Mabel’s family, the Hall-Dares of Newtownbarry, were in the first wave of Co. Wexford gentry to adopt the horseless carriage – although in all probability not a Merc, the first of which rolled off the production lines as late as 1926 apparently.
This vehicle, illustrated above, is now resignedly, like an old grey, seeing out its retirement in a public carpark in Plakias, south-western Crete, a hundred metres or so from the shores of the Libyan Sea. As a marque of respect, the researchers of the Bent Archive, recently in the area (May 2022), resorted to Mabel Bent’s Chronicle of April 1885 to confirm that the nearest the Bents got to Plakias (a huddle of fishermen’s huts at the time) was from some way out to sea, heading west for Kythera on the steamer Roumelifrom Karpathos.
In fact, in their twenty years of inseparable travelling, Theodore and Mabel only landed once on Crete, then in the hands of the Turks, storm-sheltering at Kaloi Limenes/Kali Limenes, further to the east of Plakias, after their protracted investigations in the Dodecanese (early months, 1885). The haven, of course, has always aided those in peril on the sea, as it did Saint Paul, as the legend has it. Once the weather cleared, the Roumeli steamed on west, rounding Crete and Antikythera, before reaching Kythera town.
It is unclear why Crete, this major island, never attracted Theodore’s spade, but it probably had something to do with his notoriety; the era of freelancing excavators was coming to an end in Greece and Turkey, and Bent was soon to make an enemy of the implacable Turkish administrator of antiquities, Osman Hamdi Bey. The site of Knossos had been discovered in 1878 (the year after the Bents’ wedding) by Minos Kalokairinos, although it was not until 1900 that Arthur Evans began to extensively clear it. (For a glimpse of Cretan archaeological machinations in 1885, see, e.g., Frothingham 1888. Theodore did very well to steer clear, and, from 1886 eastwards to the Turkish coast. Within a few years, even here became too difficult for the Bents to explore at will, and they were soon off to Africa and Arabia, where they could more freely investigate.)
But, for the moment, back to Crete. Here, then, are the relevant extracts from Mabel’s notebook of their stay of a few hours on the island, at Kaloi Limenes, some fifty years before the great John Pendlebury ran across the hills above the site, as oblivious of his fate as Theodore was of his:
“Tuesday April 22nd [actually 21st, 1885]. After this we turned S.W. and sailed under Crete. We had a fearful night of storm, pitching, rolling, catching ‘B flats’ [fleas/bedbugs] and fears of falling on the floor. Added to which I am so spoiled by my hammock that I found the bed dreadfully hard. Much splashing took place and water flew over the ship, so about 10 o’clock, when we got close to ‘a certain island called Clauda’ [Acts 27:16. The Saint shelters here while travelling, as a prisoner, by ship to Rome. The ancient town of Lasea was nearby], we had to turn S. then E. again and take refuge here – a very sheltered place. We went ashore with the water barrels. There is a beach and some bushes and a pretty stream in which many clothes were washed by those who subsequently landed, and all the hands and faces washed, so no doubt we came back a cleaner party than we went…
“The annoyance at being turned back was quite overborne by the interest of coming to Kalé Liminas, and it was a great satisfaction to think that St. Paul must have drunk and washed in that very stream, and being stormstayed too was rather nice. The city of Lasea, which was nigh unto the Fair Havens, has disappeared but the place is the same…
“Wednesday, April [22nd, 1885]. We started at 8 in the evening and after a good deal of tossing got into calmer regions, but still were ‘under Crete’ in the morning [passing the huts of Plakias to starboard]. We had a lovely day. About 10 we passed Cerigotto, or as they call it Ante Kythera, and about 12 reached Kythera, or Cerigo, and found ourselves in a very pretty little double bay with a rocky promontory in the middle and a sandy shore.”
