Incidentally II: Margaret Kenna, and the Bents on Anáfi in 1884

We are delighted to post the second in Professor Margaret Kenna’s Theodore and Mabel Bent-related series of ‘incidentals’ covering the Cycladic island of Anáfi. Margaret is a retired social anthropologist from Swansea University who has been carrying out research on Anáfi, and among Anáfiot migrants in Athens, since 1966. She has written two books and many articles in English about her research: Greek Island Life: Fieldwork on Anafi (2nd edition 2017, Sean Kingston Publishing), and The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Dissidents in the 1930s (2001, Routledge). A Greek translation of the second book was published in 2004 by Alexandreia Press. Many of her articles, in English and in Greek translation, can be found on the websites: academia.edu and ResearchGate. She has also written several booklets which can be found in tourist shops on the island: Anafi: a Brief Guide; Anafi: Island of Exile; The Folklore and Traditions of Anafi, and The Traditional Embroideries of Anafi. She was made an Honorary Citizen of the island in 2006.

This second ‘talk’ in Professor Kenna’s thyme-scented series involves ‘Antiquities and Inscriptions of Anafi in the Bents’ time, later, and more recently’, presenting, perhaps for the first time, a fascinating introductory synthesis of the antiquities and inscriptions touching on the Bents, through a lens of 100 years. We very much hope you enjoy it and will look out for forthcoming Anáfi ‘talks’ soon on our site; by all means send in your comments to the Bent Archive!

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Antiquities and Inscriptions of Anafi in the Bents’ time, later, and more recently

“During their stay on Anafi in early January 1884, the Bents visited some of the antiquities of the island and noted some of the inscriptions. These were to be recorded later in detail by Hiller von Gaertringen, the famous archaeologist and epigrapher, who visited Anafi in 1898 when he was excavating on Santorini.

“The inscriptions can be found (with details in Latin as to their location and condition) in Inscriptiones Graecae vol XII, fascicle iii (referred to here as I.G.). A photocopy of the section on Anafi was given by me to the island Museum, where headless statues from the Hellenistic city, known locally as Kastelli, are stored.

Figure 1: Headless statue on Kastelli, summer 1967 (photo: M. Kenna).

“Theodore reports visiting the house of an elderly man, surnamed Chalaris (the same surname as the ‘demarch’) who had assisted in the excavations of Ludwig Ross on the island in 1836 (nearly fifty years earlier). The house of this ninety-year old consisted of one room (like most of the village’s barrel-vaulted houses) and had ‘endless archaeological trophies scattered around. With pride he pointed out the various objects he had collected – the torso of a statue let in over his door, an inscription let into his well before the house’ (Bent 1885:45). This must surely be I.G. 280, which is described as being located in ‘the back wall of a cistern in the village house of Sophocles Syrigus’.

Figure 2: Excerpt from I.G.XII, iii: page 64, recording what is probably the inscription at the back of Chalaris’s well (source: I.G.XII, iii: 64).

“Another inscription recorded by Hiller (I.G. 256) is described in Latin as ‘murus gallinario tectus est’ (‘now the wall of a hen-house’).

Figure 3: Excerpt from I.G.XII, iii, page 60. The whereabouts of the henhouse have not been discovered! (source: I.G.XII, iii, 60).

Twentieth-century finds

“Some of the school-teachers posted to the island when a secondary school and high-school were created in the 1980s and 1990s were interested in archaeology and the history of the island. One of them showed us some finds.

Figure 4: Summer 1988: pottery shards found in the village (photo: M. Kenna).

“He showed us the places in the village where he had found the pottery pieces (usually on top of the heaps of soil from the lower levels when cisterns were being dug. The fact that some of the pieces were of geometric pottery – pottery that can be dated to 900-700 BCE – indicates that the village site has been occupied for much longer than various sources state – some of them say it dates from ‘medieval times’). As we looked, one of the villagers ran up and said ‘If you’re interested in that kind of thing, I’ve got something in my shed you might like to see’. And…

Figure 5: Summer 1988 ‘in a shed at the house of…’ (photo: M. Kenna).

“In case it had not been recorded before, we not only photographed it, and tried to copy the inscription, but also improvised a way of indicating its measurements – a Papastratos #1 cigarette packet!

Figure 6: Summer 1988: maybe an unrecorded inscription? – but no…. (photo: M. Kenna).

“It was later identified by an epigrapher who has worked on the island, Angelos Matthaiou, as I.G. XII, iii, 318, page 68 (see the Greek Epigraphical Society website). Angelos and his colleagues have discovered, or re-discovered, many of the inscriptions recorded in I.G. One he found was at the Lower Monastery’s former grape-treading building (patitiri). His discoveries can be found in Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum (SEG) and in the journal Horos. Hiller notes that this stele is ‘in today’s village, in the wall below the window of the house of Perulis Drossos’.

Figure 7: I.G XII, 3, number 318.

“Theodore recorded some inscriptions in the village and at the Lower Monastery (knowing that most of them had already been collected by Ross). One of these, which must have been near the Lower Monastery (because he writes ‘before returning to our boat’) was at ‘a ruined house’ and gave a list of ‘seven consuls from different parts of Greece, resident at Anaphi – one from Thessaly, others from Mykonos, Cnidos, Paros, Chios, Lacedaemon, and Siphnos’ (Bent 1885: 50). This must be I.G. 251. Hiller’s entry for it states that it is in the Monastery ‘in cella torcularia’ (in the pressing room, either an olive press or a wine press – in this case, wine-press).

Figure 8: I.G XII, 3: 251, the seven ‘consuls’.

“Theodore also took some ‘squeezes’ (papier-maché impressions) of inscriptions he thought might be unknown; one of them was published in the The Journal of Hellenic Studies (1888), and also referred to by Hiller.

Figure 9: Reference to Bent’s ‘find’ in an article by E. L. Hicks in The Journal of Hellenic Studies 1888 (9): 90-90.

“A decade later, this inscription was published by Hiller, with acknowledgement of Bent’s ‘ectypo’ (squeeze) and Hick’s recording of it in JHS:

Figure 10: I.G. XII, 3: 257, Bent’s work on an inscription is acknowledged (source: I.G. XII, 3: 257).


Figure 11: In context. A Google Map showing the tiny island of Anafi in the Cyclades. Sites shown are Prassa on the north-west, where the Bents landed in January 1884, the Classical and Medieval site of Kastelli, and the Kalamiotissa Monastery to the east of the island.

“I really hope this has inspired you to go search out your own Cycladic inscriptions this summer! See you again soon for the third in my series of Incidentals!”

References:
* Bent, Mabel and Brisch, Gerald (ed.) 2006. The Travel Chronicles of Mrs. J. Theodore Bent, Vol I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral. Oxford, Archaeopress.
* Bent, Theodore 1885 (2002). The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks. Oxford, Archaeopress.
* Ross, Ludwig 1840-1852. Reisen auf den griechischen Inseln des ägäischen Meeres (1840-45). Stuttgart, Tübingen, Cotta [https://archive.org/details/reisenundreiser00rossgoog].

