Mabel’s Manor – The Essex homes of the Hall-Dares. No. 3: Ilford Lodge, Ilford

The aim of this short series of posts on the Essex homes (essentially northern Greater London, England) of Mabel’s kin – on her father’s side – is to give a quick look at the open spaces and sorts of landscapes that Mabel Bent (nee Hall-Dare) would have enjoyed as a young woman on the eastern shores of the Irish Sea, predisposing her to an adventurous, outdoor life – horses everywhere, rivers, forests, walks, new rail links, not to mention the travelling involved in getting up to Dublin from Co. Wexford and then across the sea to London (there were rented properties in ‘Town’ too of course), for stays in Essex before, for example, spending the long summers touring Europe with her siblings. Indeed, she was to meet her husband-to-be, Theodore Bent, in Norway on one such tour (although we still don’t know when, where, how, and why).

The Essex properties, lands, and churches featured include: (1) ‘Fitzwalters‘, (2) ‘East Hall‘, (3) ‘Ilford Lodge’, (4) ‘Cranbrook’, (5) ‘Wyfields’, ‘Theydon Bois’, and others.

No. 3: Ilford Lodge – Ilford, Essex, UK.

Before AD 687, the Saxon king Œthelræd gave to the newly-founded abbey of Barking large parcels of land in the area, and over the subsequent centuries, further patronage, crown and mitre, established in this corner of Essex, after the Dissolution this is, estates such as Aldborough Hatch, Bifrons, Clements, Hainault, Highlands,  Valentines, and Ilford Lodge, our subject.

The mansion of Ilford Lodge – hardly a lodge as we might think of one – was a late 18th-century edifice of yellow brick – a central block and side wings, all in three storeys.

The mansion of Ilford Lodge – hardly a lodge as we might think of one – was a late 18th-century edifice of yellow brick – a central block and side wings, all in three storeys. Fine enough, if not exactly characterful, although Edward Tuck (of whom much more later) thought it ‘distinguished’. It stood, suffering several vicissitudes, until demolishment as recently as 1960. It is unlikely that Mabel Bent ever slept under its roof, as the property was owned by soldier-uncle Frank, who, like Mabel, was hardly ever at home; but she may well have taken tea there – we can only guess.

The estate of the same name, dates only from the late 18th/early 19th centuries, and was just a short distance down a lane from another Hall-Dare mansion, ‘Cranbrook’, which is to feature in another of these posts. Incidentally, according to our Edward Tuck (p. 53) – “It may, in a passing remark, be said that the road shadowed by the beautiful trees and shrubs along this estate down to Cranbrook was one of the most charming walks in the neighbourhood.’ He would not write the same now.

Ilford Lodge had been carved from the much larger adjoining estate of Valentines, and it passed into the hands of Robert Hall, who was previously a tenant there, before 1810. It remained in the Hall-Dare families until 1883, when it was acquired by the larger-than-life character, and crook, Jabez Balfour, and his Liberator Building Society, which collapsed in 1892, and Balfour imprisoned for embezzlement. His story his well worth a read!

In 1896 the Ilford Lodge Estate was put up for sale as the ‘Ilford Park Estate’, sold, and subsequently developed into mostly residential housing – very much as can be seen on the maps today: no more gardens, gazebos, and children’s ponies grazing in the distance; pretty nondescript, suburban, a stone’s throw from Ilford railway station (opened 20 June 1839 for Eastern Counties Railway).

When the estate was sliced up for building, Ilford Lodge was preserved as a sports and social club for the local residents of Wellesley Road. As mentioned above, the roof under which Mabel never slept was torn down in 1960. Nothing remains.

But now it’s time for Tuck proper and an account of the mansion’s heyday; his work on this corner of Essex is unparalleled: “‘THE LODGE’. This once distinguished house, although not one of the Manors connected with the Abbey of Barking, held a very prominent position among the leading seats of the surrounding gentry. The mansion and estate was for a number of years owned and occupied by Robert Hall, Esq… Their family consisted of a son and a daughter. The son, Mr. Robert Wesley Hall… married the only daughter of Marmaduke Grafton Dare, and on their marriage took the name of Hall-Dare, omitting Grafton, through some dispute of the Grafton family… It appears that the Graftons were once Romford people. I found on a tomb in the Churchyard ‘John Marmaduke Grafton, died 1788,’ aged 70. His son (named also John Marmaduke Grafton) married Mrs. Dare, of Cranbrook, and assumed the name of Grafton-Dare. Some years after, Mrs. Grafton-Dare’s daughter became the wife of Robert Wesley Hall, and they assumed the name of Hall-Dare. On the death of Mr. Robert Hall-Dare [i.e. Mabel Bent’s grandfather] his widow succeeded to the estate, and outlived her husband for several years… On her demise the mansion and estate came, by will of the grandfather, to Captain Frank M. Hall-Dare, third son of Robert W. Hall-Dare, Esq., of Cranbrook.

Having entered the army when young, he did not occupy the estate, nor leave the army till after the Crimean War, where he gained… four medals… After the war he retired from the army, and spent most of his time in travel. He subsequently disposed of the estate to the Liberator Building Society [see above for the rogue Jabez Balfour]. The mansion is now used for a club-house, and the estate covered with residences…’ (Edward Tuck, pp.52-53)

Coming next: No. 4: ‘Cranbrook’.

The back story

Of course Mabel was fortunate in that her family (on both sides) were landed (obviously) and comfortably off. Mabel’s paternal grandfather was the first of  the Robert Westley Hall-Dares proper, an astute, baronial, figure who sat at the head of a coalition of wealthy and influential Essex families (Halls, Dares, Graftons, Mildmays, Kings, to name but a few), garnering in with him two major estates (Theydon Bois and Wennington) and various other demesnes, farms, and assorted dwellings, large and small. His wealth and assets were based on rents, farming, ventures, deals, and investments – including a sugar plantation in what is today British Guyana. This plantation, ‘Maria’s Pleasure‘, still retains its name, although it was disposed of after Mabel’s father, to whom the sugar estate had been left, received his compensation for the emancipation of around 300 slaves after Abolition (worth the equivalent of several millions of pounds now).

Robert Westley Hall-Dare the first (1789-1836), the Member of Parliament for South Essex from 1832 until his death, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, not to mention London Society, but it was his son Robert Westley Hall-Dare the second (1817-1866) who actually married into (minor) aristocracy with his marriage to Frances, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath – Mabel (b. 1847) was one of their daughters.

Mabel was thus free to travel; her husband was the perfect fit; they were never slowed down by children. But if anyone should say to you, ‘Ah, but Mabel never worked’, then they don’t know what they are talking about: few women of her class would have sweated more, from Aksum to Great Zimbabwe.