The work that helped launch Theodore’s reputation, and see him starting to think of himself as an ‘archaeologist’, was, of course, his The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks, completed in November 1884 – Bent was an incredibly quick writer – and first published in London in 1885, subsequently running to several editions. It is the first such travel account in English and still today features in any credible bibliography on this much-loved region – some might add, come high summer, too much-loved.
Mabel’s first ‘Chronicle’ covers the Bents’ tour of the Cyclades over the winter of 1883/4 and there is a litany of evidence of her diary entries appearing almost verbatim in Theodore’s text.
It should just be added that the couple had made an earlier trip to some of the Cycladic islands in the spring of 1883, and Theodore would have used his own (now lost) notebooks to add certain passages to his book, e.g. his chapter on Amorgos, an island not visited by the pair together in 1884, when Theodore made a second visit sans spouse. It will immediately be seen that Theodore has not assembled The Cyclades chronologically, for that you will need to follow Mabel’s diary. The couple hopped around rather, depending on the weather, steamer sailings, and other factors, which explains why some islands get more than one mention in her notes.
Because of the popularity and importance of it, for example the couple’s excavations on Antiparos helped define what is identified today as the prehistoric ‘Cycladic Culture’, Mabel’s diary covering these islands (that encircle Delos, and hence the name), in its freely available, digital format, will from now on be referenced and footnoted copiously. The Hellenic Society’s version is in pdf format and provided below is an index to the main islands and a concordance with the chapters in the first edition of Bent’s The Cyclades, as appearing in the online version of that godsend, the Internet Archive. The relevant page numbers are shown, i.e. for the Bents’ account of Anafi, see page 49ff in the Hellenic Society’s scan of Mabel’s notebook, and page 86ff in Theodore’s The Cyclades.
Please note: the Hellenic Society pdf is large and may well take several minutes to load, once open you can enter the page number to take you to the island you want. In Theodore’s column, clicking on the page number will take you to the island in his book! Happy travels! Καλό ταξίδι!
In the late 1920s, Mabel Bent’s niece, Violet Ethel ffolliott (1882-1932) transferred the care of her elderly aunt’s travel diaries, as well as some notebooks of her husband’s, Theodore Bent (1852-1897), archaeologist-explorer, to the Hellenic Society in London.
Both Theodore and Mabel had been associated with the Hellenic Society since the 1880s, but this institution, having to do, broadly, with things Greek, might at first glance appear an odd choice as a long-term home for these memoirs of travel and exploration associated with remote corners far away from the Eastern Mediterranean; only about half the couple’s twenty years of adventures were primarily dedicated to Greece and Turkey, the other portion, more often than not, found them dusty and deep in parts of Africa and the Middle East.
And after all, Theodore was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, whose orbit was the whole world, and the latter often funded and supported Bent’s expeditions; in return, he wrote and lectured for them constantly until his early death. So why not leave the Bent notebook collection to the RGS Mabel? A possible answer might be linked to the infamous scandal involving women RGS Fellows in the early 1890s. Mabel was on the list for the second allocation of Fellowships to noteworthy women travellers just at the time the RGS Committee voted against the idea, and women were not readmitted until some twenty years later. Proud Mrs Theodore Bent might well have remembered this obvious slight and opted to lodge her travelogues in the archives of the sociable and patrician Hellenic Society instead.
Whatever the reason, the Bent Collection has remained in three stout boxes in a secure library room in Senate House, London, ever since, available for private research on request (although Mabel’s ‘Chronicles’, as she called them, have since been transcribed and published by Archaeopress, Oxford, in three volumes).
However, advances in scanning techniques, and associated software, not to mention generous support, very appropriately, from the AG Leventis Foundation in this case, now mean that the Bent notebooks can be reproduced digitally, facsimile, ink blots, doodles and all, without risk to the original delicate material.
To quote the specialist involved: “For the vast majority of the time I am using a Bookeye 4 Kiosk book scanner to capture the image data and BCS-2 imaging software to process and format the images once they have been transferred from the scanner… When digitising a volume each page is saved and formatted as a single 600DPI TIFF file, all these files are then collated and converted into a single, readable book format PDF.”