Websites
For the Greek Epigraphical Society, see https://greekepigraphicsociety.org.gr/august-2011/#more-440 (accessed 17/03/2018).

Many happy returns Theodore – born 30 March 1852

 

Theodore in early 1889 in Bahrain (detail from Southern Arabia 1900)

The trouble with travel is that you miss your birthdays – just look where Theodore was on 30 March for these breathless years: 1884 = Kéa (Cyclades); 1885 = Kárpathos (Dodecanese); 1886 = Sámos; 1887 = Thássos; 1888 = Patara (Antalya province, Turkey); 1889 = Kurd-i-Bala, Iran; 1890 = Mersin area, Turkey; 1891 = en route for ‘Great Zimbabwe’; 1892 = UK; 1893 = Aksum area, Ethiopia; 1894 = Aden, Yemen; 1895 = UK; 1896 = returning from Athens to UK; 1897 (his 45th and last) = Aden, Yemen.

As an example of what he was up to, we have this extract from his notes of 30 March 1889, written up and presented a couple of years later. Taken from Theodore and Mabel’s cavalcade through Iran, south-north, we have Persia with all her fascination; it is written in his best, jaunty style: illustrative, informative, energetic, engaged and engaging. Classic Bent.

Map detailing the Bents’ great ride through Persia in 1889 (© Glyn Griffiths)

“Certainly, Persia, off the main line of route, is as different as possible from the Persia that the ordinary traveller sees. For two days after leaving Nejifabad we passed through villages nestling in fertility. Each village is, or rather was, protected by its mud fort, built on a hill, around which the cottages cluster – cottages which dazzle the eye with their continuity of mud domes and brown walls. Wapusht looked like a nest of cottage beehives stuck together. Within, the houses were comfortable enough, and bore every appearance of prosperity, for here they are off the routes which soldiers and governors of provinces pass over, and when free from Government extortions Persia prospers.

“On ascending to higher ground we came across a cold and barren district; the howling wind from the snow mountains made us again love those furs which we had considered unnecessary burdens when leaving Ispahan. These sudden changes of temperature are the bane of the Persian traveller, and woe to those who are not provided with artificial warmth. On reaching Kurd-i-Bala [March 30, 1899. The settlement is near modern Varposht, n-w of Najafabad], the first of the manna villages, we found ourselves in Armenian society. Of late years the Armenians in Persia, by foreign intervention, have had their condition greatly ameliorated, and if this state of things is allowed to continue they are likely once more to become the most prosperous of the Shah’s subjects. I was glad enough to warm myself by taking a brisk walk on reaching our destination, and accepted gladly the offices of the Karapiet, the Reis or headman of the village, and our host, who volunteered to take me up the mountain side and show me the manna shrub.

“In the fields around the village the Armenian women were tilling the ground. On their heads they wore tall head-dresses, with flat crowns and silver chains dangling therefrom – very uncomfortable gear for purposes of husbandry – and beneath their bright red skirts peeped drawers with embroidered edges. Armenian women hide only the lower part of the face, deeming it unseemly that the mouth should be shown to members of the opposite sex.

“Kurd-i-Bala is a great village for manna, the ‘gez-angebeen’, as the Persians call it. About twenty minutes’ walk brought us to a gorge in the mountains where acres of the shrub grow. The ‘gez’ tree is a low and parasol-shaped plant of the Tamarisk tribe, never reaching more than 3ft. in height; its leaves are small and sombre in colour, and it has all over it long prickly thorns. On these leaves there comes a small insect, which is red at first, like a harvest bug; later on it turns into a sort of louse, and finally becomes a tiny moth, which, before it flies off, produces a thin white thread, about half an inch long, which hangs on the bushes. This is the manna collectors shake off on to trays, which are put below for the purpose, and the material thus collected they call ‘gez’. They say the insect appears fifteen days before the hot weather begins, and disappears fifteen days before the cold season sets in. Every third day during a term of forty days about August they collect this species of honey from the trees, which forms itself into a white gelatinous mass, and the leaves become covered again with surprising rapidity.

“Karapiet was very proud of his speciality and quite enthusiastic when he described the acres of whiteness this spot presented in the summer time. He said that if you go to sleep under a ‘gez’ tree you will wake up with a coating over you as of snow; if there is a high wind it will certainly be blown to some distance; but the connecting link between this manna and that consumed by the Israelites is lost, if ever there was one. As for the Arabic word manna, it is only known in Persia amongst the druggists, and does not apply to the sweet honey of the ‘gez’ tree, but to certain exudations from the oak and other milky exudations from shrubs which are largely made use of in the Persian pharmacopœia. The villagers evidently drive a highly satisfactory trade in this line, and furthermore, they put the ‘gez’ tree to another use, making tooth-brushes thereof, something resembling the orris-root tooth-brushes one sees in Turkey. A small branch, about six inches long, is frayed at one end, and this is used to scrub with; it is reckoned particularly beneficial and is supposed to produce that ivory whiteness for which Persian teeth are so justly celebrated.” (From: J. Theodore Bent, Village Life in Persia, ‘The New Review’, 5:29 (1891/Oct.): 355-359)

Happy birthday Theodore!

[The photograph shows Theodore in early 1889 in Bahrain; and the map (© Glyn Griffiths) details the Bents’ great ride through Persia in 1889]

 

 

Incidentally I: Margaret Kenna, and the Bents on Anáfi in 1884

We are delighted to announce for our site over the coming months a short, Theodore and Mabel Bent-related series of ‘incidentals’ covering the Cycladic island of Anáfi, presented by anthropologist and Anáfi expert Professor Margaret Kenna. Margaret is a retired social anthropologist from Swansea University who has been carrying out research on Anáfi, and among Anáfiot migrants in Athens, since 1966. She has written two books and many articles in English about her research: Greek Island Life: Fieldwork on Anafi (2nd edition 2017, Sean Kingston Publishing), and The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Dissidents in the 1930s (2001, Routledge). A Greek translation of the second book was published in 2004 by Alexandreia Press. Many of her articles, in English and in Greek translation, can be found on the websites: academia.edu and ResearchGate. She has also written several booklets which can be found in tourist shops on the island: Anafi: a Brief Guide; Anafi: Island of Exile; The Folklore and Traditions of Anafi, and The Traditional Embroideries of Anafi. She was made an Honorary Citizen of the island in 2006.

We begin Professor Kenna’s thyme-scented series with ‘Adventures getting to, and leaving, Anafi: 1884 and 1983’, comparing Margaret’s own reminiscences on the island’s (in)accessibility with those of Theodore and Mabel, through a lens of 100 years. We very much hope you enjoy what follows and decide to look out for forthcoming Anáfi ‘talks’ soon on our site; by all means send in your comments to the Bent Archive!