References

Edward Tuck, A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford (Barking, 1899?), pp.52-53.

https://archive.org/details/sketchofancientb00tuckiala/page/52/mode/2up?q=westley

The borough of Ilford (pp. 249-266): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol5/pp249-266

The ancient parish of Barking: Manors (pp. 190-214): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol5/pp190-214

The Ilford Recorder, 22 April 2017: ‘Heritage: The fraudster who gave our streets their names’

https://www.ilfordrecorder.co.uk/lifestyle/21197094.heritage-fraudster-gave-streets-names/

Ilford Historical Society Newsletter No.129, April 2019

https://ilfordhistoricalsociety.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/2/2/11222518/ihs_newsletter_129_draft_at_09.03.19.pdf

For a photograph of Mabel’s uncle Francis Marmaduke Hall-Dare (1830-1897), past owner of Ilford Lodge, click here.

If you have any photographs or memories of Ilford Lodge pre-1960 we would be delighted to heard from you!

 

Mabel’s Manor – The Essex homes of the Hall-Dares. No. 2: East Hall, Wennington

Map from P. Morant’s ‘The history and antiquities of the County of Essex’ (London, 1768).

The aim of this short series of posts on the Essex homes (essentially northern Greater London, England) of Mabel’s kin – on her father’s side – is to give a quick look at the open spaces and sorts of landscapes that Mabel Bent (nee Hall-Dare) would have enjoyed as a young woman on the eastern shores of the Irish Sea, predisposing her to an adventurous, outdoor life – horses everywhere, rivers, forests, walks, new rail links, not to mention the travelling involved in getting up to Dublin from Co. Wexford and then across the sea to London (there were rented properties in ‘Town’ too of course), for stays in Essex before, for example, spending the long summers touring Europe with her siblings. Indeed, she was to meet her husband-to-be, Theodore Bent, in Norway on one such tour (although we still don’t know when, where, how, and why).

The Essex properties, lands, and churches featured include: (1) ‘Fitzwalters‘, (2) ‘East Hall’, (3) ‘Ilford Lodge’, (4) ‘Cranbrook’, (5) ‘Wyfields’, ‘Theydon Bois’, and others.

No. 2: East Hall – Wennington, near Rainham, Essex, UK.

East Hall (Ordnance, Kent Sheet III, Surveyed: 1862 to 1866, Published: 1869 to 1875).

Although Mabel Bent never knew the eccentric and stylish Hall-Dare residence of Fitzwalters (see No. 1 in this series), the estate (c. 700 acres, c. 300 hectares) at Wennington, East Hall, near Rainham on the Thames, was extremely familiar to her and her immediate kin: indeed, in her obituary in the Paris Times of 5th July 1929 her birthplace is given (incorrectly) as Wennington.

The layout of East Hall at the end of the 19th century (Ordnance Survey, Essex (1st Ed/Rev 1862-96) LXXXII.4. Revised: 1895, Published: 1897).

Wennington manor became linked to Mabel’s forebears (together with their Theydon Bois lands) via a series of late 18th-century marriages, and remained a Hall-Dare site in a direct line from Mabel’s grandfather and father, and then down through her brother and nephew – until it was disposed of in the early 20th century. (The place is not to be confused with the old East Hall of Dagenham Manor.) The manors of Wennington and Theydon Bois  represented the bulk of the amalgamated families’ English holdings. Mabel’s brother Robert, although based in Ireland, took his stewardship of his Essex lands seriously and there are several references in his diary to visits there;  his early death from typhoid in Rome in 1876 had a significant impact on the future development of the family’s land assets. The name East Hall remained on large-scale maps into the 1950s.

The blue arrow shows the site of East Hall (Ordnance, Kent Sheet III, Surveyed: 1862 to 1866, Published: 1869 to 1875).

Unfortunately, a description of the East Hall mansion itself (possibly on an earlier site) has eluded us to date, but it is hoped one will surface – at least the  outline on the Ordnance Survey maps of the period gives a good idea of its scale and scope, just to the west of the small village and its only surviving medieval building, the church of St Mary and St Peter, which would have welcomed Mabel on the Sundays she stayed in her father’s house – coming down from town on the new railway line.

St Mary & St Peter, Wennington. Possibly the only building that Mabel Bent would recognize today. (Wikipedia)

Those wishing to see how the manor came to be in the possession of Mabel’s father should see the detailed entry: ‘Wennington‘, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 7, ed. W R Powell (London, 1978), pp. 180-190. (The Tithe Award Place-names of Wennington by Parcel Number reveal the extent of the families holdings (under Dare there are 268 references for 1839).)

The sad fate of East Hall today (Google Maps).

All that remains of the estate today are memories, the area has been devastated by modern quarry workings and is a sorry sight on Google Maps; perhaps the murder that occurred on the farm there in 1910 presaged its fate. Ironically, the modern-era desecration has revealed on the land a history going back to the Palaeolithic – archaeology to some degree was never far from Mabel and outlined her future by her husband’s side; she was born on the Boyne,  not so very far from the Hill of Tara in the Celtic twilight.

Actually, there is one further souvenir – close to the turning to East Hall Lane you can find Halldare Cottage. A dwelling is marked there on the early maps, so presumably it had an association with East Hall and Mabel Bent’s family; it is a serendipitous survival.

See also ‘Wennington’, in The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex by Philip Morant (1768, London, pp.85-87); and the anonymous History of Wennington in 1882.

Coming next: No. 3: Ilford Lodge.

The back story

Of course Mabel was fortunate in that her family (on both sides) were landed (obviously) and comfortably off. Mabel’s paternal grandfather was the first of  the Robert Westley Hall-Dares proper, an astute, baronial, figure who sat at the head of a coalition of wealthy and influential Essex families (Halls, Dares, Graftons, Mildmays, Kings, to name but a few), garnering in with him two major estates (Theydon Bois and Wennington) and various other demesnes, farms, and assorted dwellings, large and small. His wealth and assets were based on rents, farming, ventures, deals, and investments – including a sugar plantation in what is today British Guyana. This plantation, ‘Maria’s Pleasure‘, still retains its name, although it was disposed of after Mabel’s father, to whom the sugar estate had been left, received his compensation for the emancipation of around 300 slaves after Abolition (worth the equivalent of several millions of pounds now).

Robert Westley Hall-Dare the first (1789-1836), the Member of Parliament for South Essex from 1832 until his death, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, not to mention London Society, but it was his son Robert Westley Hall-Dare the second (1817-1866) who actually married into (minor) aristocracy with his marriage to Frances, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath – Mabel (b. 1847) was one of their daughters.

Mabel was thus free to travel; her husband was the perfect fit; they were never slowed down by children. But if anyone should say to you, ‘Ah, but Mabel never worked’, then they don’t know what they are talking about: few women of her class would have sweated more, from Aksum to Great Zimbabwe.

