguished academic record; his wife was Florence Einstein and it seems they indeed had a son and a daughter, but where Mabel gets Agamemnon and Andromache from is a mystery (Wikipedia names the boy Henry), again, was Mabel being teased?

Charles Waldstein (1856–1927), director of the American School until 1893.

Anyway, remember Olba? It seems that during this busy Athenian week the Bents were still without a primary research target and focus for their fieldwork. They were back in the Eastern Mediterranean for their customary three- of four-month exploratory season (the rest of the year usually spent back in the UK ‘writing up’), but opportunities now for excavating were limited – Greece and Turkey frowning upon adventurers and freelancers, such as Theodore and Mabel.

One area of possibility was to make again for out-of-the-way Turkish waters – they had been as far as Kastellorizo in 1888 – but where this time? By chance in Athens Mabel makes a discovery, revealed later in her diary: “In Athens we received a circular from the Hellenic Society requesting us to subscribe to an Expedition of exploration in Cilicia, to be headed by Mr. Ramsay and to start in June. ‘It is most desirable that the site of Olba should be discovered and identified.’ So I declared that we would look for Olba too.” Typical Mabel this. (‘Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent’, Vol 1, 274, Archaeopress, 2006)

Olba lay undiscovered somewhere in western Cilicia. This region, described wondrously by Strabo (14.5), lies on the southern coast of Turkey, and was divided in ancient times into two halves: to the west, Cilicia Trachea (‘rough’ or ‘rugged’), a mountainous region bounded by Mount Taurus; and to the east, Cilicia Pedias (‘flat’), with its rivers and fertile plans. Historically, the importance of Cilicia lay in its position on the great highway to the east that ran down from the Anatolian plateau, to Tarsus, and on through Syria into Asia. (This highway passed through a narrow rocky gorge called the ‘Cilician Gate’, and hence the strategic importance of Cilicia when invaded by Alexander and Darius.) The British pioneer of the region was Edwin John Davis, whose ‘Life in Asiatic Turkey’ (London 1879) remains in the bibliographies, but ten years later it was William Mitchell Ramsay (1851–1939), the Scottish archaeologist and New Testament scholar, who led the field west of Mersin. The bit very much between her teeth in Athens in the late winter of 1890, Mabel was now determined to get to Olba first; and she did of course – the trip will be detailed in a further post.

Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1851–1939). Scottish archaeologist.

Ramsay (aided and abetted by a young David Hogarth – the young man referred to by Fraser in the opening quotation) were gracious in defeat (in print at least) but headed the force of establishment scholars who were to snipe at Bent from their trenches from now on. Bent, self-trained and cavalier, was driven by his own ideas and paid little if no heed to context, or seemed to have much interest in understanding the broadest evidence offered by his sites – but these were still early days for ‘archaeologists’.

An intrepid explorer and antiquarian the, yes, but calling himself an ‘archaeologist’ was too much for too many. For examples of criticism you need look no further than Ramsay and Hogarth referred to above. The former writes to the editor of the ‘Journal of Hellenic Studies’ in May 1890, frustrated that Theodore’s expedition to Olba has angered the local Turkish authorities: ‘Now however it is reported to me that the officials are far stricter than ever before, and since Bent has been about our track, things will be much worse’. And again in January 1891 (when angry with the JHS for not allowing Theodore more of Mabel’s photographs in his paper for them) : ‘It is a scandal to hear how they [the team at the JHS] have treated Bent. If they refused his paper I would understand it, for he is not a scholar & makes some serious faults. But the things he found at Olba are of high interest, & illustrations are just what would carry through with such a rough paper.’ (source: SPHS, George A Macmillan Archive)