ανάφηανάφηανάφηανάφη

Adventures getting to, and leaving, Anafi: 1884 and 1983

by Margaret Kenna

“In early January 1884, Theodore and Mabel Bent spent sixteen hours on a caïque travelling from Santorini to Anafi. They landed at around two o’clock in the morning, at a little inlet about two hours away from the village (Theodore describes it as on ‘the north side of the island’, but it is, more accurately, on the north-west coast, north of the fertile western area known as Vayia). This inlet, identified as Prassa, was until a few decades ago used whenever adverse winds and bad weather prevented vessels from getting to the main harbour of Ayios Nikolaos on the south coast of the island.

“Being opposite Santorini, and thus likely to have received stones, rocks and lava from its volcanic eruptions, the inlet has some very striking rock formations:

Pebble from Prassa, commemorating the Bents’ arrival there (art-work by Lito Apostolakou, inklinks.etsy.com)

“While Mabel’s diary (courtesy of Gerry Brisch (Bent 2006: 33)) notes that, once landed, they scrambled over ‘thorns, stones, rocks, and streams’ for an hour before they found a chapel where they could take shelter and spend the rest of the night, Theodore omits all the scrambling and notes his appreciation of ‘those churches, which are dotted everywhere over the islands for benighted wayfarers like ourselves’ (Bent 1885: 44). After this very ethnocentric observation, he comments on the small size of the chapel and its mud floor on which they slept with stones for pillows and their travelling rugs as blankets (also noted by Mabel). No mention at all is made by Theodore of the ‘old man whose son-in-law had died on Anaphe’ who was on the caïque with them, according to Mabel, and had come over ‘to fetch his daughter’. This human interest story is omitted by Theodore, who simply tells us that in the morning they sent their ‘manservant’ (and guide and translator), identified by Gerry Brisch as Matthaios Simos (himself from Anafi), to the village to get mules. While waiting for him to return, they breakfasted on some bacon they had with them, cooked over a brushwood fire. They set off for the village, taking with them mail for the villagers, for which the island had been waiting for two months.

“Almost one hundred years after the Bents arrived at Prassa, when bad weather in April 1983 prevented the steamer from approaching Ayios Nikolaos, five of us, four adults and a four-year old child, had to cross the island on foot to Prassa. Our luggage was on donkeys, for in those days, as in the Bents’ time, there were no roads and no wheeled vehicles (although there was electricity in the village, and a few telephones). Having hurried along rocky paths and across country for several hours, we arrived at Prassa. There, while the steamer waited out at sea, we jumped from a flat rock, which served as a landing stage, into a dinghy, which rowed us out to the steamer, and then collected supplies and a mail bag. Luckily, not an adventure to be repeated as now there is a more-or-less wind-and-weather-withstanding jetty at Ayios Nikolaos harbour.

Prassa in May 2016: the ‘landing stage/embarkation’ platform is the large, sunlit, pale grey, rock sticking out from the cliff in the centre of the picture (photo: Margaret Kenna)

Spring 1983: on Anafi, some of the party, with local friend (in black) just before the cross-country trek to Prassa (photo: Margaret Kenna)

“The Bents had to cut short their stay as the weather was fine and the caïque was waiting, so they were only on the island for two days (9th to 11th January). They collected mail to take to Santorini, and Mabel reports that they were accompanied by the old man, his widowed daughter and her baby (so we do know a little bit more about that human interest story), and Matthaios Simos’s cousin, Margarita.”

The harbour of Ayios Nikolaos in summer 1966. It is likely that only the very short jetty would have existed when the Bents left the island on 11 January 1884 (photo: Margaret Kenna)

An isle in context. Map showing the tiny island of Anafi in the Cyclades. Prassa is on the north-west (map: Google)

References

Bent, Mabel and Brisch, Gerald (ed.) 2006. The Travel Chronicles of Mrs. J. Theodore Bent, Vol I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral. Oxford, Archaeopress.

Bent, Theodore 1885 (2002). The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks. Oxford, Archaeopress.

‘A traveller without a map……’

New interactive maps just posted on our site!

As Theodore and Mabel were wont to say, ‘A traveller without a map is like, er,….lost’. From Aksum to Zimbabwe, wherever they set out to explore, they always insisted on taking the latest maps with them; or commissioning special ones for their routes; or going so far as to take their own cartographers along with them (e.g. Imam Sharif’s map of the Bents’ expedition to the Wadi Hadramaut in 1894). Mabel later, in a short autobiographical article recalled: ‘In one of my investigations of the library at home I came upon a book that I made up my mind to examine. It had a delightful title “The Atlas of Undiscovered Countries”. It was firmly fixed, and to get at it I had to exert all my strength and become very hot, tugging out the great folios that were on each side, and then to my disgust I found my prize was only a false wooden book to support the upper shelf. Years after I exclaimed, ‘Now I have really an atlas of undiscovered countries of my own’, when I eagerly unpacked a map in eight sheets (that my husband had had made at Stanford’s, of Southern Arabia, when we were first thinking of exploring that part of the world) and found two or three of the sheets blank save for latitude and longitude marks. I am glad to say that the blank is not so large now…’

We are glad, too, to say that our website now has a series of interactive Google maps detailing the 20 years of the Bents’ expeditions. The most recent one added is labelled ‘The Bents’ Greatest Hits’ and shows the sites where the Bents made their most significant researches or discoveries in the 1880s and ’90s – from Aksum to Zimbabwe; the map also features a separate layer picking out significant locations for the Bents in England and Ireland. The pins are augmented with texts, photos, etc., and are very well worth a few minutes of your busy day – to transport you back to the late 19th century and days of solar topees, slow steamers, gin and quinine, leather portmanteaux, assorted adventures, and nights under unrecognisable stars…

Imam Sharif’s map of the Bents’ expedition to the Wadi Hadramaut, 1894. From Theodore Bent’s 1894 paper for the Royal Geographical Society. Image © The Bent Archive
Imam Sharif’s map of the Bents’ expedition to the Wadi Hadramaut, 1894. From Theodore Bent’s 1894 paper for the Royal Geographical Society. Image © The Bent Archive

Many happy returns Mabel on your birthday today (28 January 2018)!

‘It was splendid being up there’ – Mabel climbing the Great Pyramid of Giza on her birthday – Wednesday 28 January 1885.

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.

In January 1885, before leaving for a tour of the Dodecanese, Theodore and Mable made a tourist trip to Egypt, taking in, of course, the Pyramids: the Great Pyramid (also known as the ‘Pyramid of Cheops’ and constructed around 2500 BCE), and the smaller Khafre and Menkaure Pyramids. The Sphinx squats in the complex’s eastern quarter.

