“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, p. 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 Beauparc, 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].
[Mabel Bent’s Travel Chronicles are available from Archaeopress, Oxford, in 3 volumes]
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).
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 26), in the little church of Staplestown, Co. Carlow.
The officiating clerics were the Rev. Charles Lambart, uncle of the bride, assisted by the Rev. Henry Auriol Barker (old chum from Wadham, Oxford, and eventual beneficiary in Bent’s will) 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’.
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. It’s unlikely that 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!
There is every chance that the above, and never-bettered, photograph of Mabel was taken at the same sitting at Russell’s as the iconic portrait of Theodore, with solar topee and famous whip. It was this image that Mabel might well have selected personally for the obituary of her husband, printed in the Illustrated London News of 15 May 1897 (page 669).
Mabel’s Travel Chronicles are chock full of references to her camera and her trials as a field-photographer!
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 made local expeditions, and 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. Gertrude Bell in her diary refers to a talk with Mabel in April 1900, and writes that the latter so far “has only been to Mashetta and Bozrah.”
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).
PS: An update from Anna Cook (March 2021): ‘Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before but I came across a reference to Theodore in Cotsworth’s The Rational Almanac – page 392. “Mr. R. N. Hall, writing in the Sphere, page 238, for June 13th, 1903, states that he there [Zimbabwe] found a Solar Disc (made from Soapstone) carved with a circle surrounded by 8 smaller circles or knobs, similar to the markings on the ornate object previously found at Zimbabwe and pronounced by Mr Bent to be a ‘sun-image’.” Another mention occurs on page 419 “That late esteemed explorer Mr. Theodore Bent, made the preliminary survey of the more conspicuous remains described in his classical work The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland, pointing with Mauch to the Semitic peoples as the exploiters of those rich Goldfields.”‘
The trouble with travel is that you miss your birthdays – just look where Theodore was on 30 March for these frantic years of the Bents’ travels together: 1884 = Kea (Cyclades); 1885 = Karpathos (Dodecanese); 1886 = Samos; 1887 = Thasos; 1888 = Patara (Antalya province, Turkey); 1889 = Kurd-i-Bala, Iran; 1890 = Mersin area, Turkey; 1891 = en route for ‘Great Zimbabwe’; 1892 = UK; 1893 = Aksum area, Ethiopia; 1894 = Aden, Yemen; 1895 = UK; 1896 = returning from Athens to UK; 1897 (his 45th and last) = Aden, Yemen.
As an example of what he was up to, we have this extract from his notes of 30 March 1889, written up and presented a couple of years later. Taken from Theodore and Mabel’s cavalcade through Iran, south-north, we have Persia with all her fascination; it is written in his best, jaunty style: illustrative, informative, energetic, engaged and engaging. Classic Bent.
“Certainly, Persia, off the main line of route, is as different as possible from the Persia that the ordinary traveller sees. For two days after leaving Nejifabad we passed through villages nestling in fertility. Each village is, or rather was, protected by its mud fort, built on a hill, around which the cottages cluster – cottages which dazzle the eye with their continuity of mud domes and brown walls. Wapusht looked like a nest of cottage beehives stuck together. Within, the houses were comfortable enough, and bore every appearance of prosperity, for here they are off the routes which soldiers and governors of provinces pass over, and when free from Government extortions Persia prospers.
“On ascending to higher ground we came across a cold and barren district; the howling wind from the snow mountains made us again love those furs which we had considered unnecessary burdens when leaving Ispahan. These sudden changes of temperature are the bane of the Persian traveller, and woe to those who are not provided with artificial warmth. On reaching Kurd-i-Bala [March 30, 1899. The settlement is near modern Varposht, n-w of Najafabad], the first of the manna villages, we found ourselves in Armenian society. Of late years the Armenians in Persia, by foreign intervention, have had their condition greatly ameliorated, and if this state of things is allowed to continue they are likely once more to become the most prosperous of the Shah’s subjects. I was glad enough to warm myself by taking a brisk walk on reaching our destination, and accepted gladly the offices of the Karapiet, the Reis or headman of the village, and our host, who volunteered to take me up the mountain side and show me the manna shrub.
“In the fields around the village the Armenian women were tilling the ground. On their heads they wore tall head-dresses, with flat crowns and silver chains dangling therefrom – very uncomfortable gear for purposes of husbandry – and beneath their bright red skirts peeped drawers with embroidered edges. Armenian women hide only the lower part of the face, deeming it unseemly that the mouth should be shown to members of the opposite sex.