 

Mabel’s Manor – The Essex homes of the Hall-Dares. No. 1: Fitzwalters

Map from P. Morant’s ‘The history and antiquities of the County of Essex’ (London, 1768).

The aim of this short series of posts on the Essex homes (essentially northern Greater London, England) of Mabel’s kin – on her father’s side – is to give a quick look at the open spaces and sorts of landscapes that Mabel Bent (nee Hall-Dare) would have enjoyed as a young woman on the eastern shores of the Irish Sea, predisposing her to an adventurous, outdoor life – horses everywhere, rivers, forests, walks, new rail links, not to mention the travelling involved in getting up to Dublin from Co. Wexford and then across the sea to London (there were rented properties in ‘Town’ too of course), for stays in Essex before, for example, spending the long summers touring Europe with her siblings. Indeed, she was to meet her husband-to-be, Theodore Bent, in Norway on one such tour (although we still don’t know when, where, how, and why).

The Essex properties, lands, and churches featured will include: (1) ‘Fitzwalters’, (2) ‘East Hall’, (3) ‘Ilford Lodge’, (4) ‘Cranbrook’, (5) ‘Wyfields’, ‘Theydon Bois’, and others.

No. 1: Fitzwalters, near Mountnessing, Essex, UK.

Of all the County Essex (England) properties owned or leased by Mabel Bent’s paternal connections, the Hall-Dares, Fitzwalters (west of Mountnessing,  51.650724, 0.336264) was perhaps the most outstanding, and certainly the most distinctive. The house and estate seem to have come into the possession of the Halls before 1820, on the death of Robert Hall’s friend Thomas Wright, a City banker, and was a favourite residence of Mabel’s father, Robert Westley Hall-Dare (1817-1866), who went on giving Fitzwalters as his address, even though the delightful mansion itself was destroyed by fire on the night of 24th March 1839 and never rebuilt. It seems the lands, with its several farms, were disposed of before 1860, when RHD was focusing on the rebuilding of his grand Irish home, Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford.

Fitzwalters (detail of house) before 1820, from Thomas Cromwell’s ‘Excursions through Essex’, Vol. 1, London 1819, facing page 126.

A piece in The Gardeners Magazine and Register of Rural and Domestic Improvement (Vol. 15, May 1839, Art. V. ‘Queries and Answers’, p. 303) provides an excellent introduction to this lost architectural masterpiece: “Fitzwalters, known also by the name of the Round House, was opposite the nine-mile stone of the London road, in the parish of Shinfield [Shenfield, Essex]. In 1301 the estate was the property of Robert Earl of Fitzwalter. The mansion, now destroyed, was built by Mr. John Morecroft, in the 17th century, after an Italian Model, and was an object of general observation and curiosity, being of an octagon form. Notwithstanding this singular shape each floor contained four square rooms; the centre of the house was occupied by the chimnies [sic]; and staircases filled up two of the intervening spaces between the square rooms, while the remainder formed small triangular apartments, devoted to dressing-rooms, closets, &c. The interior was built chiefly of timber, the girders being of very large dimensions. Fitzwalters was many years the property and country residence of Mr. T. Wright [died 1818], the banker, of Henrietta Street, of whose representatives the late Mr. Hall, grandfather of the present possessor [Robert Westley Hall-Dare, Mabel Bent’s father] purchased the property. (Chelmsford Chronicle, as quoted in the Times, March 30th, 1839)”

Fitzwalters on OS Essex Sheet LIX,
surveyed: 1871 to 1873, published: 1881.

J.H. Brady’s ‘pocket guide’ of 1838 provides details from before the catastrophic fire: “FITZWALTERS,  an  ancient  manorial  estate  in  Essex, in  the  parish  of  Shenfield,  one  mile  from  the  church  of that  place,  north-west  from  the  road  between  Ingatestone and  Brentwood.  This  is  supposed  to  have  been,  in  1301, the  property  of  Lord  Robert  Fitzwalter  (whence  the  name of  the  manor),  and  it  was  held,  in  1363,  by  Joan,  his widow,  of  the  king  in  capite,  by  the  service  of  supplying  a pair  of  gilt  spurs  at  the  coronation.  About  1400,  it  became the  possession  of  the  Knyvett  family,  and  subsequently  of John  Morecroft,  Esq.,  who  erected  the  house,  after  what is  stated  to  be  an  Italian  model.    The  building  is  on  low ground,  and  being  of  an  octangular  form,  with  the  chimneys  rising  in  the  centre,  has  a  very  singular  appearance. It  has  a  piece  of  water  in  front,  with  a  neat  fancy  bridge, and  toward  the  road  are  two  porter’s  lodges.  After  Mr. Morecroft’s  death,  the  manor  was  enjoyed  successively  by several  families.  It  is  now  the  residence  of  J.  Tasker, Esq.,  but  the  property,  we  believe,  of  Robt.  W.  Hall Dare,  Esq.” (J.H. Brady, A new pocket guide to London and its environs, London, 1838, pp. 262-263)

See also, Thomas Wright, The history and topography of the county of Essex, comprising its ancient and modern history, Vol II, London, 1836, p. 541.

For another old print of Fitzwalters, click here.

[Coming shortly (Nov. 2022) – No. 2: East Hall, Wennington]

The back story

Of course Mabel was fortunate in that her family (on both sides) were landed (obviously) and comfortably off. Mabel’s paternal grandfather was the first of  the Robert Westley Hall-Dares proper, an astute, baronial, figure who sat at the head of a coalition of wealthy and influential Essex families (Halls, Dares, Graftons, Mildmays, Kings, to name but a few), garnering in with him two major estates (Theydon Bois and Wennington) and various other demesnes, farms, and assorted dwellings, large and small. His wealth and assets were based on rents, farming, ventures, deals, and investments – including a sugar plantation in what is today British Guyana. This plantation, ‘Maria’s Pleasure‘, still retains its name, although it was disposed of after Mabel’s father, to whom the sugar estate had been left, received his compensation for the emancipation of around 300 slaves after Abolition (worth the equivalent of several millions of pounds now).

Robert Westley Hall-Dare the first (1789-1836), the Member of Parliament for South Essex from 1832 until his death, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, not to mention London Society, but it was his son Robert Westley Hall-Dare the second (1817-1866) who actually married into (minor) aristocracy with his marriage to Frances, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath – Mabel (b. 1847) was one of their daughters.

Mabel was thus free to travel; her husband was the perfect fit; they were never slowed down by children. But if anyone should say to you, ‘Ah, but Mabel never worked’, then they don’t know what they are talking about: few women of her class would have sweated more, from Aksum to Great Zimbabwe.

 

 

Robert Westley Hall (d. 1834) – Mabel Bent’s great-grandfather

St Margaret’s Church, Barking, London ((c) Bob Speel).

