But let’s focus rather on the Queen’s Hotel, Kimberley; it still stands (at 10/12 Stockdale St). Well into its second century now it is not what it was, of course, but it stands for something. Theodore and Mabel Bent are on their way in early 1891 from Cape Town, by train, to explore the ruins of ‘Great Zimbabwe’ for Cecil Rhodes, and the couple stay at the hotel, a focal point and metaphor, from 26 February to 3 March 1891. The gables of the impressive structure, fashioned after the Dutch Cape Colonial style, bore the legend ‘1881 Queen’s Hotel’, carved in relief on inset panels. We clearly have a fancy brick edifice here, with elaborate, wrought iron verandas. At the time of the Bents’ stay the proprietor was probably one Henry Orkin, but the hotel’s prestige dates from the first phases of the diamond rush in the 1860s, and the later arrival of James and Catherine Jardine (Scots) from Pniel. Catherine bought the single plot, double-storey building and within a few years had added another twin double-storey structure to her hotel. But by the Bents’ arrival Catherine had retired back to Cape Town.
Kimberley, like it or not: the times were as they were, and all roads led to Rhodes. Arguably and extraordinarily, the diamonds from Kimberley (and gold from nearby) were used to buy what became Rhodesia, which went on to become Zimbabwe; and the wealth from these diamonds continues to circulate, somewhere – such forces don’t just disappear, we are talking Wagner here. Much of this (diamond Ring) story materialises within a couple of hundred metres of the Queen’s Hotel, Kimberley, in the second half of the 19th century, around the frenzied wheelers and dealers gravitating to southern Africa in search of fortunes, and totally heedless of the consequences of their activities, then and now. ‘Nothing in the external appearance… suggests either its fame or its wealth’, wrote Lord Randolph Churchill of Kimberley. Formerly ‘New Rush’, the town was named (June 1873) after John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley, and became the capital of the Northern Cape. Few places on earth have generated, so quickly, so much power, greed and exploitation, beginning, in 1871, with a rough diamond of some 83 carats found on the farm called Vooruitzigt, belonging to the brothers De Beer. The story of how most of Kimberley’s mines were gradually acquired by Rhodes and his cockney, maverick sidekick, Barney Barnato, under the corporate banner of De Beers Consolidated Mines, is the stuff of legend and business-school texts. The great workings in the town, the ‘Big Hole’, are a tourist attraction still: ‘[One] of the most astonishing memorials to the impetus of avarice… [The] whole vast mess of the Big Hole was covered in a mesh of ropes, gently shimmering in the hot wind like an enormous spider’s web… The Big Hole, disused since 1914, became the largest man-made hole in the world – a mile round the top and nearly 700 feet deep’ (Jan Morris, ‘Pax Britannica, The Climax of an Empire’, 1998).
The Bents’ planned adventure of 1891 had been the talk of London’s Royal Geographical Society for several months: ‘Mr. Theodore Bent’s Expedition to Zimbabye: Mr. Bent left England last Friday (January 30th) on his mission to explore the strange ruined buildings in the gold region of South-east Africa. An unfortunate error in our note on this expedition in the January No. of the ‘Proceedings’ escaped correction in proof. It is the Chartered South African Company (not the East African) which has interested itself in Mr. Bent’s archaeological and topographical exploration. This company and our Society have each contributed a grant of 200l. towards the expenses of the expedition’ (‘Geographical Notes’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Feb., 1891), 105).
Resting at the Queen’s Hotel for a few days, Theodore and Mabel acquired the assets needed for their expedition (north to ‘Great Zimbabwe’) from the ‘Colossus’’ Alberichian lieutenant, Rutherfoord Harris. Dr Frederick Rutherfoord Harris (1856–1920) had qualified in Edinburgh, moving to Kimberley ten years before Mabel meets him. His rise in Rhodes’s service was rapid. Brian Roberts (‘Cecil Rhodes. Flawed Colossus’, 1987) describes him as a ‘coarse, ambitious adventurer… [who] came to be regarded as a loudmouthed braggart and born intriguer, whose penchant for mischief-making caused Rhodes endless trouble.’ But he clearly had something, and after his master’s death he is back in England by 1905, where he was ‘associated with some few finance Cos… and entered the arena of British politics in 1900 as Conservative M.P. for the Monmouth Burghs… Dr. Harris is a keen dog fancier, and is very popular in South Wales, where he spends most of his time’ (W. H. Wills and R. J. Barrett, ‘The Anglo-African Who’s Who & Biographical Sketch-Book’, 1905). Wikipedia adds a sad coda – that his widow, Florence, “hanged herself three months after his death in 1920, apparently overcome by grief”.
But thirty years before, in mercantile Kimberley, C. H. Weatherley, the B.S.A.C. Secretary in London, on Rhodes’ instructions, had already prepared Dr Harris to expect the Bents: ‘The Company’s contribution (viz: £200) towards… expenses has been paid to Mr. Bent, who has also been promised the Company’s assistance in the arrangement of his finances in connection with which he yesterday handed me a cheque for £1000. This sum has been placed to the credit of the Kimberley Office account, to be paid by you to Mr. Bent… [Please] provide Mr. Bent with letters of introduction… to any other persons whom you think can render assistance to [him] in his important and interesting expedition’ (B.S.A.C. ‘Out’ Letters, Rhodes House, MSS. Afr. s. 70-84, Folio 262/3, 22 January 1891). The ‘expedition’ was indeed important to Rhodes – Bent’s theories on the ‘Great Zimbabwe’ site suited his colonial ambitions for the territory.
Thus set up, by the end of February 1891, the Bents had reached Kimberley, Mabel Bent recording the approach and arrival in her ‘Chronicles’, the indispensable diaries she kept for every year of the couple’s explorations: “We saw Miss Olive Schreiner, the authoress of the ‘Story of an African Farm’ and started at 8 on the 26th [February 1891] for Kimberley, which we reached next morning. The train goes very slowly and stops a good time outside each station and any time else that the driver pleases. Once it went off too soon, without us but kindly came back. Between Worcester and Matjiesfontein we had permission to travel on the cowcatcher over the Hex pass. It was a delightful break in the monotony of the journey over the Karoo desert… On reaching Kimberley [Friday, 27th February 1891] we found that Dr. Harris had engaged rooms for us at the Queen’s Hotel. He belongs to the British South Africa Co. and had been kindly buying our wagons and having them fitted up; also 36 oxen and provisions for four people for 6 months… We went down the De Beers diamond mine, 800 feet, dirty and disappointing, and also went into the compound where black people live for 4 months, only going to the mines – that was more interesting. Most men were dressed in blankets and they certainly seemed to have any amount of trousers, but they were nearly all spread out on the ground or hung up. All the store of diamonds was very wonderful to behold. Very few were comparatively white and many looked like lumps of gum Arabic… On Tuesday [3rd March 1891] we left Kimberley for Vryburg. The wagons were on the train and the oxen and all the provisions, so we took up 10 trucks. We travelled more slowly than ever. One could hear the grasshoppers above the noise of the train…” (Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol. 2, pages 47–49).
Such a place was Kimberley then, and the Queen’s Hotel in Stockdale St. The grasshoppers will, no doubt, remain when the diamonds have gone… honey take me dancing.
People come and go; everyone travels; everyone leaves traces of their travels. You will find such a trace on a memorial in the rarely visited Westerners’ cemetery in Ermoupoli, on Cycladic Syros, near the junction of Taxiarchon and Katramadou, on the way to Ano Syros. The cross and monument of some grandeur is of fine Tinos marble; the inscription testifies to the trickiness of English lettering for Greek masons; it was expensive, and the deceased’s family wished to honour a significant man. There is no space for the word ‘kind’:
“To the Memory of William Pryor Binney, H.B.M. Consul, Divisional Manager Eastern Telegraph Company. Born in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada, the 21th [sic] July 1839, died at Syra the 12th March 1888. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1, 21.”
