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 Hall-Dare Photograph Album

‘Mrs Bent and her Camera. Photo by Russell & Sons, London, probably Spring, 1895’ (see No. 25 below)

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!

The prominent mid-19th century Hall-Dare family developed their wealth principally from the second half of the 19th century, primarily in Essex, as a result of the alliances of several influential families – Dare, Hall, Westley, Eaton, King, Grafton, Mildmay, and others. Between them they owned a portfolio of land and grand houses that gradually found its way into the merged family of the Hall-Dares by the early 19th century: Theydon Manor, Fitzwalters, Wyfields, Cranbrook, East Hall, Wennington Hall, Ilford Lodge, and several others. None of these residences remain in any significant manner. Two churches dedicated to St Mary contain memorials to the family: St Mary’s, Theydon Bois, Essex and St Mary’s, Bunclody, Co. Wexford, Ireland.

The early families’ combined wealth and influence (several members were MPs, Justices, Sheriffs, etc.) derived from agriculture, trade, property, and, it has to be said, plantation ownership, particularly in what is now British Guiana. A key family member was Robert Westley Hall (d. 1836), who, returning from British Guiana, married the heiress Elizabeth Grafton Dare in 1815, and, in 1823, changed his name to Hall-Dare. The couple had eleven children, who went on to be the beneficiaries of the many Essex estates, most of which now (2018) have been dispersed. There may well have been issues between father and his first two sons: the main residence was left not to Robert’s eldest boy (also Robert (1817-1866), and the eldest was after this always christened Robert Westley) but to his second son, Henry (1825-1908). The eldest boy promptly sold most of his share of the estates and took himself off to Ireland, where he married into an aristocratic family and can be said to have settled. There are many, many descendants from the eleven children of Robert and Elizabeth mentioned previously; perhaps the main seat of the family today might be thought of as being Newtonbarry House, Bunclody, Co. Wexford, although there does no longer seem to be a current Robert Westley Hall-Dare.

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 are actually from the Disdéri Studio itself.

The rare albumen print below of Mabel’s mother, Frances Anna Catherine Hall-Dare (née Lambart), is from the studio of the eminent court photographer Camille Silvy (1834-1910). Coming from a French aristocratic background, Silvy established himself as one of the leading portrait photographers in London. 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.

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).

Several excellent websites exist for those interested in Mabel’s side of the family, the Hall-Dares; Lord Belmont’s site; Paul Frecker’s collections; and the National Portrait Gallery’s Hall-Dare portraits by Camille Silvy:

We do hope you will find the album that follows both interesting and diverting.

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 Virginia Anna Hall-Dare (1847-1929), later Mrs. J. Theodore Bent, aged 19.

SITTER: Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare (1847-1929), later Mrs. J. Theodore Bent. The date is October 1866 and Mabel is just 19, the setting most likely the garden of Newtonbarry House, Co. Wexford, the family home, then as now. From this genteel, Anglo-Irish estate, Mabel was to travel just over a decade later, as Mrs. J. Theodore Bent, to remote and unrecorded corners of the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, and Arabia, marking her out as one of the most well-known woman travellers of her era. Although Mabel is in mourning black for her father, Robert Westley Hall-Dare, who died in April of that year, the expression on her powerful face, her famous red hair tucked away, is enigmatic. She holds up to the camera what looks like the ace of spades or clubs, as if making some sort of statement to her father. The recently deceased Hall-Dare was anything but an ideal father, dying in the up-scale asylum for distressed gentry that was Ticehurst House Hospital at Ticehurst, East Sussex.
DATE: October 1866.
STUDIO: Detail from a private family photograph.

No. 2 – 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. 3 – Mabel Hall-Dare (later Bent) holding her niece Hilda (1870s?).

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. 4 – Mabel Hall-Dare (later Bent) as a young woman (1860s).SITTER: Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare (1847-1929), later Mrs. J. Theodore 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. 5Robert 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. 6Robert Westley Hall-Dare as a boy (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: mid 1850s?
STUDIO: Unknown, as is the location, but possibly the Hall-Dare estates in Essex. The image is from a group photograph including sister Ethel and aunt Elizabeth Catherine Hall-Dare. The children are dressed as if ready for a game of battledore.

No. 7Caroline Susan Henrietta Hall-Dare, née Newton (Mabel’s sister-in-law).

SITTER: Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton (b. 11 May 1842) 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. 8 – Caroline Susan Henrietta Hall-Dare, née Newton (Mabel’s sister-in-law).

SITTER: Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton (b. 11 May 1842) 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. 9Olivia 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. 10Frances 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. 11Frances 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.

No. 12 – Ethel Constance Mary Hall-Dare (Mabel’s sister).