And, most importantly of all, they are available, open-access free, to anyone, anywhere in the world, with an interest in 19th-century travel into those regions that attracted Theodore and Mabel Bent – from Aksum to Zimbabwe.
Accordingly, these notebooks have now been scanned and a digital catalogue produced. All Theodore’s notebooks in the archive have been finished, and all Mabel’s too – n.b. her 1896/7 volume covering Sokotra and Aden, the setting for the couple’s final journey together, was scanned last and is available here. (It should be noted here too that the diaries covering the Bents’ expedition to Ethiopia in 1893 were apparently never given to the Hellenic Society for some reason, and, for now, assumed lost – always the hardest word for a traveller to utter.)
So, what follows will take you to some very faraway places indeed – you only have to click to be transported (our pages and maps on the Bents’ explorations provide useful background information):
[Mabel used the term ‘Sporades’ for this diary, but the archipelago the couple travelled through in early 1885 is better known today as the Dodecanese. Their great acquisition on this trip was the unique and controversial ‘Karpathos Lady‘, held in the British Museum. The Bents never explored in any depth the group the guidebooks call the Sporades now.]
Mabel Bent died at her London townhouse, 13 Great Cumberland Place, on 5 July 1929 at the age of 82. Her Times obituary (6 July 1929) includes that, “as an experienced photographer and accurate observer, she was of enormous assistance to her husband and famous for the explorations in distant lands which she undertook with [him]. This was at a time when it was much more rare than it is now for a woman to venture forth on such journeys […] During her long widowhood [Theodore died a few weeks after scribbling in his final notebook above, in May 1897] of more than 30 years, Mrs. Bent was well known in literary and scientific London. She was a good talker, with an occasional sharpness of phrase which was much relished by her many friends.”
And would there be any ‘sharpness of phrase’ about seeing her ‘Chronicles’ now scanned and widely available? Did Mabel intend them for publication? Apart from the fact that Theodore relied on his wife’s notebooks for the provision of background details in his monographs, articles and lectures, the chronicler has left one or two clues within her pages.
From ‘Room 2’ of the Hôtel de Byzance, Constantinople, in February 1886, Mabel confides, in one of her happiest diaries it seems: “I must begin my Chronicle somewhere if I am to write one at all and as in this matter I am selfish enough to consider myself of the first consideration because I write to remind myself in my old age of pleasant things (or the contrary) I will begin now.” Thus we know, at least, that they were for her to read later in life, and that she intended her aunts, sisters, and nieces to share her adventures. (There are several asides such as, “We have constant patients coming to us and I am sure you would all laugh to hear T’s medical lectures.” And “You must excuse these smudges as I am sitting cross-legged on T’s bed.”).
There is also certainly nothing in her millions of words that could be considered as indiscreet, let alone anything close to libel – or nuptial intimacy for that matter – although there is a little false modesty and coquetry here and there. (Only two or three pages have been removed from the entire series of notebooks.) What is omitted, invisible, becomes visible and striking, however. In all her diaries there is not one reference to the losses of her childhood – her poor mother, her difficult father, and her two dead brothers.
But the most obvious hint that Mabel, at the very least, might be aware of a potential wider interest in her ‘Chronicles’ is the letter still preserved (in the 1885 volume) from her friend, Harry Graham, who shared in some of their travel that year, complimenting her thus: “I carried off your Chronicle… and… I never enjoyed these hours more than when reading it in the train coming down here yesterday – as soon as I have finished it I will send it you back – but why oh why don’t you publish it? It simply bristles with epigrams and I am certain would be a great success! You ought to blend the 2 Chronicles into one and I am sure everyone would buy it.”
Well. Perhaps not everyone. Mabel’s Chronicles are not great travel literature. They are her on-the-spot recollections of long days spent trekking, exploring, digging, dealing with villagers, arguing with minor officials; they are snatches of gossip, snobbishness, likes and dislikes, barking dogs, vicissitudes, poverty and pain; they are delightful souvenirs of music, dancing, colourful costumes and wonderful meals.