“William Pryor Binney, son of Stephen and Emily (Pryor) Binney, of Moncton, N[ew] B[runswick], was born July 21, 1840; married Polexine [Polyxena/Πολυξένη] Pateraki, daughter of the late George Pateraki[s], of Constantinople. Mr. Binney is the general manager of the submarine telegraph cable in the kingdom of Greece and Turkey, has held the office for twenty-five years past, and in 1884, lived at Syra, Greece. He is H.B.M. consul at Syra. Had no children in 1873. He had the title of Chevalier from the King of Greece and decoration of the order of the Saviour and order of the Iron Cross, from the Emperor of Austria.”
The first Binney to surface, one captain John, of Nottinghamshire, set sail with his wife Mercy in 1678 or 1679, for Hull, Massachusetts. There, with John now a ‘fisherman’ and ‘gentleman’, the couple (with their six children) became the ‘ancestors of almost all of the name’. In the 19th century one of their descendants, Stephen Binney (1805–1872), a merchant of Halifax, and later first mayor, married Emily Pryor (1808 and still living in 1884); the couple had seven children, one of whom was our William Pryor Binney and Mabel remembers him for posterity as ‘kind’. As Halifax mayor, in early 1842 Stephen made the long Atlantic crossing to London with a message of congratulations on behalf of the city to Queen Victoria on the birth of her son (later King Edward VII). During his extended absence his business affairs at home suffered and he sought new opportunities, buying property near Moncton (New Brunswick). From his new base, Stephen Binney set up a successful wharf and shipyard, making a new start as a wholesaler, trading in timber and agricultural produce. With its access to the Bay of Fundy, and William’s father thrived as a merchant ship-owner, with a vessel that bore his own name, the ‘Stephen Binney’.
It was Stephen’s father (William’s grandfather), Hibbert Newton Binney, who forged links initially with the Pryors, when the two families cooperated on the building of a fine house in Halifax in 1831, and which H.N. Binney then bought outright in 1834. The ‘Pryor-Binney House’ still stands at 5178 Morris Street, Halifax.
One of William’s brothers was Moncton’s head of Customs, Irwine Whitty Binney (b. 1841). It was probably Irwine, as prosperous clan head, who supervised in some way William’s funeral in 1888, in the quiet Westerners’ cemetery on Syros. William’s widow, Πολυξένη, being Orthodox, probably rests in the Greek cemetery a few 100 metres away. We don’t know when the couple married (1860s?); Polyxena’s father, George Paterakis, was from Constantinople, and probably of some standing. The Binneys had had no children by 1873.
And of William’s career? And how he came to Syros? Follow the money. William, as part of a very well-to-do and successful extended family who made their livings from commerce, merchant-shipping and the sea, was clearly ambitious to compete and strike out on his own; and quite prepared to travel and leave traces of his own. By the mid 1880s maritime nations were being linked by the invention of undersea cable-telegraphy, and the needs of the British Empire provided a booming market for companies in this sector. One of these was the Eastern Telegraph Company, a consolidation, in 1872, of a dynamic group of telegraphy businesses, involving some 23,000 miles of cabling by the late 1880s. This enterprise, of course, morphed eventually into today’s Cable and Wireless plc. A pivotal routing and operations hub for the Eastern Mediterranean, and British interests East, was based on Syros, and its capital, Ermoupoli, the main ‘port’ for all (‘new’) Greece before the growth of Pireaus around 1900. It was plain commercial sense that the Eastern Telegraph Company’s regional cable station and depot should be built on a (then) disconnected rock (Νησάκι), a hop from Ermoupoli’s seafront. The solid building (which probably housed Binney’s consular office too) still stands and now houses the island’s Merchant Marine Academy.
William Binney held the important post of general manager for ETC’s Syros hub by 1883 at least, if not earlier; it is recorded that he had already been an employee for 25 years by around that date. His skillset obviously included diplomacy, and in 1874 we learn that “the Queen has been graciously pleased to appoint William Pryor Binney, Esq., to be Her Majesty’s Consul in the Islands in the Greek Archipelago, to reside in the Island of Syra [Foreign Office, September 5, 1874. The London Gazette, 24145/5113, Tuesday, October 27, 1874, and ‘The Morning Post’ of Wednesday, October 28, 1874].
Presumably this appointment helped Binney acquire his gongs, i.e. “the title of Chevalier from the King of Greece and decoration of the order of the Saviour and order of the Iron Cross, from the Emperor of Austria.” His duties would have included looking after his country’s interests and personnel in the region and reporting on the activities of potential rivals. Copies of communications between William and the UK Foreign Office can be found in the FO Volumes of the British Consuls in Greece, in the National Archive, Kew (i.e. 1881 FO 32/534; 1882 FO 32/546; 1892 FO 32/644; 1893 FO 32/653).
And as well as all this, Mabel Bent refers to William as not only fastidious, but ‘kind’ (she adds ‘so’ and underlines it). Theodore Bent met Binney first in Athens, in late November 1883. He became a friend it seems as well as Consul, providing the Bents with information and letters of introduction to contacts in the Cyclades generally. Theodore at this time was not particularly influential and it seems that Binney was being helpful to a British citizen as part of his consular duties. One of the contact names he slipped into Theodore’s pocket was Robert Swan, a Scottish miner on Antiparos. Swan was later to be central to Bent’s expedition to ‘Great Zimbabwe’ for Cecil Rhodes in 1891. But by then Binney was dead.
Let’s leave the last paragraphs on kind William Pryor Binney to Mabel Bent, as recorded in the pages of her Greek ‘Chronicles’. The final reference to his fatal illness comes as a shock:
“[Saturday, 1 December 1883] We had a quick but very rough passage, starting at 7 and getting [to Syros] about 3.30 a.m. Wednesday [28 November]. The ‘Pelops’ was quite new and very clean and I should have slept well but for the ﬂeas. We landed at Ermoupolis at 6.30 and sat on the balcony overlooking the port for 2 hours as there was no bedroom vacant, nor did we get one till 5 o’clock. Mr. John Quintana, H.B.M. Vice Consul on whom Theodore called, came and fetched us and we spent 2 hours at the Consulate in Mr. Binney, the Consul’s room, very large and nice and so tidy. Mr. Binney must be a most orderly man for everything was ticketed and docketed. Theodore called on him in Athens, says he is like a slight Greek, foreign accent and Greek wife.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, pages 7–8]
“[Tuesday, 18(?) December 1883]. Rode 1½ hour to the nearest point to Antiparos carrying only our night things and a card of introduction from Mr. Binney for Mr. R. Swan who has a calamine mine on this island.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 21]
“[Saturday, 22 March 1884] We fortunately got a room at the Hôtel d’Angleterre [Syros] and thoroughly enjoy ‘taking mine ease in mine inn’. We packed a box of our spoils for England and this afternoon I rode and the others walked to Ano or Upper Syra, a hideous place with a view over this barren island. We got very tired of Syra by Friday and as we found a kaïke of Kythnos or Thermiá we packed and prepared to start. But the strong Boreas would not permit ships to leave the port so after constant expectations up to Sunday morning the 23rd we gave up and went to church, a very poor little place and very ‘low’, according to the wishes of Mr. Binney the Consul. Afterwards we lunched with Mr. Binney, Mr. Quinney the parson, being there also. N.B. Mr. Binney’s clerk is Mr. Finney.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 54]
“[Thursday, 26 January 1888] We only got to Syra on Thursday. We landed
and found to our sorrow that our kind consul Mr. Binney was dreadfully ill.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 228]
“[Saturday, 25 February 1888] On Thursday… about 4 we left ‘The Town’ [Constantinople] in the ‘Alphée’ for Syra, picking up letters at the post on the way. We had no remarkable fellow passengers and reached Syra on Saturday morning about 4… We went to church on Sunday to a tidy little chapel, which they say will be closed if Mr. Binney is no longer there to keep it up.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 234]
Kind William Pryor Binney died 16 days after Mabel’s last reference to him, on 12 March 1888, of what she doesn’t say. (Appropriately, the new British Cemetery behind where he lies takes in the scattered Commonwealth war burials from the islands of the Cyclades.) He was not yet 50. Another William took over from him as Consul at Syros, W.H. Cottrell. People come and go; everyone travels; everyone leaves traces of their travels.