SITTER: Ethel Constance Mary Hall-Dare (Mabel’s sister) (10 Oct. 1848-1930). Ethel Constance Mary Hall-Dare (1848-1930) was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart. She married Lieutenant Beauchamp Frederick Bagenal, son of Philip Bagenal and Georgiana Thomasina Boyd, on 5 July 1870. She lived at Benekerry, Carlow, County Carlow, Ireland. The couple had 5 children (Mabel’s nephews and nieces): Mary Verena Bagenal (1871-1889); Beauchamp Walter Bagenal (1873-1952); Major Charles James Bagenal (1877-1955); Violet Ethel Bagenal (1882-1932); Kathleen Prudence Eirene Bagenal (1886-1974).
DATE: October 1866.
STUDIO: Detail from a family photograph.

No. 13 – Ethel Constance Mary Hall-Dare as a girl (Mabel’s sister).

SITTER: Ethel Constance Mary Hall-Dare (Mabel’s sister) (1848-1930). Ethel Constance Mary Hall-Dare (1848-1930) was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Frances Anne Catharine Lambart. She married Lieutenant Beauchamp Frederick Bagenal, son of Philip Bagenal and Georgiana Thomasina Boyd, on 5 July 1870. She lived at Benekerry, Carlow, County Carlow, Ireland. The couple had 5 children (Mabel’s nephews and nieces): Mary Verena Bagenal (1871-1889); Beauchamp Walter Bagenal (1873-1952); Major Charles James Bagenal (1877-1955); Violet Ethel Bagenal (1882-1932); Kathleen Prudence Eirene Bagenal (1886-1974).
DATE: mid 1850s.
STUDIO: Unknown, as is the location, but possibly the Hall-Dare estates in Essex. The image is from a group photograph including brother Robert and aunt Elizabeth Catherine Hall-Dare. The children are dressed as if ready for a game of battledore.

No. 14Lieutenant Beauchamp Frederick Bagenal. The husband of Mabel’s sister Ethel, thus her brother-in-law.

SITTER: Lieutenant Beauchamp Frederick Bagenal (1846–1930). The husband of Mabel’s sister Ethel, thus her brother-in-law. Lieutenant Beauchamp Frederick Bagenal (1846–1930) was born on 10 September 1846. He was the son of Philip Bagenal and Georgiana Thomasina Boyd. He married Mabel’s sister Ethel Constance Mary Hall-Dare (1848-1930) on 5 July 1870. He died on 7 January 1930 at age 83. He was educated at Cheltenham College, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. He was educated at Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Berkshire, England. He gained the rank of Lieutenant in the 45th Regiment. He fought in the Abyssinian Campaign in 1868. He held the office of High Sheriff in 1872; the office of Deputy Lieutenant; the office of Justice of the Peace. He was a volunteer under Garibaldi. He lived at Benekerry, Carlow, County Carlow, Ireland. The couple had 5 children (Mabel’s nephews and nieces): Mary Verena Bagenal (1871-1889); Beauchamp Walter Bagenal (1873-1952); Major Charles James Bagenal (1877-1955); Violet Ethel Bagenal (1882-1932); Kathleen Prudence Eirene Bagenal (1886-1974).
DATE: 1870s or 80s (?).
STUDIO: TL. Werner, 15 Leinster Street, Dublin.

No. 15 – Hilda Mary Hall-Dare (later Booth) (Mabel’s niece).

SITTER: Hilda Mary Hall-Dare (later Booth), died on 3 August 1953 (Mabel’s niece). Hilda Mary Hall-Dare was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton. She 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 (b. 6 Oct 1891 – d. 25 Aug 1954); Evelyn Mary Booth (b. 30 Oct 1897); Brigadier John Roberts Booth (b. 5 Jan 1901 – d. 2 Jun 1971).
DATE: Late 1860s(?)
STUDIO: Lambert, Artist in Photography, Dublin Street, Carlow, Ireland.

No. 16 – Hilda Mary Hall-Dare (later Booth) (Mabel’s niece).

SITTER: Hilda Mary Hall-Dare (later Booth), died on 3 August 1953 (Mabel’s niece). Hilda Mary Hall-Dare was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton. She 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 (b. 6 Oct 1891 – d. 25 Aug 1954); Evelyn Mary Booth (b. 30 Oct 1897); Brigadier John Roberts Booth (b. 5 Jan 1901 – d. 2 Jun 1971).
DATE: Late 1870s(?)
STUDIO: W. Clayton Browne, Sandbrook, Co. Carlow, Ireland.

No. 17 – Hilda Mary Hall-Dare (later Booth) (Mabel’s niece).

