A list of Theodore Bent’s ‘Middle East’ articles/publications.

The region of the ‘Wadi Hadramut’, Yemen, the setting for three explorations by the Bents in the 1890s (archive.org).

The Bents’ third significant field of studies was the Middle East, beginning with an expedition to the ‘Mounds of Ali’, Bahrain (1889), followed weeks later by an historic horseback journey, south-north, through Persia. Bent’s interest in the ‘Phoenicians’ piqued, the celebrity explorers embarked on three adventures between 1894-7, to the Yemen (specifically the inhospitable ‘Wadi Hadramut‘, including stays in Muscat, Oman, and Sokotra). These tours generated an extensive corpus of popular and more ‘academic’ articles (historical, ‘archaeological’ and ‘ethnographic’ in content). Along the way they acquired artefacts, ancient and modern, that they would seek to sell or retain for their private London collection. The British Museum, for example, has a large collection of their material. The rigours of travel finally took their toll on Theodore Bent; he died, aged just 45, shortly after returning from Aden (5 May 1897). Had he lived, he would certainly have written a book or two encompassing these adventures, as it transpired, it was left to his widow, Mabel, to assemble the comprehensive monograph that remains the great tribute to their work in Southern Arabia (1900).

Bent’s writings on the Middle East by year of publication:









For Bent’s overall bibliography click here.

Birthday greetings from ‘Kalenzia, on the Isle of Sokotra, 1897’. A ‘lost’ watercolour by Theodore Bent

‘Kalenzia, Isle of Socotra, 1897’. Watercolour (detail; private collection).


“Mr. Theodore Bent, the famous archaeologist is going to explore the island of Sokotra, on the West Coast [sic] of Africa, this winter. Sokotra is said to contain some important ruins, and if Mr. Bent can discover anything as interesting as the buried cities of Mashonaland he will have again achieved fame.” (‘The Morning Leader’ – Tuesday 08 December 1896)


Poor Theodore Bent spent his 45th, and last, birthday (30 March 1897) in hospital in Aden, malaria stricken. Just a few weeks beforehand, however, he and his wife Mabel were happily wandering on camels through the plains and mountains of Socotra – a speck a centimetre west of the Horn of Africa on most maps – looking for archaeological remains and enjoying the fantastical scenery; Mabel took photographs while Theodore sketched in watercolour in his naïve way. How far back did he work at this style? As a Yorkshire Baildon boy? Or at Repton and Wadham? In any event he obviously took pleasure in the art and his illustrations later assisted his studies in the field (reminiscences, maps, plans, inscriptions, etc.); he felt assured enough to have his views published in all his books and, editors permitting, in many of his articles that had to do with the couple’s adventures in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ethiopia, Great Zimbabwe, Southern Arabia, Persia…

Heading from Mabel Bent’s Socotran diary 1896/7.

Mabel’s diaries often refer to her husband’s drawing materials and sketches, calling the latter ‘pretty’. Theodore was sketching on his last trip, in 1897, to Socotra and Aden, as his wife records: “[Thursday] February 4th [1897]. The mountains of the Haghier range [Socotra] are most beautifully peaked and needled, and here look red, not being smothered by the smooth, grey lichen. We were, though sorry to quit the mountains, glad to reach the plain, cross a river on stones and mount our camels and reach Suk… We encamped by a lagoon and had a pleasant afternoon and evening walking by the sea, and also choosing places for photography on the morrow and Theodore sketching. We had to keep the tent open at night it was so warm and still.’ [‘Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent’, Vol. 3, Southern Arabia, 2010, page 303]

A Socotran tree, by Theodore  Bent (1897).

Several of Bent’s watercolours of Socotra are illustrated in the couple’s great work ‘Southern Arabia’. His sketch book (17.5 x 25 cm) obviously survived the rigours and maladies of the hard journey and return home from Aden at the end of April 1887. Although Theodore and Mabel were still terribly ill, once out of hospital, and barely fit for travel, they embarked immediately for Marseilles. There Theodore had a relapse and although rushed back to their London home, he died a few days later in early May (1897). His sketch book remained unopened until Mabel felt strong enough psychologically to have the watercolours photographed and prepared as plates for ‘Southern Arabia’, the anthology of their years spent in the region.

‘Kalenzia, Isle of Socotra, 1897’. Watercolour (detail), by Theodore Bent (private collection; see colour version at top of this post).

As for the original watercolours now, who knows? But by a miracle, one has survived in a private collection – it probably never travelled back to Marble Arch with the invalid couple in the spring of 1897: it is a scene of ‘Kalenzia’ (Qalansiyah), a coastal village at the extreme east of Socotra (a Google image of the area is also shown here below); we are looking west, it is sunset, the mountains above the village sombre; in the foreground, among palm trees, are a few simple huts and what looks like a mosque with its minaret. Theodore has signed his name bottom right, with the inscription ‘Kalenzia, I[sle] of Socotra, 1897’.

The DNB of 1901 adds to Bent’s entry that “[his] notebooks and numerous drawings and sketches remain in the possession of Mrs. Bent.” A few of his notebooks are in the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies, London, but where are his “numerous drawings and sketches”? Do please let us know if you have any information on Theodore’s unpublished ones!

Let’s be clear, although Theodore made hundreds of them, surviving original watercolours by him are as rare as evidence of the elusive Queen of Sheba he spent his last years looking for. A portfolio of watercolours of Great Zimbabwe and its surroundings is thought to be in Harare… and that’s it, apart from the aforementioned scene of ‘Kalenzia’, a detail of which is appropriately used for Theodore’s last birthday card (heading this post). This mesmeric scene is not reproduced in the Bents’ ‘Southern Arabia’, but it would surely have if Mabel had been in possession of it as she worked assembling her book in London in 1900. As mentioned previously, the chances are the picture never reached Marble Arch with the rest of their travel gear in the early summer of 1897. Did Theodore give or sell it in Aden, or on the long journey home by steamer, through Suez, to Marseilles. Did someone say, ‘That’s nice’, and Theodore present it with a bow – perhaps to Henry Watts Russell de Coëtlogon (1839–1908), with whom the Bents dined in Aden on their last, sad, journey? It surely could not just have been lost (or stolen) before the Bents reached England? The happy coda is that, whatever happened to it since it materialised in Qalansiyah some 120 years ago, it appeared at auction in Germany in 2013, selling for 100 Euros, and is now, presumably, being privately and luckily enjoyed; if by you, please let us know. Happy birthday Theodore.

       Modern-day Qalansiyah, Socotra (Google).
This article is dedicated to the UNESCO-Friends of Socotra campaign entitled Connect 2 Socotra (#connect2socotra), promoting scientific research and awareness of the unique natural and cultural heritage of the Socotra UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site and the importance of protecting Socotra Archipelago’s unique species and ecosystems for the future.

Socotra is of universal importance with a biodiversity of rich and distinct flora and fauna, much of which does not occur anywhere else in the world. It also has globally significant populations of land and sea birds, including a number of threatened species and an extremely diverse marine life

In order to raise awareness of the rich and distinct heritage of Socotra, UNESCO is collaborating with the Friends of Socotra in organising a campaign of awareness events and publicity around the world. Using the hashtag #connect2socotra, the purpose of the Connect 2 Socotra Campaign is to connect the world to Socotra, and connect Socotra to the world. Search Google for campaign news and events.

December 2022 – a new discovery: A further unpublished watercolour sketch by Bent made on Sokotra in early 1897, showing two camels and distant mountains, appears in Alice Norton: ‘Mabel Virginia Anna Bent – Explorer’, appearing in Carloviana 2023, the Journal of the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society (Dec. 2022, pp.117-123).

A review of Bent birthdays based on Mabel Bent’s Chronicles, 1884-1897

The accompanying interactive map below plots these birthdays: Mabel in green, Theodore in blue. (NB: London [13 Great Cumberland Place] stands in for unknown locations in Great Britain; the couple could have been away visiting family and friends in Ireland or England, including at their property ‘Sutton Hall’, outside of Macclesfield.)

There were 28 Bent birthday events (2 x 14) between 1884–1897 (the years covered by Mabel Bent’s diaries). Of these 28, only 5 (18%) were not spent in the field, and only 7 times (25%) does Mabel refer to a birthday in her notebooks directly. In the above Table, column 1 gives the year and ages of the Bents on their birthdays; columns 2 and 3 give their birthday locations. Events in red are when Mabel refers directly to their birthdays. ‘London’ is standing in for unknown locations in Great Britain. If not at their main residence (13 Great Cumberland Place), the couple could have been visiting family and friends in Ireland and England, including at their property Sutton Hall, outside of Macclesfield.

Mabel’s two interviews for ‘Lady of the House’ (September 1893 and July 1894)

“For what daughter of Eve could forego ‘the cup that cheers’. ‘And although we often suffered terribly from want of water’, said Mrs. Bent as we chatted about her last journey, ‘I usually managed to have a cup of tea every morning’.”

“Mrs. Theodore Bent might claim, was she not a very modest woman, to be the champion lady explorer of modern times. Together with her husband, the late Mr. Theodore Bent, she has undertaken successfully 13 voyages of exploration, and probably few women are as familiar with the little known islands of Greece as is Mrs. Bent; she was also one of the first to traverse Arabia.” (Southampton Observer and Hampshire News – Saturday, 3 July 1897)

For Mabel Bent’s birthday, 28 January (she was born in 1847), we reprint below two interview-based articles about her that appeared in Lady of  the House on 15 September 1893 and 14 July 1894. It is unlikely that they have seen the light of day since then. In their way, they are remarkable.