David George Hogarth (1862–1927) British archaeologist, later Arab specialist

David Hogarth seems to have nurtured a grudge against Theodore for decades – perhaps never forgiving the latter for beating him to Olba. He got his chance to vent his spleen at last in print in 1900, in a review for ‘Man’ of Mabel’s work, compiled in the most difficult of circum-stances, of on Theodore’s researches published as ‘Southern Arabia’ (London 1900). The book is now regarded as a classic of course, but Hogarth puts the desert boot in: ‘As it is, the [Bents] apparently had not realized what it was essential to observe and record, and what, on the other hand, is commonplace of all Arabian travel; and the trivialities of caravan life, already rendered more than familiar by Burckhardt, Palgrave, and Doughty, to mention only the greatest names, fill two-thirds of the account, suggesting in every paragraph unfortunate comparisons with the deeper knowledge, the truer sympathy, and the sense of style that inspired those brilliant narratives.’ (Review 23 in ‘Man’, Vol. 1, 1901, 29-30; signed H, and presumably D.G. Hogarth)

It doesn’t end there, this Hogarth later doggedly continues in his own Arabian monograph; here he refers to Theodore’s altercation with the Aden authorities’ inexplicable obstructions (one suspects Hogarth and his spy-masters) in the winter of 1893: ‘The governors of Aden, therefore, have been fully justified in refusing to exert pressure on behalf of certain would-be exploring parties whose qualifications were not such as to promise the best scientific results; and when countenance was given at last in 1893, to the archaeologist Leo Hirsch, it was because he was known to be a profound Arabic scholar, expert in the law of Islam, who would conduct himself tactfully. When, shortly after, it was given also to Theodore Bent, despite his lack of qualification, it was because his party included an Indian Moslem surveyor and his staff, who might be expected to make a solid contribution to geography.’ (‘The Penetration of Arabia’. 1904, London: 216)

Hogarth is unforgiven, although he appears kind enough to Mabel in February 1898, the year after Theodore’s death: ‘I lunched at the English School with the Ho-garths… Mr. Hogarth took me to the Akropolis.’ (‘Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent’, Vol 1: 330, Archaeo-press, 2006). But at least Theodore takes the glory in John Fraser’s towering epic!

A subsequent post will take us to Cilicia and Olba, and the Bents’ very significant finds there.

Captions: Map: ‘Part of Cilicia Tracheia’. Theodore Bent’s own map of their routes in the area. Originally published in ‘Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society’, New Series, Vol. 12, No. 8, August 1890; Constitution Square, in the era of the Bents, and their base in Athens. Their hotel was located here (image: Martin Baldwin-Edwards); Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1851–1939). Scottish archaeologist; by his death he had become the foremost authority of his day on the history of Asia Minor. It was Ramsay who prompted the Bents to seek for Olba in 1890, beating him to the site by a matter of months (Image: Wikipedia); David George Hogarth (1862–1927) British archaeologist, later Arab specialist, and Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford from 1909 to 1927. Ten years Bent’s junior he was an unkind, waspish and harsh critic; Bent beat him to the discovery of Olba by a few months, and probably never forgave him – doubly galling as Hogarth had espied the site from a distance some time before but was forced to abandon his search (Image: Wikipedia); Charles Waldstein (later Sir Charles) (1856–1927), director of the American School until 1893 (Image: Wikipedia); Alexandros Rizos Rangavis (Rakgabis)(1809–1892), Greek man of letters, poet and statesman. (Image: Wikipedia); James David Bourchier (1850–1920). Irish journalist and political activist. He worked for ‘The Times’ as the newspaper’s Balkan correspondent (Image: Wikipedia).

[We are most grateful to the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies for allowing us to reprint extracts from W M Ramsay’s letters. The Bents were early members of the SPHS (1880s) and frequent contributors and speakers at events. Mabel’s diaries are in their archives]

The Bents – Great Friends of Samos

Panagia tou Potamiou, Samos, near where the Bents camped while looking for antiquities in 1886.

For Greek islomanes, two recent Bent posts have washed up on the Friends of Tilos and Friends of Samos FB pages – you can see the Tilos one on another post, but here is the Samos post in case you have a spare moment:

Anyone in the group heard of the Bents? Got a moment? Englishman J. Theodore Bent (1852-1897) and his wife Mabel (1847-1929) were among the most widely travelled of British explorer/antiquarian duos of the second half of the 19th century – their expeditions covered Africa, Arabia, the eastern Mediterranean, and, of course Samos!