The visit to the Pyramids coincided with Mabel’s 38th birthday (she was born at Beauparc, Co. Meath, on 28 January 1847) and she went to tea as guests of Frederick and Jessie Head (the wealthy daughter of Australian magnate John D. Mclean) at their stylish home, Mena House, below the Pyramids. (Their house still forms part of the Mena Hotel, the Heads buying their home in 1883, a year after their wedding in Wells, Somerset). Mabel does not record whether Frederick was much out of breath after their visit, or feeling unwell, but in any event within a few months he is dead, and poor Jessie (far from actually poor) sold up to another wealthy couple, the Locke-Kings, who turned the house into a fancy hotel – and it remains one to this day.

Mabel, of course, logs the event in her ‘Chronicle’ for the day. We may assume from her reference to ‘steps’ ‘3 or 4 feet high’ that it was the Great Pyramid she felt moved to attempt. Possibly just because it was there:

[Thursday] Jan. 29th [1885]. I had such a great many birthday treats yesterday, one in particular that I shall never forget unless extreme old age robs me of my memory… A little after 5 we set off for the Pyramids with the gun lent by the porter and enough cartridges for a whole battle. We saw the Pyramids against the sunset sky, a very plain one – all the colours of the rainbow fading and blending one into the other and very few tiny specks of cloud. The simplicity of it suited the Pyramids so well.

… After dinner we went out in the bright moonlight and Theodore… went to visit the Sphinx but I preferred to go up the Pyramid, as I had not done it on Monday… I scrambled up all alone. At first it was very hard and I had to crawl, putting one knee up first, as the steps are 3 or 4 feet high, regardless of bruised knees or shins and I felt quite convinced I must have very little stockings left but I am in a position to send a testimonial to the stocking maker. I did not feel a bit frightened or giddy or obliged to keep my face to the Pyramid but looked up and down. My companions were quite out of sight and it felt odd to be alone with the Pyramid and the moon. I shouted up several times ‘Are you near the top?’ ‘Oh! Not nearly’ came down. Then ‘Am I half way up?’ ‘No Mem’ came up. So I gave up asking. It seemed so long and I wondered how it could be possible to get down… I did not get at all breathless.

I wondered if ‘Fair Rhodope who as the story tells’ sat on the top of the Pyramid,  delighting all beholders, was a poor creature whose clothes had got torn off in the ascent and who could not get down. I thought of the dangers and difficulties in ‘Murray’ and ‘Baedeker’ and determined to read about them and tremble tomorrow, and I banished scornfully a very passing thought of the silk elbows of the only smart frock I have with me, and joyfully and proudly reached the summit, a strangely dressed figure – Hat, silk and velvet brocade body, white lace fichu over it and a blue cloth petticoat with a wide scarlet band, which I quite vainly tried to conceal by tying a black lace scarf round it; the skirt had been discarded before starting.

It was splendid being up there and I think it very very unlikely that any other person has been up by moonlight on his birthday before. I wished for a fire escape! Mr. Head and I came down together, sitting and slipping, sometimes having to put two hands together and jump and were glad indeed to reach the bottom safely … We had some tea and got home after a most delightful evening at 1 o’clock.

The Head’s residence below the Pyramids, where the Bents had tea, Mina House. Today a boutique hotel on a larger scale; the original house constituting the modern hotel’s dining areas.

For those needing a reference to Mabel’s ‘Fair Rhodope’, we must turn to the lines of Thomas Moore:

‘Fair Rhodope, as story tells,/ The bright unearthly nymph, who dwells/ ‘Mid sunless gold and jewels hid,/ The Lady of the Pyramid!’ (1827, ‘The Epicurean’).

Mabel’s lines are from the Egyptian entries in her ‘Travel Chronicles’, Vol. 2, pages 11-13 (Archaeopress, Oxford, 2012).

The photographs include one of 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.

The other photo is of the Head’s residence below the Pyramids, where the Bents had tea, Mina House. Today a boutique hotel on a larger scale; the original house constituting the modern hotel’s dining areas.

Papers say: Lost Oil Portrait Of Theodore Bent Discovered! Now Read On….

(Or, more accurately really, the knowledge that there is a portrait of Theodore that has been lost, has been discovered.)

Here at the Bent Archive, snippets of biographical information about Theodore and Mabel turn up all the time. On one of our regular trawls through the Irish newspapers, the following few lines from the Dublin Daily Express (1 August 1898) came to light after lying on the sea floor for some 120 years:

‘Miss J. D. S. Aldworth, an Irish artist who is rising to distinction in London, has had the honour of submitting to her Highness the Duchess of York the pastel painting which she presented to be sold for the benefit of the Princess Mary Village Houses. Miss Aldworth studied first in London, and subsequently in Paris, under M. R. L. Fleury… and has exhibited in the Royal Academy, the Institute of Painters, the Royal Hibernian Academy, and other shows. Miss Aldworth. who belongs to a well-known Cork family, is a successful portrait painter in oils and pastels, and adds another name to the long roll of talented Irish artists. Amongst the best portraits in oils we may mention that of the late Theodore Bent, F.R.G.S., F.S.A.’

Now, to us, this is of more interest than the Antikythera Mechanism (retrieved from the deep but a few sea miles from where Theodore dug on Antiparos in 1883/4)! For we now know there is a missing portrait of Theodore to be tracked down. Did Theodore own it? Was it left to Mabel’s sisters and nieces on her death in 1929? All this is to be found out and published.

Two sidetracks can be pointed to.

What of the artist? Jane Dorothea Sophia Aldworth was born on 15 April 1861, the daughter of Colonel Robert Aldworth and Olivia Catherine Morton – a distinguished family from Co. Cork. After training in France, Jane returned to London and Dublin (inter alia) to paint and sculpt. A society artist, Jane, of course, found time for Cheltenham, and the Cheltenham Chronicle for Tuesday 21 September 1880 notes the Aldworths arriving at 38 Lansdown Crescent: ‘Col. and Mrs. Aldworth, Miss J. D. S Aldworth, Mr. St. Letter B. Aldworth. Mr. J. J O. Aldworth…’ By 1894/5 Jane had a London base at 37 Seymour Street, and featured her work in a catalogue of the 12th exhibition of the Institute of Painters in Oil Colours (it seems her picture of Theodore was not exhibited). In 1898 we have the article reference in the Dublin Daily Express quoted above. In 1905/6 she exhibited a piece (and offered it for sale at £5.5.0) called ‘The Spirit of the Rose’ at the Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition.

The Cheltenham Looker-On of Saturday 23 February 1907 has a dismissive view of one of Jane’s pictures on show at the Cheltenham and County Fine Art Society:

‘Amongst other painters who have contributed works of more or less merit, which want of space prevents us from criticising at length, are the following :- A. M. Bryant, A. K. Meadows, Sydney Scott, Rose Willis, W. W. Stephens, Col. Penrose Thaekwell, T. Mesham [and] J. D. S. Aldworth.’