Lady of the House

Now viewed by some as Ireland’s first magazine for women, Lady of the House was launched in 1890 in Dublin. This refined Irish magazine regularly, and unsurprisingly, published news of the activities of Mabel Bent, associated, as the latter was, with two eminent Irish families – the Lambarts of Co. Meath, and the Hall-Dares of Co. Wexford.

Mrs J Theodore Bent, Society Portraits feature, “Lady of the House”, Friday, 15 September 1893 (The Bent Archive).

The magazine’s features team clearly recognised that news of Mabel was exactly the right fit for its modern readership. The relationship began, it seems, back in September 1893, when Mabel was the subject of a 500-word piece for the magazine’s ‘Society Portraits’ page: it may well have been based on an interview, and it’s great highlight is a photograph of Mabel in profile that has been much reproduced. As might be expected, the tone of the piece is more than a little hyperbolic, and there are some strange references, i.e. that the couple undertook ‘some successful “digging”’ in Egypt (this they did not, other than bury some picnic rubbish near the Sphinx!), and their work on the island of Thasos, northern Aegean, is relocated to ‘an Egyptian town near Thrace’. The concluding sentence is accurate however: ‘… and last winter [1892/93] they went to Abyssinia, where they made several valuable discoveries, and returned with a collection of curiosities for the British Museum’. The oblique reference to Mabel’s possible election to join the Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society is noteworthy – she was on the shortlist for the second tranche of women Fellows that year, but the RGS executive decided to stop the practice. Mabel is trying not to show disappointment (Theodore, of course, was a Fellow).

The same photograph of Mabel is used the following summer (14 July 1894) to trumpet the Bents’ epic foray into the remote and hazardous Wadi Hadramaut (Yemen) – Mabel is still thought to be the first ‘European’ woman to have (voluntarily) travelled there. The revelation of the piece is that they returned with “very valuable parchments, illuminated on almost every page, which are supposed to date from the time of Mahomed” [sic]. This is the first and only reference to such acquisitions, and where they might be now is anyone’s guess.

The journal continued to report on Mabel’s comings and goings after her widowhood (1897) and into the decades that followed – it may well be that it was supplied with ‘press releases’ direct from 13 Great Cumberland Place, Mrs. Bent’s London headquarters.

Lady of  the House, 15 September 1893, page 19, ‘Society Portraits’ (c. 500 words):

The expeditions
The expeditions of Theodore & Mabel Bent, 1883-1897 (© Glyn Griffiths).

“In the present day travelling has been made so easy that under the auspices of Messrs. Cook & Son it is possible to make oneself acquainted with all parts of the civilised world at a cost which is – comparatively speaking – trifling, and one can go to India, for instance, in a shorter time than it took our ancestors at the beginning of this century to make ‘the grand tour of Europe’, without which no young man of position was supposed to be educated!

“But all travellers now-a-days are not content with the stereotyped tours ‘personally conducted’ (excellent and convenient as these undoubtedly are), and of late years we have heard of journeys which involved considerable risk and privation, and resulted in most important antiquarian discoveries. That an Irish lady should be the most distinguished member of her sex in this respect is distinctly gratifying to our patriotic feelings, and her countrymen and women may be justly proud of Mrs. Theodore Bent, who has shared with her husband all the dangers of exploring remote districts, and assisting in his geographical research.

“Mrs. Bent is a daughter of the late Mr. Hall-Dare, of Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford, and her mother was Miss Lambart, of Beau Park, Co. Meath.

“Although Mrs. Bent’s travels usually occupy a considerable portion of each year, and her home is now in England, she always manages time for an annual visit to Ireland; and the lace industry established by her family at Newtownbarry for the benefit of the tenancy and cottagers in the vicinity has still a staunch supporter in the subject of this sketch.

Mabel Bent’s birthplace, Beauparc, Co. Meath (copyright JP and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons).

“As to the journeys accomplished by Mr. and Mrs. Bent, it is, unfortunately, only possible to give a brief outline, but doubtless most readers are aware that the recent discussion at the Royal Geographical Society arose by the reason of the wish of several members to confer on Mrs. Bent the distinction of being a ‘Fellow’ of that body of notable travellers. Those who were against the admission of ladies have – temporarily at least – gained the day, but Mrs. Bent has not experienced the slightest disappointment about the matter, as she never sought a ‘Fellowship’, and is quite content with the privileges she already enjoys.

“It is about nine years since Mr. and Mrs. Bent started for Athens, and made themselves acquainted with the most interesting portions of Greece, returning next year to the Cyclades Isles, and bringing back to the British Museum many valuable relics dug out of the ruins at Antiparos. In Egypt, too, some successful ‘digging’ was accomplished, and also at an Egyptian town near Thrace, while at Celecia this adventurous couple discovered Olba and the famous ‘Korycian Cave’. A long tour through Persia and over the Caucasus preceded their celebrated expedition to Mashonaland, and last winter they went to Abyssinia, where they made several discoveries, and returned with a collection of curiosities for the British Museum.”

Lady of  the House, 14 July 1894, page 4, ‘In a Sultan’s Harem’ (c. 1000 words):

Bent’s iconic likeness from the studio of James Russell & Sons, around 1895 (The Bent Archive).

“Mrs. Theodore Bent’s name is so familiar to all who are versed in the events of the day, it is hardly necessary to remind our readers that this distinguished member of her sex is an Irishwoman, and therefore a brief account of her last journey cannot fail to have a special interest for her countrywomen. That Mrs. Bent is endowed with unusual courage and fortitude goes without saying, for perhaps no other woman has undertaken such arduous and dangerous journeys, nor assisted so indefatigably in the antiquarian research which is the raison d’être for Mr. Bent’s travels.

“After the unpleasant experiences in Abyssinia during the winter and spring of 1893, many of Mrs. Bent’s friends thought she would not be inclined to seek fresh dangers, but undeterred by what she had gone through, Mrs. Bent commenced preparations last autumn for the South Arabian expedition, as she invariably sees after the necessary camp furniture and provisions, the latter consisting principally of tinned meats, milk, etc., and, of course, tea. For what daughter of Eve could forego ‘the cup that cheers’. ‘And although we often suffered terribly from want of water’, said Mrs. Bent as we chatted about her last journey, ‘I usually managed to have a cup of tea every morning’.

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

“Mr. and Mrs. Bent left England on the 24th November, accompanied by an Arab zoologist, a botanist (sent from Kew), a surveyor from the Indian Government, an archaeologist, and last, but certainly not least, by the faithful Greek servant who had attended the travellers throughout their former journeys, and an interpreter joined them on landing. Starting from Aden, the little party wended their steps towards the interior of South Arabia, camping out at night and by day riding on camels, with the exception of Mrs. Bent, to whom a horse had been presented by a friendly Sultan. Being extremely fond of animals (and of horses in particular), a warm friendship soon sprung up between owner and steed.

Manthaios Simos, the Bents’ long-suffering assistant from Anafi in the Cyclades, thought to be in his nineties in Athens in the 1930s (© Andreas Michalopoulos).

“To give in detail the story of Mr. and Mrs. Bent’s wanderings would be impossible in a necessarily limited space. Suffice it to say that often their path was rough and difficult, and dangers beset them on every side as they got further and further into the country, at length reaching a district where no European had ever entered. The natives – a very strict set of Mahommedans – were determined ‘the unbelievers’ should not pass though, and attacked the little party with their primitive, but dangerous, firearms, and on one occasion the travellers seemed to have slight chance of saving their lives. Yet in the midst of an unknown country, surrounded by foes, Mrs. Bent never once showed fear, though all the members of the expedition, save Mr. Bent and the Indian surveyor, completely lost hope, and gave vent to their terror unreservedly. Mrs. Bent kindly endeavoured to cheer the Greek servant, but he refused to be comforted, ‘although’, she added with a smile, ‘I reminded him we were the first Europeans who had entered the district, hoping he would consider this some compensation. But he replied sadly, “Yes, and probably we shall never leave it!”’ Unfortunately, the poor fellow was so terrified he refuses to accompany his master and mistress on their next visit to Arabia, a resolution which they much regret.

“But there were many pleasant incidents too connected with the months passed in that remote country, and I was greatly amused and interested in Mrs. Bent’s graphic account of a visit to the Palace of Shibam, where she was allowed to enter the harem and spend some time with its inmates. The Sultan of Shibam is the husband of thirteen wives, whose principal occupation seems to consist in painting their faces yellow, and decorating themselves with innumerable gold chains and ear-rings. One of these ladies has considerable influence with his dusky Majesty, and at her instigation he is now building another palace. But the other wives are decidedly stupid and uninteresting. The harem is hung with looking glasses, and furnished with the usual large and rather hard cushions and rugs, while the thirteen ladies wore the long shapeless dress of the country, made of indigo-dyed fine cotton, richly embroidered, in pale grey thread, and further ornamented with pieces of bright-coloured cottons, ingeniously arranged and set off by beads of several hues.

Mabel’s doodle of a face-mask (December 1894, in Muscat/Oman; see ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent’, Vol.3, 2010, p.249 ).

“Mrs. Bent showed me a facsimile of the Royal ladies’ apparel she was lucky enough to secure, and also the face mask worn by all the Southern Arabian women except in the privacy of the harem. It is indigo-dyed cotton, with two slits for the eyes, and an embroidered band which ties round the head. They also wear a heavy leather and brass girdle and brass anklets, which are well displayed in front, as the dress I have already described barely reaches to the knees, although hanging in a train at the back. The Sultan’s wives, Mrs. Bent told me, burn quantities of incense in the harem, and brought out boxes of gold chains for her edification. They glanced pityingly at her single pair of ear-rings, for with them this would be a mark of extreme poverty, and when they discovered she was Mr. Bent’s only wife, no doubt of his financial condition was entertained by them!