And how few are the references to limb and life. Just hours from complete malarial collapse, east of Aden, in the alarmingly named heights of ‘Goddam’, Theodore scribbles, in his final notebook, only weeks from his death at 45, “… but feverstricken we were delighted to get away. Apparently this corner of Yemen is particularly feverish. All those who go in from Aden appear to be ill. Perhaps it is [the] water…”
There are certainly passages that reflect her times, too, and which are inappropriate today. Great travel literature? Clearly not. But great travel writing – accounts of wonderful endurance and reflections of courage, attitude, apogee of empire, and spirit – most certainly.
It’s also nice to know the couple apparently liked their fruit syrup from J. Sainsbury!
There is no denying that Theodore Bent worked incredibly hard: if not travelling he would be planning the next expedition, fund-raising, researching, writing up, or lecturing. For the approximately twenty years of his travels (coming to style himself more and more as an ‘archaeologist’) he would return to London in the spring of each year (with the odd exception) and immediately begin to think of publishing and publicising his finds – he had always depended much on self-promotion and PR for the funding and support of his subsequent researches; he had good contacts with the press and would submit progress updates to them assiduously from far-flung outposts, via Reuters and other agencies.
An unscientific trawl through the press cuttings of the time shows how Theodore reached the peak of his ‘fame’ in 1893-4, after a trio of consecutive hits – Great Zimbabwe, Aksum, and Wadi Hadramaut. He and his wife were soon London celebrities and news and details of their adventures was syndicated widely at home and abroad.
Mabel was tasked with sorting out her photographs and ensuring that they were ready for transferal to lantern-slide or printer’s plate. There was also the constant process of unpacking and caring for case after case of acquisitions: archaeological, ethnographical, botanical, and zoological. The couple would quickly make decisions on what they wanted to keep for themselves, and exhibit in their London townhouse, and what they would offer to museums (for a remuneration if possible).
What is particularly striking is how quickly Theodore would settle to study and write up his monographs (frequently asking other specialists for contributions). His hard-pressed publishers (mostly Kegan Paul and Longmans) usually had them announced and on bookshop shelves within six to nine months of Bent’s return from the field.
And within short weeks of reaching home again – from the Levant, Africa, or Arabia – Theodore was ready to give talks and lectures, all over the UK, to the relevant grand institutions of the day, and before the great and the good (in the spring of 1892 even William Gladstone came along to hear). Mabel’s job was to have the lantern-slides ready, and any artifacts neatly labelled for display.
Other display aids might be needed – perhaps a 3D model (e.g. of his famous ‘Elliptical Temple’ at Great Zimbabwe), and then there was the commissioning of maps from the famous London cartographers Edward Stanford to be seen to.
What follows here, taken from newspapers and journals, is a chronological list (with no claims to completeness) of Theodore’s talks and presentations, giving a very good sense of the explorer’s Yorkshire-bred proclivity for hard graft. An interesting additional discovery seems to suggest that there was even an attendance charge for his talks in the provinces! The Newcastle Daily Chronicle for 2 March 1892 records that to hear Theodore lecture in Tyneside would cost you the equivalent of c. £3 today for a seat in the main hall, or c. £1.50 in galleries – money well spent! At another event we hear that Theodore’s ‘remarks throughout were admirably illustrated with a large series of photographic and other views of the places which were visited on the tour. The photographs were the production of Mrs. Bent, and incidentally Mr. Bent mentioned, in apology for some of the views which were somewhat wanting in sharpness, that the technical difficulties of photography, on account of the intense heat and other causes in Arabia, were almost inconceivable.’ (Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 19 October 1894). Complete sets of Mabel’s lantern-slides survived until the early 1950s, when they were discarded by the Royal Geographical Society, deemed too faded and damaged to merit keeping. A huge loss.