SITTER: Hilda Mary Hall-Dare (later Booth), died on 3 August 1953 (Mabel’s niece). Hilda Mary Hall-Dare was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton. She 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 (b. 6 Oct 1891 – d. 25 Aug 1954); Evelyn Mary Booth (b. 30 Oct 1897); Brigadier John Roberts Booth (b. 5 Jan 1901 – d. 2 Jun 1971).
DATE: 1880s(?)
STUDIO: Julius Schaar, Dusseldorf and Trier, Germany. http://wiki-de.genealogy.net/Schaar_(D%C3%BCsseldorf)/Fotostudio

No. 18Olivia Francis Lambart (d. 29 July 1893) and Miss Anson. Olivia was Mabel’s much-loved ‘Aunt Loodleloo’. The Ansons were Hall-Dare family friends.

SITTER: Olivia Francis Lambart was the daughter of Gustavus Lambart (Mabel’s grandfather) and Anna Butler Stevenson (Mabel’s grandmother). She died on 29 July 1893, unmarried. Her sister Frances Anne Catharine Lambart married Robert Westley Hall-Dare.
DATE: October 1866.
STUDIO: Detail from a private family photograph.

No. 19 – Alice Mary Hall-Dare, née Tupper (wife of Mabel’s Uncle Henry, and known as ‘Aunt Alice’).

SITTER: Alice Mary Tupper (died May 1915) was known as ‘Aunt Alice’ to Mabel Bent and her family. She was the daughter of Daniel Tupper and Anna M. (?). She married Mabel Bent’s uncle Henry Hall-Dare (8 Feb 1825 – Sep 1908) on 24 May 1882. Alice was Henry’s second wife. Henry gained the rank of captain in the 23rd Regiment (Royal Welsh Fusiliers). He was also Under-Treasurer of the Inner Temple. He died in September 1908 at age 83.
DATE: Around 1882?
STUDIO: Durrant & Son, Torquay.

No. 20 – Alice Mary Hall-Dare, née Tupper (wife of Mabel’s Uncle Henry, and known as ‘Aunt Alice’).

SITTER: Alice Mary Tupper (died May 1915) was known as ‘Aunt Alice’ to Mabel Bent and her family. She was the daughter of Daniel Tupper and Anna M. (?). She married Mabel Bent’s uncle Henry Hall-Dare (8 Feb 1825 – Sep 1908) on 24 May 1882. Alice was Henry’s second wife. Henry gained the rank of captain in the 23rd Regiment (Royal Welsh Fusiliers). He was also Under-Treasurer of the Inner Temple. He died in September 1908 at age 83.
DATE: Later in life.
STUDIO: Fratelli Vianelli, Venice.

No. 21 – Arthur Mildmay Hall-Dare (1867–1941). Mabel’s nephew, the son of Mabel’s brother Robert.

SITTER: Arthur Mildmay Hall-Dare was born on 11 October 1867. Mabel’s nephew, he was the son of Mabel’s brother Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton. He was educated at Eton College, Windsor, Berkshire, England. He married Edith Clare Fitzherbert, daughter of Henry Gorry Fitzherbert and Mary Emily Vansittart, on 8 July 1897. He lived at Cliff, Rathfarnham, County Dublin, Ireland and Dangan, Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland. The couple had three children: Irene Clare Hall-Dare (b. 4 Aug 1898); Lt.-Col. Derrick Arthur Hall-Dare (b. 4 Dec 1900 – d. Jan 1985); Ena Mildred Hall-Dare (b. 29 Aug 1905). He died on 31 May 1941 at age 73.
DATE: mid 1870s (?)
STUDIO: M. Allen and Co., 12 Westland Row, Dublin.

No. 22 – Robert Westley Hall-Dare (1866–1939). Mabel’s nephew, the son and heir of Mabel’s brother Robert.

SITTER: Robert Westley Hall-Dare was born on 14 October 1866. He was the son of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Caroline Susan Henrietta Newton. He married Helen Gordon, daughter of John Taylor Gordon and Margaret Watson, on 6 April 1896. He died on 20 February 1939 at age 72. He was educated at Malvern and Eton College, Windsor, Berkshire, England. He gained the rank of Captain in the 9th Brigade North Irish Division, Royal Artillery. He gained the rank of Captain in the Derry Artillery (Militia). He held the office of High Sheriff of County Wexford in 1891; the office of High Sheriff of County Carlow in 1896; the office of Justice of the Peace for County Wexford; the office of Justice of the Peace for County Carlow; the office of Deputy Lieutenant for County Wexford. He lived at Newtownbarry, County Wexford, Ireland and East Hall, Wennington, Essex, England.
DATE: Early 1870s.
STUDIO: Francis C. Earl, Malvern and Worcester.

No. 23 – Elizabeth Catherine Hall-Dare (Mabel’s Aunt).