Mabel Bent’s own photograph of the Sultan of Makalla’s castle, Shibam, Wadi Hadramaut (Jan 1894). It appears in the Bents’ ‘Southern Arabia’ (1900), p.125 (archive.org).

“But the Sultan, who saw Mrs. Bent doing embroidery (work in which she excels) and busying herself about household matters in the camp, came to the conclusion that one wife like her was of more value than his thirteen put together; and when he found how delightfully she can converse, this opinion was strengthened, for, as he candidly acknowledged, his wives were stupid and lazy! As Mrs. Bent hopes to return to Shibam next winter, let us hope the fair inhabitants of the palace have not heard their lord and master’s sentiments. By the bye, Mrs. Bent took a number of photographs in Arabia, including one of the Sultan, who looks as though he was thoroughly pleased with the attention, while a view of the palace gives one a good idea of that genial monarch’s home. Mr. Bent also has souvenirs of the journey in the form of admirable water-colour sketches, and the travellers’ collection of Arabian things embrace specimens of native workmanship and clothing, in addition to wonderful and very valuable parchments, illuminated on almost every page, which are supposed to date from the time of Mahomed.

“If all goes well, Mr. and Mrs. Bent intend starting about November for South Arabia, and penetrating further into the country than they have already done, when it is likely the records of the Royal Geographical Society may be further enriched by Mr. Bent’s explorations, and our charming countrywoman will have again proved what Irish ‘pluck’ can accomplish.”

[You might also enjoy other interviews with the Bents, see the Irish weekly The Hearth and Home  (2 November, 1894) and  The Album (8 July, 1895), as well as the feature in The Gentlewoman, 11 November, 1893]

The Bent-Glaser Correspondence

“The third fragment is perhaps the most tantalising of all; it is a fragment of the lip of another large bowl which must have been more than two feet in diameter, and around which apparently an inscription ran. The lettering is provokingly fragmentary, but still there can be no doubt that it is an attempt at writing in some form: the straight line down the middle, the sloping lines on either side recall some system of tally, and the straightness of the lettering compares curiously with the proto-Arabian type of lettering used in the earlier Sabæan inscriptions…” (J.T. Bent, The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland, London 1892, pp. 199-200)

Eduard Glaser (wikipedia)

The chance find of this above-mentioned fragment of an ‘inscription’ among the ruins of Great Zimbabwe in the summer of 1891 provided Theodore Bent with an opportunity to make contact with one of the leading, if not the leading, Orientalists of his day – Eduard Glaser (1855-1908).

Correspondence between Bent and Glaser is in the process of digitisation by the Austrian Academy of Sciences Library, Archive and Collections: Information & Service (Vienna) as part of their fascinatingly important project Glaser Virtual World – All About Eduard Glaser. We are very happy to acknowledge the current owners of the material reproduced: Regionální muzeum K.A. Polánka v Žatci  (K.A. Polánek Regional Museum, Žatec, Czech Republic) and Státní okresní archiv Louny (SOkA Louny) (State District Archives, Louny, Czech Republic).

To date (December 2023), five letters from Bent to Glaser have been scanned: they are associated with the former’s travels in present-day Zimbabwe (1891), Ethiopia (1893), and Southern Arabia (1894-97).

Letter 4 (19 July 1892) is of unique interest. In it Bent lists his reasons for his theory that the Great Zimbabwe ruins are of ‘Phoenician’ origin. His opinions are not presented in this exact way in any other known source.

The transcriptions that follow are provided by the editors (and include interpretations). Bent’s phraseology reflects his era. Selected comments are added below each letter (and are likely to be expanded in the future).

Letter 1: 1 February 1892 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-001)

[From 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W.]


Dear Sir

Page 1 of Bent’s letter of 1 February 1892 to Glaser, who has made multiple annotations (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-001).

My friend [Dr] Charles Bezold has very kindly given me the enclosed card of introduction to you. I am going therefore to venture on asking you a few questions on the ancient inhabitants of Southern Arabia.

I have just returned from excavating very extensive ruins in Mashoonaland between the Zambesi and the Limpopo rivers about 300 miles inland and in the centre of the gold producing country.

My finds there are decidedly puzzling, they have no relation whatsoever to anything African; the buildings are massive stone walls of small granite blocks, 30 to 40 ft high and 15 ft thick – no mortar. Some are circular and cover a large area of ground.

Some of the ‘phalli’ from Great Zimbabwe that Bent brought back to London. They were exhibited at the British Museum in 1930. It is thought that some of these objects were retained by Cecil Rhodes for his private Cape Town collection (BM no. EPF9883. Trustees of the British Museum).

Of the objects we discovered, the most prominent are a large number of phalli in soapstone; most of them are circumcised and are an almost exact reproduction of the organ. Many birds on pedestals, 5 to 6 ft high, also in soapstone, bowls of the same material with cleverly designed hunting scenes, etc., carved thereon – very good glazed pottery worked on a wheel.

The chief point in the largest circular building is a tower 32 ft high built of small granite blocks and entirely solid, also with a pattern a few courses below the summit.

In looking for a solution to this mystery we naturally turn to Arabia. That it was the capital of a gold producing population is obvious from the furnaces, crucibles, ingot moulds, etc., with traces of gold in them which we found there.

That the ruins are of great age is proved by the records of the early Portuguese travellers, who speak of them in exactly the same condition as now centuries ago, and the nature of our finds point distinctly to archaic art and archaic cult.

If you can give me any points from your knowledge of ancient Arabian art which will throw light on this question I shall be greatly obliged. May I ask for an early reply as I have to give in a report of my work to the Societies which sent me out.

Yours truly

J. Theodore Bent

Four scenes from Great Zimbabwe, based on Mabel's photographs (photo: The Bent Archive)
Four scenes from Great Zimbabwe, based on Mabel’s photographs (photo: The Bent Archive, from a contemporary edition of ‘The Graphic’).

Notes: Bent reveals to Glaser some of his early discoveries and (erroneous) theories about Great Zimbabwe, as well as his developing interests in ancient links between certain African regions and ‘Southern Arabia’. Carl Bezold (1859-1922) was a German orientalist. Known primarily for his research in Akkadian (Babylonian-Assyrian), he also researched other Semitic languages: Syriac, Ge’ez (Ethiopic) and Arabic (source: Wikipedia). A colleague of Glaser’s at the University of Munich, Bezold probably became acquainted with Bent via the British Museum, but no other references to him in Bent’s works have surfaced to date. Interestingly, the letter is not on Bent’s usual headed notepaper. The couple only returned to London by ship at the very end of January 1892; it is possible that Bent drafted this letter at sea. The ‘Societies’ Bent refers to in his last sentence were the Royal Geographical Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. With typical enthusiasm and hard work, Bent was ready to present his results to the former by the third week of February 1892, and to the latter by the end of March (at which it is said that prime minister Gladstone himself was to attend).   

Letter 2: 4 July 1892 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-003)

[On Bent’s letterhead, 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W.]


Dear Sir

Detail from a contemporary map showing part of ‘Mashonaland’ (Zimbabwe) explored by the Bents in 1891.

Thank you very much for your last interesting letter received on the 2nd [July 1892]. In answer to the questions you put me, I beg to state that the ruins we excavated are identical with those described most accurately by Herr Mauch, as far as he could do so without removing the mass of jungle and débris.

This spot Zimbabwe formed the capital of a long series of temple forts stretching up through the gold country from the Limpopo to the Zambesi, and to the west of the Sabi River. We visited six of the sites and they all correspond in structure and design – but we only excavated at Zimbabwe and there only found things in one particular spot, which is in the shade of a large rock, and hence had not been disturbed by the kaffirs, who build only in sunny spots.

All the bowls, ten in all, plain and decorated, of which we found fragments are of the same size, 21 inches in diameter, one represents a procession with offerings being carried, the rest of the patterns are from animal or vegetable life.

One fragment only would appear to have had an inscription round the lip, the few letters of which are so uncertain that I have not yet found anyone who can venture an explanation. I append a copy in hopes that you may be able to give some idea.

Yours sincerely

J. Theodore Bent

Examples of the iconic soapstone birds from Great Zimbabwe (‘The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland’, p.181).

Notes: The hiatus between Bent’s letter of 1 February and this subsequent one is, as yet, unexplained; we await details of Glaser’s observations. Karl Gottlieb Mauch (1837-1875) was a German explorer and geographer of Africa. He reported on the archaeological ruins of Great Zimbabwe in 1871 during his search for the biblical land of Ophir (Wikipedia). For a panoramic (if not breathless) introduction to the region and the countless quests for its riches, see the section on ‘Mashonaland’ in J.M. Stuart, The ancient gold fields of Africa: from the Gold Coast to Mashonaland (London, 1891, p.201 ff; a reference to Bent’s theory p.231 [the link opens the personal copy of another great African adventurer, Hans Sauer]). Many of Bent’s finds, having been exhibited in the UK, were returned to the care of Cecil Rhodes, who gave some of them to the South African Museum, Cape Town (see, e.g., Edward Matenga, The Soapstone Birds Of Great Zimbabwe (2011). See Letter 3 (below) for more on the rim fragment.

Letter 3: 16 July 1892 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-004)

[On Bent’s letterhead, 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W.]


Dear Dr. Glaser

The sketch of the rim-sherd found at Great Zimbabwe that Bent returns to Glaser in his letter of 4 July 1892 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-003).