It takes very little imagination today to see Theodore in front of the camera presenting a sequence of his own mini-series – The Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant, The Persian Gulf, Africa North & South, and Southern Arabia. Let’s hope one day they will appear – on National Geographic perhaps!
Theodore Bent’s Talks, Presentations, and Lectures (some dates are approx) note 1
8th May: ‘A general meeting of the Hellenic Society will be held at 22, Albermarle Street on Thursday next [8 May], at 5 p.m., when Mr. Theodore Bent will read a paper on a recent journey among the Cyclades.’ [The Athenaeum, No. 2949, May 3, 1884, p. 569]
14th September: ‘At the meeting of the British Association in Aberdeen… in the Anthropological Section, Mr J. Theodore Bent read a paper to show that the study of tombs in the Greek Islands was conducive to a knowledge of ancient and forgotten lines of commerce.’ [South Wales Daily Telegram, Friday, 18 September 1885]
11th September: ‘At the meeting of the British Association at Bath… in the Anthropology Section, Mr. J. Theodore Bent contributed a paper on sun-myths in modern Hellas.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 12 September 1888]
17th September: At the meeting of the British Association at Newcastle, ‘in the Geography Section Mr Theodore Bent read a paper on the Bahrien Islands, in the Persian Gulf, in which he dealt with the position and general features the two islands, character of the seas, and the pearl fisheries and other features.’ [Dundee Advertiser, 20 September 1889]
2nd December: ‘The meeting of the Geographical Society on Monday at Burlington House [London] was one of exceptional brilliancy, and was fully attended. Mr J. Theodore Bent… read an interesting and exhaustive paper on the Bahrein Islands in the Persian Gulf. This was rendered the more interesting by some realistic photographs, thrown on a white screen as dissolving views, and taken by Mrs Bent on the spot.’ [The Queen, 7 December 1889]
30th June: ‘Royal Geographical Society. Mr. J. Theodore Bent read a paper at the fortnightly meeting of of this society, held last night in the theatre of the London University, on explorations he had made in Cilicia Trachea.’ [Daily News (London), 1 July 1890]
22nd July: Theodore Bent reads his paper ‘Notes on the Armenians in Asia Minor’ to the Manchester Geographical Society [MGS, Vol. 6, 220-222]
5th September: At the meeting of the British Association at Leeds, in the Anthropology Section, Mr Theodore Bent read a paper on the Yourouks of Asia Minor, who, he said, were the least religious people he had ever heard of; but the religion honesty was deeply implanted their breasts. No more polygamous people existed anywhere, a Yourouk regarding himself as a disgrace unless he had six or seven wives. As a consequence womanhood bad sunk very low among them.’ [Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 6 September 1890]
1891 [The Bents are away all year exploring the remains at Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes]
February (uncertain date): Theodore Bent lectures on the Castle Line Garth Castle on his way to Cape Town. [As recorded in Mabel Bent’s diary, 10 March 1891. Mabel does not give the title of the lecture]
22nd February: ‘At a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, held in the theatre of the University of London last night, Mr. J. Theodore Bent read a paper entitled “Journeys in Mashonaland, and Explorations among the Zimbabwe and other ruins”’. [London Evening Standard, 23 February 1892]
2nd March: ‘Although Lord Randolph Churchill declined the [Tyneside Geographical] society’s invitation to lecture on Mashonaland, Mr. Smithson was fortunate enough to secure the services of Mr. J. Theodore Bent, one of the Council of the Royal Geographical Society and of the British Association. Mr. Bent and his wife embarked on an adventurous journey into Mashonaland, and conducted excavations and explorations among the Zimbaybe [sic] ruins —the supposed “Land of Ophir”. Mr. Bent will deliver his lecture on the subject next week – on Wednesday, March 2nd.’ [Lovaine Hall; admission charged is to be 1 shilling (c. £3) in main hall, and sixpence (c. £1.50) in the galleries!] [Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 26 February 1892]