Perhaps, in the end, Jane is better remembered for her charity work than her art. The next we hear of her is a letter in the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser (Saturday 28 October 1911): [To the Editor.] Sir, In response to my letter last winter asking for gifts of books, toys, dolls, etc., to send to the Church of England Waifs and Strays and Dr. Barnardo’s Homes, many of your readers kindly interested their young friends, and were able to send several hundred toys, thus bringing joy to many young hearts. I hope this winter we may enlist further sympathy and make a still larger collection. Toy cupboards might now be turned out in anticipation of Christmas, last year’s Christmas cards made into scrap books, dolls re-dressed, etc., and so many less fortunate little brothers and sisters would be enabled to have share in our Christmas cheer. I shall be grateful for all contributions of toys, new and old. They should sent in not later than Saturday, December 3rd. — Yours, etc., J. D. S. Aldworth. Claremont, Dorking.

Jane Aldworth died on 8 June 1913 at age 52, unmarried.

But what of this missing oil painting of Theodore Bent? Suffice it to say, it would be wonderful to locate and exhibit it – pride of place in the RGS Gallery, London. There are few likenesses of Theodore, Mabel’s efforts as expedition photographer were, frankly, undistinguished, and very few have survived because of technical difficulties. Sadly, a large number of her glass slides used for Theodore’s lectures were thrown away in the early 1950s, as being too damaged or faded to make further use of – today they could perhaps have been restored.

Jane’s missing portrait has a date referenced above of 1898, with Theodore having died in May the year before. So when did Theodore pose for Jane? Mabel used a fine studio photograph of her husband for the frontispiece of her account of the couple’s Arabian explorations, Southern Arabia, published in 1900. In all likelihood, this photograph of Theodore, and Jane’s portrait, were executed in the mid 1890s, when Theodore was in his early 40s.

As for how he may have looked in Jane Aldworth’s portrait, let’s stretch our imaginations and look at details from the photograph referred to above and a detail of a fine painting of Theodore’s uncle, Sir John Bent (1793–1857), erstwhile brewer and Mayor of Liverpool. The oil painting of Sir John was done in 1855 by Philip Westcott (1815–1878) and hangs today in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Looking for a resemblance (and bearing in mind an age difference of some 20 years), can we see family similarities in the eyes and brows? If Jane had painted Theodore at 65, not 45, might he have looked like the portrait of Sir John? But the missing picture, when we find it, will look like the studio photograph published by Mabel in her book of 1900.

So, if you see an unattributed oil painting at auction that has the eyes (though younger) of this sitter – buy it! It is this lost painting of Theodore Bent! Or, of course, if you own it now, or have any further information on Jane Aldworth – do let us know. Jane’s likeness of Theodore may be no oil painting, but we would love to see it!

‘My dear People’ – A Photograph Album

THERE is a letter of Mabel’s (from a collection now in the RGS, London) dated Friday, 24 February 1893, from Aksum in ‘Abyssinia’, which begins ‘My dear People’ and signs off ‘Best love to you all, Your very loving Mabel’. It starts, alarmingly, ‘Don’t be anxious about us…’

Mabel’s letter to her family, 24 Feb 1893, written during the couple’s risky tour to Aksum and Ethiopia that year. Theodore published his adventures as ‘The Sacred City of the Ethiopians’ (1893).

What follows here on our site, a new leaf being added now and then, represents a virtual photo album of the many correspondents of Mabel’s, her closest Anglo-Irish family connections, to whom she wrote many, many hundreds of letters during her nearly twenty years of travelling with Theodore. You might like to meet them!

Most of the photographs to follow (from the Bent Archive Collection) are examples of the new carte de visite format developed by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819–1889). Two of the photographs to come (Nos 5 and 6, Robert Westley and Caroline Hall-Dare) are actually from the Disdéri Studio itself.

Do visit regularly (sign up to our blog posts if you like!) to see new additions to our album of Mabel’s relatives, and please let us know if you have any faces to add (info@tambent.com). (An excellent website exists for those interested in Mabel’s side of the family, the Hall Dares: http://www.thepeerage.com)

We do hope you will find the album diverting, and are delighted that No. 1  is a very rare photo of Mabel in her wedding gown, presumably taken in the summer, or early autumn, of 1877.

Best wishes

The Bent Archive

PS. Many of the photographs on our website are from the Bent Archive Collection; please contact us for reproduction requests (info@tambent.com).

No. 1 – Mabel Bent in her wedding gown (1877?).

SITTER: Mabel Virginia Anna Bent (née Hall-Dare) (1847-1929), in her wedding dress. Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart. She married James Theodore Bent on 2nd August 1877 in Staplestown church, Co. Carlow, Ireland.
DATE: Presumably around the time of her marriage, 2 August 1877.
STUDIO: T. Fall, 9 Baker Street, Portman Square, London. Fall set up as a portrait photographer in the 1850s in Bedale, Yorkshire. In the late 1860s he moved to London to work for the established studio of Elliott and Fry in Baker Street, and from there founded his own business in 1875, also in Baker Street. He began to specialise in photographing dogs and was commissioned by the Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandra, to photograph her with her dogs earning the company a Royal Warrant. Fall died In 1900.

No. 2 – Mabel Hall-Dare (later Bent) holding her niece Hilda (1860s?)

SITTER: Mabel Virginia Anna Bent (née Hall-Dare) (1847-1929), later Mrs J T Bent, holding her niece Hilda. Hilda Mary Hall-Dare was the daughter of Mabel’s brother, Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton. Hilda married James Erskine Wise Booth, son of George Booth and Georgiana Susanna Arabel Barton, on 30 December 1890. She died on 3 August 1953. Hilda and James had three children: Lt.-Col. Arthur Ronald Booth (1891–1954); Evelyn Mary Booth (b. 1897); Brigadier John Roberts Booth (1901–1971).
DATE: Late 1860s (?)
STUDIO: M. Allen and Co., 12 Westland Row, Dublin.

No. 3 – Mabel Hall-Dare (later Bent) as a young womanSITTER: Mabel Virginia Anna Bent (née Hall-Dare) (1847-1929), later Mrs J T Bent, as a young woman.  Very aware of her fine red hair, a lock falls casually over her left shoulder, escaping from an otherwise carefully managed coiffure. The photograph is from the collection of Turtle Bunbury and reproduced with permission.
DATE: Late 1860s (?)
STUDIO: Unknown.

No. 4Robert Westley Hall-Dare (Mabel’s brother)

SITTER: Robert Westley Hall-Dare (1840–1876); Mabel’s brother. Robert was born on 8 June 1840. He was the son of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart/Lambert. He married Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton, daughter of Henry Newton and Elizabeth Jane Doyne, on 27 October 1863. He died on 18 March 1876 at age 35 of typhoid in Rome, while on extended holiday. The couple had 6 children: Hilda Mary Hall-Dare (d. 3 Aug 1953); Elizabeth Frances Hall-Dare (d. 6 Feb 1956); Evelyn Una Hall-Dare (dates unknown at present); John Marmaduke Hall-Dare (b. 23 Sep 1865 – 1866); Robert Westley Hall-Dare (b. 14 Oct 1866 – 20 Feb 1939); Arthur Mildmay Hall-Dare (b. 11 Oct 1867 – 31 May 1941). Robert held the office of Deputy Lieutenant for County Wexford. He held the office of Justice of the Peace for County Carlow; the office of Justice of the Peace for County Wexford; the office of High Sheriff of County Carlow in 1868; the office of High Sheriff of County Wexford in 1872. He lived at Theydon Bois, Essex, England and Newtownbarry House, Bunclody, County Wexford, Ireland. DATE: 1874; two years before his death.
STUDIO: Disdéri, 8 Boulevard des Italiens, Paris. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9-Adolphe-Eug%C3%A8ne_Disd%C3%A9ri          Disdéri perfected the photographic visiting card. Robert and his wife Caroline had a base in Paris in the 1870s.