Many thanks for your letter of the 18th [?]. In reply to your questions, I beg to state that your sketch B (which I return to guide you) is exactly right. Line ‘a’ is the inner rim of the bowl where it slopes into the centre ‘m n’ is the outer rim; the inscription is on the flat surface between and consists only of this [drawing].

These lines are sharp and clear and evidently extended to the left where the fragment is broken, but not to the right. The fragment is 4 inches long and the flat surface 1½ inches wide. I may add that we have a large plain bowl without any lettering or figures of exactly the same shape which is 2 feet in diameter, and the fragments of the bowl all seem to have had the same radius and were 1 foot 2 inches in diameter.

Yours very truly

J. Theodore Bent

Bent’s own watercolour of Great Zimbabwe (‘The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland’, London 1892).

Notes: See Bent’s initial report (and illustration) of this sherd in his The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892, p.198). Where this rim fragment is today is unclear; it was item 25 in a loan exhibition of antiquities from Zimbabwe held in the British Museum in London in 1930, the year after Mabel Bent’s death (‘Loan exhibition of antiquities from Zimbabwe and other ancient sites in Southern Rhodesia’, London: British Museum, 1930); some of Bent’s finds from Great Zimbabwe are identified in museum collections in Cape Town; hundreds of ethnographical items are in store in the British Museum, London. In a letter (from Lisbon?) to Scott Keltie at the RGS [13 January 1892, RGS Archives: ar/RGS/CB7/Bent, T&M] Bent writes “My inscription is Himyaritic and the nature of the ruins closely akin to Arabian, and I can prove the Sabæan origins of the ruins now beyond a shadow of a doubt…” The discovery of this sherd is problematic. In her diary, Mabel Bent writes (18 July 1891) of a “dream of an inscription, beginning ‘Iris’, unfulfilled as yet” by one of the excavators, Mr King. A later critic, Franklin White, in ‘Notes On The Great Zimbabwe Elliptical Ruin’, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (1905, Vol.35, 39-47), writes that he has it from ‘a reliable authority’ that ‘some if not all of these lines are recent scratchings most probably made by some one in Mr. Bent’s escort’. One cannot help being reminded of the later controversy over the ‘Bethel Seal’ recovered from the Hadramaut, in which Glaser also plays a part.

Letter 4: 19 July 1892 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-002)

[On Bent’s letterhead, 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W.]


My dear Sir

A page from Bent’s significant letter to Glaser of 19 July 1892, in which he lists his reasons for associating Great Zimbabwe with the Phoenicians (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-002).

I am extremely obliged to you for the two letters you have written me and the interest you have shown in my South African discoveries.

Curiously enough, before I went out to Mashonaland I was firmly convinced that the ruins were of [Sasanian] origin,  and so convinced was I on this subject that I made my theory public at a meeting of our Royal Geographical Society in 1890.

However after the inspection of the ruins and the results of our excavations I was reluctantly driven to abandon this idea, firstly because neither the ruins themselves nor the finds bore any resemblance to what we know of that race, and secondly because the time which elapsed between the possible date for that race to have occupied Mashonaland and the incursion of the present race of barbarians did not seem sufficient for so colossal an empire to have been built up and for such extensive gold workings to have been carried on. The whole country is honeycombed with deep shafts and the output of gold must have been enormous.

After a careful examination of all our finds I have been obliged to admit, though I must say with reluctance, a Semitic influence for the following reasons:

(1) The presence of a winged sun on the shaft of one of the phalli.

(2) The oft recurrence of the rosette in the decorations.

(3) A curious object with knobs left on it in relief is exactly the same as an object found in excavations at Paphos in Cyprus.

(4) An ingot mould for gold is exactly the same in pattern, namely ‘astragoloid’, as an ingot of tin with an Egyptian punch mark on it now in one of our museums.

(5) The Phœnician treatment of the bowl decorations.

(6) The exact orientation to the rising sun of all the buildings and patterns

There are many other points which I cannot enter into here and which compel one to look in that direction for the origin of the race, but I hope to get them into book form in the autumn.

I am happily able to read German and shall be very glad to hear again from you on the subject.

Again thanking you for your very kind reply to my letter.

I remain

Yours very truly

J. Theodore Bent

“A curious object with knobs left on it in relief” (‘The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland’, p.182).

Notes: This letter is a revelation. For Bent’s earlier thoughts on the origins of Great Zimbabwe, see Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, n.s. v.13 (1891), pp. 1-21, following E.A. Maund’s eye-opening presentation to the RGS. Like a weather-vane, Bent was to alter his thinking many times and we may still feel he was ‘bounced’ by Rhodes, who had his own agenda. Ultimately, his published theory was disproved by archaeologists such as Caton-Thompson and others in the 20th century, clearly tarnishing Bent’s reputation. We are reminded of Grant Duff’s (apocryphal) anecdote: “Acton confirmed a story which I had heard, but not from himself, to the effect that Mr. Rhodes had asked him: “Why does not Mr. Theodore Bent say that the Zimbabwe ruins are Phoenician?” Acton replied: “Because he is not quite sure that they are.” “Ah!” said the other, “that is not the way that Empires are founded.” (Grant Duff, Notes from a Diary, 1896-1901, vol I, p. 185; London 1905). Bent indeed, with incredible speed, had his monograph on sale by the end of 1892; The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland proved a bestseller and ran to several editions. 

Based on information received from Bent, Glaser drafted an essay in June 1892 on the discovery of Great Zimbabwe, the manuscript of which has survived: (Part 1) and (Part 2).  

Letter 5:  27 April 1893 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-ZAMU-11-02-133

[Addressed from Bent’s home – 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W.] [From a copy in another hand, made 30 April 1893]


Dear Sir

Some of Bent’s actual squeezes from Aksum, reproduced as Plate 4 in D.H. Müller, ‘Epigraphische Denkmäler aus Abessinien Nach Abklatschen von J. Theodore Bent, Esq.’ (Vienna, 1894).

It is now some time since I corresponded with you about [our] finds in Mashonaland at Zimbabwe. Since then I have been in [Abyssinia] to Aksum. Near Adoua, I [illegible] Himyarite inscriptions and a temple, also at Aksum many very early [illegible] inscriptions closely akin to Himyarite. Being now thoroughly interested in this subject I am hoping next winter to go into Arabia and should [much] like to [know] what routes you have followed and what inscriptions you have [copied] so that I may take other [things] and not do your work over again.

If you will kindly give me information on this point I shall be greatly obliged. When the squeezes of my Himyaritic inscriptions arrive I shall have much pleasure [in] sending you copies; they are at present on the sea.

Yours very truly

J. Theodore Bent

A limestone incense-burner with Sabaean inscription (2nd c BCE) from As-Sawda, acquired by the British Museum from Glaser in 1887 after one of his journeys to Yemen. Like the Bents, Glaser would sell items to fund future explorations (BM no. 125141, Trustees of the British Museum).

Notes: Glaser made four ground-breaking field-trips to ‘Southern Arabia’ (Yemen) between 1882 and the spring of 1894. The Bents were planning to make their first visit in the winter of 1893/4 and were keen not to duplicate Glaser’s work. It would have been fascinating were they all to have met up in Aden, the British port (with its eccentric hotels) all the travellers came to know well. Broadly speaking, the Bents were to interest themselves with the western extremes of the Wadi Hadramaut, while Glaser took to the east. Whether Bent ever sent Glaser the ‘squeezes’ to which he refers we are yet to learn (there is still a great deal of Glaser’s archive still to process), but the set he sent to D.H. Müller was published in 1894 (see the illustration above). These few lines by Bent are fateful, if not fatal. It is his pursuit of a dream to link up the early cultures and civilisations of certain African regions and ‘Southern Arabia’ (and we cannot rule out some associations with the mythical Queen of Sheba and the gold of Ophir) that led to his death from malarial complications in 1897 at the age of 45. (In Glaser’s 1895 study Die Abessinier in Arabien und Afrika, auf Grund neuentdeckter Inschriften (Munich), there are several references to Bent’s Aksum inscriptions.)

Acknowledgements and further information

We are extremely grateful to Elisabeth Cerny, Ronald Ruzicka, and George Hatke in Vienna for their invaluable assistance and authorisation to share this material (Copyright CC-BY-4.0 non-commercial, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Library, Archive & Collections, Project IF2019/27 Glaser Virtual World ­– All About Glaser).

Click for further references to Theodore Bent in the Glaser archive.

Elisabeth Monamy has written several articles on Glaser that can be recommended, including the entertaining graphic biography Eduard Glaser – From Bohemia through Yemen to Austria.

(all websites last accessed January 2024)

Mabel and the vanished ‘Bethel Seal’ – a controversy still?

Did Mabel for some reason bury at Bethel, in the early 1900s, the clay stamp she and her husband acquired in the Hadramaut (Yemen) in 1894? Were there two identical stamps after all? And the missing squeeze? Where is this material now? A remark in the literature that the stamp might be in the Amman Archaeological Museum can be discounted (pers. comm. 2022).

Bent’s squeeze of the ‘Bethel Seal’ sent to Eduard Glaser for identification c. 1895 (Creative Commons, Austrian Academy of Sciences (OeAW), Library, Archive and Collections: Information & Service, Vienna, within the Project IF2019/27; Glaser Virtual World – All About Glaser (GlaViWo), AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-A-A727).

The actual paper ‘squeeze’ of the seal Theodore Bent sent to Eduard Glaser for identification has survived and is now held in  the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OeAW), Library, Archive and Collections: Information & Service, Vienna, within the Project IF2019/27; Glaser Virtual World – All About Glaser (GlaViWo), with the reference AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-A-A727. It represents, of course, unique documentary evidence.