The Bents had made their first visit, a brief one, to the island, then Turkish, over the winter of 1882/3, arriving on the lovely Austrian/Lloyd vessel the ‘Niobe’. This was as part of a trip, touristic really, that took in the great sights of the East Mediterranean. Theodore had read History at Wadham and was engaged in Italian/Genoese studies. He wrote three monographs on things Italian, but focussed on Chios and Samos for two articles penned following his first visit there: ‘A Visit to Samos’ (‘Academy’, Issue 579 (1883: June), p. 408) and ‘Two Turkish Islands To-day’ (Macmillan’s Magazine (Issue: 48 (1883: May/Oct.) pp. 299-309). These are well worth tracking down, the latter being highly critical of Turkish rule – and the taxing conditions the islanders faced after a devasting earthquake – and raising letters to the ‘Times’ and questions in the ‘House’, both grist to the mill for the young Bent (although, unsurprisingly, the Turkish authorities were suspicious of him ever after).

But that was three years ago, as it were, in terms of Theodore and Mabel’s next visit to Samos, now arriving at the end of February 1886, in Mabel’s words, ‘on a… little Greek steamer, the Anatoli’; Mabel was a snob at times. By the end of 1885, Theodore’s professional career had turned a corner – he had transformed himself into a budding archaeologist/explorer (today he would be fronting the cameras). In 1883/4 he had famously circled the Cyclades, digging on Antiparos and writing a bestseller on the eponymous isles. A year later, with his wife by his side as always (and by now the expedition chronicler and photographer), he had ‘excavated’ in the Dodecanese, removing – there is no other word for it – some lovely things from Karpathos, now in the British Museum.

Following the successes of their 1885 programme, the Bents decide the next season to cruise down through Turkish waters, revisiting Samos along the way. Theodore, now a member of the council of the Hellenic Society, had obtained a grant of £50 to equip his expedition. Once on Samos, however, he encountered problems with the authorities, repercussions from his undiplomatic behaviour three years previously; the Hellenic Society’s journal of 1886 reports that, ‘owing to unexpected difficulty in obtaining permission to dig in the island, Mr. Bent has not been so successful as he had hoped. He has, however, spent only half the amount.’ The £25 was returned to the Society. Mabel informs us: ‘Truly the balmy days of excavators are over’.

Theodore sketched out his Samos experience in the ‘Athenaeum’ (June 12, 1886), but his longer article was for the ‘Journal of Hellenic Studies’ (Vol. 7, 1886, pp. 143-153), under the title ‘An Archaeological Visit to Samos’. It’s not so hard to find online. He begins his introduction: ‘English enterprise in excavation has been considerably checked of late years by the impossibility of obtaining anything like fair terms from the Greek or Turkish governments… Con-sequently if English archaeologists wish to prosecute re-searches on the actual soil of Hellas, it remains for them to decide whether they are sufficiently remunerated for their trouble and outlay by the bare honour of discovering statues, inscriptions, and other treasures to be placed in the museum of Athens, or, as is the case in Turkey, for the inhabitants to make chalk of, or build into their houses.’ Theodore was piqued: ‘[Though] I tried hard to obtain a concession for taking away one half or one third of the things found I was eventually obliged to sign the same agreement which the French excavator M. Clerk had signed two years before, and which stipulated that everything found should belong to Samos.’ And quite right too of course.

Apart from an important inscription, found by Mabel (and published by Percy Gardner also in the ‘JHS’, Vol. 7, 1886, pp. 143–153), the couple make no major discoveries and leave Samos early and disappointed. They brought home to London a few every-day items they bought, now in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, including a pair of pigskin shoes (no accession number) and two eagle-bone pipes (1888.37.6 and 1903.130.17). Mabel had a life-long interest in fabrics and embroidery: returning from Tigani with two ‘towels’ she exhibited them at one of Theodore’s lectures, labelled as ‘Two towels from Samos with deep lace ends, partly needle and partly pillow.’ [On Insular Greek Customs’, ‘Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland’, Vol. 15 (1886), p. 402]

The British Museum also has ten or so of Theodore’s Samian finds, which it seems he must have smuggled out. He presented a fine terracotta Satyr mask dated c. 500 BC (1886, 1204.2) (illustrated here) and a glass aryballos (1886, 1204.1), but it seems the other material wasn’t sufficiently interesting to the museum and remained in Mabel’s possession until she donated the items in 1926, a few years before her death. Most of them are not on show but details of them are easily seen in the BM database – just search under ‘Theodore Bent’, for hundreds of his items from the E Med, Arabia and Africa.