SITTER: Elizabeth Catherine Hall-Dare, Mabel’s aunt, was the daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Elizabeth Grafton. She married Reverend John Thomas Richardson Fussell, son of Thomas Fussell and Sarah (?), on 29 May 1855 at St. George’s, Hanover Square, London. Their children were Henry Davies Fussell (b. 1857, d. 11 Jun 1889) and Dorothy Evelyn Chetwoode Fussell (b. 17 Apr 1878, d. 13 Sep 1965). Elizabeth died on 11 April 1882.
DATE: mid 1850s?
STUDIO: Unknown, as is the location, but possibly the Hall-Dare estates in Essex; the image is from a group photograph including brother Robert and aunt Elizabeth Catherine Hall-Dare. The children are dressed as if ready for a game of battledore.

No. 24 – Frances Anna Catherine Hall-Dare (Mabel’s mother)

SITTER: Frances Anna Catherine Hall-Dare (née Lambart) was born c. 1819, 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, withwhom she had six children. She was born on the Lambart estates of Beau Parc, Co. Meath, residing at the Temple House, Sligo, then Newtonbarry House, Co. Wexford, and 49 Eaton Place, London, where she died after a long and painful illness on 2nd September 1862. She is buried in the Hall-Dare plot/vault at St Mary’s Theydon Bois, Essex, on 6 September 1862, aged just 43 (Burial record 422).
DATE: 20 November 1861 (ten months before her death).
STUDIO: Camille Silvy Collection, Album 5 (Daybook Volume 5), 1861-62, number 6506, albumen print. Sitting at the photographer’s studio, 38 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, London.

[Four other Silvy portraits (shown below) can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery’s Silvy pages.]

No. 25 – ‘Mrs Bent and her Camera. Photo by Russell & Sons, London, probably Spring, 1895’

SITTER: Mabel Virginia Anna Bent (née Hall-Dare, 1847-1929). An illustration 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). This is an extremely rare studio photo of Mabel standing beside her camera and tripod and attired for the wilds; very 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.
DATE: Presumably April-June 1895.
STUDIO: James Russell and Sons were a firm of portrait photographers with their principal studio at Littlehampton and others at Chichester, Worthing, Bognor and Petworth. They also advertised themselves as landscape photographers and exhibited views at the International Exhibition, London, in 1862. It is almost certain that the portrait was taken in the Baker Street studio (17 Baker Street, Portman Square, London W.), the premises they operated from between 1889-1908. The manager then was John Lemmon Russell.

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)]

Zimbabwe: The Bents in Harare (Fort Salisbury) and around, September 1891

Part of Matabele, Mashona and Manica Land, illustrating the journey of Theodore and Mabel
Part of Matabele, Mashona and Manica Land, illustrating the journey of Theodore and Mabel from Shoshong to the Pungwe River

Harare being in the news (November 2017), here is Mabel’s sketchy account of their brief sojourn there in September 1891. Mabel and Theodore were at the ‘Nwanetsi’ river on 18 May 1891 and were soon camped by the Umfuli, some 40km due south of ‘Fort Salisbury’. Cecil Rhodes’s exploring ‘Pioneers’ (see later) had decided to halt their expedition between the kopye, called by the Mashonas ‘Harari’, and the river Makubisi, and to build their base there. The fort took its name from Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1830-1903), then Prime Minister. Later, F. C. Selous recorded: ‘It is a matter of history that on the 11th of September 1890 the British flag was hoisted at Fort Salisbury, on the banks of the Makubisi river, and the expedition to Mashunaland thus satisfactorily brought to an end.’ The modern historian Tawse Jolie elaborates: ‘A full-dress parade was called at 10 a.m., 13th September, 1890, the seven-pounder gun fired a Royal Salute, Canon Balfour said a prayer, and the British Flag, the Union Jack, was hoisted by Lieut. Tyndale-Biscoe of the Pioneer Column.’ The site of course is now the modern capital of Zimbabwe – Harare.

Crossing a stream. The Pioneer Corps of the British South Africa Company on the way to Mashonaland
Crossing a stream. The Pioneer Corps of the British South Africa Company on the way to Mashonaland

Let’s hear from Mabel:

‘Tuesday, September 8th [1891]. We reached Fort Salisbury about 8 o’clock a.m. A man was sent on, riding, to enquire where we were to stop, for we hoped to be spared from the public outspan. We thought we should never arrive. We were half dressed and I was wrapped in a cloak. We drove all through the trading part, which is very extensive and consists of round huts, a few square houses being built, wagons and tents of all sorts, and booths and bowers grouped round a long, low, wooded hill. Then through the camp and past the fort and on to the civilian part and Dr. Harris said we were to outspan in that neighbourhood – the hospital and nuns’ dwellings being beyond. Before we had stopped, we were greeted by Dr. Harris and Captain Nesbitt and we and Mr. Swan were invited to take our meals at their mess during our stay. This invitation is of great monetary benefit to us, besides we could not get the food even if we did pay for it. Provisions are frightfully dear and scarce. Sugar 3/- a lb, milk 5/6 a tin, jam 4/6 a lb, ham 4/6 a lb, and everything is in proportion. A pair of common hinges 7/-, 1⁄4 lb of tin tacks 11/6, and 1 lb of paint 35/-. As for meat, it is very hard to get, and a worn out ox just crawled up in a wagon is really so tough that one can’t get ones teeth through it, and those we left in our camp got none…