Mabel Bent was a frequent traveller to Jerusalem and Palestine in the first decade of the 1900s (Theodore having died in 1897), and she soon began to demonstrate apparently irrational behaviour, i.e. taking sides in a romantic squabble between two British residents in Jerusalem, and making herself rather a nuisance to the authorities generally; on one occasion, now over 60, she rode off mysteriously and alone into the countryside of the southern Dead Sea, falling off her mount and breaking her leg; a convert to British Israelitism, she became involved in the committee of the ‘Garden Tomb’ (Jerusalem), and began her bizarre monograph on ‘Anglo‐Saxons from Palestine’.

In addition, and what might have been a decisive factor in terms of her stress, was that Mabel had to sit helpless on the sidelines and watch as Theodore’s ‘big idea’ – i.e. that proto‐Arab cultures had ventured as far south as modern Zimbabwe, building the great stone monuments there – was being disproved by contemporary researches, and that the twenty years of their travels and work together were ultimately undervalued by academics and the establishment.

If Mabel were sad and unhappy at Bethel, is it not easy to imagine her in a lonely moment in the early 1900s dropping a broken clay stamp from the Hadramaut into a hole and covering it up, muttering the while to her dead husband, with whom she had travelled such landscapes for so long, about how she had brought him, at last, to the end of one of the frankincense trails exploited by his trading proto‐Arabs? What could be more forgivable – not deliberate archaeological fraud but rather fondness and love? Who might not do the same thing? (And, as an afterthought, indeed, there were three seals the couple acquired in the Yemen – where did she drop the other two? Jerusalem, Hebron, Mizpah…?)

Read the full story in Mabel Bent and the Bethel Seal and send us your likes and dislikes! Mabel’s own on-the-spot ‘Chronicles‘ provide further details.

The photos show some of the Bents’ acquisitions from the Hadramaut, including the infamous ‘Bethel Seal’ (from the Bents’ ‘Southern Arabia‘ (1900), facing page 436).



And did perhaps the same fate befall the mysterious ‘Seal of Yarsahal’ (a Hadramaut king?) (illustrated right) bought by the Bents in the region at the same time, and returned to London with them. It is illustrated in ‘Southern Arabia’ too, but has long since disappeared. Did Mabel also leave it somewhere in Palestine as a token to her dead husband? Who knows?

(For an interesting overview, see Dr Pieter Gert van der Veen’s article ‘Arabian Seals and Bullae Along the Trade Routes of Judah and Edom’, in Journal of Epigraphy & Rock Drawings 3 (2009) pp. 25-39. An updated version appeared as ‘Arabian and Arabizing Epigraphic Finds from the Iron Age Southern Levant’ (with François Bron), in J.M. Tebes (ed.) Unearthing The Wilderness: Studies on the History and Archaeology of the Negev and Edom in the Iron Age (2014) pp. 203-226. Leuven: Peters).

BARD versus BENT – A birthday tribute

For Theodore Bent’s birthday today (30 March 2023; born 1852) we thought we would present him with his very own (Google) BARD resumé! It was generated from a request for “A short account of the life of the explorer J. Theodore Bent”.

And here it is, experimentally of course, paragraph by paragraph, followed by our corrections: we would not want some of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) data appearing in a school essay!

BARD (for it is he or she, etc.): “James Theodore Bent was an English explorer, archaeologist, and author. He was born in Baildon, Yorkshire, England on March 30, 1852. Bent was educated at Malvern Wells preparatory school, Repton School, and Wadham College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1875.

BENT ARCHIVE (thus this is us): Actually Bent was born in Liverpool (his uncle, a successful brewer, had been Lord Mayor). He was brought up in Baildon (between Bradford and Leeds); that he was born there is a long-perpetuated myth. The educational details are correct; Bent took a History degree from Oxford.

The expeditions
The expeditions of Theodore & Mabel Bent, 1883-1897 (drawn by Glyn Griffiths © Glyn Griffiths and Gerald Brisch)

BARD: “After graduating from Oxford, Bent travelled to the Aegean Islands, where he began his archaeological career. He later travelled to Bahrain, Cilicia Trachia, Mashonaland (now in Zimbabwe), Ethiopia, and the Arabian Peninsula. Bent was a prolific writer, and his travels and archaeological research resulted in a number of books, including The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892), The Land of the Sun (1893), and The Southern Arabs (1895).

BENT ARCHIVE: Bent’s first researches were in Italy, he did not reach the Aegean in any meaningful way until 1882; he married Mabel Hall-Dare (1847-1929) in 1877. The reference to the Mashonaland volume (1892) is accurate, but arguably his most successful book, The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks (1885), was not picked up by BARD in this search. Bent’s 1893 monograph on Aksum (Ethiopia) was called The sacred city of the Ethiopians; his great work, Southern Arabia, was published posthumously in 1900. Click here for our own full bibliography.

BARD: “Bent died in London on May 5, 1897, at the age of 45. He was survived by his wife, Mabel, and their two children.

BENT ARCHIVE: By all means quote the first sentence, but ignore the second: the Bents had no children.

BARD: “Bent was a pioneer in the field of archaeology, and his work helped to shed light on the ancient cultures of Africa and the Middle East. He was also a gifted writer, and his books continue to be enjoyed by readers today.

BENT ARCHIVE: Impossible to argue with that. Bravo BARD, nice try, you will get there no doubt. Meanwhile, it will be amusing to see how long it takes for Bent’s two imaginary children, Lionel and Mabel, to appear online! We pressed BARD (29/3/2023) a little more on them: “Did the explorer J. Theodore Bent have any children?”

BARD: “Yes, James Theodore Bent had two children with his wife Mabel Hall-Dare: Lionel Bent (1880-1943) [and] Mabel Hall-Dare Bent (1881-1971). James Theodore Bent died in 1897, when his children were still young.

BENT ARCHIVE: Fascinating. Happy Birthday Theodore!

Where the Bents celebrated their birthdays: a review based on Mabel Bent’s Chronicles, 1884-1897

The accompanying interactive map below plots these birthdays: Mabel in green, Theodore in blue. (NB: London [13 Great Cumberland Place] stands in for unknown locations in Great Britain; the couple could have been away visiting family and friends in Ireland or England, including at their property ‘Sutton Hall’, outside of Macclesfield.)

Theodore’s last (45th) birthday took place on 30 March 1897 on the island of Sokotra. Within a few months he was dead, back in London, succumbing to a recurrence of malaria, probably initially contracted in the Cyclades in 1883/4.

There were 28 Bent birthday events (2 x 14) between 1884–1897 (the years covered by Mabel Bent’s diaries). Of these 28, only 5 (18%) were not spent in the field, and only 7 times (25%) does Mabel refer to a birthday in her notebooks directly. In the above Table, column 1 gives the year and ages of the Bents on their birthdays; columns 2 and 3 give their birthday locations. Events in red are when Mabel refers directly to their birthdays. ‘London’ is standing in for unknown locations in Great Britain. If not at their main residence (13 Great Cumberland Place), the couple could have been visiting family and friends in Ireland and England, including at their property Sutton Hall, outside of Macclesfield.

Mabel Bent – A Cycladic birthday, 28 January 1884

Sikinos, Greek Cyclades (Google maps).

As remote as you like, for her 37th birthday in 1884, Mabel Bent finds herself on the Greek Cycladic island of Sikinos, a dot squashed between Folegandros and Ios, a leap northwest of Santorini. She and her husband, Theodore Bent, no less inquisitive than acquisitive, were hopping around the islands looking for material for a book which was to appear the following year – his celebrated guide The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks. [See below for a summary of Bent birthdays in foreign lands.]

The couple arrived on Sikinos from Ios, a little to the east, on 27 January 1884 and were put up in the house of the demarch, presumably within the medieval, walled chora. They were well looked after, as Mabel notes in her diary:

“Few  remains  in  Greece  are  more  perfect  than  this temple  of  Apollo …” Episkopi, Sikinos, before the recent restoration works (Wikipedia).

“[The Sikinos demarch] received us very hospitably. We have a real bedroom and washing table and all. We were soon at dinner and many people came in to see us. When we came out of our bedrooms yesterday morning, 28th, my birthday, we had a tray with a coffee pot and sheep milk and some very hard bread with sesame, all at different times, and very soon after eggs and wine, and then set off with a good many men on mules and foot to the Church of Episkopi, once the temple of Apollo Pythios, about 1½ hour off; of course a steep and rocky way. One could quite well see what it had been in spite of the Christian alterations.” (The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J.T. Bent, Vol. 1, Oxford, 2006, p.41)

Theodore gives this small but imposing (and important) monument ten out of ten. Its designation as a temple to Apollo comes from an inscription identified by Ludwig Ross in the 1840s,  but it is more securely considered a mausoleum from Roman times, subsequently rebuilt in the 3rd century AD as a Byzantine Church. Read about it all in a remarkable article, fully illustrated, at Diocese of Sikinos: A unique monument is dedicated to the public today (accessed 19/01/2023).

Very fortunately, the monument escaped the spades of the Bents. Over the last few years it has been re-excavated and restored by the Ephorate of Antiquities (EFA) of the Cyclades, who were awarded the Europa Nostra Award for their work in 2022. The great find was the high-status tomb of a woman apparently named Neiko; Theodore stood just a few metres above her, and she eluded his attentions (unlike the less lucky Karpathos Lady).