“Kurd-i-Bala is a great village for manna, the ‘gez-angebeen’, as the Persians call it. About twenty minutes’ walk brought us to a gorge in the mountains where acres of the shrub grow. The ‘gez’ tree is a low and parasol-shaped plant of the Tamarisk tribe, never reaching more than 3ft. in height; its leaves are small and sombre in colour, and it has all over it long prickly thorns. On these leaves there comes a small insect, which is red at first, like a harvest bug; later on it turns into a sort of louse, and finally becomes a tiny moth, which, before it flies off, produces a thin white thread, about half an inch long, which hangs on the bushes. This is the manna collectors shake off on to trays, which are put below for the purpose, and the material thus collected they call ‘gez’. They say the insect appears fifteen days before the hot weather begins, and disappears fifteen days before the cold season sets in. Every third day during a term of forty days about August they collect this species of honey from the trees, which forms itself into a white gelatinous mass, and the leaves become covered again with surprising rapidity…”
(From: J. Theodore Bent, Village Life in Persia, ‘The New Review’, 5:29 (1891/Oct.): 355-359)
As Theodore and Mabel were wont to say, ‘A traveller without a map is like, er,….lost’. From Aksum to Zimbabwe, wherever they set out to explore, they always insisted on taking the latest maps with them; or commissioning special ones for their routes; or going so far as to take their own cartographers along with them (e.g. Imam Sharif’s map of the Bents’ expedition to the Wadi Hadramaut in 1894). Mabel later, in a short autobiographical article recalled: ‘In one of my investigations of the library at home I came upon a book that I made up my mind to examine. It had a delightful title “The Atlas of Undiscovered Countries”. It was firmly fixed, and to get at it I had to exert all my strength and become very hot, tugging out the great folios that were on each side, and then to my disgust I found my prize was only a false wooden book to support the upper shelf. Years after I exclaimed, ‘Now I have really an atlas of undiscovered countries of my own’, when I eagerly unpacked a map in eight sheets (that my husband had had made at Stanford’s, of Southern Arabia, when we were first thinking of exploring that part of the world) and found two or three of the sheets blank save for latitude and longitude marks. I am glad to say that the blank is not so large now…’
We are glad, too, to say that our website now has a series of interactive Google maps detailing the 20 years of the Bents’ expeditions. The most recent one added is labelled ‘The Bents’ Greatest Hits’ and shows the sites where the Bents made their most significant researches or discoveries in the 1880s and ’90s – from Aksum to Zimbabwe; the map also features a separate layer picking out significant locations for the Bents in England and Ireland. The pins are augmented with texts, photos, etc., and are very well worth a few minutes of your busy day – to transport you back to the late 19th century and days of solar topees, slow steamers, gin and quinine, leather portmanteaux, assorted adventures, and nights under unrecognisable stars…
‘It was splendid being up there’ – Mabel climbing the Great Pyramid of Giza on her birthday – Wednesday 28 January 1885.
Some Pyramid scalers in 1885 (the year of Mabel’s ascent), by J. Pascal Sébah. Obviously clambering all over them was the thing to do back then; it is not recommended today.
In January 1885, before leaving for a tour of the Dodecanese, Theodore and Mable made a tourist trip to Egypt, taking in, of course, the Pyramids: the Great Pyramid (also known as the ‘Pyramid of Cheops’ and constructed around 2500 BCE), and the smaller Khafre and Menkaure Pyramids. The Sphinx squats in the complex’s eastern quarter.
The visit to the Pyramids coincided with Mabel’s 38th birthday (she was born at Beauparc, Co. Meath, on 28 January 1847) and she went to tea as guests of Frederick and Jessie Head (the wealthy daughter of Australian magnate John D. Mclean) at their stylish home, Mena House, below the Pyramids. (Their house still forms part of the Mena Hotel, the Heads buying their home in 1883, a year after their wedding in Wells, Somerset). Mabel does not record whether Frederick was much out of breath after their visit, or feeling unwell, but in any event within a few months he is dead, and poor Jessie (far from actually poor) sold up to another wealthy couple, the Locke-Kings, who turned the house into a fancy hotel – and it remains one to this day.
Mabel, of course, logs the event in her ‘Chronicle’ for the day. We may assume from her reference to ‘steps’ ‘3 or 4 feet high’ that it was the Great Pyramid she felt moved to attempt. Possibly just because it was there:
[Thursday] Jan. 29th . I had such a great many birthday treats yesterday, one in particular that I shall never forget unless extreme old age robs me of my memory… A little after 5 we set off for the Pyramids with the gun lent by the porter and enough cartridges for a whole battle. We saw the Pyramids against the sunset sky, a very plain one – all the colours of the rainbow fading and blending one into the other and very few tiny specks of cloud. The simplicity of it suited the Pyramids so well.