[The extracts from Mabel Bent’s diaries are taken from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent’, Vol. 1. Archaeopress, Oxford, 2006]
A superficially unremarkable photograph sent in recently by Anafi specialist Prof. Margaret Kenna contains a remarkable clue. The clue is a family name – Simos – on a plaque commemorating benefactors to the Association of Anafi Islanders (Greek Cyclades) in the early 1950s: a relatively prosperous family, thanks to one Matthaios Simos.
There is an archetype waiting for psychoanalysts to explore – the dragoman, the person you employ to facilitate your travel in foreign lands. Wiktionary helps here (if you want more, you are on your own): ‘From Middle English dragman, borrowed from Old French drugeman, from Medieval Latin dragumannus, from Byzantine Greek δραγομάνος (dragomános), from Arabic تُرْجُمَان (turjumān, “translator, interpreter”)’.
What type you get depends on your luck – from an Aristotle to a Zidane – and all travel narratives contain them, none more so than our great 19th-century accounts. And Theodore and Mabel Bent had an extraordinary one: not their first, Kostandinos Verviziotes (for the couple’s 1882/3 visit to Greece and Turkey), nor their second, George Phaedros from Smyrna, who started with the Bents as they left for the Cyclades in the winter of 1883. Theodore and Mabel engaged George on the recommendation of Mr Dennis at the Smyrna consulate. That he was only a moderate success may be inferred by Mabel’s initial lack of enthusiasm when he joins them again, at Ermoupolis, Syros, in December 1883. Apparently he enjoyed a drink, but he was also a grumbler and a terrible sailor – a distinct disadvantage when island-hopping, out of season, on small ﬁshing boats. By Naxos, a few weeks later, the Bents had had enough of him, and one day, high up in a mountain village, they ﬁnd themselves sitting in a warm room, and, “When Mr. Konstantinides our host came home he found 10 people drying their clothes, us two and Phaedros, Mr. Swan, and a man called Mantheos, a native of Anaphi who is to show Mr. Swan mines there…” George was dismissed on Naxos in January 1884 – with just five words in Mabel’s notebook: “We left Phaedros at Naxos”. The Bents went on, of course, to explore Anafi a few weeks later.
There is a sad letter (in English) from George folded into Mabel’s 1883/4 diary asking for remuneration, and although diversionary, no apologies are given for including it here, just skip it if you wish:
[C/O British Consulate Smyrna 1st February /84] Dear Mr Bent I am happy to learn from your favours of 20th January which I received on the 30th of the same, that both you and Mrs Bent are quite well. I have been always thinking of you how you managed with the continuation of your excursion, and how you got on with the unusual rough winter of this year exposing yourselves so, to the mercy and providence I dare say of God. As regards my passage to Smyrna after we departed, you will please learn that your hopes did not prove as expected for I did not escape of what I was fearing. The wretched steamer ‘Eptanisos’ which took you from Naxos on Monday the 7th of January 1884, did not come back to that island to pick me up for Syra until Wednesday the 9th January, (and about noon) and subsequently she kept going so slow, that I missed the Messageries steamer for Smyrna which was leaving Syra (bound for that town) on the same day. I have been waiting consequently six days in Syra and was obliged to spend almost all the money you gave me at Naxos, (viz: the 100 francs) that is to say in expenses for the Hotel in Syra, in changing my broken and shabby hat, and in paying for my passage or fare ticket to Smyrna which brought me home almost penniless. And my wife had already spent also, what I had sent her from Syra in buying some necessary things for the house, with the cause of the holidays etc. So my friends who expected me to return quite a rich man, contemplating, in their idea and opinion that I was getting £T5 [Turkish pounds] per day in consideration of the winter season travelling, were quite disappointed to ﬁnd that I was obliged and in need to borrow money off them. Mr Dennis also told me that he did not think it was right for me to pay out of my pocket my passage to Syra and back and the expenses for the delay in waiting you in Syra etc., etc. As regards the salary I do not exactly appreciate the opinion of my friends, but I think it is fair that you should make a little allowance for the winter season, that is to say if you do not ﬁnd it so inconvenient, so as to make it worth my while, as I am a fellow with a family as you know. I left Syra on the evening of Monday 14th January. I don’t know where you have spent that fearful evening and night but it was in my destiny to ﬁnd myself in a most violent gale, but fortunately in a brave Arab steamer with Greek captains which was ﬁghting with the elements of the nature that night and stand up like a giant against them. All the plates and glasses are broken and the water found its way in to the cabins. We overtook a steamer called ‘Simiotis’ and saw her bow deeped into the water and we thought she was going to be lost but we learnt that she turned back to Tinos. We kept up but we suffered until we faced the Bay of Smyrna. The impression of that night is still very brisk in my memory. But the necessity of a man is superior to the impression of fear. Although I foresee still bad weather going to be, I made up my mind to come and accompany you again and to be at Syra on the 16th February with the hopes that we shall ahoy the caïques and you will pay for my passage, etc. Please send through Mr. Binney some money for my travelling expenses, etc., enabling me thus to make my start. With my best regards to Mrs. Bent and Mr. Swan. I remain yours sincerely… George Phaedros.
This proved a letter in a bottle however and no reply to him is referenced. Within a few days of Phaedros’ abandonment, a whiskery Ariadne on Naxos, and Matthaios Simos (Mabel Bent spells him a multitude of ways over the next ﬁfteen years, but ‘Manthaios’, awkwardly, seems to predominate) gets the top job as dragoman for the Bents, and begins a partnership – friendship really – with Theodore and Mabel that continues until 1897 and Theodore’s death. Missing only two or three seasons, Theodore (using the English telegraph station at Ermoupolis to reach him) wires Matthaios from London that he might be, on such and such a date, at Syros, or Rhodes, or Chios, or Alexandria, or Port Said, or wherever, to act as their translator, guide, cook, lodgings ofﬁcer, victualler, foreman and general factotum. This small and wiry islander, who waited to marry until he had finished his career with the Bents, having by then sufficient resources, ‘plusios’ even, and a good catch. (As was the case with so many young Greeks who ventured far afield to escape difficult conditions back home.) Matthaios left his footprints in the sands of Southern Arabia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Socotra, Yemen, as well as all around the Aegean.
It is fascinating to see in print and photographs how such a relationship developed. In his great book “The Cyclades”, this is Theodore in 1885: ‘My ﬁrst experiences [of the islands] were made with the assistance of a dragoman; but, on better acquaintance with the language, I learnt to despise his services, and took as servant a native of one of the islands, who became invaluable in assisting me to discover points of folklore which without him it would have been impossible to arrive at.’
In the Community ofﬁces of Anaﬁ, two hours’ ferry ride away and a little southeast of Santorini, the early registers of births (men only) record the arrival of Matthaios in 1846, son of a subsistence farmer, like nearly every other child. The chance that led him to Naxos and a meeting with the Bents in 1884, aged nearly forty, alters his life (there is a later reference by Theodore that he might have had a tobacco shop on the island as a younger man). In Mabel’s 1897 ‘Chronicle’, the year of her husband’s death, there is a list of travel costs payable, in Theodore’s hand. Matthaios’ wages for the trip to Socotra and Aden are £50, about £5000 today, and a huge sum for a Cycladic farmer at the turn of the 19th century; he is able to effectively retire to Anaﬁ, marry, have a family (his descendants are now in Athens and no Simoses remain on the island), and tell of his adventures in foreign lands as dragoman and friend to an extraordinary English couple. He died in the mid-1930s, ﬁve years after Mabel’s death.