No. 5Caroline Susan Henrietta Hall-Dare, née Newton (Mabel’s sister-in-law)

SITTER: Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton (dates to be confirmed) was the daughter of Henry Newton and Elizabeth Jane Doyne. She was Mabel’s sister-in-law. She married Mabel’s brother, Robert Westley Hall-Dare, son of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart, on 27 October 1863. (For their children see No. 4 above.) DATE: 1870s ? STUDIO: Disdéri, 8 Boulevard des Italiens, Paris. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9-Adolphe-Eug%C3%A8ne_Disd%C3%A9ri           Disdéri perfected the photographic visiting card. Robert and his wife Caroline had a base in Paris in the 1870s.

No. 6 – Caroline Susan Henrietta Hall-Dare, née Newton (Mabel’s sister-in-law)

SITTER: Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton (dates to be confirmed) was the daughter of Henry Newton and Elizabeth Jane Doyne. She was Mabel’s sister-in-law. She married Mabel’s brother, Robert Westley Hall-Dare, son of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart, on 27 October 1863. (For their children see No. 4 above.) DATE:  1870s (?)  STUDIO: Scott & Son, Devonshire Street, Carlisle, UK.

No. 7Olivia Frances Grafton Hall-Dare (later Johnston) (Mabel’s sister)

SITTER: Olivia Frances Grafton Hall-Dare (1843-1926) was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart. She married the Reverend Richard Johnston (died 27 November 1906) in July 1883. They had no children (?). Olivia died in 1926. She was Richard’s second wife. He married, firstly, Augusta Sophia Hamilton in 1844. She was known to the family as Iva. DATE: 1860s or 70s (?). STUDIO: Monabone, via dei Banchi 3, Florence https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luigi_Montabone

No. 8Frances Maria Hall-Dare (later Hobson) (Mabel’s sister)

SITTER: Frances Maria Hall-Dare (b. 1852) was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart. She married Reverend Edward Waller Hobson on 11 June 1891. They had no children. Frances Maria Hall-Dare (b. 1852) was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart. She married Reverend Edward Waller Hobson on 11 June 1891. They had no children. DATE: 1860s or 70s (?) STUDIO: Monabone, via dei Banchi 3, Florence https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luigi_Montabone

No. 9Frances Maria Hall-Dare (later Hobson) (Mabel’s sister)

SITTER: Frances Maria Hall-Dare (b. 1852) was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart. She married Reverend Edward Waller Hobson on 11 June 1891. They had no children. Frances Maria Hall-Dare (b. 1852) was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart. She married Reverend Edward Waller Hobson on 11 June 1891. They had no children. DATE: 1860s or 70s (?) STUDIO: C. Hawkins, Brighton School of Photography.

Bent’s Last Christmas – 1896, Sokotra

FOR famous travellers, the Bents preferred to be homebirds come Christmas time, swapping solar topees for deerstalkers, and leaving their London base near Marble Arch for family visits to Ireland and elsewhere. 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).

Map of ‘Sokotra’. From the Bents’ Southern Arabia (1900), facing page 342. Private collection.

And Christmas 1896, on this remote island, was to be the last the couple shared together. Out of respect, perhaps, for the land and people they were amongst, there were to be no festivities – this might explain why Theodore was out of sorts! [But at least we are spared Mabel’s cracker ‘mottos’, examples of which we have from Christmas 1895, when the Bents were in Suez. ‘I have made some crackers to surprise my companions at dessert, and I think they would be much better liked afloat than ashore, so I am sorry to dine on land. Of course, no mottos were to be had so I was obliged to manufacture some. Mr. Smyth, having been proved to possess only 3 rusty needles, is to have a needle-book and his motto is: ‘Cheer up! Mr. Smyth, and try to be blyth [sic]; though your clothes may be rent, says your friend Mabel Bent.’ Mr. Cholmley, a box of Ink Pellets. ‘Ever be good news by Alfred Cholmley sent, in ink of blackest hue’s the wish of Mabel Bent.’ Theodore a knife and fork and, ‘Good appetite to Theodore! May he ne’er need to wish for more than may be upon his table, is the hope of his wife Mabel.’]

By all accounts the couple spent several happy weeks on Sokotra, with its landscapes and flora making it something of a paradise, before their hellish experiences east of Aden – which led to Theodore’s early death aged 45.

The Bents made no great archaeological finds on the island, but Theodore wrote that ‘Caves in the limestone rocks have been filled with human bones from which the flesh had previously decayed. These caves were then walled up and left as charnel-houses, after the fashion still observed in the Eastern Christian Church. Amongst the bones we found carved wooden objects which looked as if they had originally served as crosses to mark the tombs…’ (The Island of Sokotra. ‘The Nineteenth Century’, 1897, Vol. 41 (244) (Jun): 978) Theodore gave (or sold) three of these wooden items to the anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917). Tylor was Oxford professor of anthropology, and keeper of the university museum. His wife Anna presented the Bents’ Sokotran artefacts to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford in 1917 (1917.53.670-2). The Bents missed them, but recent excavations at the nearby Hoq cave have revealed votive remains thought to date from the 3rd century AD. (Soqotra Karst Project, http://www.friendsofsoqotra.org/index.htm)

But we can join Mabel at camp at ‘Kalenzia’ [Qalansiyah, Suquṭrā], a few days before Christmas 1896. The couple are busy administering to locals, collecting specimens and preparing for a trip to the interior:

‘Tuesday 22nd [December 1896]. Here we still are at Kalenzia. I did not venture to spell this name till I had heard it pronounced, as it is spelt in so many ways. The name of the island is Sokotra. We have been continuing our doctors’ work. One old lady with a skin affection was prescribed a preliminary washing with soap, but I was informed that in the whole of this island there is not such a thing, so of course it had to be given as a medicine. The Butterfly, Botanical, Shell, and Beetle collections have been started. We have not for years enjoyed such peace and safety. The people are most pleasant and do not worry us a bit by coming round our tents. We can walk about alone all over the place and yesterday Theodore and I went a long distance and found some inscriptions on a smooth rock, also a little hamlet, very clean (Haida), as is Kalenzia.