… After dinner we went out in the bright moonlight and Theodore… went to visit the Sphinx but I preferred to go up the Pyramid, as I had not done it on Monday… I scrambled up all alone. At first it was very hard and I had to crawl, putting one knee up first, as the steps are 3 or 4 feet high, regardless of bruised knees or shins and I felt quite convinced I must have very little stockings left but I am in a position to send a testimonial to the stocking maker. I did not feel a bit frightened or giddy or obliged to keep my face to the Pyramid but looked up and down. My companions were quite out of sight and it felt odd to be alone with the Pyramid and the moon. I shouted up several times ‘Are you near the top?’ ‘Oh! Not nearly’ came down. Then ‘Am I half way up?’ ‘No Mem’ came up. So I gave up asking. It seemed so long and I wondered how it could be possible to get down… I did not get at all breathless.
I wondered if ‘Fair Rhodope who as the story tells’ sat on the top of the Pyramid, delighting all beholders, was a poor creature whose clothes had got torn off in the ascent and who could not get down. I thought of the dangers and difficulties in ‘Murray’ and ‘Baedeker’ and determined to read about them and tremble tomorrow, and I banished scornfully a very passing thought of the silk elbows of the only smart frock I have with me, and joyfully and proudly reached the summit, a strangely dressed figure – Hat, silk and velvet brocade body, white lace fichu over it and a blue cloth petticoat with a wide scarlet band, which I quite vainly tried to conceal by tying a black lace scarf round it; the skirt had been discarded before starting.
It was splendid being up there and I think it very very unlikely that any other person has been up by moonlight on his birthday before. I wished for a fire escape! Mr. Head and I came down together, sitting and slipping, sometimes having to put two hands together and jump and were glad indeed to reach the bottom safely … We had some tea and got home after a most delightful evening at 1 o’clock.
The Head’s residence below the Pyramids, where the Bents had tea, Mina House. Today a boutique hotel on a larger scale; the original house constituting the modern hotel’s dining areas.
For those needing a reference to Mabel’s ‘Fair Rhodope’, we must turn to the lines of Thomas Moore:
‘Fair Rhodope, as story tells,/ The bright unearthly nymph, who dwells/ ‘Mid sunless gold and jewels hid,/ The Lady of the Pyramid!’ (1827, ‘The Epicurean’).
Mabel’s lines are from the Egyptian entries in her ‘Travel Chronicles’, Vol. 2, pages 11-13 (Archaeopress, Oxford, 2012).
The photographs include one of some Pyramid scalers in 1885 (the year of Mabel’s ascent), by J. Pascal Sébah. Obviously clambering all over them was the thing to do back then; it is not recommended today.
The other photo is of the Head’s residence below the Pyramids, where the Bents had tea, Mina House. Today a boutique hotel on a larger scale; the original house constituting the modern hotel’s dining areas.
We are delighted to update this post with a wonderful addition to the Bent Archive gallery – at last, the lost oil! And by way of tribute to a real artist – ‘Miss J. D. S. Aldworth’ !
For those interested in the background to this painting, read on!
(Or, more accurately really, the knowledge that there is a portrait of Theodore that has been lost, has been discovered.)
Here at the Bent Archive, snippets of biographical information about Theodore and Mabel turn up all the time. On one of our regular trawls through the Irish newspapers, the following few lines from the Dublin Daily Express (1 August 1898) came to light after lying on the sea floor for some 120 years:
‘Miss J. D. S. Aldworth, an Irish artist who is rising to distinction in London, has had the honour of submitting to her Highness the Duchess of York the pastel painting which she presented to be sold for the benefit of the Princess Mary Village Houses. Miss Aldworth studied first in London, and subsequently in Paris, under M. R. L. Fleury… and has exhibited in the Royal Academy, the Institute of Painters, the Royal Hibernian Academy, and other shows. Miss Aldworth. who belongs to a well-known Cork family, is a successful portrait painter in oils and pastels, and adds another name to the long roll of talented Irish artists. Amongst the best portraits in oils we may mention that of the late Theodore Bent, F.R.G.S., F.S.A.’