Mabel took his photograph on several occasions, the final one in Bent’s last camp, on Socotra in 1897: Theodore is on the left, taking down notes for his arcane dictionary of Socotran dialects. As well as their assistant Ammar, an unmistakable English figure in a topee, one Ernest Bennett, sits to the right. And between the two, just in the background, and alas not clear, stands a middle-aged man in his working clothes… this is Matthaios Simos. (There is also another splendid image of him sitting on a Sudanese camel.)
There was another serendipitous meeting for Matthaios Simos. The writer Vincent Scott O’Connor travelled in the Cyclades in the 1920s and found his way to Anaﬁ. O’Connor had a copy of Bent’s book on the islands and jumped at the chance of an interview with Theodore’s famous (at least on Anaﬁ) dragoman. He records him one evening, up in Chora, “The story-teller relaxed from his labours; a ﬁne little old man with a curved nose and clean-cut features…” Manthaios tells of how he ‘saved’ the Bents from pirates on Samos in 1886: “At Samos,” he said, “there were pirates, who had made up their minds to kidnap the English travellers, and for that reason my master was unable to leave the island. It was I who circumnavigated their wiles… But it was not in these isles that we had our greatest adventures, it was in Arabia… Mrs. Bent was always eager to press on. One night we slept in a damp spot, and while there I had a dream in which I saw two horses and a chariot in Anaphe; but there was no driver, and one of the horses fell down and died. The chariot was overturned. My interpretation of the dream was that this portended a disaster to our party. But Bent only laughed at my fears. He said dreams were nothing but dreams. Nevertheless, as I expected, Mrs. Bent fell seriously ill of a fever which each day grew worse. She could ride no more, and the Arabs refused to carry a Christian, especially a woman. But the Sheikh put his shoulder to one end of the litter, as I did to the other; and so we carried her till the rest of them became ashamed and each took his turn. We arrived at the sea and the Sheikh sent out some milk for the lady, but she was so ill that she could not retain it and daily she became worse; yet she went on, saying that it was only a little fever, and she would not hear of our abandoning the journey… I decided then to act upon my own initiative, and a dhow having come into the harbour, I spoke to the Captain and contracted with him to take us to Aden. Then, for I knew how obstinate are these English, I went to Bent and said, ‘Kyrios, why not take ship to Aden?’ ‘Nonsense,’ he replied, ‘you know very well that there is no ship.’ ‘Maybe, Kyrios, but suppose that there were one, would you take it?’ ‘Well! Yes,’ he said, ‘I would, for she is very ill.’ I took him to the top of a hill and showed him the Dhow at anchor! So we started; but on arriving at Aden, there was a ‘quarantine’ and Madame was not allowed to land. The Governor however intervened in her favour and a doctor came at once to see her. He was only just in time, but her life was saved. It was after this that Bent himself began the illness that ended in his death… All were agreed that here was a great traveller, one like unto Odysseus himself.”
And the same, of course, must be said of the dragomános extraordinaire, Matthaios Simos, of Anafi in the Cyclades, and all points south-east!
(The excerpts above are mostly taken from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent, Vol. 1’, Archaeopress, Oxford, 2006)
On 21 December 2017 an email arrived in the Bent Archive inbox; an enquirer wrote:
“I have in my possession a little book (roughly 2 inches x 2.5 inches) by Mrs. Theodore Bent titled ‘Patience Pocket Book’, can you tell me anything other than is listed on your website quite briefly? It states it was published by J. W. Arrowsmith of Bristol, printed in London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Limited… It is a fascinating little piece of history and one would assume it kept Mabel amused during her mourning period, however given that it was ‘different’ to her other works what do you know about its fruition?”
We replied the same day:
“Thanks so much for your interesting email: you are lucky to have a copy of this rare little book! Sorry, we can’t add much other than the same sort of ideas you will have. It seems that Mabel and Theodore liked to travel with cards to amuse themselves now and then on their travels over many years, so we can assume that Mabel would have played from an early age with her brothers and sisters in Ireland, and, as you say, would then have continued with ‘patience’ in her widowhood…The Bodleian Library has a copy of the book and inside is a folded letter from Mabel dated just ‘May 6’ to the card-game specialist and collector F. E. Jessel, who was keen to see Mabel’s ‘little whist markers’. She writes that she would have replied to him earlier, but having “…only just come home from Jerusalem…I wonder if you could call tomorrow afternoon after 4 as then I am sure to be at home. If not we must fix another time. Yours faithfully, Mabel V. A. Bent”. Jessel included Mabel’s book in his standard English bibliography on playing cards (1905, 18, item 100).”
Just over a year later, thanks to the generosity of John Beale, a copy of this very rare and tiny book is now in the Bent Archive’s collection. It was published in Bristol in 1903 by J. W. Arrowsmith.
The title page proclaims: ‘A Patience Pocket Book, plainly printed, put together by Mrs Theodore Bent’, and as Mabel’s preface explains: ‘This tiny booklet, with its hundred games, condensed into few words, recommends itself by its plain print, small size, and light weight. It hopes to be your constant companion as a reminder of games, which you, perhaps already know, as many of them are very ancient but of which it is easy to forget the details. it will be as simple for a Patience player to understand as a knitting book is for a Knitter, and to beginners, the unravelling of its mysteries will be a new game of Patience.‘ Judge for yourselves, here are Mabel’s ‘Rules and Abbreviations’ in her own words: “In counting the value of cards, A. counts 1, Kv. 11, Q. 12, K. 13. Ace packets are always piles in ascending sequence, i.e. Ace, 2, 3, &c. (Asc. seq.). King packets in descending sequence (desc. seq.), i.e. K., Q., Knave, &c. Sk., or Stock, means all the cards, one or more packs. Lines are perpendicular; Rows are horizontal. R.H., or Rubbish Heap, on which cards are played, which cannot at the time be used, and which gradually must be worked off. Piquet pack excludes all below 7. If you want to divide the packs and play a 1 pack game, after having used 2 packs, take out 4 suits, without minding if they all have the same backs. When all the cards are thus in suits it is easy to take out the low cards for a Piquet pack. One may help one’s self by Running Cards. When the Ace and King packets of one suit have respectively 6 and 7, move the 7 from the King packet, or pile, to the Ace pile, and continue till a place is found for (say) a 10 on the Ace pile, or vice versa. F.S. means Follows suit; N.F.S., Not Follows suit. With the help of these rules beginners will soon become experts.’
Good luck! Among the 100 games, favourites include: Neighbourly Love, Home Circle, Patchwork, Great Pyramid, Grandmother’s Game, Great Grandmother…
Mabel ran a small bookshop in Jerusalem in the early 1900s and presumably this miniature volume, the size of a biscuit, would have been stocked there, perhaps with her other book, the very esoteric Anglo–Saxons from Palestine; or The Imperial Mystery of the Lost Tribes (London: Sherratt & Hughes, 1908), the reading of which, indeed, requires great patience!
Mabel Hall-Dare: Chronicles of Mrs. Theodore Bent… reviewed by Janeite Kelly (Dec 2018)
“A unique life brought again to life because of surviving journals. Reading about the diaries – how clear the writing is, for instance – and seeing samples (even of doodles) is part of the delight in these books.”
Do click on the link above to read the full review, which begins:
“Dedicated editors/biographers and small presses sometimes turn up the most exciting books. This post concerns the three books of travel edited and compiled by Gerald Brisch from the travel diaries of Mabel Bent, née Mabel Hall-Dare.”
Map: ‘Part of Cilicia Tracheia’. Theodore Bent’s own map of their routes in the area of Olba.