We sat down on the ground and were interested looking at the party we were amongst, one or 2 men, the mistress and 2 servants and slaves. The latter were spinning. They were dressed in dark blue with a kind of little grey and black goats’ hair carpet, woven in little looms a foot wide, which they wrap round as petticoats. They wore bead necklaces. Their mistress was much smarter. She had silver bracelets and many glass armlets and a pretty silver-gilt necklace and earrings, and a turkey-red dress made like those in the Hadramaut, but longer. The front came to the calf of the leg and the train would have been fully a yard on the ground had she not held it up. All the women wear their hair cut in a straight, short fringe and the better class paint with turmeric. Yesterday a most important looking old man came from the Sultan with a civil letter. He tried to persuade us to go most of the way to Tamarida by sea, but of course we refused. We are to have 15 camels and to pay 3 reals each for the journey, i.e. M. T. dollars 25 at 2 rupees each (2/6) and they are promised to be here in 3 days.

‘Christmas Eve, Thursday [24th December 1896]. We shall have been here a week this evening. The camels are roving round and it is said that the baggage shall be bound in bundles this evening and that we shall start tomorrow after prayers – even a little way. Yesterday we had a delightful day. We started after breakfast with luncheon, gun, butterfly net, photography, shell box, beetle box and flower basket. We went through the village and along the tongue of shingle which separates the freshwater lagoon from the sea and which we call Shark Parade, because there are so many of these monsters drying there. They all have their back fins and tails cut off and their spines are nearly as thick as my wrists. We then struck inland, passing through a village called Ghises, under the mountainside, and then climbed up, saw our first Dragon tree (a mistake. It was Adenia. Dragon’s blood grows 800 feet up the hills) and I took some photos of very curious trees. We lunched under some palms near a marshy and pretty stream and got back in time for tea and to attend to many patients, and this morning we have had much of the same work.

‘From Yehàzahaz, looking over the
pass toward Adahan, Sokotra.’ Detail of a
watercolour by Theodore Bent; from Mabel
Bent’s paper in The Geographical Journal,
‘The Island of Sokotra (Read at the Meeting
of the British Association, Bristol, 1898)’. The
Scottish Geographical Magazine, Vol. 14
(12), 629-36. Private collection.

Christmas Day [Friday 25th December 1896]. A cloudy morning. Soon after breakfast, with the usual patients, a whole crowd came, headed by Ali, the chief personage, and the mollah. They roared and shouted and said we must have 25 camels, 4 only to be ridden, but we said we could not possibly ride without luggage to sit on. As a mater of fact 10 could take us. After a great row, fearing not to get away, we consented to have as many as they liked and would pay what the Sultan wished. Then Ali and the mollah came into the tent with a small bit of paper they picked up and wished him [Theodore] to write a contract with them in a very authoritative way. I was at the tent door and had to clear out in a hurry as out stormed T, giving good pushes to the two, telling them they were wicked men and he should take them prisoners to Aden. He then tore the paper into even smaller bits and flung it in their faces (the wind serving admirably).

‘They all apologized and soon left in a flock and sat down in a ring 100 yards off. Then someone came and said 16 camels, and then another came and said 18. ‘As you like,’ said we. They wanted T to write. ‘No,’ he said, ‘but if they wish I will write all their names down to show in Aden.’ This was declined. Now they are all here again, quite friendly. Mr. Bennett [a young Oxford scholar who joined the Bents at his own expense], to whom all these scenes are new, is away getting some wild duck. I think it must be a good thing for him to have our experience to fall back upon. It seems to me we are always saying one side of a Catechism on Ethnography and Botany, with Hints to Travellers and lessons in the Greek and Arabic Languages combined. His thirst for knowledge is great and ceaseless.

‘We have seen very little new to us here besides the little chicken houses made of a turtle shell with the earth scooped from under it. We have everything tied up in bundles by 11 and then had to sit till about 3 before the camels came. I never saw camels better fitted out before than these. We have had such different experiences. Our first camel riding was in the Island of Bahrein [1889], where we had splendid silver saddles on beautiful riding camels. Next the Hadramaut journey where the camels had small packsaddles and a good many rags to pad them and ropes with sticks. In Dhofar they came naked and we had to find all, even the nose ropes. The baggage was most hard to manage. In the E. Soudan they had good saddles, and many riding saddles but no sticks and used our ropes, of which we have a sack. Here they have excellent mats and pads, little packsaddles and then mats made of sacking, quilted with strong twine and sewn over at the edges very neatly. Sticks with excellent ropes, and, what is best of all, very strong matting bags, quilted with ropes, in which they tie up all the baggage to its great benefit. Their way of pronouncing the Persian ‘juval’ is ‘zoual’. We came 2 hours or so to the mouth of a valley. Iséleh.

‘December 26th Saturday [1896]. Started about 7 without any difficulty. The men seemed anxious to get on. The Sheikh sent by the Sultan is with us – a friendly old man. We continued our way till we had to dismount when the mountains closed in and we walked over a pass. We trotted wherever the road was smooth enough. Of course, when I speak of road, it is only a track. There were little bushes and a good deal of fine grass and some small trees. The [Adenia] trees in full bloom were lovely. The flower is very like in size and colour to pink oleander. We stopped at some water and filled some water-skins and then, about 1, stopped in a hollow basin, often filled with water no doubt but there is none now. Here the Arabs proposed to eat and unloaded the camels, so we decided to stay, as T had had a fall that had knocked him up a bit. First they said we should go to water quite close, but when T said we would send a camel they said it was a long way. What little water we got for our evening wash we had to save till morning, but we had tremendous rain in the night and I am afraid our bread and other things will prove to have suffered, as no preparations for rain had been made. ‘We are making a latish start to give things a chance to dry up. The place is called Lim Ditarr.

‘[Sunday] December 27th [1896]. We stopped halfway at a place with very salt water called Día. Here we lunched and the camels drank at the well. There were no houses. Near sunset we reached Eriosh, also an uninhabited place. There is about 1⁄4 mile of quite flat rock, partly covered by mud, dried. There a great many cuttings of feet of all sizes, of men as well as animals, some Himyaritic letters and other signs. Mr. Wellsted says much labour must have been expended in cutting in such very hard stone, but I could cut deeply with the first pebble I could pick up. I look on them as scribbles. We stayed 2 nights. It was too awfully windy to open our shady door.’

[All extract from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs. J. Theodore Bent Volume III: Southern Arabia and Persia’ (Archaeopress, 2010), pages 288-92]

‘My baby eyes first looked out on an extremely beautiful bit of this world…’

A typical word-portrait of Mabel Bent reads mostly along the lines of this one, from the ‘Anglo-African Who’s Who’ (Wills and Barrett (eds), 1905):

‘BENT, Mrs. Mabel Virginia Anna, of 13, Great Cumberland Place, W., and of the Ladies’ Empire Club, is a daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare, D.L., of Theydon Bois, Wennington Hall, Essex, and Newtownbarry House, Co. Wexford. She was married Aug. 2, 1877, to the late Theodore Bent, of Baildon House, Yorks. Mrs. Bent accompanied her husband in all his explorations, and took part in the excavations with which he was associated in the Greek and Turkish Islands, Asia Minor, Abyssinia, the Great Zimbabye (Mashonaland), Persia, and elsewhere. She is the authoress of ‘Southern Arabia, Soudan, and Sokotra,’ compiled from her own and Mr. Theodore Bent’s notes.’