Bob Speel’s labour-of-love website, British Sculpture & Church Monuments (“… mostly about sculpture, mostly in England, mostly Victorian and Edwardian, and lots of church monuments. It is simply intended for those interested in sculpture and related arts.”) is a treasure trove. One of these treasures is an entry for St Margaret’s Church, Barking, now London, previously in Essex; the Church is associated with the demolished Barking Abbey next to it.

Ilford Lodge, Essex, one of the country properties of the Hall-Dares, From Edward Tuck’s, ‘A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford’ (Barking, 1899(?), pp.52-3).

One of the wall monuments in St Margaret’s offers visitors a chance encounter with Robert Westley Hall, Mabel Bent’s paternal great-grandfather. The memorial is a marble bust by the eminent sculptor Patrick MacDowell RA, commissioned (no doubt at great expense) by Mabel’s grandfather, Robert Westley Hall-Dare, and inscribed: “To the memory of Robert Westley Hall Esq of Ilford Lodge in this parish, who died April 13, 1834, aged 83, this monument is erected as a sincere though feeble testimony of gratitude and love, by his son Robert Westley Hall Dare.”

Robert Westley Hall’s memorial in St Margaret’s Church, Barking ((c) Bob Speel)

Bob Speel has provided this description of the memorial: “Robert Westley Hall, d.1834. White on black monument with a portrait bust on top of a casket tomb. The bust is of the proper Roman senator type, showing a late middle aged man with tightly cropped hair, prominent nose and ascetic features, with a robe over one shoulder, leaving his chest bare on the other side. Excellently carved and characterful. The bust stands on the casket, which is attached rather than in relief, and has a lid, anthemion styled acroteria to the sides, and the inscription on the front, flanked by low relief carvings of slender amphorae. It stands on blocky feet, and the whole is on a black backing cut to a broad obelisk shape. Signed by no less than Patrick MacDowell RA, London, a prominent sculptor best known for his ideal nudes and his group of Europe for the Albert Memorial, along with much portrait sculpture.”

Robert Westley Hall’s monument (detail) in St Margaret’s, Barking ((c) Bob Speel).

 

The Bent Archive is extremely grateful to Bob Speel for allowing us to reproduce his text and photographs of Robert Westley Hall’s memorial in St Margaret’s, Barking, London (formerly Essex).

For the background to the extended Hall-Dare family (in 1912), see Sir Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland (1912, London, pp. 165-6. Mabel is listed as the second daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare, marrying Theodore Bent in August 1877.

For Mabel’s maternal family, the Lambarts of Beauparc, Co. Meath, see Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage (1914, London, pp.1151-2).

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.”

A Mercedes, Bents, and St. Paul – with Theodore and Mabel on Crete, April 1885

“What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands” (photo: Bent Archive, Plakias, Crete, May 2022)

Mabel’s family, the Hall-Dares of Newtownbarry, were in the first wave of Co. Wexford gentry to adopt the horseless carriage – although in all probability not a Merc, the first of which rolled off the production lines as late as 1926 apparently.

This vehicle, illustrated  above, is now resignedly, like an old grey, seeing out its retirement in a public carpark in Plakias, south-western Crete, a hundred metres or so from the shores of the Libyan Sea. As a marque of respect, the researchers of the Bent Archive, recently in the area (May 2022), resorted to Mabel Bent’s Chronicle of April 1885 to confirm that the nearest the Bents got to Plakias (a huddle of fishermen’s huts at the time) was from some way out to sea, heading west for Kythera on the steamer Roumeli from Karpathos.

Roúmeli – copyright uncertain
The ‘Roúmeli’, oft a transporter of the Bents, and once unkindly referred to by Mabel as ‘a dirty little ship’ (copyright unknown).

In fact, in their twenty years of inseparable travelling, Theodore and Mabel only landed once on Crete, then in the hands of the Turks, storm-sheltering at Kaloi Limenes/Kali Limenes, further to the east of Plakias, after their protracted investigations in the Dodecanese (early months, 1885). The haven, of course, has always aided those in peril on the sea, as it did Saint Paul, as the legend has it. Once the weather cleared, the Roumeli steamed on west, rounding Crete and Antikythera, before reaching Kythera town.

Crete to Syros
The route of  the ‘Roúmeli’, showing Kali Limenes on south Crete. Plakias is further to the west, south of Rethymnon (Google Maps).

It is unclear why Crete, this major island, never attracted Theodore’s spade, but it probably had something to do with his notoriety; the era of freelancing excavators was coming to an end in Greece and Turkey, and Bent was soon to make an enemy of the  implacable Turkish administrator of antiquities, Osman Hamdi Bey.  The site of Knossos had been discovered in 1878 (the year after the Bents’ wedding) by Minos Kalokairinos, although it was not until 1900 that Arthur Evans began to extensively clear it. (For a glimpse of Cretan archaeological machinations in 1885, see, e.g., Frothingham 1888. Theodore did very well to steer clear, and, from 1886 eastwards to the Turkish coast. Within a few years, even here became too difficult for the Bents to explore at will, and they were soon off to Africa and Arabia, where they could more freely investigate.)

But, for the moment, back to Crete. Here, then, are the relevant extracts from Mabel’s notebook of their stay of a few hours on the island, at Kaloi Limenes, some fifty years before the great John Pendlebury ran across the hills above the site, as oblivious of his fate as Theodore was of his:

Extract from Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicle’ of April 1885, at Kaloi Limenes, Crete (The Archive of the Hellenic Society, London/Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0).

“Tuesday April 22nd [actually 21st, 1885]. After this we turned S.W. and sailed under Crete. We had a fearful night of storm, pitching, rolling, catching ‘B flats’ [fleas/bedbugs] and fears of falling on the floor. Added to which I am so spoiled by my hammock that I found the bed dreadfully hard. Much splashing took place and water flew over the ship, so about 10 o’clock, when we got close to ‘a certain island called Clauda’ [Acts 27:16. The Saint shelters here while travelling, as a prisoner, by ship to Rome. The ancient town of Lasea was nearby], we had to turn S. then E. again and take refuge here – a very sheltered place. We went ashore with the water barrels. There is a beach and some bushes and a pretty stream in which many clothes were washed by those who subsequently landed, and all the hands and faces washed, so no doubt we came back a cleaner party than we went…

Kaloi Limenes, 1865, from T. Spratt’s, ‘Travels and Researches in Crete’. The Bents would have found no changes to this delightful spot when they landed in 1885. The ancient site of Lasea is in the foreground (wikipedia).