 A plan of Fort Salisbury as Mabel and Theodore would very likely have encountered it in September 1891
A plan of Fort Salisbury as Mabel and Theodore would very likely have encountered it in September 1891

‘After breakfast we began in real earnest sorting our baggage; some for England via Cape Town; 2 to go down the Busi with us and be sent by B.S.A. wagons to Umtali’s to meet us; 3 to go to Matoko’s; 4 to be sold; 5 to take to the Mazoe River. The bucksail was made into a tent for packing, but we were very much impeded and had two give up at times on account of the ferocious wind which raged all the time of our stay and brought layers of dirt into the baggage. All our white men sought places and all found them. Mr. King is to open a store for the Co. at the Mazoe River. We stayed till Tuesday morning. We saw a great many friends. Two days I had tea with the nuns who also came several times to see us. Mr. Stokes also, and an old friend of Mr. Swan’s, Mr. Macfarlane. Mr. Swan and I had tea in both these huts. Major Browne had walked in the last 30 miles and we had visits in our tent all day. One night (Thursday) [10 September 1891] we dined at the officers’ mess. They had made the dinner table so pretty with Mr. Coope’s puggaree, yellow silk, and ostrich feathers. The fatted calf had died and was served up in 6 quite different ways: cutlets, tongue, roast, pie, and 2 others. In the dining room is a hat rack – 6 rhinoceros horns…

‘Constable, our cook at Zimbabwe, was engaged by Dr. Harris for the civilian mess. He is abominable to us. Instead of coming forward like an honest man and counting on out our enamelled iron and kitchen things, we have to wring them out of him cup by cup. When we ask for things he says they are gone to the auctioneer but the list shows the contrary. The last day he kept out of the way and on Tuesday morning, though we were up at dawn, he had already cleared out. I suppose when we get back tomorrow evening that there will be a row. The auction is for Saturday. Besides our own affairs, there has been on last Saturday the First Annual Dinner on Occupation Day. Theodore was invited. The Pioneers hate Dr. Harris and Major Tye. The Chairman, Mr. Bird, made the rudest of speeches, which Dr. Harris ably responded to and most pluckily. The Pioneers had many grievances but some must have been trivial indeed. One of them was that a notice was put up at Zimbabwe forbidding anyone to remove antiquities. No such notice was put up, yet more than once it was complained of and one man said he had seen it. They managed to make Dr. Harris tell a lie for the pleasure of confounding him. When he said he had had official news from Cape Town that Mr. Rhodes was coming to Tuli, they told him it was a lie for he was coming by the Pungwe, they having concealed the news from Tuesday to Saturday on purpose…

‘Saturday 19th [September, 1891]. Our sale took place this morning but we do not know the result quite yet. Some of the things seem to have gone high enough: whisky £2 a bottle and brandy £3. We afterwards were quite satisfied. Some people certainly got good bargains, but then so did we: A [quart] of spirits of wine £1.10; 1 doz. 1⁄2 [bottles] champagne £1.5….’

Rhodes’s marshals

The much put-upon ‘Dr Harris’ is Rhodes’s local top man, Dr Frederick Rutherfoord Harris (1856-1920). Qualifying in Edinburgh he had moved to Kimberley ten years before Mabel meets him. His rise in Rhodes’s service was rapid. He has been described as a ‘coarse, ambitious adventurer…[who] came to be regarded as a loudmouthed braggart and born intriguer whose penchant for mischief-making caused Rhodes endless trouble.’ He is back in England by 1905, where he was ‘associated with some few finance Cos…and entered the arena of British politics in 1900 as Conservative M.P. for the Monmouth Burghs…Dr. Harris is a keen dog fancier, and is very popular in South Wales, where he spends most of his time.’ (1905)

Much conspicuous by his absence from Mabel’s pages is Dr Leander Starr Jameson (1853-1917). His exploits for Rhodes, his patron, are legion, none more so than the infamous ‘Raid’ of December 1895, and he was by Rhodes’s side when he died in 1902. By September 1891 Rhodes had appointed him as his deputy in Mashonaland and he arrived a few days after the Bents had left Fort Salisbury. Rhodes himself and his party arrived at the mouth of the Pungwe on 26 September 1891, and headed west to Fort Salisbury as Theodore and Mabel were about to move east – they missed crossing paths when the Bents made their detour north. Earlier, however, they did encounter another of Rhodes’s great marshals and later philanthropist, Alfred Beit (1853-1906). Born in Hamburg to a well-to-do family, he arrived in Kimberley in 1875 to deal in diamonds and within a few years had become Rhodes’s colleague and ally and one of the four principal founders of De Beers. Diamonds and gold provided the capital on which Rhodes’s associates thrived, but the Barberton fields in the eastern Transvaal (as mentioned by Mabel) promised much but delivered little. Beit died soon after Rhodes and left his fortune as the Beit Trust which focused on educational projects in Zimbabwe.