“The ruins of Olba, among the most extensive and remarkable in Asia Minor, were discovered in 1890 by Mr. J. Theodore Bent. But three years before another English traveller had caught a distant view of its battlements and towers outlined against the sky like a city of enchantment or dreams.” (Fraser, ‘The Golden Bough’, Vol 5, 151ff). [Actually, James, it may be claimed to be Mabel!]
Constitution Square, in the era of the Bents, and their base in Athens. Their hotel was located here.
It is early 1890; we will reach Olba later. But for the moment Mabel and Theodore Bent are in Athens, having arrived on 25th January from Patras – their ship the NGI ‘Rubattino’ from Ancona. They meet their dragoman, the long-suffering Anafiote, Matthew Simos, and, before finalising their plans for the season’s explorations, settle comfortably into the Hôtel des Étrangers in Constitution Square, the very heart of bustling, late-19th century Greece.
Theodore had been ten years an ‘archaeologist’ and was at last something of a name (and something of a thorn in his peers’ sides too, as we shall see). By 1889, the archaeologist had ‘excavated’ in the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Thasos, down along the Turkish littoral, and way East, to the ‘mounds of ‘Ali’ in Bahrain. But his 1890 season found him rather aimless in Attica, with his wife, dragoman, and all his bundles of exploratory gear. Where should they go? The answer was ‘Olba’ and (luck being really everything) 1890 was to see Bent’s career soar: within 12 months he had been sponsored by Rhodes (the man, not the island – although he visited there in 1885) to dig for him at ‘Great Zimbabwe’ and this truly made him a celebrity (again, with notoriety). He was only to live seven years more, alas, but in those few years he and Mabel rode around the Yemen, Ethiopia, Sudan, and back to Yemen. East of Aden he aggravated the malaria he first contracted on Andros in the winter of 1883/4, the finale of which was an early death, at 45. But let’s cut back to Athens in the very early spring of 1890.
The Bents had a busy week in the capital, their arrival previously ‘announced in the papers’, as Mabel recalls in her ‘Chronicle’: “Theodore arrived with the influenza, so did not go out on the Sunday [Jan 26]. I went to church and then drove to the British School of Archaeology to call on the Ernest Gardners. We dined with the Gardners. We made a party to drive up with Sir John Conway and Mr. Bourchier and there were 4 students. We also lunched with the Schliemanns. There were the Gardners and Mr. Kavadias of the Museum and old Mr. Rangabe, a great poet and authority on the language and literature. I was very glad to meet him and he was delightfully surprised that I could speak Greek. Dr. Waldstein, the Rector of the American School, was there too and the daughter Andromache and little son Agamemnon. Afterwards we went to the Pireaus to see the Consul and Mrs. de Puy. We knew them at Volo and liked them. They were not surprised to see us and only wondered at our not coming before as our coming has so long been announced in the papers. I need not say the Acropolis and Museums were not neglected.” (‘Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent’, Vol 1, 271ff, Archaeopress, 2006)
Alexandros Rizos Rangavis (Rakgabis)(1809–1892), Greek man of letters, poet and statesman.
Their brief, hectic stay is a sequence of lunches, teas, and dinners. Around all these tables we have notable figures, so let’s add some notes: The Schliemanns require no introductions; Ernest Gardner (his wife was Mary Wilson) was director of the British School until 1895.
James David Bourchier (1850–1920). Irish journalist and political activist.
Other guests were the colourful James Bourchier, Balkan correspondent of the ‘Times’, Irish, he would have been doubly of interest to Mabel; Panayiotis Kavvadias went on to become General Inspector of Antiquities and a founder member of the Academy of Athens; very disrespectfully (and were they flirting? The chances are he was teasing Mabel about her Greek!) ‘old Mr. Rangabe’ was Alexandros Rizos Rangavis, the man of letters, poet and statesman; Charles Waldstein (later Sir Charles), director of the American School until 1893, was an Anglo-American archaeologist with a distinguished academic record; his wife was Florence Einstein and it seems they indeed had a son and a daughter, but where Mabel gets Agamemnon and Andromache from is a mystery (Wikipedia names the boy Henry), again, was Mabel being teased?
Charles Waldstein (1856–1927), director of the American School until 1893.
Anyway, remember Olba? It seems that during this busy Athenian week the Bents were still without a primary research target and focus for their fieldwork. They were back in the Eastern Mediterranean for their customary three- of four-month exploratory season (the rest of the year usually spent back in the UK ‘writing up’), but opportunities now for excavating were limited – Greece and Turkey frowning upon adventurers and freelancers, such as Theodore and Mabel.
One area of possibility was to make again for out-of-the-way Turkish waters – they had been as far as Kastellorizo in 1888 – but where this time? By chance in Athens Mabel makes a discovery, revealed later in her diary: “In Athens we received a circular from the Hellenic Society requesting us to subscribe to an Expedition of exploration in Cilicia, to be headed by Mr. Ramsay and to start in June. ‘It is most desirable that the site of Olba should be discovered and identified.’ So I declared that we would look for Olba too.” Typical Mabel this. (‘Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent’, Vol 1, 274, Archaeopress, 2006)
Olba lay undiscovered somewhere in western Cilicia. This region, described wondrously by Strabo (14.5), lies on the southern coast of Turkey, and was divided in ancient times into two halves: to the west, Cilicia Trachea (‘rough’ or ‘rugged’), a mountainous region bounded by Mount Taurus; and to the east, Cilicia Pedias (‘flat’), with its rivers and fertile plans. Historically, the importance of Cilicia lay in its position on the great highway to the east that ran down from the Anatolian plateau, to Tarsus, and on through Syria into Asia. (This highway passed through a narrow rocky gorge called the ‘Cilician Gate’, and hence the strategic importance of Cilicia when invaded by Alexander and Darius.) The British pioneer of the region was Edwin John Davis, whose ‘Life in Asiatic Turkey’ (London 1879) remains in the bibliographies, but ten years later it was William Mitchell Ramsay (1851–1939), the Scottish archaeologist and New Testament scholar, who led the field west of Mersin. The bit very much between her teeth in Athens in the late winter of 1890, Mabel was now determined to get to Olba first; and she did of course – the trip will be detailed in a further post.
Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1851–1939). Scottish archaeologist.
Ramsay (aided and abetted by a young David Hogarth – the young man referred to by Fraser in the opening quotation) were gracious in defeat (in print at least) but headed the force of establishment scholars who were to snipe at Bent from their trenches from now on. Bent, self-trained and cavalier, was driven by his own ideas and paid little if no heed to context, or seemed to have much interest in understanding the broadest evidence offered by his sites – but these were still early days for ‘archaeologists’.