Map of the Cyclades from Bent’s 1885 travelogue, showing Sikinos (archive.org)

Here are his words: “Few  remains  in  Greece  are  more  perfect  than  this temple  of  Apollo  at  Sikinos.  Somehow  it  has  escaped observation,  and  it  has  been  too  high  above  the  sea to  make  it  of  any  use  for  building  material;  hence  it escaped  during  the  earlier  years  of  Vandalism;  and  then when  it  was  turned  into  a  place  of  Christian  worship  a certain  amount  of  respect  was  secured  for  it,  which  other ruins  did  not  obtain  until  later  years…” (The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks, 1885, London, p.176)

Bent also mentions that they met up with the former mayor, Iakovos Kortesis (Theodore names him Kortes) : “An old man, the former demarch, came in shortly after we were up, and begged for the privilege of taking us about the town. In many respects he seemed a man more respected and looked up to than our jocular host; for we were told that if his age and infirmities had not interfered with the fulfilment of his duties he would still have been in office. Wrapped in a shawl, and stick in hand, he seemed to despise the cold, and trudged on at a good pace to show us his garden. Kortes was the name of the old man, and after showing us his garden he conducted us to his house, a large cold place, without any glass in the windows, just over the town gateway…” (The Cyclades, p.178) There is a splendid Sikinos website with contemporary photographs and references to Bent, and see these other (slightly later) photos of the exterior of the house the Bents visited, and a ‘Sikinos gate‘.

Later in 1885, Bent wrote a bizarre article linked to Sikinos entitled “A Romance of a Greek Statue” (possibly fictitious), on which there is a comment in a Revicto (06/01/2022).


By the way, Mabel was born (see ‘My Baby Blue Eyes‘) in her grandfather’s stately home at Beauparc, Co. Meath, Ireland, a very long way from Sikinos!

A review of Bent birthdays based on Mabel Bent’s Chronicles, 1884-1897

The accompanying interactive map below plots these birthdays: Mabel in green, Theodore in blue. (NB: London [13 Great Cumberland Place] stands in for unknown locations in Great Britain; the couple could have been away visiting family and friends in Ireland or England, including at their property ‘Sutton Hall’, outside of Macclesfield.)

There were 28 Bent birthday events (2 x 14) between 1884–1897 (the years covered by Mabel Bent’s diaries). Of these 28, only 5 (18%) were not spent in the field, and only 7 times (25%) does Mabel refer to a birthday in her notebooks directly. In the above Table, column 1 gives the year and ages of the Bents on their birthdays; columns 2 and 3 give their birthday locations. Events in red are when Mabel refers directly to their birthdays. ‘London’ is standing in for unknown locations in Great Britain. If not at their main residence (13 Great Cumberland Place), the couple could have been visiting family and friends in Ireland and England, including at their property Sutton Hall, outside of Macclesfield.

The Bents: a rare interview from ‘The Album’, 8th July, 1895

‘The Album: A Journal of Photographs of Men, Women, and Events of the Day’ (8th July, 1895, Vol. II, No. 23, pp.44-45).

In July 1895 Mabel and Theodore Bent gave an interview to The Album: A Journal of Photographs of Men, Women, and Events of the Day (8th July, 1895, Vol. II, No. 23, pp.44-45). Published by Ingram Brothers (Strand, London), it was a short-lived venture (the market was extremely competitive); a browse through a collected volume gives an unsurprising but fascinating glance back to Victorian Britain at its zenith.

Zenith can equally well be applied to the fame of the Bents in 1895 – they were celebrities. They had more or less covered the Eastern Mediterranean by the end of the 1880s; ridden south-north the length of Persia (1889); had famously explored the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes (1891); become entangled in the Italian debacle in Ethiopia in 1893; and were now (1895) obsessed with Southern Arabia – their work in the region was to provide the data for Theodore’s great quest of a history linking both sides of the Red Sea over three millennia. This was not to be however – within three years of the article you are about to read, Bent was dead, a victim to feverish malevolence, east of Aden, in the spring of ’97.

Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bent

Since the days when Sir Walter Raleigh returned from the West Indies laden with good things, down to our own unromantic time, there have always been a large number of large-hearted Englishmen who have devoted their lives, fortunes, and too often their healths, to exploring the little-known corners of the earth with a view to increasing our knowledge of far-off climes, and of adding to the instructive contents of the British Museum and of the other vast treasure-houses possessed by the nation. note 1 

Mr. J. Theodore Bent has played a leading part among latter-day travellers. Accompanied by his plucky and charming wife – nee Miss Hall Dare of Newtonbarry, Co. Wexford –  note 2  he has explored in turn many pathless portions of the uncivilised world, to say nothing of his valuable researches into the bygone civilisations of Greece, Asia, and Africa.

Each one of Mr. and Mrs. Bent’s expeditions has hitherto resulted in a valuable addition to geographical and archaeological literature, and the former’s book, dealing with the famous ruins of Zimbabwe, was the first and in many respects the best, account of Mashonaland published.

The well-known explorer and his wife have lately returned from their second journey into Arabia, and I found them, (writes a representative of The Album), settled for the season in their museum-like London home, a house filled with momentoes of my hosts’ many years of travel, from Greek antiques to the barbaric, if splendid, gifts of his Arab Sheikh friends.  note 3 

The first appearance of this well-know portrait of Theodore Bent, taken (pre 1895) in the studios of society-photographers, Russell & Sons. Three years later Mabel was to approve it for her husband’s obituary in the ‘Illustrated London News’ [May 15, 1897, page 669]
“What do we consider to have been our most interesting and perilous expedition?” echoed Mr. Bent, in answer to a question. “Our last, undoubtedly, for when one comes to think of it, there is scarcely anything known about the land which gave Europe Algebra. There is practically no modern literature dealing with the country. In the old days, when geography was written merely by hearsay, historians and travellers were more reckless as to what they said, but it is wonderful to note how often they arrived at right conclusions. Ptolemy, for instance, wrote about Arabia, and my wife and myself were able to identify several sites mentioned in his works.  note 4  In modern days, certainly, no country has been so little explored. When it was announced that we were going there, the Indian Government placed a surveyor at my disposal, and we hope to complete our task of surveying the whole of the country from Hadramout to Dhofar, and so on.”

“And what were the practical difficulties in the way of an Arabian expedition?” “Owing to the slave trade the Arabians are not at all anxious to have their dark ways made light. Each district is governed by a Sheikh, and the country is in a wild a lawless state. Indeed, Arabia was far more civilised before the rise and spread of Mahommedanism. I traced many of the ancient Sabæan fortresses and towns, and found most interesting inscriptions. We entered Arabia by Merbat, and thanks to the European resident in Muscat, got on fairly well, but of course in the interior our means of getting about was by the help of camels only used to carry frankincense.”

“And what did you take in the way of provisions, and so on?” “I always leave the commissariat side of our journeys to my wife,” answered Mr. Bent, smiling. “She sees after everything of the kind; but as to food, there is one point I should like to mention. I am a thorough believer in tea, and do not advise anyone to explore on spirits, although on this last expedition we took a little rum much over proof to dilute. Then, of course, quinine is the best travelling medicine in the world.”

Mabel Bent with one of her large-format cameras. She was expedition photographer from 1885 until 1897.

“Our exploration larder”, added Mrs. Bent, “is quite varied enough for all reasonable requirements; desiccated soups, corned beef and beef essence, potted meats, condensed milk, and last but not least, some sackfuls of dry bread, are all included, for long experience has taught us both what to avoid and what to add to our travelling impedimenta.  note 5  We always try to be as comfortable as possible when journeying, and so take plenty of sheets and towels; but, of course, the lack of water is a great annoyance. By-the-way, we always travel with one of Edgington’s green fly-tents, with double flaps, the whole made of the green Willesden canvas which does not get mouldy when folded up wet.”   note 6 

“And are you accompanied by a large party?” “During our last journey we were eleven in all; my husband and I were the only Europeans among them. There is no use in taking English servants. Of course this increases danger in uncivilised countries. Constantly on our travels the Bedouins with whom we have been travelling have turned against us, and on one occasion we seriously thought of trying to find our own way to the coast alone.”

“My travelling dress consists of a tweed coat and skirt, a pith hat, with breeches and gaiters. The skirt is made in pleats, and is so arranged as to act as riding habit when I am on horseback.” Mabel Bent dressed for travel. (Photo taken (pre 1895) in the studios of society-photographers, Russell & Sons)

“And have you any views on the best travelling costume?” I enquired. “Yes, inasmuch that we do not alter or modify our travelling costumes, wearing the same kind of clothes in both Africa and Asia. My husband finds a Norfolk jacket and breeches the most practical and pleasant form of dress for either riding or actual exploring work. My travelling dress consists of a tweed coat and skirt, a pith hat, with breeches and gaiters. The skirt is made in pleats, and is so arranged as to act as riding habit when I am on horseback. When actually in camp, that is to say, during the heat of the day – for early morning and evening are the only safe hours to travel – I put on a linen shirt or blouse and ordinary skirt.”  note 7 

“And on the whole, what is your verdict on the various countries you have so successfully explored?” “South Africa is, undoubtedly, the land of the future,” answered Mr. Bent decidedly. “Perhaps you know that in 1891 we explored the ruined cities of Mashonaland, the Royal Geographical Society and the British South Africa Company aiding us in paying the expenses of the expedition?  note 8  Our experience while in the interior taught us something of the possibility of Rhodesia, and I think that an energetic emigrant has as a good chance there as anywhere else; but of course opinions differ. I myself fell a victim to South African fever, but I have noticed that this kind of disease disappears with civilisation, and my views have been thoroughly borne out in the case of Kimberley.” note 9 

