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

The Bents – Great Friends of Tilos

A recent post on the ‘Friends of Tilos’ (Dodecanese, Greece) Facebook page is very much worth re-posting here! Read on!

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

“The couple arrived at Agios Andonios on 24 February 1885, on a hired boat from Nisiros, and set sail for Karpathos (from Livadia) on 5 March. Having landed safely, the party took the old kalderimi to Megalo Chorio, and for the whole of their stay on the island they were accommodated in the the little monastery complex of the Apostles/Ag Panteleimon below Megalo Chorio. (Most of what follows is taken from ‘The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks‘. Selected Writings of J. Theodore & Mabel V.A. Bent, 1885-1888: Archaeopress, 2015.)

“Mabel noted the arrival in her diary: ‘We saw a good many people on the shore as we approached, but by the time we landed not one was in sight. The boatman then holloed out ‘Come near, fear not! We are from Nisiros, you may come safely!’ So out they came and we went to meet them and they said, ‘What people are you? From The Town?’ We said we were not from Constantinople but from England, but this did not enlighten them much.’ (Mabel Bent, ‘World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral‘, p. 74)

“Theodore, in his later article ‘A Protracted Wedding’ (‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’, Issue 265:1894 (1888:Oct), pp. 331-341) is more the travel-writer: ‘On the eve of a fine February day we reached Telos in a small sailing craft, thankful enough to have escaped the treacheries of a winter’s sail in these dangerous waters, and, as we approached, some few inhabitants came down to stare at us, prior to beating a hasty retreat, and for some time after we landed we could not induce them to approach. ‘They take you for pirates,’ said our sailors… These first acquaintances of ours on Telos were all women, dressed oddly enough; on their heads they wore a red-peaked cap, like those Phrygian helmets one sees on old vases, tied on with a red handkerchief round the forehead; from their ears hung down immense silver rings or bangles, five or six in each ear… They had on dark-brown coats of coarse home-spun material, which came below the knee, and they were girt with a red girdle; beneath this coat peeped their white shirt, rich at the edge with many-coloured embroidery; as for their feet, they were bare just now, and their long yellow leather shoes, with pointed ends, were cast on one side, for the women down here were washerwomen, engaged in treading flannel clothes and other things on boards; for the Teliote women wash in this fashion with their feet, like Nausicaa and her maidens, who “bore the clothes to the black water, and briskly trod them down in the trenches in busy rivalry.”’

“Bent went on to write that the objective of their stay was to record an imminent wedding (very unlike the French one witnessed the other month by the present writer, and many thanks to Ian Smith for the raki by the way – a pleasure to meet him and his dog walking in Megalo Chorio), but actually Bent was there to see what he might dig up. He excavated at a couple of unspecified cemeteries but left with very little, the best of the finds had been removed decades before by men like Charles Newton (a search under ‘Telos’ in the British Museum’s database will show some of the magnificent vases that once graced the island, indicating its prestige in the centuries before Christ). Bent’s account, for those interested, and worth the tracking down, was published as ‘The Islands of Telos and Karpathos’, ‘Journal of Hellenic Studies’, 1885, Vol. VI, pp. 233-242.

“Anyway – this was just to introduce the group to the Bents, and hopefully inspire one or two to look them up online over the dark Tilos winter evenings to come, and maybe go listen for their voices in the little monastery below Megalo Horio. καλό χειμώνα.”

 

Meet Mabel’s Mother – Frances Anna Catherine Hall-Dare (née Lambart).

A happy tip-off from Paul Frecker has led to the discovery of a fine and rare portrait of Mabel Bent’s mother, Frances Anna Catherine Hall-Dare (née Lambart) (c. 1819-1862). The photograph was taken in the studio of the celebrated portraitist Camille Silvy (Camille Silvy Collection, Album 5 (Daybook Volume 5), 1861-62, number 6506, albumen print, 20 November 1861, 38 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, London).

Camille Silvy (1834-1910), from a French aristocratic background, established himself as one of the leading portrait photographers of his time. He moved to London in 1859 and bought Caldesi and Montecchi’s studio on Porchester Terrace. He kept daybooks with the details of each sitter, the date, and a file print, and these (with five members of the Hall-Dare family), are now in the National Portrait Gallery’s archives, London (a search on their fine site will provide more information).

