April 1884 saw the Bents return from their first trip to the Wadi Hadramaut in modern Yemen. It was important that Theodore, never shy in front of the Press, should promptly announce his return and achievements there – his future expeditions depended a great deal on his continued momentum and emphasis on his vitality and exploratory zeal; after his expeditions to Great Zimbabwe (1891) and Aksum (1893) it was crucial that he should stress his enthusiasm for even greater things. The following interview he gave to Reuters (and here reported in the Glasgow Herald of Tuesday, 24 April 1894) was arranged just two days after the couple’s arrival back in London on Friday, 20 April 1894. On 21 May Theodore was ready to present a report to the Royal Geographical Society, accompanied by Mabel’s lantern slides, i.e. they had a month prepare a year’s work!
Return of Hadramaut Expedition. Interview with Mr Theodore Bent.
(Press Association Telegram.), London, Monday [23 April 1894].
“Mr and Mrs Theodore Bent have just returned to England from their scientific expedition in the hitherto almost unknown Hadramaut district of Arabia. Mr Bent and his party left Aden by the Peninsular and Oriental steamer Kaiser-i-Hind on April 6, and travelling via Marseilles, reached London two days ago [20 April 1894]. Mr Bent regards the geographical and archaeological results of the expedition as being very satisfactory. He met, however, with considerable and unexpected difficulties from tribes of Bedouins on the return journey to the coast. In the course of an interview with a representative of Reuter’s Agency the explorer proceeded to give a detailed and interesting account of his experience. Mr Bent said:– Leaving Aden in November last, we proceeded to Makellah, the nearest point to the Hadramaut Valley, and after journeying for about three weeks, in the course of which we covered some 150 miles, we reached the interior district, our intended goal. The country from the coast to Hadramaut consists of a mountain range and an arid elevated plateau calling for no special remark. It was practically uninhabited. We travelled by easy stages and pitched our tents every night. Mrs Bent rode a horse given her by the Sultan of Makellah. I rode a camel, while our Indian surveyor was mounted on a donkey. The remainder of the party had camels. On reaching the ancient town of Makellah, we received a most friendly greeting from the Sultan, who placed at our disposal a small escort, and put us in charge of a tribe of Bedouins, who conducted us to a certain point in our journey. As before stated, we went in easy stages until we reached Hadramaut. Contrary to general belief, Hadramaut is not a district extending to the coast, but is merely a portion of a big valley in the interior. Its area is difficult to define. It is a long valley, in places as much as seven miles wide, but probably its whole extent is about 100 miles. It contains several towns of considerable size, the chief characteristics of which are the magnificent palaces of the rulers, and palm groves, which produce splendid dates grown in Arabia. Generally speaking, the country is sterile, except in places where it is irrigated. The climate is very dry and exceedingly hot, much more than at the coast. The district being just on the border of the central desert the wind from that district brings enormous quantities of sand. Hadramaut is inhabited by Arabs and Bedouins, who are divided into various sections, and are consistently at war with one another. My expedition spent a month in the palace of the Sultan at Shibam, one of the principal towns of the valley. From here we made excursions, often under the Sultan’s personal escort, in various directions. The Sultan, who is a member of one of the most powerful and richest families of Arabia, had lived in India for a number of years. I found him to be a very enlightened and will-informed man, and one who took great interest in our work and in the exploration of the ruins in his neighbourhood.
With regard to the archaeological results of the expedition, we came across a number of inscriptions and sites of Sabaean towns. Owing to the kindness of the Sultan we were able to visit one of the sacred places of the Arabians which had never before been seen by Europeans. The country has, in fact, only been visited by two Europeans within living memory. Both these travellers were Germans. One visited the country 40 years ago, and was driven out by the natives; the other, who penetrated last year, met with great difficulties from the tribes. After completing our observation in the Hadramaut, we commenced our return, going through some of the collateral valleys running into the Hadramaut. A few days after our departure we were handed over to the protection of various tribes, and it was owing to internal quarrels between the natives as to who should escort us to the coast that our conflicts with them occurred. Early one morning we had struck our tents for our day’s march, when we were suddenly fired upon from a native village. Our escort went forward and held a palaver with the people of the village. They belonged to the Hummunie tribe, while our men belonged to the Jabberi tribe. As a result of the palaver we were allowed to proceed. At the next two villages we also encountered hostile receptions and were fired on. Bullets fell withing a few yards of Mrs Bent’s horse, and also came close to myself. Fortunately no one was hurt, and we ultimately reached Shahah. Here we made a stay of two weeks, living with the Sultan, and making expeditions for about eighty miles along the coast in order to render our geographical and topographical work as complete as possible. At Shahah we embarked on an Arab dhow, and after calling for a few hours at Makellah, reached Aden in safety. Asked as to his future movements, Mr Bent, in conclusion, said he should like very much to go back to Arabia, although it is a country exceedingly difficult to enter, and very much more difficult to get out of. He does not, however, expect to start on any other expedition until winter. Both Mr and Mrs Theodore Bent are in the best of health.” [Glasgow Herald – Tuesday, 24 April 1894]