A little more in the way of background

Under the concession negotiated by Charles Rudd (13 October 1888) for rights from Chief Lobengula to develop the territory of ‘Mashonaland’, Cecil Rhodes, via his British South Africa Company, quickly assembled in 1890 a small armed force (‘The Pioneer Column’) to annex the lands. The force assembled in May on one of Rhodes’s farms outside Kimberley and by 28 June they were at Macloutsie camp. Headed overall by Col. E. G. Pennefather and Sir John Willoughby the troopers mainly comprised well-connected young adventurers, given promises of grants of land by Rhodes. The contingent crossed the Tuli River and headed roughly north, over 600km of difficult terrain, towards Mount Hampden. Here they established a base (12 September 1890) that became known as Fort Salisbury, then Salisbury, and now Harare, capital of modern Zimbabwe.

Rhodes, the great puppet master, had plans for Theodore, too, with his agents working behind the scenes to persuade him and Mabel to explore/excavate the monument known as ‘Great Zimbabwe’ and have it written up as being ‘Phoenician’ (or at least non-African) in origin. After exploring the Great Zimbabwe ruins in the summer of 1891, Theodore’s party made its way north to Fort Salisbury, before detouring to explore some gold workings, deliver tribute to a nearby chief, and then descend, via the Pungwe valley, to the sea at Beira for their voyage home to England, via Lisbon.

Mabel was seeing the ‘capital’ of course in its very early months. Jan Morris provides a snapshot: ‘Until 1891 it had been a bachelor community and half its citizens indulged in African mistresses. Since then many white women had arrived, and the town had acquired a streaky veneer of decorum…The social centre of the colony was Government House, a pleasant rambling bungalow in the Indian manner…There were Fred Selous…Mother Patrick, the saintly young superior of the Dominican Sisters…Major ‘Maori’ Browne…ill-explained aristocrats like Lord George Deerhurst, who ran a butcher’s shop on Pioneer Street, or the Vicomte de la Panouse, popularly known as the Count…’ Theodore and Mabel encounter most of these characters at one time or another on their year-long adventure.

Before the Pungwe (late October 1891) and the journey home, the Bents enjoy a few days’ rest at Umtali with the companionship of a trio of celebrity British nurses recently arrived there (also courtesy of Rhodes’s benevolence) – Rosanna Blennerhassett, Lucy Sleeman, and Beryl Welby. Two of the three compile later a popular account of their adventures; they recall the Bents’ brief sojourn and Theodore’s latest thoughts on the monuments: ‘He was fresh from those strange Mashonaland ruins which have given rise to so much conjecture. Mr. Bent supposed them to be extremely ancient. He told us that, without consulting the archives at Lisbon, he could not give a decided opinion on their origin. At that time he seemed to believe them to be the ruins of a temple and fortress. There, he thought, weird rights had been solemnised and fierce battles fought… Mr. Selous differed entirely from this view. He believes the ruins to be comparatively modern, and the remains of native work… [He] is probably the best authority on the subject, knowing Africa as thoroughly as he does, and being able to converse with the native as easily as with an Englishman, whilst Mr. Bent could neither speak nor understand the language. But Mr. Bent appeared certain that the Portuguese only could throw light on the problem. He said that the Portuguese had certainly been all over the country, and that a Portuguese archaeologist who would devote himself to the subject would find the archives, of Lisbon, and very likely of other old cities, rich in most interesting materials.’