Frances, born c. 1819, was the daughter of Gustavus Lambart and Anna Butler Stevenson. She married Robert Westley Hall-Dare, son of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Elizabeth Grafton, on 18 April 1839, with whom she had six children. She was born on the Lambart estates of Beau Parc, Co. Meath (see image), before residing in her first marital home at Temple House, Sligo (now a hotel – go stay!). Then, after her husband’s disgrace, trial, and one-month prison sentence, the family moved to Newtonbarry (now Bunclody, Co. Wexford); Hall-Dare subsequently bought and redeveloped Newtonbarry House as the family home, just outside the village, across the trout-brown and lovely Slaney. The family also maintained extensive properties in Essex and rented homes in London, including 49 Eaton Place, where Frances died after a long and painful illness on 2nd September 1862. She was buried in the Hall-Dare plot/vault at St Mary’s Theydon Bois, Essex, on 6 September 1862, aged just 43 (Burial record 422).

This photograph, dated 20 November 1861, was taken just 10 months before she died. (Paul Frecker’s website adds that the cause of death was, alas, cancer of the womb.) Her son, also Robert Hall-Dare, made a sad entry in his diary (private collection) a year after her death, September 1863: ‘Just a year ago on the 2nd September 1862 my dear mother was taken from this world. We were at Eaton Place, a house my Father had taken – She had been sinking for some weeks rapidly, and at last was only conscious for a few hours in the day. Before that she, when free from pain, used to talk to us much and gave me advice which I hope I may never forget.

Mabel also recalled her mother, some 40 years later:

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… 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…‘ [(Mabel V.A. Bent, ‘In the Days of My Youth: Chapters of Autobiography’, M.A.P., 10, (Mainly about People): A Popular Penny Weekly of Pleasant Gossip, Personal Portraits, and Social News, Issue 240 (17 January 1903), pp. 72-3].

The painting here shows: ‘Beauparc – Lady Lambert’s House’. Mabel Hall-Dare was born here, in County Meath, Ireland, on January 28, 1847. From a watercolour by Garrett Scanlan. (Reproduced with the artist’s permission).

Happy Wedding Anniversary, Theodore & Mabel – 2nd August 1877!

Mabel in her wedding dress; an undated studio photo, probably taken after her marriage.

We don’t yet know how, where and when the young Theodore Bent (1852-1897) first met Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare (1847-1929), although Mabel in an article reveals that they met in Norway of all places (see the press cutting that follows from The Citizen of 1907).* Theodore having graduated from Oxford, Wadham, in 1875. They married near Mabel’s family seat (Co. Wexford) on 2 August 1877 (Mabel 31, Theodore 27), in the little church of Staplestown, Co. Carlow.

Staplestown church, Co. Carlow.

The officiating clerics were the Rev. Charles Lambart, uncle of the bride, assisted by the Rev. H. A. Barker and the Rev. T. Hatchell. Theodore’s residence is cited as his manor at Sutton Hall, outside Macclesfield, Cheshire. As an only son and with both parents dead, his side of the church would have been thinly populated, in contrast to his Anglo-Irish bride’s. Who gave away the flame-haired Mabel remains a mystery, her (sympathetic) brother Robert having died of typhoid in Rome in 1876, while her (unsympathetic) father, also Robert, passed on in 1866.

The Bents’ wedding notice from The York Herald (Monday, August 6th, 1877).

(The post-scriptum to this wedding has to refer to the allotted span of 19 years and 9 months the pair were to have together for their explorations of the E Med, Africa, and Arabia. Theodore died of malarial fever complications on 5 May 1897. But, nevertheless, the couple did have their world enough, and time.)

* “Visitor of Outlandish Countries: Mrs Theodore Bent, who is just off to Jerusalem, has all her life been very much of a traveller. She first met her late husband in Norway, and she accompanied him in subsequent years to Abyssinia, Mashonaland and Arabia, and other out-of-the-way parts of the world, sharing in all the dangers, discomforts, and enthusiasms of his many archaeological expeditions. Mrs Bent, who speaks several languages fluently, comes of an old family of the name of Hall-Dare, well-known in Counties Wexford and Essex.” (From the Dublin periodical The Citizen or Dublin Monthly Magazine, Saturday, December 21, 1907)

The illustrations above include a wedding notice from The York Herald (Monday, August 6th, 1877), and Mabel in her wedding dress – an undated studio photo, probably taken after her marriage to Theodore, posed in the Baker Street studios of Thomas Fall (celebrated for his studies of the pets of the rich and famous – during the 1890s he was commissioned by the Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandra, to photograph her with her dogs earning the company a Royal Warrant). The other photograph is of Staplestown church, Co. Carlow, taken from the website of the ‘National Inventory of Architectural Heritage’.