“The annoyance at being turned back was quite overborne by the interest of coming to Kalé Liminas, and it was a great satisfaction to think that St. Paul must have drunk and washed in that very stream, and being stormstayed too was rather nice. The city of Lasea, which was nigh unto the Fair Havens, has disappeared but the place is the same…

“Wednesday, April [22nd, 1885]. We started at 8 in the evening and after a good deal of tossing got into calmer regions, but still were ‘under Crete’ in the morning [passing the huts of Plakias to starboard]. We had a lovely day. About 10 we passed Cerigotto, or as they call it Ante Kythera, and about 12 reached Kythera, or Cerigo, and found ourselves in a very pretty little double bay with a rocky promontory in the middle and a sandy shore.”

[The extracts are from The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol 1, pages 120-122 (Oxford, Archaeopress)].

An index to the Hellenic Society’s digital version of Mabel Bent’s Cyclades diary

Mabel Bent’s notebooks in the library of the Hellenic Society, London (the Bent Archive).

The recent scans by London’s Hellenic Society (2021/2) of Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronihttps://www.archaeopress.com/Archaeopress/Collection/The-Travel-Chronicles-of-Mrs-J.-Theodore-Bentcles’ (written between 1883-1897) have provided a wonderful opportunity for researchers to see the diaries of this remarkable traveller first-hand and explore their contexts. Her husband, Theodore Bent (1852-1897), relied on them extensively when writing up the results of the couple’s expeditions for his talks, articles, and monographs.

Bent’s map of the Cyclades from the first edition of his 1885 book (archive.org).

The work that helped launch Theodore’s reputation, and see him starting to think of himself as an ‘archaeologist’, was, of course, his The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks, completed in November 1884 – Bent was an incredibly quick writer – and first published in London in 1885, subsequently running to several editions. It is the first such travel account in English and still today features in any credible bibliography on this much-loved region – some might add, come high summer, too much-loved.

The opening lines of Mabel Bent’s first ‘Chronicle’, introducing us to the Cyclades and dedicated to her sisters and aunts (The Hellenic Society, Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0).

Mabel’s first ‘Chronicle’ covers the Bents’ tour of the Cyclades over the winter of 1883/4 and there is a litany of evidence of her diary entries appearing almost verbatim in Theodore’s text.

Theodore and Mabel Bent (the Bent Archive).

It should just be added that the couple had made an earlier trip to some of the Cycladic islands in the spring of 1883, and Theodore would have used his own (now lost) notebooks to add certain passages to his book, e.g. his chapter on Amorgos, an island not visited by the pair together in 1884, when Theodore made a second visit sans spouse. It will immediately be seen that Theodore has not assembled The Cyclades chronologically, for that you will need to follow Mabel’s diary. The couple hopped around rather, depending on the weather, steamer sailings, and other factors, which explains why some islands get more than one mention in her notes.

An extract from Mabel Bent’s ‘Cyclades’ notebook, 1883/4 (The Hellenic Society, Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0).

Because of the popularity and importance of it, for example the couple’s excavations on Antiparos helped define what is identified today as the prehistoric ‘Cycladic Culture’, Mabel’s diary covering these islands (that encircle Delos, and hence the name), in its freely available, digital format, will from now on be referenced and footnoted copiously. The Hellenic Society’s version is in pdf format and provided below is an index to the main islands and a concordance with the chapters in the first edition of Bent’s The Cyclades, as appearing in the online version of that godsend, the Internet Archive. The relevant page numbers are shown, i.e. for the Bents’ account of Anafi, see page 49ff in the Hellenic Society’s scan of Mabel’s notebook, and page 86ff in Theodore’s The Cyclades.

Please note: the Hellenic Society pdf is large and may well take several minutes to load, once open you can enter the page number to take you to the island you want. In Theodore’s column, clicking on the page number will take you to the island in his book! Happy travels! Καλό ταξίδι! 

IslandMabel’s Notebook (PDF)Theodore’s The Cyclades
Amorgos(not visited by Mabel?)469
Anafi4986
Andros74269
Antiparos32, 69394
Delos71229
Folegandros65194
Ios58, 69151
Kea87448
Kimolos2041
Kithnos84428
Milos2557
Mykonos71209
Naxos34329
Paros31, 33372
Santorini49, 51, 57104
Serifos91
Sifnos1721
Sikinos62170
Syros7, 83304
Therasia45149
Tinos72231

All Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicles’ have been transcribed and are available from Archaeopress, Oxford.

An edited version (2002) of Bent’s Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks is also available from Archaeopress, Oxford.

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.

Both Theodore and Mabel had been associated with the Hellenic Society since the 1880s, but 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)

Coda

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!

And tonight we have for you… Mr. Theodore Bent!

Lecturing with lantern-slides (Youtube: Victorian and Albert Museum)

There is no denying that Theodore Bent worked incredibly hard: if not travelling he would be planning the next expedition, fund-raising, researching, writing up, or lecturing. For the approximately twenty years of his travels (coming to style himself more and more as an ‘archaeologist’) he would return to London in the spring of each year (with the odd exception) and immediately begin to think of publishing and publicising his finds – he had always depended much on self-promotion and PR for the funding and support of his subsequent researches; he had good contacts with the press and would submit progress updates to them assiduously from far-flung outposts, via Reuters and other agencies.

An unscientific trawl through the press cuttings of the time shows how Theodore reached the peak of his ‘fame’ in 1893-4, after a trio of consecutive hits – Great Zimbabwe, Aksum, and Wadi Hadramaut. He and his wife were soon London celebrities and news and details of their adventures was syndicated widely at home and abroad.

Mabel was tasked with sorting out her photographs and ensuring that they were ready for transferal to lantern-slide or printer’s plate. There was also the constant process of unpacking and caring for case after case of acquisitions: archaeological, ethnographical, botanical, and zoological. The couple would quickly make decisions on what they wanted to keep for themselves, and exhibit in their London townhouse, and what they would offer to museums (for a remuneration if possible).

What is particularly striking is how quickly Theodore would settle to study and write up his monographs (frequently asking other specialists for contributions). His hard-pressed publishers (mostly Kegan Paul and Longmans) usually had them announced and on bookshop shelves within six to nine months of Bent’s return from the field.

Model of Bent’s ‘Elliptical Temple’, from R.N. Hall, ‘Great Zimbabwe, Mashonaland, Rhodesia’, 1905, opp. page xl.

And within short weeks of reaching home again – from the Levant, Africa, or Arabia – Theodore was ready to give talks and lectures, all over the UK, to the relevant grand institutions of the day, and before the great and the good (in the spring of 1892 even William Gladstone came along to hear). Mabel’s job was to have the lantern-slides ready, and any artifacts neatly labelled for display.

Other display aids might be needed – perhaps a 3D model (e.g. of his famous ‘Elliptical Temple’ at Great Zimbabwe), and then there was the commissioning of maps from the famous London cartographers Edward Stanford to be seen to.

Detail from a lantern-slide (1896) of Mabel Bent on her camel in the Sudan.