An intrepid explorer and antiquarian the, yes, but calling himself an ‘archaeologist’ was too much for too many. For examples of criticism you need look no further than Ramsay and Hogarth referred to above. The former writes to the editor of the ‘Journal of Hellenic Studies’ in May 1890, frustrated that Theodore’s expedition to Olba has angered the local Turkish authorities: ‘Now however it is reported to me that the officials are far stricter than ever before, and since Bent has been about our track, things will be much worse’. And again in January 1891 (when angry with the JHS for not allowing Theodore more of Mabel’s photographs in his paper for them) : ‘It is a scandal to hear how they [the team at the JHS] have treated Bent. If they refused his paper I would understand it, for he is not a scholar & makes some serious faults. But the things he found at Olba are of high interest, & illustrations are just what would carry through with such a rough paper.’ (source: SPHS, George A Macmillan Archive)
David George Hogarth (1862–1927) British archaeologist, later Arab specialist
David Hogarth seems to have nurtured a grudge against Theodore for decades – perhaps never forgiving the latter for beating him to Olba. He got his chance to vent his spleen at last in print in 1900, in a review for ‘Man’ of Mabel’s work, compiled in the most difficult of circum-stances, of on Theodore’s researches published as ‘Southern Arabia’ (London 1900). The book is now regarded as a classic of course, but Hogarth puts the desert boot in: ‘As it is, the [Bents] apparently had not realized what it was essential to observe and record, and what, on the other hand, is commonplace of all Arabian travel; and the trivialities of caravan life, already rendered more than familiar by Burckhardt, Palgrave, and Doughty, to mention only the greatest names, fill two-thirds of the account, suggesting in every paragraph unfortunate comparisons with the deeper knowledge, the truer sympathy, and the sense of style that inspired those brilliant narratives.’ (Review 23 in ‘Man’, Vol. 1, 1901, 29-30; signed H, and presumably D.G. Hogarth)
It doesn’t end there, this Hogarth later doggedly continues in his own Arabian monograph; here he refers to Theodore’s altercation with the Aden authorities’ inexplicable obstructions (one suspects Hogarth and his spy-masters) in the winter of 1893: ‘The governors of Aden, therefore, have been fully justified in refusing to exert pressure on behalf of certain would-be exploring parties whose qualifications were not such as to promise the best scientific results; and when countenance was given at last in 1893, to the archaeologist Leo Hirsch, it was because he was known to be a profound Arabic scholar, expert in the law of Islam, who would conduct himself tactfully. When, shortly after, it was given also to Theodore Bent, despite his lack of qualification, it was because his party included an Indian Moslem surveyor and his staff, who might be expected to make a solid contribution to geography.’ (‘The Penetration of Arabia’. 1904, London: 216)
Hogarth is unforgiven, although he appears kind enough to Mabel in February 1898, the year after Theodore’s death: ‘I lunched at the English School with the Ho-garths… Mr. Hogarth took me to the Akropolis.’ (‘Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent’, Vol 1: 330, Archaeo-press, 2006). But at least Theodore takes the glory in John Fraser’s towering epic!
A subsequent post will take us to Cilicia and Olba, and the Bents’ very significant finds there.
Captions: Map: ‘Part of Cilicia Tracheia’. Theodore Bent’s own map of their routes in the area. Originally published in ‘Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society’, New Series, Vol. 12, No. 8, August 1890; Constitution Square, in the era of the Bents, and their base in Athens. Their hotel was located here (image: Martin Baldwin-Edwards); Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1851–1939). Scottish archaeologist; by his death he had become the foremost authority of his day on the history of Asia Minor. It was Ramsay who prompted the Bents to seek for Olba in 1890, beating him to the site by a matter of months (Image: Wikipedia); David George Hogarth (1862–1927) British archaeologist, later Arab specialist, and Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford from 1909 to 1927. Ten years Bent’s junior he was an unkind, waspish and harsh critic; Bent beat him to the discovery of Olba by a few months, and probably never forgave him – doubly galling as Hogarth had espied the site from a distance some time before but was forced to abandon his search (Image: Wikipedia); Charles Waldstein (later Sir Charles) (1856–1927), director of the American School until 1893 (Image: Wikipedia); Alexandros Rizos Rangavis (Rakgabis)(1809–1892), Greek man of letters, poet and statesman. (Image: Wikipedia); James David Bourchier (1850–1920). Irish journalist and political activist. He worked for ‘The Times’ as the newspaper’s Balkan correspondent (Image: Wikipedia).
[We are most grateful to the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies for allowing us to reprint extracts from W M Ramsay’s letters. The Bents were early members of the SPHS (1880s) and frequent contributors and speakers at events. Mabel’s diaries are in their archives]
A happy tip-off from Paul Frecker has led to the discovery of a fine and rare portrait of Mabel Bent’s mother, Frances Anna Catherine Hall-Dare (née Lambart) (c. 1819-1862). The photograph was taken in the studio of the celebrated portraitist Camille Silvy (Camille Silvy Collection, Album 5 (Daybook Volume 5), 1861-62, number 6506, albumen print, 20 November 1861, 38 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, London).
Camille Silvy (1834-1910), from a French aristocratic background, established himself as one of the leading portrait photographers of his time. He moved to London in 1859 and bought Caldesi and Montecchi’s studio on Porchester Terrace. He kept daybooks with the details of each sitter, the date, and a file print, and these (with five members of the Hall-Dare family), are now in the National Portrait Gallery’s archives, London (a search on their fine site will provide more information).
Frances, born c. 1819, was the daughter of Gustavus Lambart and Anna Butler Stevenson. She married Robert Westley Hall-Dare, son of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Elizabeth Grafton, on 18 April 1839, with whom she had six children. She was born on the Lambart estates of Beau Parc, Co. Meath (see image), before residing in her first marital home at Temple House, Sligo (now a hotel – go stay!). Then, after her husband’s disgrace, trial, and one-month prison sentence, the family moved to Newtonbarry (now Bunclody, Co. Wexford); Hall-Dare subsequently bought and redeveloped Newtonbarry House as the family home, just outside the village, across the trout-brown and lovely Slaney. The family also maintained extensive properties in Essex and rented homes in London, including 49 Eaton Place, where Frances died after a long and painful illness on 2nd September 1862. She was buried in the Hall-Dare plot/vault at St Mary’s Theydon Bois, Essex, on 6 September 1862, aged just 43 (Burial record 422).
This photograph, dated 20 November 1861, was taken just 10 months before she died. (Paul Frecker’s website adds that the cause of death was, alas, cancer of the womb.) Her son, also Robert Hall-Dare, made a sad entry in his diary (private collection) a year after her death, September 1863: ‘Just a year ago on the 2nd September 1862 my dear mother was taken from this world. We were at Eaton Place, a house my Father had taken – She had been sinking for some weeks rapidly, and at last was only conscious for a few hours in the day. Before that she, when free from pain, used to talk to us much and gave me advice which I hope I may never forget.‘
Mabel also recalled her mother, some 40 years later:
‘My baby eyes first looked out on an extremely beautiful bit of this world, for I was born at Beauparc, in the county of Meath, my grandfather Gustavus Lambart’s place, which, being situated on a very high bank at a sharp curve of the River Boyne, seems as if it were upon an island looking straight down the river… So much did this view please me the first time I can remember seeing it, that, having arrived in the dark one night, the following morning about four or five o’clock my wretched mother was startled from her sleep by shrieks and shouts to find me jumping up and down as hard as I could at the window, a manifestation of my ecstasy of delight at the sight of the snow and icicles and all the wintry beauty spread before me…‘ [(Mabel V.A. Bent, ‘In the Days of My Youth: Chapters of Autobiography’, M.A.P., 10, (Mainly about People): A Popular Penny Weekly of Pleasant Gossip, Personal Portraits, and Social News, Issue 240 (17 January 1903), pp. 72-3].
The painting here shows: ‘Beauparc – Lady Lambert’s House’. Mabel Hall-Dare was born here, in County Meath, Ireland, on January 28, 1847. From a watercolour by Garrett Scanlan. (Reproduced with the artist’s permission).
Mabel in her wedding dress; an undated studio photo, probably taken after her marriage.
We don’t yet know how, where and when the young Theodore Bent (1852-1897) first met Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare (1847-1929), although Mabel in an article reveals that they met in Norway of all places (see the press cutting that follows from The Citizen of 1907).* Theodore having graduated from Oxford, Wadham, in 1875. They married near Mabel’s family seat (Co. Wexford) on 2 August 1877 (Mabel 31, Theodore 27), in the little church of Staplestown, Co. Carlow.
Staplestown church, Co. Carlow.
The officiating clerics were the Rev. Charles Lambart, uncle of the bride, assisted by the Rev. H. A. Barker and the Rev. T. Hatchell. Theodore’s residence is cited as his manor at Sutton Hall, outside Macclesfield, Cheshire. As an only son and with both parents dead, his side of the church would have been thinly populated, in contrast to his Anglo-Irish bride’s. Who gave away the flame-haired Mabel remains a mystery, her (sympathetic) brother Robert having died of typhoid in Rome in 1876, while her (unsympathetic) father, also Robert, passed on in 1866.
The Bents’ wedding notice from The York Herald (Monday, August 6th, 1877).