‘Mrs Bent and her Camera. Photo by Russell & Sons, London, probably Spring, 1895’

‘Mrs Bent and her Camera. Photo by Russell & Sons, London, probably Spring, 1895’

First printed in ‘The Album, A Journal of Photographs of Men, Women and Events of the Day’ (Vol. 2, no.2, 8 July 1895, pp. 44-45).

Thanks to the British Library, we are delighted to show this extremely rare studio photo of Mabel standing beside her camera and tripod and attired for the wilds. We don’t expect more than a few people will have seen this since it was published in July 1895. Assuming the portrait was taken in the first half of that year, Mabel – her trademark long red hair coiled elegantly as ever – would have just reappeared from Muscat, Oman and Dhofar, and be preparing for the coming winter’s journey with her husband along the west coast of the Red Sea. That Mabel would feature in ‘The Album’ is no surprise – ever since the couple’s journey in 1891 to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes the Bents were celebrities.

It’s not immediately obvious which of her cameras she is displaying here; Mabel’s small apparatus of choice was her ‘Luzo’ box camera, however the protruding lens indicates another, larger model. If anyone can identify it, please write in!

The Bents’ hotels – the ‘Grand Hôtel d’Angleterre’, Ermoúpoli (Sýros)

Just one of a catalogue of hotels and other establishments patronised by the Bents during their twenty years of explorations to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Africa, from 1880 to 1900 (see the interactive maps on this site for additional info!).

The Grand Hôtel D’Angleterre, Ermoúpoli (Sýros)
The ‘Grand Hôtel d’Angleterre’, Ermoúpoli (Sýros)

Next time you’re sailing via Sýros, stroll into Miaouli Square (Πλατεία Μιαούλη) in the centre of Ermoúpoli – just 100m up from the sea. There (turn left as you enter the square) you will find the splendid old edifice that was the Bents’ hotel of choice in the 1880s – The ‘Grand Hôtel d’Angleterre’.

It’s in a sorry state at the moment though, with just the street level occupied as cafés. But it takes no imagination at all, as the light fades on a warm evening, to see the Bents on a balcony, listening to the trombones and clarinets in the bandstand below, as white-aproned waiters serve spritzers to the fashionable. Raise your boaters to them if you wish, for they sail in the morning on their travels – they will nod back for sure.

The photo shows the ‘Grand Hôtel d’Angleterre’, Ermoúpoli (Sýros), a reproduction based on a contemporary postcard of the time (taken from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent‘, Vol, I (p.358), (and (©) Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress, Oxford).

The Bents’ Fleet

The Bents embarked on a ‘fleet’ of ships during their twenty years of explorations to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Africa, from 1880 to 1900 (see the interactive maps on this site for additional details).

Much information on these wonderful ships can be found at: The Ships List; B & C Shipping; Clyde Ships; Nautila (in Greek and English); Mirimar Ship IndexTees built ships; British India Steam Navigation

What follows is in the way of an haphazard flotilla of Bent vessels in no particular sequence. If you have any information, or better still, illustrations, do please contact us. (Scroll down to see a list of ships that will be added from time to time – anchors aweigh!)

**Arriving soon! Vessel No. 4: The M.M. ‘Cambodge’**

The Bents’ Vessels No.1 – January/February 1891, the Castle Mail Packet Company Garth Castle

The Garth Castle
‘The Garth Castle’

“We left England January 30th [1891], that is to say Theodore and Mr. Robert Swan and I, bound for Mashonaland, and Mr. Graham who was going to accompany us as far as Kimberley. The ‘Garth Castle’ was a comfortable ship and with no adventures we reached Cape Town Thursday, February 19th.”