What follows here, taken from newspapers and journals, is a chronological list (with no claims to completeness) of Theodore’s talks and presentations, giving a very good sense of the explorer’s Yorkshire-bred proclivity for hard graft. An interesting additional discovery seems to suggest that there was even an attendance charge for his talks in the provinces! The Newcastle Daily Chronicle for 2 March 1892 records that to hear Theodore lecture in Tyneside would cost you the equivalent of c. £3 today for a seat in the main hall, or c. £1.50 in galleries – money well spent! At another event we hear that Theodore’s ‘remarks throughout were admirably illustrated with a large series of photographic and other views of the places which were visited on the tour. The photographs were the production of Mrs. Bent, and incidentally Mr. Bent mentioned, in apology for some of the views which were somewhat wanting in sharpness, that the technical difficulties of photography, on account of the intense heat and other causes in Arabia, were almost inconceivable.’ (Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 19 October 1894). Complete sets of Mabel’s lantern-slides survived until the early 1950s, when they were discarded by the Royal Geographical Society, deemed too faded and damaged to merit keeping. A huge loss.

Bent lecturing locals at the the Mounds of Ali, Bahrain, in 1889 (opposite page 24, the Bents’ ‘Southern Arabia’, 1900)

It takes very little imagination today to see Theodore in front of the camera presenting a sequence of his own mini-series – The Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant, The Persian Gulf, Africa North & South, and Southern Arabia. Let’s hope one day they will appear – on National Geographic perhaps!

 

 

Theodore Bent’s Talks, Presentations, and Lectures (some dates are approx) note 1 

1883 [The Bents make their first visit to Greece and Turkey in the spring]

1884 [The Bents in the Greek Cyclades]

  • 8th May: ‘A general meeting of the Hellenic Society will be held at 22, Albermarle Street on Thursday next [8 May], at 5 p.m., when Mr. Theodore Bent will read a paper on a recent journey among the Cyclades.’ [The Athenaeum, No. 2949, May 3, 1884, p. 569]

1885 [The Bents in the Greek Dodecanese]

  • 14th September: ‘At the meeting of the British Association in Aberdeen… in the Anthropological Section, Mr J. Theodore Bent read a paper to show that the study of tombs in the Greek Islands was conducive to a knowledge of ancient and forgotten lines of commerce.’ [South Wales Daily Telegram, Friday, 18 September 1885]

1886 [The Bents in the Eastern Aegean and Turkey]

  • 24th June: At the annual meeting of the Hellenic Society in London the Hon. Sec. read a short paper by Mr. Bent on ‘A recent visit to Samos’.

1887 [The Bents in the Eastern Aegean and Turkey]

  • 23rd June: At the annual meeting of the Hellenic Society in London, Mr. Bent gave a short account of his work on Thasos.

1888 [The Bents in the Eastern Aegean and Turkey]

  • 11th September: ‘At the meeting of the British Association at Bath… in the Anthropology Section, Mr. J. Theodore Bent contributed a paper on sun-myths in modern Hellas.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 12 September 1888]

1889 [The Bents in Bahrain and Iran]

  • 17th September: At the meeting of the British Association at Newcastle, ‘in the Geography Section Mr Theodore Bent read a paper on the Bahrien Islands, in the Persian Gulf, in which he dealt with the position and general features the two islands, character of the seas, and the pearl fisheries and other features.’ [Dundee Advertiser, 20 September 1889]
  • 2nd December: ‘The meeting of the Geographical Society on Monday at Burlington House [London] was one of exceptional brilliancy, and was fully attended. Mr J. Theodore Bent… read an interesting and exhaustive paper on the Bahrein Islands in the Persian Gulf. This was rendered the more interesting by some realistic photographs, thrown on a white screen as dissolving views, and taken by Mrs Bent on the spot.’ [The Queen, 7 December 1889]

1890 [The Bents in the Eastern Aegean and Turkey]

  • 30th June: ‘Royal Geographical Society. Mr. J. Theodore Bent read a paper at the fortnightly meeting of of this society, held last night in the theatre of the London University, on explorations he had made in Cilicia Trachea.’ [Daily News (London), 1 July 1890]
  • 22nd July: Theodore Bent reads his paper ‘Notes on the Armenians in Asia Minor’ to the Manchester Geographical Society [MGS, Vol. 6, 220-222]
  • 5th September: At the meeting of the British Association at Leeds, in the Anthropology Section, Mr Theodore Bent read a paper on the Yourouks of Asia Minor, who, he said, were the least religious people he had ever heard of; but the religion honesty was deeply implanted their breasts. No more polygamous people existed anywhere, a Yourouk regarding himself as a disgrace unless he had six or seven wives. As a consequence womanhood bad sunk very low among them.’ [Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 6 September 1890]

1891 [The Bents are away all year exploring the remains at Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes]

  • February (uncertain date): Theodore Bent lectures on the Castle Line Garth Castle on his way to Cape Town. [As recorded in Mabel Bent’s diary, 10 March 1891. Mabel does not give the title of the lecture]

1892 [The Bents return early in the year from South Africa, leaving for Ethiopia at the end of it]