It is easy to see the nurses preferring Selous to Theodore. Frederick Courtenay Selous (1851-1917) fits this casual aside here as a rhinoceros might a garden shed: RGS Founder’s-medal-winner (1893), big game hunter, trail blazer, road builder, cartographer, diplomat, emissary, naturalist, writer. Legend has it that he was the one to break the news to Rhodes of the death, by an explosion of alcohol, of his brother Herbert. Born in 1851, Selous – ‘well over medium height, with fair pointed beard and massive thighs and legs, it was his fine blue eyes, which were extraordinarily clear and limpid, that most attracted attention.’ – first began to haunt Mashonaland when he was twenty. His subsequent reputation brought him to Rhodes’s attention and after having been involved in the ‘negotiations’ to acquire Mashona territories, he was recruited (and well incentivized) to guide the Pioneers to a site near modern Harare (Fort Salisbury), which was to become Rhodesia’s capital – a site that Selous himself had singled out from his previous explorations in the area. Press reports did not exaggerate when they wrote that Selous had ‘done more than any other man to bring Mashonaland into notice, and is credited, together with Cecil Rhodes, with having contributed most to the creation of Rhodesia’. Of his exploits, Selous himself opined that: ‘Such undertakings as the expedition to and occupation of Mashonaland cannot but foster the love of adventure and enterprise, and tend to keep our national spirit young and vigorous’, and that the ‘opening up of Mashunaland seems like a dream, and I have played a not unimportant in it all, I am pleased to say. The road to Mashunaland is now being called the ‘Selous Road,’ and I hope the name will endure, though I don’t suppose it will.’ Selous did very well out of Rhodes, who rewarded him with a large cash payment, 8,500 prime Mashonaland hectares, and 100 De Beers shares. By June 1892 the adventurer can write to his mother that ‘I can live on the £330 a year which my de Beers shares produce.’ By 1900, surprisingly, he had retired to a fine home in semi-rural England (Worplesdon, Surrey), but with the coming of the First World War, at the age of sixty-four, he joined the ‘Legion of Frontiersmen’ as captain and left to serve in East Africa. The big game hunter fell himself to a German sniper’s bullet to the head on 4 January 1917 on the edge of the Rufiji River. His grave is close by, in the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania, topped with stone and brass. There would be no Mashonaland routes taken by Theodore and Mabel that were unknown to F. C. Selous. His beautifully bound books, in their original editions, were extremely popular in his day. (A rumour he did little to refute was that he was the model for Haggard’s Alan Quartermain; Theodore being another, by the way.)

Selous, it seems, avoided the Bents that September in camp Salisbury. As ever, he had things to do. Such was the food crisis (alluded to by Mabel in her diary) that Selous was given the task of guiding in the relief column in. One morning Theodore (as he relates in his great book ‘The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland’, page 283) espies the legendary figure ‘hurriedly dispatched to bring up the waggons at any cost. A few weeks later we heard that they had arrived, and the danger which had threatened the infant Fort Salisbury was averted’.

PS: Mabel writes home to Co. Wexford from Harare, September 1891

…and, by chance, we have a letter home to Co. Wexford, from Mabel. It is headed ‘Umfouli R[iver], September 5th 1891, finished 9th [September] at Fort Salisbury’

My dearest Faneen & L[oodleloo], Iva & E[thel]

I was in the midst of a letter but implored the cart to wait while I shut it up as I knew it was long since you had news. I wonder if you saw the telegram I sent from Fort Victoria in answer to one to report progress.

Well I will go on where I left off. We dined sitting on our bedding and soon went to bed, pretty tired. The days very hot and the nights sometimes dreadfully cold. It is rather hard on one not having some servant but we had no means of getting one. We meant to take a B.S.A.[C.] man as interpreter, but he was ill and we waited 2 days then took our head man, Meredith, who can talk Zulu, and one of our 9 [local men] could understand him, so we got on very well. We can say a few things now ourselves; so the wagons were in command of Alfred, no. 1 driver. Constable, cook, a black, leader [and] no. 2 driver of our wagon, and O’Leary, a man who is having a passage given; he feeding himself (not really though). He has been with us since May, digging at Z[imbabwe].

Since Fort V[ictoria], where a leader and driver left, we have been short of a leader and hoped to get one from Major Browne, who would have been glad to save his food and pay, as he has lost so many oxen, but he is so much behind and we can’t [wait?], so we get on without. A leader is the lowest. He puts on the break [sic], drags the oxen into the right path, for they have no other guide, and takes it in turns with the other leader to go and herd the oxen when grazing. 2 naked [local men], or rather with 2 little skin aprons apiece, drive the donkeys and horses.

We shall be so sorry to have to sell the latter at Fort Salisbury. No one can catch them so well as I, particularly mine, which races away, but they always come to get bread. We have been to some new large unknown ruins, Matindela, and discovered others of which we could find no name. We must sell the horses if we go down the P[ungwe River], because one bite of the tsetse fly would kill them at once and we shall get at least £350 for them. The donkeys do not die till the beginning of the rainy season.

We hear dreadful accounts of how the porters forsake you in the worst place if you do not comply with exorbitant demands. But we have 7 donkeys. It is about 400 miles. At Fort S[alisbury] we shall sell the wagons for little and the oxen for much and divide our clothes, sell some and carry what is absolutely necessary for the steamer from Beira to the Cape, and buy there, for the clothes, etc., we send down won’t be there in time to meet us.

September 8th [1891] We arrived this morning sending a rider on to ask where we were to outspan, for we are very privileged persons, so we are quite away from the public outspan, which is like a dirty farmyard and between the military and civilian quarters. We arrived neatly dressed and were met by invitations to luncheon and breakfast. Very nice not to have to wait till ours was unpacked. There is very little food here: jam 3/6 a pot, and milk – but you can’t buy it – 4/6; ham 4/6 a lb. We have more ruins to see, but our plans are not made till this afternoon. The camp is on half rations.