The Bents took about three weeks (30 Jan – 19 Feb 1891) to steam, with stops, from the Channel to Cape Town. The ‘Garth Castle’ (1) was built in 1880 by John Elder & Co. at Glasgow “with a tonnage of 3537grt, a length of 365ft, a beam of 43ft 6in and a service speed of 12 knots”. She took the name of fleet-owner Sir Donald Currie’s estate in Scotland. She was transferred to the Intermediate service in 1890 at the time of the Bents’ trip to Cape Town in 1890/1, under Master H. H. Broadfoot. Surplus to requirements when the companies she was linked to merged in March 1900, she was sold to Elder Dempster & Co. in 1901 for their Bristol to Jamaica service and in the July of the same year chartered to Franco-Canadian Steam Navigation Co. for their Dunkirk – Bordeaux – Quebec run. 1902 saw her being was sold on again, to the Khedivial Mail Steamship & Graving Dock Co. of London, renamed the ‘Ismailia’. She was sold on to Soc. Armatrice Radivo-Frausin of Trieste, renamed, alas, the ‘Brunette’ and broken up in Italy in 1923.

The Bents’ Vessels No.2 – February 5-6 1885: The Lloyd Austriaco Saturno

February 1885 – en route from Alexandria for the Dodecanese. “Thursday February [5th]. I am writing against much rumbling of the screw of the Austrian Lloyd S.S. ‘Saturn’. We are having as calm a voyage as needs be but not without its hopes and fears. We [had] left Cairo on Monday evening at 6… and reached Alexandria at [time illegible]. We were greeted with the unpleasant intelligence that the Austrian would not call at Rhodes this week, so we went to bed with the half formed intention of going to Smyrna by a Khedivieh ship and trusting to luck for a passage to Rhodes. However the belated ‘Saturn’ came in early next morning and we left at 4 on Wednesday afternoon… Yesterday it looked quite black all round when we embarked and [it] began to rain and the harbour was full of gulls – 17 sitting in a row on the rope mooring a ship near. So we felt very gloomy knowing that if it were too stormy we should not touch at Rhodes but be carried to Smyrna. But the sun came out and all became bright as we steamed off ‘adagio adagio’.” [Mabel Bent’s Travel Chronicles, Vol. 1, page 67, Oxford, Archaeopress, 2006]

The Bents arrived below Rhodes’ Old Town on Friday, 6 February 1885.

The Austrian Lloyd and the Khedivieh Steam Navigation companies connected the major ports of the Eastern Mediterranean in the late 19th century. Austrian Lloyd started steamship operations in 1836 based at Trieste, which was then under Austrian rule. Initially traded to the Adriatic and later extended to the rest of the Mediterranean, India and the Far East. The passenger/cargo iron-screw steamer the SS ‘Saturno’ was built for the Austrian Lloyd Steam Navigation Co. on the Clyde (launched 11/01/1868) by William Denny & Bros at the Dumbarton, Leven Yard (126). The engine builder was Denny & Company, Dumbarton (and for the enthusiast, with the spec: 1×4 bladed screw, inverted D.A. surface condensing (54 & 54 – 36 in) and 194 nhp). She had a gross tonnage of 1761 (net: 1197) and was 274.6 ft in length, a breadth of 34.0 ft, and with a draft depth of 18.0 ft. She was sold for breaking up in 1908 but there is evidence in her notes that she continued in some sort of service until 1910.

The Bents’ Vessels No. 3 – Early March 1884: The Hellenic Steam Navigation Company (Elliniki Atmoploia) ΕΛΠΙΣ (ELPIS)

In early March 1884, the Bents are on Cycladic Tinos, waiting for the steamer ΕΛΠΙΣ (ELPIS) from Syros to take them (from the tiny harbour at Όrmos Isterníon) to Andros: “The ‘Praetor’ or agent of steamers gave us coffee and jam and we then rode down a fearfully steep road to the sea. There was a great crowd of 3rd class passengers all seated on the sand and one poor cabin where coffee could be had. The sea was very rough but we had the certainty of the steamer as we could see her come out of Syra harbour. She was a very large one, the ΕΛΠΙΣ, formerly the Truthful. We had a great difficulty in getting on board and also in getting off on account of the sea. We had an excellent luncheon and slept below for a couple of hours, having had too much fresh air on the mountains to care to be on deck. We landed at the chora of Andros about. A woman on the boat was so alarmed that she kept hold of Theodore’s hand till she seized his leg and kept that.” (Mabel Bent’s travel Chronicles, Vol. 1, page 48)

The ELPIS was bought by Elliniki Atmoploia, Syros, in 1884. Originally the British screw steamer ‘Truthful’ of Liverpool, she was a cargo vessel modified to accommodate passengers for routes around the Greek islands and some mainland coastal ports. She was built in Barrow in 1877. In 1893, Elliniki Atmoploia went bankrupt and the ELPIS was transferred to the McDowall & Barbour Co. But she had a tragic end, showing how precarious such early steamers could be in bad weather and what risks the Bents regularly faced. In November 1904, on her way in the Black Sea from Burgas to Varna she foundered in a gale with the loss of all hands and passengers, as reported by the San Francisco Call (Vol. 96, No. 178, 25 Nov. 1904): “Seventy-Seven Persons Perish in a Shipwreck: Hope for the safety of the Greek steamship Elpis is abandoned. Constantinople, Nov. 24 [1904]: The Greek steamship Elpis, long overdue, is now regarded as lost. It is believed she sank in a recent gale in the Black Sea and that her entire crew and a number of passengers were lost, a total of seventy-seven persons.