Note 1:  See here for the Bent collections worldwide.
Return from Note 1

Note 2:  An error in the text, Mabel’s home was Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford, Bunclody today.
Return from Note 2

Note 3:  For this ‘museum’, see The Gentlewoman – The Illustrated Weekly Journal for Gentlewomen, No. 175, Vol. VII, Saturday, November 11, 1893, pages 621-622.
Return from Note 3

Note 4:  For example, see the Bents’ identification of the site of Abyssapolis (Khor Rori, present-day Oman).
Return from Note 4

Note 5:  For more on Mabel the quartermaster, see this other interview she gave.
Return from Note 5

Note 6:  Mabel took several photographs of their tented camps, many of which appear in her book Southern Arabia (London, 1900).
Return from Note 6

Note 7:  For more on Mabel’s travel kit, see this other interview she gave.
Return from Note 7

Note 8:  In particular, Bent is referring to his work in 1891 at the remarkable monuments of Great Zimbabwe.
Return from Note 8

Note 9:  In fact the start of Bent’s demise can be traced back to the Cycladic island of Andros in 1884, and the malarial coastal hamlet of Gavrio on the north-west (Mabel Bent, Chronicles, Vol. 1, Oxford, 2006, pp. 50-51).  The malaria he contracted there was to return many times in the years to come, and he died at 45 of complications from it in May 1897, on his return from Socotra and Aden.
Return from Note 9

[You may also enjoy the two interviews Mabel gave to Lady of the House in 1893 and 1894]

Bent in ‘Black & White’: Introduction

Black & White: A Weekly Illustrated Record and Review.

Theodore Bent had two articles published in the periodical Black & White on Lindos, Rhodes:

* ‘Lindos: The Living City of Homer’ – I (28 February 1891, pp. 109–10).
* ‘Lindos: The Living City of Homer – II’ (14 March 1891, pp. 173–4)




Black & White: A Weekly Illustrated Record and Review was a British Victorian-era illustrated weekly periodical founded in 1891 by Charles Norris Williamson. For the next decade or so it competed with other publications that vied with each other to exploit the new methods of printing (black and white) images, wrapped round with semi-consequential texts by, inter alia, celebrities. There were changes in direction as the market grew tougher, and the first issue of Black & White Budget appeared in October 1899 and it continued under that name until May 1903, after which it appeared as Black & White Illustrated Budget (until June 1905). There was one final issue on 24 June 1905 under the name Illustrated Budget. In 1912, it was incorporated with The Sphere and then disappeared. Ultimately it could not compete with the better-financed and more substantial organs, i.e. Illustrated London News, and The Graphic (to both of which Theodore Bent regularly contributed).

An image of Theodore Bent from the studios of society-photographers Elliot & Fry, probably taken in the early 1890s when Bent was in his late 30s.

But returning to its launch enthusiasm, we read in The Freeman’s Journal of Wednesday, 4 January 1891, that: “At the offices of Black and White [sic], the new weekly illustrated paper which is to appear in February, a large reception was held on Monday night [2 January 1891]. The offices are at the corner of Fleet Street and Bouverie Street. The guests were received by Mr. C.N. Williamson, the managing editor, and Mr. Spielman, the art editor, was also to the fore. Among those present were… Mr. Jerome K. Jerome [he of Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) fame (1889)]… and Mr. and Mrs Theodore Bent…”

In all, Bent had three articles published in Black & White:

* ‘Lindos: The Living City of Homer’ – I (28 February 1891, pp. 109–10).
* ‘Lindos: The Living City of Homer – II’ (14 March 1891, pp. 173–4).
* ‘Pre-Mahomedan Relics – Excavations at the Great Zimbabwe’ (2 April 1892 , pp. 430–1).

At some time before the reception referred to above, Bent must have been signed up to contribute to Black & White (he would have known some of the other individuals involved with it perhaps – Oswald Crawfurd, Eden Philpotts, Arthur Mee), and the periodical boasted of him as their ‘Great Zimbabwe correspondent’. Back the previous summer (1890), the traveller was somewhat rudderless, having just returned with his devoted wife Mabel from a long tour, south-north, on horseback, of Persia, and the focus of his later research, Phoenician contacts either side of the Red Sea, had not yet become clear. Then fate took a hand in the extraordinary form of Cecil Rhodes, who part-financed Bent, for the season of 1891, to explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, present-day Zimbabwe. It was at this stage, feasibly, that Black & White approached Theodore to write dispatches for them (although they did not announce this until later in 1891, see below). By November 1890, preparations were in full swing, rushed and frantic, and the expedition duly set sail for Cape Town on 30 January 1891, just four weeks after the reception at the offices of Black & White.

Sir Frederic Leighton, ‘Lindos, Rhodes’, late 1860s (Google Arts & Culture).

And during all these preparations for South Africa, Bent was commissioned to pen a few hundred words or so on the famous polis of Lindos, Rhodes – a little odd as he never actually went there when the couple spent a few days on the island in early 1885. Bent’s piece must have been rattled off quickly (it probably nods to the work of others) over Christmas 1890. Black & White wanted to launch with a bang on the Arts, and there must have been some promotion (in 1890) of Royal Academy President, Sir Frederic Leighton’s striking (and hardly known at all today) illustrations of Lindos and Rhodes; Bent, known for his work in the Levant, and having published an article on Rhodes in 1885, found himself involved.

Sir Richard Francis Burton, by Frederic Leighton, Baron Leighton (oil on canvas, 1872-1875) © National Portrait Gallery, London.

It is intriguing to think that Bent was perhaps angling for a portrait by the celebrated artist. Leighton had done a remarkable painting of another explorer, his friend Sir Richard Burton between 1872-1875, the years when Theodore Bent was studying at Oxford and thinking of his travels to come.

This Lindos/Leighton piece that he did for Black & White was divided into two instalments (an old journalistic trick) by the editors, wrapped around Leighton’s evocative pictures, and they appeared in the first issues. They are transcribed elsewhere on this site, and have probably not been much read since the 1890s; those who like Rhodes and Lindos will find them wide-ranging and valuable, if short.

“We await with interest the report of our correspondent, who, besides being a distinguished archaeologist, is also an excellent artist.” Bent’s watercolour of the ruins of Great Zimbabwe from his “The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland” (1892).

In an editorial (1 August 1891, p. 163), Black & White made an announcement with undisguised relish: “Mr. Theodore Bent, our special correspondent in Mashonaland, who is also exploring the grand, and as yet mysterious, remains at Zimbaye on behalf of several learned societies, has discovered images and pottery in the ruins which throw a new light upon their origin, and upon the nationality of the discoveries of, and settlers in, what is assumed to be the ancient land of Ophir. We await with interest the report of our correspondent, who, besides being a distinguished archaeologist, is also an excellent artist.”

In the end, Bent wrote just one article for Black & White, a rather muted one, “Pre-Mahomedan Relics – Excavations at the Great Zimbabwe” (2 April 1892), his best efforts being reserved for other publications, e.g. The Graphic. It is important, nevertheless, for some rare illustrations based on Mabel’s photographs, and is transcribed elsewhere on this site.

In the issue of 13 May 1897 (page 608), Black & White somberly concludes its relationship with the excavator of Great Zimbabwe, and much else: “Mr. Theodore Bent, the indefatigable explorer of South East Africa and Arabia, has passed in his prime at the early age of forty-four. The scenes of his wide travels embrace Greece, Asia Minor, Persia, Mashonaland, Abyssinia and Arabia, and various interesting volumes are left to attest the explorer’s learning and intrepidity.”

The Bent Collection Scanned: From the Archive of The Hellenic Society, London

Part of the Bent Collection of diaries and notebooks in the archive of the Hellenic Society, London.

In the late 1920s, Mabel Bent’s niece, Violet Ethel ffolliott (1882-1932) transferred the care of her elderly aunt’s travel diaries, as well as some notebooks of her husband’s, Theodore Bent (1852-1897), archaeologist-explorer, to the Hellenic Society in London.


‘The Journal of Hellenic Studies’, Vol. 1, 1880 (public domain).

Both Theodore and Mabel had been associated with the Society since the 1880s. The institution had started in 1879, and by 1883 Theodore was a member, indicating his growing interest in archaeology (he read history at Oxford). In 1885 he joined its Council and remained on it until the year of his death (1897). Women members were welcomed and contributed greatly; Mabel became a member in 1885. The Society held three or four meetings a seasons, including a General Meeting in London in the summer (at 22 Albemarle Street). The Bents were rarely in the country in time for the winter and spring meetings but, apart from 1891, when they were in Africa, they would have attended the AGMs. The Society’s journal, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, is available online (with the early years as open access), and from 1883 to 1918 one will find references to either Mr or Mrs Theodore Bent within its pages.

However, this institution, having to do, broadly, with things Greek, might at first glance appear an odd choice as a long-term home for these memoirs of travel and exploration associated with remote corners far away from the Eastern Mediterranean; only about half the couple’s twenty years of adventures were primarily dedicated to Greece and Turkey, the other portion, more often than not, found them dusty and deep in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

The three boxes containing the Bent Collection of diaries and notebooks in the archive of the Hellenic Society, London.

And after all, Theodore was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, whose orbit was the whole world, and the latter often funded and supported Bent’s expeditions; in return, he wrote and lectured for them constantly until his early death. So why not leave the Bent notebook collection to the RGS Mabel? A possible answer might be linked to the infamous scandal involving women RGS Fellows in the early 1890s. Mabel was on the list for the second allocation of Fellowships to noteworthy women travellers just at the time the RGS Committee voted against the idea, and women were not readmitted until some twenty years later. Proud Mrs Theodore Bent might well have remembered this obvious slight and opted to lodge her travelogues in the archives of the sociable and patrician Hellenic Society instead.