  • 22nd February: ‘At a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, held in the theatre of the University of London last night, Mr. J. Theodore Bent read a paper entitled “Journeys in Mashonaland, and Explorations among the Zimbabwe and other ruins”’. [London Evening Standard, 23 February 1892]
  • 2nd March: ‘Although Lord Randolph Churchill declined the [Tyneside Geographical] society’s invitation to lecture on Mashonaland, Mr. Smithson was fortunate enough to secure the services of Mr. J. Theodore Bent, one of the Council of the Royal Geographical Society and of the British Association. Mr. Bent and his wife embarked on an adventurous journey into Mashonaland, and conducted excavations and explorations among the Zimbaybe [sic] ruins —the supposed “Land of Ophir”. Mr. Bent will deliver his lecture on the subject next week – on Wednesday, March 2nd.’ [Lovaine Hall; admission charged is to be 1 shilling (c. £3) in main hall, and sixpence (c. £1.50) in the galleries!] [Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 26 February 1892]
  • 23rd March 1892: ‘At the meeting of the Anthropological Institute to be held to-morrow evening, Mr. Theodore Bent will read a paper on the archaeology of the Zimbabwe Ruins, illustrated by the optical lantern [i.e. Mabel’s photographs]. I hear that Mr. Gladstone has expressed his intention to be present, and that Mr. Bent will on this occasion make special reference to the manners and customs of the early inhabitants of these remote regions of South Africa.’ [Birmingham Daily Post, 22 March 1892]
  • Before 13 April: ‘Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bent’s party was successful and interesting [at their London home]. Her sister, Mrs. Hobson, and few intimate friends assisted Mr. Bent and his fellow-traveller, Mr. Swan, in explaining the relics [of Great Zimbabwe] to the learned and unlearned, to the latter of whom the trophies… might otherwise have seemed just so many rudely carved old stones, instead of being silent witnesses of the ancient civilisation and worship traced out by Mr. Bent in the wonderful walled fortresses of Central Africa.’ [Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser, 13 April 1892]
  • 5th August: At the meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh, in the Anthropology Section, Mr Theodore Bent read a paper on ‘The Present Inhabitants of Mashonaland and Their Origin’. [St. James’s Gazette, 6 August 1892]
  • 7th September: At the 9th International Congress of Orientalists (opened in the theatre of the London University, Burlington-gardens), ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent [in the Council Room of the Royal Geographical Society] gave an account of the more recent discoveries among the ruins of Zimbabwe and its neighbourhood.’ [London and China Express, 9 September 1892]
  • 19th October: At a gathering of the Manchester Geographical Society in the Cheetham Town Hall, Mr. J Theodore Bent gave a talk on the Zimbabwe Ruins in Mashonaland. [Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 20 October 1892]
  • 13th November: ‘Mr. Theodore Bent will deliver a lecture on “Mashonaland and the Ruins of Zimbabwe”, at the South Place Institute [Finsbury, London].’ [Colonies and India, 12 November 1892]
  • 1st December: Mr. Bent lectured in Gloucester Guildhall, for the Literary and Scientific Association, on Mashonaland. [Gloucester Citizen, 7 December 1892]
  • 7th December: ‘… at the Royal Spa Rooms, Harrogate. Mr. Theodore Bent, F.R.G.S., lectured on “The ruined cities of Mashonaland”, his interesting remarks being illustrated with excellent limelight views.” [Knaresborough Post, 10 December 1892]

1893 [The Bents in Ethiopia until early spring, leaving for the Yemen at year end]

  • 19th June: At the annual meeting of the Hellenic Society, ‘Mr. Theodore Bent spoke of his researches in Abyssinia.’ [The Globe, 20 June 1893]
  • 18th September: At the British Association meeting in Nottingham, Mr. J. Theodore Bent reported ‘to the Committee on the Exploration of Ancient Remains at Aksum.’ [Nottingham Journal, 19 September 1893]
  • 20th October: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent, the African traveller, delivered an address before the members of the Balloon Society, at St. James’s Hall [London].’ [London Standard, 21 October 1893]

1894 [The Bents make their first foray into the Yemeni interior, being home in the spring. They return to the region (via Oman) at the year end]

  • 21st May: ‘There was an overflowing meeting last night… at the Royal Geographical Society [London] to welcome back Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bent from their journeys in Southern Arabia.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 22 May 1894]
  • 10th July: ‘At the London Chamber of Commerce, in the Council-room, Botolph-house, Eastcheap… Mr. J. Theodore Bent delivered an address on the expedition which he and his wife made last winter to the Hadramut Valley, South Arabia.’ [Home News for India, China and the Colonies, 13 July 1894]
  • 14th August: At the meeting of the British Association in Oxford, ‘Mr. Theodore Bent read a paper on the natives of the Hadramaut in South Arabia.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 15 August 1894]
  • 2nd October: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent lectured at a meeting of the Balloon Society on the subject of the explorations which he and Mrs. Bent made a few months ago in South Arabia, and the occasion was taken advantage of to present Mr. Bent with the Society’s gold medal.’ [Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore), 25 October 1894]
  • 11th October: ‘Mr. Theodore Bent, F.R.G.S., who formerly resided at The Rookery, Low Baildon (now the residence of Alderman Smith Feather), delivered a lecture… at the Bradford Mechanics’ Institute, before the members of the Bradford Philosophical Society, upon his recent travels in Arabia.’ [Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 19 October 1894]
  • 25th October: ‘There was a numerous attendance at a meeting [of the Liverpool Geographical Society] held in connection with this society, at the Royal Institution, in Colquitt-street, last evening, when Mr. J. Theodore Bent, F.S.A., F.R.G.S., gave an interesting lecture on “The Hadramaut: a journey in Southern Arabia,” which was illustrated by a series of photographic slides.’ [Liverpool Mercury, 26 October 1894]

1895 [The Bents return from the Hadramaut coast in the spring and leave for the Sudan at the year end]

  • 6th June: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent read last night a paper on “Journeys in Southern Arabia” in the Lecture Hall the University of London.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 7 June 1895]
  • 12th June: ‘Lord and Lady Kelvin received a brilliant and distinguished company last night in the rooms of the Royal Society in Burlington House’, when the Bents presented photographs and finds from Southern Arabia. [St James’s Gazette, 13 June 1895]
  • 1st July: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent delivered a lecture at the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, at Hanover-square… The lecturer dealt with the Hadramaut, and Dhofar, the frankincense and myrrh countries.’ [Globe, 2 July 1895]
  • 18th September: ‘At the close of the British Association meeting at Ipswich, Mr. Theodore Bent gave a paper on “The Peoples of Southern Arabia”.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 19 September 1895]
  • 7th November: The Royal Scottish Geographical Society – Glasgow Branch. The Anniversary Address will be delivered in the Hall, 207 Bath St… at 8 o’clock , ‘by Mr. J. Theodore Bent, on “Southern Arabia”. Sir Renny Watson Chairman of the Branch will preside. Admission only by Ticket, two of which have been forwarded to each Member of the Branch.’ [Glasgow Herald, 6 November 1895]
  • 8th November: ‘In connection with the Royal Geographical Society, a lecture was delivered… by Mr. Theodore Bent, in the National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street [Edinburgh]. The subject of the lecture was Arabia, and it was illustrated by lime-light views. There was a good attendance.’ [Edinburgh Evening News, 9 November 1895]

1896 [The Bents return from the Sudan in the spring and leave for their last trip together, to Sokotra and Aden, at the year end]

  • 1st June: Mr. Bent read a paper on the Sudan to the Royal Geographical Society, London.
  • 13th October: Mr. Bent lectures on Arabia at the Royal Victoria Hall, London. [South London Press, 17 October 1896]

The above, it seems, was Theodore Bent’s final lecture. The lantern flame flickers and disappears.

 

Note 1: See Bent’s Bibliography for the texts of many of these talks/lectures.
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Mrs Theodore Bent – The Queen of Explorers

“Like most travellers, this lady has found that the less she and her nomad husband see of spirits and wine the better, and so with the exception of a little brandy for medicinal purposes, the whole party travel on tea, beef essence, and condensed milk…”

To mark Mabel Bent’s birthday (28 January 1847) this year (2022), let’s read more from a rare article on her from an arcane newspaper – The Newry Telegraph, 3rd January 1895, published by an unknown publisher in Newry, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. It seems that it is an original editorial by an unknown author and not a piece syndicated from any other contemporary English source. There is every chance that it was written, or co-written, by Mabel’s sister Frances Maria Hobson, wife of the Rector of Portadown (a corner of that devout triangle, Newry, Portadown, Armagh. The wagging finger to the intemperate above is a clue perhaps, ironic rather as Theodore’s fortunes derived in part from brewing!).