The Satyr mask collected by the Bents from Samos and now in the BM.

All in all, Theodore and Mabel (ably assisted by their long-suffering dragoman, one Matthew Simos from Anafi), spent about eight weeks on Samos and around; after a few days on the island they took themselves off to Fourni, Patmos, Kalymnos, Ikaria and elsewhere, before returning to Samos to more or less circumambulate the island (the trip to feature in detail in a second post) in search of items archaeological, ethnographical, and other things generally ending in ‘cal’, including ‘gastronomical’, as Mabel notes once in Tigani: ‘We had coffee and jam first and then a splendid luncheon: soup of rice, whipped eggs and lemon juice, really good, a chicken and some lamb out of the same, Yaprakia, rice and meat in little balls boiled in vine leaves, very good rissoles, yaourt (curdled milk), cheese and fruit. I have not had so good a meal for a long time.’ [‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent. Volume I: Greece’, 2006, p. 84].

Mabel jotted most of these reminiscences in her ‘Chronicles’, a twenty-year series of notebooks now archived in the Hellenic Society in London and published in three volumes. Here is bucolic entry for April 1886: ‘I spent the afternoon on the bed with my work and book… while Theodore went an hour and a half to inspect a place for digging at Panagia tou Potamiou, or ‘of the river’. He decided it was such a lovely place that we must try there, so on the morning of April 16th [1886] we embarked in a boat and in half an hour reached the mouth of a river and soon pitched the tent on a flat place under some olive trees by a rushing river in a most lovely gorge… Just above our tent is the old church with some old pillars in it; not fine work. Here Matthew made a little stone table and it was our dining room and pantry, but not a very good pantry as the church mice, having plenty of candles to eat, are a thriving race… There is a water mill near, shut up at night. The digging was, I grieve to say, not successful. Theodore thought he had got among some Hellenic cottages; temples, palaces and statues were not to be found, only a large smashed marble pan of unknown use, so after 2 most delightful days in every way but the archaeological, we struck our tent and departed…’ [‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent. Volume I: Greece’, 2006, pp. 162-3].

The church is illustrated above and Theodore wrote up the same scene for his ‘Journal of Hellenic Studies’ piece (p. 146): ‘At Potamos, a lovely gorge to the north of the island, we found traces of a town, close to which was a ruined Byzantine church, with four Corinthian pillars, huge blocks of stone and cut jasper, probably from some ancient temple. In digging on a tiny plain beneath this we came across the remains of Hellenic buildings, in one of which was a marble slab, rounded at one end, 2 feet 8 inches by 2 feet 9; this marble was very neatly worked with a rim round the edge, and a lip at one end from which the juice of something pressed on the slab was evidently intended to run. Underneath the marble was most carefully worked with slight ornamentation.’

Among the characters encountered on this tour was fellow Oxfordian Henry Fanshawe Tozer. Tozer (in ‘The Islands of the Aegean’, 1890, p. 165) recalls their meeting and that they shared the same lodgings at Tigani: ‘We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bent, who occupied other rooms in the same building; they were engaged in excavating some of the tombs that lie outside the city walls’. Elsewhere in his book (p. 302) Tozer refers to ‘the indefatigable spade of Mr. Bent’ – no under-statement.

The Bents, following trouble with pirates (also to feature in a later post, if you’ve stuck with us this far), leave the island from Vathi in early May 1886, arriving home to their Marble Arch townhouse by the end of the same month. Theodore has a fever he thinks he contracted in the marshes of Samos: a cautionary reminder of the risks to health present in the Mediterranean and further east; that spring there was cholera and death in Brindisi, Trieste, and, of course, Venice.

But anyway – all this was just to introduce the group to the Bents, and hopefully inspire one or two to look them up online over the dark, Samian, winter-winey evenings to come, and maybe, who knows, go listen for their voices among the ghosts of Panagia tou Potamiou. καλό χειμώνα