23rd March 1892: ‘At the meeting of the Anthropological Institute to be held to-morrow evening, Mr. Theodore Bent will read a paper on the archaeology of the Zimbabwe Ruins, illustrated by the optical lantern [i.e. Mabel’s photographs]. I hear that Mr. Gladstone has expressed his intention to be present, and that Mr. Bent will on this occasion make special reference to the manners and customs of the early inhabitants of these remote regions of South Africa.’ [Birmingham Daily Post, 22 March 1892]
Before 13 April: ‘Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bent’s party was successful and interesting [at their London home]. Her sister, Mrs. Hobson, and few intimate friends assisted Mr. Bent and his fellow-traveller, Mr. Swan, in explaining the relics [of Great Zimbabwe] to the learned and unlearned, to the latter of whom the trophies… might otherwise have seemed just so many rudely carved old stones, instead of being silent witnesses of the ancient civilisation and worship traced out by Mr. Bent in the wonderful walled fortresses of Central Africa.’ [Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser, 13 April 1892]
5th August: At the meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh, in the Anthropology Section, Mr Theodore Bent read a paper on ‘The Present Inhabitants of Mashonaland and Their Origin’. [St. James’s Gazette, 6 August 1892]
7th September: At the 9th International Congress of Orientalists (opened in the theatre of the London University, Burlington-gardens), ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent [in the Council Room of the Royal Geographical Society] gave an account of the more recent discoveries among the ruins of Zimbabwe and its neighbourhood.’ [London and China Express, 9 September 1892]
19th October: At a gathering of the Manchester Geographical Society in the Cheetham Town Hall, Mr. J Theodore Bent gave a talk on the Zimbabwe Ruins in Mashonaland. [Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 20 October 1892]
13th November: ‘Mr. Theodore Bent will deliver a lecture on “Mashonaland and the Ruins of Zimbabwe”, at the South Place Institute [Finsbury, London].’ [Colonies and India, 12 November 1892]
1st December: Mr. Bent lectured in Gloucester Guildhall, for the Literary and Scientific Association, on Mashonaland. [Gloucester Citizen, 7 December 1892]
7th December: ‘… at the Royal Spa Rooms, Harrogate. Mr. Theodore Bent, F.R.G.S., lectured on “The ruined cities of Mashonaland”, his interesting remarks being illustrated with excellent limelight views.” [Knaresborough Post, 10 December 1892]
19th June: At the annual meeting of the Hellenic Society, ‘Mr. Theodore Bent spoke of his researches in Abyssinia.’ [The Globe, 20 June 1893]
18th September: At the British Association meeting in Nottingham, Mr. J. Theodore Bent reported ‘to the Committee on the Exploration of Ancient Remains at Aksum.’ [Nottingham Journal, 19 September 1893]
20th October: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent, the African traveller, delivered an address before the members of the Balloon Society, at St. James’s Hall [London].’ [London Standard, 21 October 1893]
1894 [The Bents make their first foray into the Yemeni interior, being home in the spring. They return to the region (via Oman) at the year end]
21st May: ‘There was an overflowing meeting last night… at the Royal Geographical Society [London] to welcome back Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bent from their journeys in Southern Arabia.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 22 May 1894]
10th July: ‘At the London Chamber of Commerce, in the Council-room, Botolph-house, Eastcheap… Mr. J. Theodore Bent delivered an address on the expedition which he and his wife made last winter to the Hadramut Valley, South Arabia.’ [Home News for India, China and the Colonies, 13 July 1894]
14th August: At the meeting of the British Association in Oxford, ‘Mr. Theodore Bent read a paper on the natives of the Hadramaut in South Arabia.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 15 August 1894]
2nd October: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent lectured at a meeting of the Balloon Society on the subject of the explorations which he and Mrs. Bent made a few months ago in South Arabia, and the occasion was taken advantage of to present Mr. Bent with the Society’s gold medal.’ [Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore), 25 October 1894]
11th October: ‘Mr. Theodore Bent, F.R.G.S., who formerly resided at The Rookery, Low Baildon (now the residence of Alderman Smith Feather), delivered a lecture… at the Bradford Mechanics’ Institute, before the members of the Bradford Philosophical Society, upon his recent travels in Arabia.’ [Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 19 October 1894]