Mabel in her prime and on her way to explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes in 1891 (presumably a studio photo from Cape Town or Kimberley, the Bent Archive)

The featured photo, probably from Cape Town in 1891, shows Mabel in her prime and on her way to explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes. Mabel’s confident air presages the Bents’ imminent fame as they join the cadre of the nation’s most popular and best-known adventurers. Their work in the Eastern Mediterranean is behind them, their celebrated Arabian expeditions ahead.  Thus this article in The Newry Telegraph that follows reflects this prestige awaiting Mabel in 1895 perfectly, as well, of course, as the attitudes and jingoism of the day. And no excuse is ever needed for an oblique reference to another extraordinary traveller, Raymonde Bonnetain.

So, without further exposition,  we join parlour-readers, heads and arms on their antimacassars, of The Newry Telegraph for Thursday, 3rd January 1895:

Mabel Bent, Queen of Explorers (The Newry Telegraph, 3 January 1895)

“Mrs Theodore Bent – The Queen of Explorers: Curious as it may seem, foreign exploration is one of the paths where the most feminine women have followed the example set them by their husbands and brothers. Of course, this has been especially the case in every kind of missionary enterprise, and one has only to recall the achievements of Lady Baker, Lady Burdon, Mme Dieu la Loy [sic], Mrs Peary, and more recently Mme Bonnetain  note 1 ,  to prove that even great explorers have not hesitated to take with them on their perilous journeys those whom they had chosen for their life companions.

The subject of our sketch, Mrs. Theodore Bent, is a striking example of all a woman can do in the way of cheerful endurance and intelligent observation. Her name is less well-known than that of her husband, one of the most distinguished Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, for, as she sometimes observes, ‘There is not ink enough in a family for two’, but the valuable additions to exploration literature published by Mr Bent owe not a little of their interest to his wife, for she keeps careful notes of everything that occurs during their journeys  note 2 ,  and, when any excavations are to be done, generally takes charge of one party whilst her husband looks after another.

Mrs Bent, who is a light, graceful-looking woman, well-known in the cultured portion of London Society, belongs to an Irish family, famous in the annals of County Wexford, the Hall-Dares of Newton-Barry; she rode almost before she could walk, and early displayed remarkable pedestrian powers.

During the last ten years Mr and Mrs Bent have together achieved twelve exploration expeditions in some of the roughest and least known corners of Southern Asia, that vast and mysterious domain of which the world even now knows little. They began their travels by an expedition to the less well-known islands of Greece, and while there made some interesting archaeological discoveries; this first attempt taught them a great deal, and now Mr H M Stanley  himself could not rival Mrs Bent as organiser and manger of an exploration party, for long experience has shown her what to avoid, and narrowed down her list of absolutely indispensable necessaries to a small compass.

It is interesting to note that Mr Bent’s book on Mashonaland  was one of the first works published on that now much-debated portion of our Colonial Empire.

Of late years Arabia has become to both husband and wife the most interesting portion of the universe. There is probably no place in the world of which so little is known, and which is more full of practical dangers to exploring Europeans, for the native population, though civilised after a fashion, are extremely cunning and dishonest, and have a great hatred and contempt for anything they don’t understand.

Nowadays so much is talked about rational dress, cycling costumes, and the relative value of a divided skirt and knickerbockers, that it is interesting to know that Mrs Bent’s ideas on the subject are simple and the result of long experience. Her costume never varies, for she has found the same kind of dress equally useful in South Africa, Arabia, and the Isles of Greece. Her outfit, which is very pretty and even conventional, consists of a tweed coat and skirt coming down below the knees, breeches, gaiters, and stout shoes. The skirt is full, being pleated; and by a clever arrangement invented by the wearer herself it can be altered accordingly as to whether it is wanted for riding or walking. With this costume is worn a pith hat and gause veil.

Mabel on a camel in the Sudan in 1896.

Mrs Bent, whenever it is possible, rides on horseback, and she cannot speak too highly of the intelligence and faithfulness of the horse as compared to that of a camel or mule.

Every detail concerning the outfit and internal economy of their expeditions is left by Mr Theodore Bent to his wife, and so on her hangs the heavy responsibility of keeping in health and making comfortable a larger or smaller party, which often includes guides and servants belonging to the country which is to be explored.

Like most travellers, this lady has found that the less she and her nomad husband see of spirits and wine the better, and so with the exception of a little brandy for medicinal purposes, the whole party travel on tea, beef essence, and condensed milk, while quinine is the most important item of the medicine chest.

Frances Hobson, Mabel’s sister, and possible co-author of the ‘Newry Telegraph’ article featured here (The Bent Archive)

It should not, however, be thought that Mr and Mrs Bent spend their whole life in travelling through wild and inaccessible regions; they generally pass the season in their delightful London home, which is a veritable museum, full of curious and beautiful things gathered together during the course of their owners’ many expeditions. Mr Theodore Bent has generously presented many of his most precious archaeological finds to the British Museum, but his own store is extremely valuable and curious.  Mrs Bent makes a point of collecting anything specially feminine in the way of ornaments or habilaments, and some of the shawls and face veils presented to her by Arabian magnates throw a strange light on the manners and customs of the East.

The subject of our sketch was at one time proposed for election to the Royal Geographical Society, but she little values official recognition of dignities, and the matter has remained in abeyance note 3 .”

Notes

Raymonde Bonnetain (1868-1913), African explorer (archive.org)

Note 1: : 1) Florence, Lady Baker or Florica Maria Sas (1841–1916), Hungarian-born British explorer; 2) Phoebe Esther Burdon, née Alder (1829–1898), Far-Eastern traveller; 3) Jane Dieulafoy (1851-1916), French archaeologist, explorer, novelist, and journalist. She crossed swords with Mabel Bent, as it were, in Persia in 1889; 4) Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch Peary (1863-1955) was an American author and arctic explorer; 5) Raymonde Bonnetain (1868-1913), travelled to Africa in 1892, taking her seven-year-old daughter with her. Reputedly she was the first European woman to see the Niger River, and compiled her reminiscences in her travelogue Une française au Soudan: sur la route de Tombouctou, du Sénégal au Niger (1894). (For more travellers linked to Mabel see the post ‘In Exalted Company‘.)
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Note 2: A reference of course to Mabel’s travel diaries, or ‘Chronicles‘ as she called them.
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Note 3: This is a reference to the long-running scandal over admitting women as Fellows to the RGS.
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