Now, to us, this is of more interest than the Antikythera Mechanism (retrieved from the deep but a few sea miles from where Theodore dug on Antiparos in 1883/4)! For we now know there is a missing portrait of Theodore to be tracked down. Did Theodore own it? Was it left to Mabel’s sisters and nieces on her death in 1929? All this is to be found out and published.
Two sidetracks can be pointed to.
What of the artist? Jane Dorothea Sophia Aldworth was born on 15 April 1861, the daughter of Colonel Robert Aldworth and Olivia Catherine Morton – a distinguished family from Co. Cork. After training in France, Jane returned to London and Dublin (inter alia) to paint and sculpt. A society artist, Jane, of course, found time for Cheltenham, and theCheltenham Chronicle for Tuesday 21 September 1880 notes the Aldworths arriving at 38 Lansdown Crescent: ‘Col. and Mrs. Aldworth, Miss J. D. S Aldworth, Mr. St. Letter B. Aldworth. Mr. J. J O. Aldworth…’ By 1894/5 Jane had a London base at 37 Seymour Street, and featured her work in a catalogue of the 12th exhibition of the Institute of Painters in Oil Colours (it seems her picture of Theodore was not exhibited). In 1898 we have the article reference in the Dublin Daily Express quoted above. In 1905/6 she exhibited a piece (and offered it for sale at £5.5.0) called ‘The Spirit of the Rose’ at the Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition.
The Cheltenham Looker-On of Saturday 23 February 1907 has a dismissive view of one of Jane’s pictures on show at the Cheltenham and County Fine Art Society:
‘Amongst other painters who have contributed works of more or less merit, which want of space prevents us from criticising at length, are the following :- A. M. Bryant, A. K. Meadows, Sydney Scott, Rose Willis, W. W. Stephens, Col. Penrose Thaekwell, T. Mesham [and] J. D. S. Aldworth.’
Perhaps, in the end, Jane is better remembered for her charity work than her art. The next we hear of her is a letter in the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser (Saturday 28 October 1911): [To the Editor.] Sir, In response to my letter last winter asking for gifts of books, toys, dolls, etc., to send to the Church of England Waifs and Strays and Dr. Barnardo’s Homes, many of your readers kindly interested their young friends, and were able to send several hundred toys, thus bringing joy to many young hearts. I hope this winter we may enlist further sympathy and make a still larger collection. Toy cupboards might now be turned out in anticipation of Christmas, last year’s Christmas cards made into scrap books, dolls re-dressed, etc., and so many less fortunate little brothers and sisters would be enabled to have share in our Christmas cheer. I shall be grateful for all contributions of toys, new and old. They should sent in not later than Saturday, December 3rd. — Yours, etc., J. D. S. Aldworth. Claremont, Dorking.
Jane Aldworth died on 8 June 1913 at age 52, unmarried.
But what of this missing oil painting of Theodore Bent? Suffice it to say, it would be wonderful to locate and exhibit it – pride of place in the RGS Gallery, London. There are few likenesses of Theodore, Mabel’s efforts as expedition photographer were, frankly, undistinguished, and very few have survived because of technical difficulties. Sadly, a large number of her glass slides used for Theodore’s lectures were thrown away in the early 1950s, as being too damaged or faded to make further use of – today they could perhaps have been restored.
Jane’s missing portrait has a date referenced above of 1898, with Theodore having died in May the year before. So when did Theodore pose for Jane? Mabel used a fine studio photograph of her husband for the frontispiece of her account of the couple’s Arabian explorations, Southern Arabia, published in 1900. In all likelihood, this photograph of Theodore, and Jane’s portrait, were executed in the mid 1890s, when Theodore was in his early 40s.
As for how he may have looked in Jane Aldworth’s portrait, let’s stretch our imaginations and look at details from the photograph referred to above and a detail of a fine painting of Theodore’s uncle, Sir John Bent (1793–1857), erstwhile brewer and Mayor of Liverpool. The oil painting of Sir John was done in 1855 by Philip Westcott (1815–1878) and hangs today in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Looking for a resemblance (and bearing in mind an age difference of some 20 years), can we see family similarities in the eyes and brows? If Jane had painted Theodore at 65, not 45, might he have looked like the portrait of Sir John? But the missing picture, when we find it, will look like the studio photograph published by Mabel in her book of 1900.
So, if you see an unattributed oil painting at auction that has the eyes (though younger) of this sitter – buy it! It is this lost painting of Theodore Bent! Or, of course, if you own it now, or have any further information on Jane Aldworth – do let us know. Jane’s likeness of Theodore may be no oil painting, but we would love to see it!