(The post-scriptum to this wedding has to refer to the allotted span of 19 years and 9 months the pair were to have together for their explorations of the E Med, Africa, and Arabia. Theodore died of malarial fever complications on 5 May 1897. But, nevertheless, the couple did have their world enough, and time.)
* “Visitor of Outlandish Countries: Mrs Theodore Bent, who is just off to Jerusalem, has all her life been very much of a traveller. She first met her late husband in Norway, and she accompanied him in subsequent years to Abyssinia, Mashonaland and Arabia, and other out-of-the-way parts of the world, sharing in all the dangers, discomforts, and enthusiasms of his many archaeological expeditions. Mrs Bent, who speaks several languages fluently, comes of an old family of the name of Hall-Dare, well-known in Counties Wexford and Essex.” (From the Dublin periodical The Citizen or Dublin Monthly Magazine, Saturday, December 21, 1907)
The illustrations above include a wedding notice from The York Herald (Monday, August 6th, 1877), and Mabel in her wedding dress – an undated studio photo, probably taken after her marriage to Theodore, posed in the Baker Street studios of Thomas Fall (celebrated for his studies of the pets of the rich and famous – during the 1890s he was commissioned by the Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandra, to photograph her with her dogs earning the company a Royal Warrant). The other photograph is of Staplestown church, Co. Carlow, taken from the website of the ‘National Inventory of Architectural Heritage’.
‘Mrs Bent and her Camera. Photo by Russell & Sons, London, probably Spring, 1895’
First printed in ‘The Album, A Journal of Photographs of Men, Women and Events of the Day’ (Vol. 2, no.2, 8 July 1895, pp. 44-45).
Thanks to the British Library, we are delighted to show this extremely rare studio photo of Mabel standing beside her camera and tripod and attired for the wilds. We don’t expect more than a few people will have seen this since it was published in July 1895. Assuming the portrait was taken in the first half of that year, Mabel – her trademark long red hair coiled elegantly as ever – would have just reappeared from Muscat, Oman and Dhofar, and be preparing for the coming winter’s journey with her husband along the west coast of the Red Sea. That Mabel would feature in ‘The Album’ is no surprise – ever since the couple’s journey in 1891 to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes the Bents were celebrities.
It’s not immediately obvious which of her cameras she is displaying here; Mabel’s small apparatus of choice was her ‘Luzo’ box camera, however the protruding lens indicates another, larger model. If anyone can identify it, please write in!
This extremely rare photograph shows Mabel Bent taking tea with Moses Cotsworth and party in the Palestinian hinterland in 1900/1 (Moses Cotsworth collection, unknown photographer. Photo reproduced with the kind permission of Rare Books and Special Collections, Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia).
“Dear Sir William…Thank you for sending me the flower pictures. I like them very much. Of course I know there is nothing to find in Palestine that is new. I was there the winter before last and camped out by myself 10 weeks in Moab and Haura. I had my own tents and no dragoman. This winter I only got to Jebel Usdum and arrived in Jerusalem with a broken leg, my horse having fallen on me in the wilderness of Judea. My sister Mrs. Bagenal came from Ireland and fetched me from the hospital where I was for 7 weeks. I cannot walk yet but am getting on well and my leg is quite straight and long I am thankful to say…Yours truly Mabel V.A. Bent” (Letter from Mabel to Thiselton-Dyer, 19 April 1901 (Kew Archives: Directors’ Correspondence)).
Theodore’s death in May 1897 – Jubilee year – deprived Mabel of the focus for her life: the need to be somewhere else remained, but now with whom? And why? Typical of her she made plans immediately to visit Egypt on a ‘Cook’s’ tour in the winter of 1898 and chronicled the trip, ending with a return via Athens. The journey provides the concluding episode in this volume, and the heading she gives it – ‘A lonely useless journey’ – reveals her understandable depression. It makes unhappy reading, contrasting so markedly with her opening thrill of being in Cairo on that first visit with Theodore in 1885.
She wrote no more ‘Chronicles’, or at least there are no more in the archives, and on her return to London set about assembling the monograph her husband never lived to complete on his Arabian theories and researches, many of which sprang from their explorations in Mashonaland in 1891. She completed it in eighteen months: driven on by her loss, and inspired by her notebooks, she could be travelling again with Theodore.
The publication by Mabel of ‘Southern Arabia’ (1900) heralded for its surviving author a slow but inevitable decline and a melancholy sequence of years of loneliness and confusion until her death in 1929.
Still wishing to escape the English weather, Mabel opted to spend several winters in Palestine and Jerusalem. There she embroiled herself in troublesome expatriate intrigue and Anglican fundamentalism, and met Gertrude Bell, who informed her parents by letter: ‘I … met … Mrs. Theodore Bent the widow of the Ruined Cities of Mashonaland, a thin stiff little Englishwoman [sic], I don’t like her very much.’ And again two weeks later: ‘I met Mrs. Theodore Bent, but having thrown down the Salaam, as we say in my tongue, I rapidly fled, for I do not like her. She is the sort of woman the refrain of whose conversation is: “You see, I have seen things so much more interesting” or “I have seen so many of these, only bigger and older”… I wonder if Theodore Bent liked her.’
On her second solo trip to Palestine in 1900/01, Mabel joined a caravan to visit some sites referenced in the Scriptures, but inexplicably opted to go off on her own, and so doing fell off her mount and broke her leg; hence the above letter to her friend, the Director at Kew.
Now, thanks to help from Anna Cook, the researcher on Moses Cotsworth, we have more information on Mabel’s accident, as recounted by the geologist George Frederick Wright, whose caravan it was that she joined. The (lengthy) extract that follows from his autobiography has probably never seen the light of day since its publication in 1916.
“At Jerusalem we were met by my Old Andover friend, Selah Merrill, then United States consul. His experience in the survey of the country east of the Jordan, and his long residence in Jerusalem, were of great service in our subsequent excursions in Palestine. After visiting Jericho and the region around we planned, under his direction, a trip to the unfrequented south end of the Dead Sea. In this we were joined by Mrs. Theodore Bent, whose extensive travels with her husband in Ethiopia, southern Arabia, and Persia, had not only rendered her famous but fitted her in a peculiar manner to be a congenial and helpful traveling companion. She had her own tent and equipment and her own dragoman, and her presence added greatly to the interest of the trip.
“After stopping a day at Hebron, we passed along the heights till we descended to the shore of the Dead Sea at the north end of Jebel Usdum, through the Wadi Zuweirah. Here we found indications that, during the rainy season, tremendous floods of water rushed down from the heights of southern Palestine, through all the wadies. Such had been the force of the temporary torrents here, that, over a delta pushed out by the stream and covering an area of two or three square miles, frequent boulders a foot or more in diameter had been propelled a long distance over a level surface. At the time of our visit, the height of the water in the Dead Sea was such that it everywhere washed the foot of Salt Mountain (Jebel Usdum), making it impossible for us to walk along the shore…
“Near the mouth of Wadi Zuweirah, we observed a nearly complete section of the 600-foot terrace of fine material, displaying the laminae deposited by successive floods during the high level maintained by the water throughout the Glacial epoch. From these it was clear that this flooded condition continued for several thousand years. On the road along the west shore to Ain Jiddy (En-gedi) we observed (as already indicated) ten or twelve abandoned shore lines, consisting of coarse material where the shore was too steep, and the waves had been too strong to let fine sediment settle.
“From all the evidence at command it appears that, at the climax of the Glacial epoch, the water in this valley rose to an elevation of 1,400 feet above the present level of the Dead Sea, gradually declining thereafter to the 600-foot level, where it remained for a long period, at the close of which it again gradually declined to its present level, uncovering the vast sedimentary deposits which meanwhile had accumulated over the valley of the Jordan, north of Jericho.