We have now settled to go down the Busi, and the latter part, each in our own canoe. We are going first to Matoko’s, then to Makori’s; and to Matoko’s we are to be the bearers of the £40 of presents annually given, so are sure of a very good reception. We are to take a trooper with us and Meredith and Alfred, a driver, as personal cook, a very nice fellow, 10 donkeys and 2 of the Makalankas we have had for more than a month, besides other carriers.

We are invited to take all our meals at the mess – a very substantial money saving now. If it weren’t that we are permitted to draw rations we could not get enough food – no milk or meat. So now our men have a good opportunity of seeing that ‘Wilful waste makes woeful want’.

Dr. Harris, who is head here now, is much pleased with Mr. Swan’s beautifully made maps. Well you see that we are doing well, but alas! When the oxen came in this evening one has lung sickness, so we don’t mean to let that be known and hope to sell the others tomorrow. At the mouth of the Busi we shall go down to the Cape to see the library there and call in Lisbon on the way and hope to be home the beginning of December.

There are no ladies here, but one or two traders’ wives and the nuns. How wonderful it is how the Jesuits get in everywhere…

The rest of the letter is missing, but Mabel used to sign off as ‘Your most loving Mabel’, so let’s do that here.

Notes

The ‘Mr. Swan’ referred to is the Bents’ particular friend Robert McNair Wilson Swan (1858-1904). The Swan brothers were mining emery in the Cyclades in 1883/4 when the Bents met them. He contributed an odd section in Bent’s Zimbabwe monograph on the subject of measurements and other data relating to the ruins, and not much taken into account today. He died, a rather sad figure it seems, in the Far East.

(Swan, Robert McNair Wilson, 1858-1904)

Sister: Ethel Constance Mary Bagenal (née Hall-Dare, d. 1930). She had married Lieutenant Beauchamp Frederick Bagenal in 1870 and the couple had 5 children. Their family residences  at Bagenalstown and Benekerry (Co. Carlow) were very close to the Hall-Dares at Newtonbarry (now Bunclody) (Co. Wexford).

Sister: Olivia (Iva) Frances Grafton Johnston (née Hall-Dare, d. 1926) lived in Bournemouth (Theydon Lodge, Boscombe) on the south coast of England. Called Iva by her family she was the third wife of the Reverend Richard Johnston (1816-1906) from Kilmore, Co. Armagh (d. 1906). They married in 1883 when he was nearly 70 and Olivia was about 40. The couple moved later to Bath after Richard’s retirement from his Kilmore parish church.

Sister: Frances Maria Hobson (née Hall-Dare), known to one and all as Faneen (b. 1852) married the Reverend Edward Waller Hobson (b. 1851) on 11 June 1891. (He played rugby for Ireland in his youth and went on to have a successful career in the Church of Ireland.) During the writing of this letter the couple were based at Moy, Co. Tyrone (1881-1895); the rectory of St James’ all but abuts the church. All Mabel’s letters were meant for circulation among her sisters and other relatives.

Aunt: Olivia Frances Lambart (‘Loodleloo’), sister of Mabel’s mother, Frances Anne Catharine Hall-Dare (née Lambart, d. 1862). A spinster, Loodleloo was in effect the children’s guardian following the death of both their parents (their father Robert Westley Hall-Dare (b. 1817) having died in April 1866). She died on 9 July 1898, a heavy blow for Mabel (and her sisters), just fourteen months after the death of Theodore in May 1897.

For details of Mabel’s family, see Hall-Dare at http://www.thepeerage.com/i1692.htm#s22714

For more on Mabel’s letters, see http://tambent.com/mabels-letters/ and the collection in the Royal Geographical Society, London (https://rgs.koha-ptfs.co.uk/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=330)

All Mabel’s quotes are from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs. J. Theodore Bent. Volume II: The African Journeys‘ (2012, Archaeopress, Oxford).

For any other reference or explanation, please contact info@tambent.com

The images are:

1) Detail of Map: ‘Part of Matabele, Mashona and Manica Land, illustrating the journey of Theodore Bent, Esq. from Shoshong to the Pungwe River.’ (Fort Salisbury (Harare) is roughly at Lat. 18/Long. 31) From ‘Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society’, Vol. 14, No. 5 (May 1892), facing page 298. Private collection.

2) ‘Crossing a stream. The Pioneer Corps of the British South Africa Company on the way to Mashonaland’. Cover illustration (detail) from The Graphic, 25 October 1890. Private collection.

3) A plan of Fort Salisbury as Mabel and Theodore would very likely have encountered it in September 1891.