Original vessel specifications: Rigging: iron single screw steamer; 1 deck; 2 tiers of beams; 4 cemented bulkheads; double bottom aft 79 tons; Forward Peak Tank; Tonnage: 956 tons gross, 806 under deck and 606 net; Dimensions: 240.2 feet long, 30 foot beam and holds 16.1 feet deep; Poop 53 feet; Forecastle 42 feet; Bridge Deck 60 feet; Propulsion: compound engine with 2 inverted cylinders of 33 & 63 inches diameter respectively; stroke 36 inches; 160 horsepower.

The Bents’ ships to follow (now and then Mabel fails to record the names of vessels, so this is not a complete list):

1882: M.M. ‘Cambodge’

1882: Austrian Lloyd ‘Niobe’

1883: M.M. ‘Cambodge

1883: Elliniki Atmoploia ‘Pelops’

1883: Elliniki Atmoploia ‘Hydra’

1884: Elliniki Atmoploia ‘Eptanisos’

1884: Elliniki Atmoploia ‘Panellenion’

1884: Elliniki Atmoploia ‘Omonoia’

1884: Elliniki Atmoploia ‘Elpis’

1884: Elliniki Atmoploia ‘Theseus’

1884: Elliniki Atmoploia ‘Chios’

1885: M.M. ‘Tage’

1885: Austrian Lloyd ‘Saturn’

1885: Eastern Steamship Navigation (P. Pandaleon & Co) ‘Roúmeli’

1885: M.M. ‘Erymanthe’

1885: Transatlantique ‘Maréchal Canrobert’

1885: The ‘Restormel’

1886: M.M. ‘Donaï’

1886: Khedivial ‘Behéra’

1886: Eastern Steamship Navigation (P. Pandaleon & Co) ‘Ianthe’

1886: The ‘Dhikitá’

1886: Austrian Lloyd ‘Iris’

1887: M.M. ‘Cambodge’

1887: Elliniki Atmoploia ‘Pelops’

1887: Goudi Steamship Company ‘Ellás’

1887: Eastern Steamship Navigation (P. Pandaleon & Co) ‘Vyzantion’

1887: Austrian Lloyd ‘Medea’

1887: The ‘Bellona’

1888: M.M. ‘La Bourdonnais’

1888: M.M. ‘Alphée’

1888: Schooner ‘Evangelistria’

1888: M.M. ‘Volga’

1888: The ‘Chichachov’ (ЧИХАЧОВЪ)

1889: P.&O. ‘Rosetta’

1889: P.&O. ‘Assam’

1889: B.I.S.N. ‘Pemba’

1889: B.I.S.N. ‘Arabia’

1889: B.I.S.N. ‘Assyria’

1889: B.I.S.N. ‘Purulia’ (‘Perulia’)

1890: M.M. ‘Niger’

1890: M.M. ‘Senegal’

1891: Castle Mail ‘Garth Castle’

1891: The ‘Agnes’

1891: The ‘Forest Rights’

1891: Union Steamship Company ‘Norseman’

1891: Union Steamship Company ‘Tyrian’

1891: Castle Mail ‘Doune Castle’

1893: Florio Line ‘Ortigia’

1893: M.M. ‘Melbourne’

1893: Perim Coal Co. Ltd ‘Sheikh Berkhud’

1894: P.&O. ‘Kaisar i Hind’

1894: M.M. ‘Ava’

1894: M.M. ‘La Seyne’

1894: B.I.S.N. ‘Chanda’

1895: Austrian Lloyd ‘Imperator’

1895:  P.&O. ‘Clyde’

1895: The dhow ‘Taisir’

1896: Khedivial Mail ‘Rahamanieh’

1896: M.M. ‘Natal’

1896: B.I.S.N. ‘Canara’