“Our ride from Ain Jiddy to Bethlehem was notable in more respects than one. The steep climb (of 4,000 feet) up the ascent from the sea to the summit of the plateau was abrupt enough to make one’s head dizzy. But as the zigzag path brought us to higher and higher levels, the backward view towards the mountains of Moab, and towards both the north and the south end of the Dead Sea, was as enchanting as it was impressive. Across the sea, up the valley of the Arnon, we could see the heights above Aroer and Dibon, and back of El Lisan, the heights about Rabbah and Moab, and. those about Kir of Moab, while the extensive deltas coming into the Dead Sea along the whole shore south of us fully confirmed our inferences concerning their effect in encroaching upon its original evaporating area.
“After passing through the wilderness of Jeruel and past Tekoah, as we were approaching Bethlehem, a little before sundown, the men of our party wished to hurry on to get another sight of the scenes amidst which Christ was born. As Mrs. Bent was already familiar with those scenes, she preferred to come along more slowly with the caravan, and told us to go on without any concern for her safety. But soon after arriving at Bethlehem, the sheik who accompanied our party overtook us, and told us that Mrs. Bent had fallen from her horse and suffered severe injury; whereupon we all started back over the rocky pathway, to render the assistance that seemed to be needed.
“On reaching a point where two paths to Bethlehem separated, we were told by a native that he thought our party had proceeded along the other path from that we had taken, and that it would be found to have already reached its destination before us. We therefore returned to Bethlehem. But, soon after, the dragoman came in great haste, saying that Mrs. Bent had indeed fallen from her horse and broken a limb, and that he had left her unprotected in an open field to await assistance. Again, therefore, but accompanied by six strong natives with a large woolen blanket, on which to convey her, we proceeded to the place where the accident occurred. Here we found her where she had been lying for about two hours under the clear starlight. But, instead of complaining, she averred that it was providential that she had been allowed to rest so long before undertaking the painful journey made necessary by the accident; and that all the while she had been occupied with the thought that she was gazing upon the same constellations in the heavens from which the angel of the Lord had appeared to the shepherds to announce the Saviour’s birth.
“The task of giving her relief was not altogether a simple one. The surrounding rocky pastures did not yield any vegetable growth from which a splint could be made to stiffen the broken leg. An inspiration, however, came to my son, who suggested that we could take her parasol for one side and the sound limb for the other, and with the girdle of one of the men bind them together so that the journey could be effected safely. No sooner said than done. The sufferer was laid upon the blanket and slowly carried to Bethlehem by the strong arms of our native escort. From here she was conveyed by carriage to Jerusalem where we arrived between one and two o’clock in the morning, taking her to the English hospital, of which she had been a liberal patron, and where she was acquainted with all the staff; but, alas! this hospital was established exclusively for Jews, and as she was not one they refused to admit her, advising her to go down to the hospital conducted by German sisters. This, however, she flatly refused to do, declaring that rather than do that she would camp on the steps of the English hospital. At this two of the lady members of the staff, who were her special friends, vacated their room and she was provided for.
“Respecting the sequel, we would simply say that her limb was successfully set, and with cheerful confidence she assured us that she would reach London before we did and that we must be sure to call upon her there. She did indeed reach London before we left the city, but it was on the last day of our stay, and, as our tickets had been purchased for the noon train going to Plymouth, we were unable to accept her invitation to dine that evening. Some years afterwards, however, when visiting the city with Mrs. Wright, we found her at home, and had great enjoyment in repeatedly visiting her and studying the rare collections with which she had filled her house upon returning from the various expeditions in which she had accompanied her artistic husband.
“[Some time later pausing] at Rome, Florence, and Genoa, we entered France through Turin by way of the Mount Cenis tunnel, and, after a short stop in Paris, reached London, where I met again the large circle of geologists and archaeologists who had entertained me on my first visit to England… Returning to London, we engaged passage on a steamer from Southampton, just in time, as before remarked, to miss meeting Mrs. Bent, our unfortunate traveling companion in Palestine.” [From: ‘The Story of my life and work’ by Wright, G. Frederick (George Frederick), 1838-1921; Oberlin, Ohio, Bibliotheca Sacra Company, 1916 (including pages page 324 and 328/29. The link to the book is https://archive.org/stream/ ).
PS: On her stretcher journey to eventual hospitalisation in Jerusalem, Mabel would have shut her eyes and been transported back four years to the last time she was rescued, terribly sick with malaria, east of Aden. Also stretchered to Aden, her husband never survives the ordeal, dying in London a few days after arriving home in 1897. Here are the memories she must have relived in the form of some lines from Mabel’s own diary:
‘I felt quite unable to move or stir but on we must go; we had no water and what we had had the day before was like porter. I could not ride, of course, so they said they would carry me. I was dressed up in a skirt and a jacket, my shoes and stockings, a handkerchief tied on my hair, which was put back by one hairpiece and became a hot wet mat, not to be fought with for many a day to come! Of course I could not use my pith helmet lying down. I lay outside, while my bed was strengthened in various ways with tent pegs and the tent poles tied to it and an awning of blanket made. I dreaded very much the roughness of the road and the unevenness of step of my bearers, but off they set at a rapid pace and kept perfect step all the time. They changed from shoulder to shoulder without my feeling it…
‘Sometimes I passed or was passed by the camels, which seemed to be winding about over rocks and hills, but I went over these ways too. The last time we passed I thought it very unlike Theodore never to give me a look but stare straight before him, but then I did not know of his miserable condition. There was a delightful sea wind which came over my head, stronger and stronger, and just seemed to keep me alive. They carried me headfirst. I did not think they would be pleased if I constantly asked how far we were off still, so I only said civil things, but right glad was I, at last, after 15 or 16 miles to find myself in the thick of a rushing, roaring rabble rout of men, women and children, not a thing I really like in general but now it told of the end of my weary journey.’ [From ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs. J. Theodore Bent, Volume lll: Southern Arabia and Persia’, page 322. Oxford, Archaeopress, 2010]
PPS: However, could this also be a photo of Mabel, perhaps, taken at around the same time at Karnak on the banks of the Nile? Thanks again to Anna Cook, we have a possible image of her from Moses Cotsworth’s pamphlet ‘The Fixed Yearal’ (available online from archive.com), which was probably published around 1914. It shows a woman in travel attire (does the hat match the photo above?), in shade alas, on the right, in front of one of the Karnak pillars. We have no proof that it is her, but Anna Cook, the Cotsworth specialist pins a note to it: “But he [Cotsworth] only travelled to Egypt around November/December 1900 and had his camera stolen so I suspect that the photos were given to him by Professor Wright – his travelling companion. I know that Wright was a widower who travelled with his son and that Cotsworth’s wife was at home in England so really Mabel is the only woman that was around in the right place at the right time and we know that she did travel with Wright and Cotsworth for a time.” (Anna Cook, pers. com., 01/2019)
We do have an earlier Karnak extract from Mabel’s diary: “[Monday] January 31st . When I reached Luxor I was asked to join a party consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Sebag-Montefiore, Mr. and Mrs. W. Wilson (who were travelling together) and Mrs. and Miss Wibbs [?], one a doctor, and have a special dragoman, Abdul el Kawab, a very good man. We went in the only two carriages to see Karnak by moonlight, a truly awe inspiring sight. [Tuesday] February 1st . We went again by the light of the sun and came back to luncheon.” (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent, Vol 2, The African Journeys’, page 270, Archaeopress 2012)
However this is a year before Cotsworth went to Karnak to take his calendar readings; Mabel, recently widowed, was on Nile cruise run by Thomas Cook and did not proceed to Jerusalem that year – she was lonely and cut short her tour, returning to London via Athens (she headed her diary ‘A lonely useless journey). But let’s make a case for her meeting Cotsworth, feeling less lonely, in the winter of 1899/1900 and deciding to join his party for another Nile cruise and then onwards to the Palestinian wilds (where she broke her leg! See above).