Mabel Virginia Anna Bent. Reproduced from ‘Hearth and Home’, 2 November 1893. From the Studio of H.S. Mendelssohn, South Kensington (private collection).

But we are lucky that there exists a very rare autobiographical snapshot of her earliest years – appearing in the gossipy rag ‘Mainly about People’. A lengthy extract here conjures her up [ed note: Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare was born (January 1847) and raised among the minor Anglo-Irish aristocracy]:

‘My baby eyes first looked out on an extremely beautiful bit of this world, for I was born at Beauparc, in the county of Meath, my grandfather Gustavus Lambart’s place, which, being situated on a very high bank at a sharp curve of the River Boyne, seems as if it were upon an island looking straight down the river. The right bank is high and wooded, and the left has a narrow grassy flat between the water and a low craggy cliff, above which you see away over tree-studded fields to a ruined castle with woods beyond; and my eyes, which have since been so much exercised in seeking for archaeological sites where to make excavations, must also have fallen on the wonderful ancient tumulus of New Grange. So much did this view please me the first time I can remember seeing it, that, having arrived in the dark one night, the following morning about four or five o’clock my wretched mother was startled from her sleep by shrieks and shouts to find me jumping up and down as hard as I could at the window, a manifestation of my ecstasy of delight at the sight of the snow and icicles and all the wintry beauty spread before me.

‘Beauparc – Lady Lambert’s House’. Mabel Hall-Dare was born here, in County Meath, Ireland, in January 1847. From a watercolour by Garrett Scanlan. (Reproduced with the artist’s permission)

‘Although I certainly had no inkling of the fate that awaited me, being a ‘Thursday’s bairn who has far to go’, no child was ever fonder of reading and poring over maps and lists and pictures of traveller’s requisites than I was… I was also a most determined dweller in tents, for I used to pull my bed to pieces and hang up my top sheet by the nail of a picture, making a good hole that it should hold well, and then, arranging my bedding to suit my fancy, imagine I was sleeping on the ground. It was not comfortable, but there was something very nice about it. In one of my investigations of the library at home I came upon a book that I made up my mind to examine. It had a delightful title ‘The Atlas of Undiscovered Countries’. It was firmly fixed, and to get at it I had to exert all my strength and become very hot, tugging out the great folios that were on each side, and then to my disgust I found my prize was only a false wooden book to support the upper shelf. Years after I exclaimed, ‘Now I have really an atlas of undiscovered countries of my own’, when I eagerly unpacked a map in eight sheets (that my husband had had made at Stanford’s, of Southern Arabia, when we were first thinking of exploring that part of the world) and found two or three of the sheets blank save for latitude and longitude marks. I am glad to say that the blank is not so large now…

‘Some very strange things have been written in the way of description of the dress I wore when travelling in outlandish places – just a shooting dress. The accounts are such that my friends refuse to believe in my photographs, as they in no way tally with what they have read. One paper had it that I wore a spiked helmet, whereas what goes by the name of my pith helmet is of rather a large mushroom shape. All this is very amusing to me. A statement which delighted the whole of my family was one that ‘Mrs. Theodore Bent is never tired of expatiating on the sagacity of the horse, and its superiority in this respect to the mule or the camel’. Against whose attacks have I had to defend the ‘noble animal’. The first intimation of this came to me suddenly when I opened a magazine in a boatful of strangers in Aden Harbour. My husband, who had landed first to seek a dwelling on our return from Dhofar, had sent my mail (some months’ accumulation) on board. I nearly went into hysterics, tears rolled down my cheeks, the various coloured fellow-passengers stared, but I could not control my mirth nor explain the cause of its sudden outburst. After all, in a residence of a week or ten days at Aden, which has been my unfortunate fate seven or eight times, one is glad of anything to cheer one up. On this occasion we were so lucky as to be able to hire an unlet shop, where we set up our camp in dust that never could be swept up, and by night slept in the surrounding dens, alive with bugs, and those horrid ‘fish moths’, which are rather like earwigs, and eat cloth, linen, paper, ivory – in fact, everything but metal. Our servants cooked at various fires in the inner yard according to their religion, and spread their beds on the floor of the shop at night. Neither window shutters nor doors could be kept open or shut for lack of fastening, and slammed and banged to and fro incessantly. What we could not help we tried not to heed, and only rejoiced that we were masters of our own kitchen and could feed as we pleased much better than in the hotels. I really was once taken for a man, and caused a terrible commotion as I entered a Turkish bath filled with ladies about whose costume there is nothing to tell. I had on a tight fitting ulster and a hat, and the waist and the hat and the long coat made me really look very like a Persian man…

‘My youth was spent partly in England, but mostly in Ireland, my father having property in both countries, and we were often taken abroad for a summer or a winter. This is certainly the best way of learning languages, of which I was fortunately always very fond. It was a great help when it was necessary for me to look up references in various tongues and in old manuscripts. I have often been in places where I have heard no English at all. It would have astonished me very much in the days of my youth if I had been told that I should ever abide for some time in the Republic of San Marino and become a citizen of it. The diploma was sent after my husband had written a history of the Republic (‘A Freak of Freedom’), and he received a letter subsequently from a friend beginning, ‘Dear Sir and Fellow Citizen,’ congratulating him, and reminding him that ‘no matter at what distance he might lie from the Republic, he would be under her protection.’

‘It was lucky that I was so well used to riding, as I have had so much of it on horses, donkeys, mules, camels, and even elephants. I do not mind camel-riding at all, and really like it when I trot. However, no matter what I do abroad, when necessity compels, in the way of blacking boots, cobbling them, covering umbrellas, or mending their ribs, washing clothes, soldering cooking-pots, or ‘washing up’ (which last I hate), I try to live it down in after life, and when I am at home to enjoy the privileges of civilisation, to wear dresses of whatever length fashion desires of me, and hats that will pass in a crowd. I cannot understand the feeling which makes people wish to disguise themselves as travellers when at home. Certainly I have been granted some of the wishes that I made in the days of my youth!’ (Mabel Virginia Anna Bent)

[All taken from ‘The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks Selected Writings of J. Theodore & Mabel V.A. Bent, 1885-1888. Archaeopress, Oxford, 2015. Extract transcribed from: Mabel V.A. Bent, ‘In the Days of My Youth: Chapters of Autobiography’, M.A.P., 10, Issue 240 (17 January 1903), pp. 72-3 (M.A.P. [Mainly about People]: A Popular Penny Weekly of Pleasant Gossip, Personal Portraits, and Social News, Editor: T.P. O’Connor)]