Whatever the reason, the Bent Collection has remained in three stout boxes in a secure library room in Senate House, London, ever since, available for private research on request (although Mabel’s ‘Chronicles’, as she called them, have since been transcribed and published by Archaeopress, Oxford, in three volumes).

However, advances in scanning techniques, and associated software, not to mention generous support, very appropriately, from the AG Leventis Foundation in this case, now mean that the Bent notebooks can be reproduced digitally, facsimile, ink blots, doodles and all, without risk to the original delicate material.

To quote the specialist involved: “For the vast majority of the time I am using a Bookeye 4 Kiosk book scanner to capture the image data and BCS-2 imaging software to process and format the images once they have been transferred from the scanner… When digitising a volume each page is saved and formatted as a single 600DPI TIFF file, all these files are then collated and converted into a single, readable book format PDF.”

The expeditions
The Bents’ spheres of influences  1883-1897 (©Glyn Griffiths, the Bent Archive).

And, most importantly of all, they are available, open-access free, to anyone, anywhere in the world, with an interest in 19th-century travel into those regions that attracted Theodore and Mabel Bent – from Aksum to Zimbabwe.

Accordingly, these notebooks have now been scanned and a digital catalogue produced. All Theodore’s notebooks in the archive have been finished, and all Mabel’s too  – n.b. her 1896/7 volume covering Sokotra and Aden, the setting for the couple’s final journey together, was scanned last and is available here. (It should be noted here too that the diaries covering the Bents’ expedition to Ethiopia in 1893 were apparently never given to the Hellenic Society for some reason, and, for now, assumed lost – always the hardest word for a traveller to utter.)

Mabel's Dodecanese Chronicole
Mabel’s Chronicle cover for 1885 (The Hellenic
Society, London).


So, what follows will take you to some very faraway places indeed – you only have to click to be transported (our pages and maps on the Bents’ explorations provide useful background information):

Greece and the Levantine Littoral

Mabel Bent (1883/4): The Greek Cyclades

Mabel Bent (1885): The Greek Dodecanese

The ‘Karpathos Lady’ (©The Trustees of the British Museum
Licence CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).
[Mabel used the term ‘Sporades’ for this diary, but the archipelago the couple travelled through in early 1885 is better known today as the Dodecanese. Their great acquisition on this trip was the unique and controversial ‘Karpathos Lady‘, held in the British Museum. The Bents never explored in any depth the group the guidebooks call the Sporades now.]


Mabel Bent (1886): From Istanbul, the islands along the way (including Mitilini, Chios, Samos, Patmos, Ikaria, Samos, Kalymnos, Astypalea) and down the Turkish coast

Mabel Bent (1887): Central Greece and the Northern Aegean (including Evia, Meteora, Skiathos, Thessaloniki, Kavala, Thasos, and Samothraki)

Mabel Bent (1888): The west coast of Turkey (including Smyrna, Istanbul, Broussa, and as far south as Kastelorizo)

Theodore Bent (1888): Inscriptions from Patara, Lydae, Lissa, Myra, Kasarea, Nicaea, etc.

Mabel Bent (1890): Further researches along the Turkish coast (including Mersin, Tarsus, ancient Cilicia, the discovery of ‘Olba’, and into Armenia)

Bahrain and Iran

Mabel Bent (1888/9): Researches in Bahrain and a ride, south–north through ‘Persia’ (including Persepolis, Shiraz, Isfahan, and Tehran)(I)

Mabel Bent (1889): Researches in Bahrain and a ride, south–north through ‘Persia’ (including Persepolis, Shiraz, Isfahan, and Tehran)(II)

Mabel Bent (1889): Researches in Bahrain and a ride, south–north through ‘Persia’ (including Persepolis, Shiraz, Isfahan, and Tehran)(III)

Mabel Bent on her camel in the Sudan in 1896 (a detail from a rare RGS lantern-slide).

Africa and Egypt

Mabel Bent (1884/5): Egypt (before steaming to the Greek Dodecanese)

Mabel Bent (1890/1): South Africa and the expedition to Great Zimbabwe (I)

Mabel Bent (1890/1): South Africa and the expedition to Great Zimbabwe (II) 

Mabel Bent (1895/6): Sudan and the western Red Sea littoral

Theodore Bent (1895/6): Sudan and the western Red Sea littoral

Mabel Bent (1897/8): Alone in Egypt (‘A lonely, useless journey’)

The Bents made three attempts to traverse the Wadi Hadramaut between 1893-7 (The Hellenic Society, London).

Southern Arabia

Mabel Bent (1893/4): Wadi Hadramaut (first attempt, via Mukalla) (I)

Mabel Bent (1893/4): Wadi Hadramaut (first attempt, via Mukalla) (II)

Theodore Bent (1893/4): Wadi Hadramaut (first attempt, via Mukalla) (I)

Theodore Bent (1893/4): Wadi Hadramaut (first attempt, via Mukalla) (II)

Mabel Bent (1894/5): Wadi Hadramaut (second attempt, via Muscat, Oman and the discovery of Abyssapolis/Khor Rori)

Theodore Bent (1894/5): Wadi Hadramaut (second attempt, via Muscat, Oman and the discovery of Abyssapolis/Khor Rori)

Theodore Bent (left) at a campsite in Sokotra in 1897 (photo by Mabel Bent).

Mabel Bent (1896/7): Sokotra and Aden (this volume has not yet been scanned [Feb 2022])

Theodore Bent (1896/7): Sokotra

Theodore Bent (1896/7): Sokotran glossary and notes (Bent’s final notebooks)(I)

Theodore Bent (1897): East of Aden (Bent’s final notebooks)(II)


Mabel Bent died at her London townhouse, 13 Great Cumberland Place, on 5 July 1929 at the age of 82. Her Times obituary (6 July 1929) includes that, “as an experienced photographer and accurate observer, she was of enormous assistance to her husband and famous for the explorations in distant lands which she undertook with [him]. This was at a time when it was much more rare than it is now for a woman to venture forth on such journeys […] During her long widowhood [Theodore died a few weeks after scribbling in his final notebook above, in May 1897] of more than 30 years, Mrs. Bent was well known in literary and scientific London. She was a good talker, with an occasional sharpness of phrase which was much relished by her many friends.”

And would there be any ‘sharpness of phrase’ about seeing her ‘Chronicles’ now scanned and widely available? Did Mabel intend them for publication? Apart from the fact that Theodore relied on his wife’s notebooks for the provision of background details in his monographs, articles and lectures, the chronicler has left one or two clues within her pages.

First page of Mabel Bent’s 1886 ‘Chronicle’. The diarist was fond of an ornate entry (The Hellenic Society, London).

From ‘Room 2’ of the Hôtel de Byzance, Constantinople, in February 1886, Mabel confides, in one of her happiest diaries it seems: “I must begin my Chronicle somewhere if I am to write one at all and as in this matter I am selfish enough to consider myself of the first consideration because I write to remind myself in my old age of pleasant things (or the contrary) I will begin now.” Thus we know, at least, that they were for her to read later in life, and that she intended her aunts, sisters, and nieces to share her adventures. (There are several asides such as, “We have constant patients coming to us and I am sure you would all laugh to hear T’s medical lectures.” And “You must excuse these smudges as I am sitting cross-legged on T’s bed.”).

There is also certainly nothing in her millions of words that could be considered as indiscreet, let alone anything close to libel – or nuptial intimacy for that matter – although there is a little false modesty and coquetry here and there. (Only two or three pages have been removed from the entire series of notebooks.) What is omitted, invisible, becomes visible and striking, however. In all her diaries there is not one reference to the losses of her childhood – her poor mother, her difficult father, and her two dead brothers.

But the most obvious hint that Mabel, at the very least, might be aware of a potential wider interest in her ‘Chronicles’ is the letter still preserved (in the 1885 volume) from her friend, Harry Graham, who shared in some of their travel that year, complimenting her thus: “I carried off your Chronicle… and… I never enjoyed these hours more than when reading it in the train coming down here yesterday – as soon as I have finished it I will send it you back – but why oh why don’t you publish it? It simply bristles with epigrams and I am certain would be a great success! You ought to blend the 2 Chronicles into one and I am sure everyone would buy it.”

Well. Perhaps not everyone. Mabel’s Chronicles are not great travel literature. They are her on-the-spot recollections of long days spent trekking, exploring, digging, dealing with villagers, arguing with minor officials; they are snatches of gossip, snobbishness, likes and dislikes, barking dogs, vicissitudes, poverty and pain; they are delightful souvenirs of music, dancing, colourful costumes and wonderful meals.

“Perhaps it is water”. Fever stricken in the Goddam heights. One of the final pages in Bent’s last notebooks, April 1897 (The Hellenic Society, London).

And how few are the references to limb and life. Just hours from complete malarial collapse, east of Aden, in the alarmingly named heights of ‘Goddam’, Theodore scribbles, in his final notebook, only weeks from his death at 45, “… but feverstricken we were delighted to get away. Apparently this corner of Yemen is particularly feverish. All those who go in from Aden appear to be ill. Perhaps it is [the] water…”

There are certainly passages that reflect her times, too, and which are inappropriate today. Great travel literature? Clearly not. But great travel writing – accounts of wonderful endurance and reflections of courage, attitude, apogee of empire, and spirit – most certainly.

A preference for Fruit Syrup from Sainsbury’s. A jotting in one of Theodore Bent’s last notebooks (The Hellenic Society, London).

It’s also nice to know the couple apparently liked their fruit syrup from J. Sainsbury!