25th October: ‘There was a numerous attendance at a meeting [of the Liverpool Geographical Society] held in connection with this society, at the Royal Institution, in Colquitt-street, last evening, when Mr. J. Theodore Bent, F.S.A., F.R.G.S., gave an interesting lecture on “The Hadramaut: a journey in Southern Arabia,” which was illustrated by a series of photographic slides.’ [Liverpool Mercury, 26 October 1894]
6th June: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent read last night a paper on “Journeys in Southern Arabia” in the Lecture Hall the University of London.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 7 June 1895]
12th June: ‘Lord and Lady Kelvin received a brilliant and distinguished company last night in the rooms of the Royal Society in Burlington House’, when the Bents presented photographs and finds from Southern Arabia. [St James’s Gazette, 13 June 1895]
1st July: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent delivered a lecture at the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, at Hanover-square… The lecturer dealt with the Hadramaut, and Dhofar, the frankincense and myrrh countries.’ [Globe, 2 July 1895]
18th September: ‘At the close of the British Association meeting at Ipswich, Mr. Theodore Bent gave a paper on “The Peoples of Southern Arabia”.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 19 September 1895]
7th November: The Royal Scottish Geographical Society – Glasgow Branch. The Anniversary Address will be delivered in the Hall, 207 Bath St… at 8 o’clock , ‘by Mr. J. Theodore Bent, on “Southern Arabia”. Sir Renny Watson Chairman of the Branch will preside. Admission only by Ticket, two of which have been forwarded to each Member of the Branch.’ [Glasgow Herald, 6 November 1895]
8th November: ‘In connection with the Royal Geographical Society, a lecture was delivered… by Mr. Theodore Bent, in the National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street [Edinburgh]. The subject of the lecture was Arabia, and it was illustrated by lime-light views. There was a good attendance.’ [Edinburgh Evening News, 9 November 1895]
1896 [The Bents return from the Sudan in the spring and leave for their last trip together, to Sokotra and Aden, at the year end]
1st June: Mr. Bent read a paper on the Sudan to the Royal Geographical Society, London.
13th October: Mr. Bent lectures on Arabia at the Royal Victoria Hall, London. [South London Press, 17 October 1896]
The above, it seems, was Theodore Bent’s final lecture. The lantern flame flickers and disappears.
“Like most travellers, this lady has found that the less she and her nomad husband see of spirits and wine the better, and so with the exception of a little brandy for medicinal purposes, the whole party travel on tea, beef essence, and condensed milk…”
To mark Mabel Bent’s birthday (28 January 1847) this year (2022), let’s read more from a rare article on her from an arcane newspaper – The Newry Telegraph, 3rd January 1895, published by an unknown publisher in Newry, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. It seems that it is an original editorial by an unknown author and not a piece syndicated from any other contemporary English source. There is every chance that it was written, or co-written, by Mabel’s sister Frances Maria Hobson, wife of the Rector of Portadown (a corner of that devout triangle, Newry, Portadown, Armagh. The wagging finger to the intemperate above is a clue perhaps, ironic rather as Theodore’s fortunes derived in part from brewing!).
The featured photo, probably from Cape Town in 1891, shows Mabel in her prime and on her way to explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes. Mabel’s confident air presages the Bents’ imminent fame as they join the cadre of the nation’s most popular and best-known adventurers. Their work in the Eastern Mediterranean is behind them, their celebrated Arabian expeditions ahead. Thus this article in TheNewry Telegraph that follows reflects this prestige awaiting Mabel in 1895 perfectly, as well, of course, as the attitudes and jingoism of the day. And no excuse is ever needed for an oblique reference to another extraordinary traveller, Raymonde Bonnetain.
So, without further exposition, we join parlour-readers, heads and arms on their antimacassars, of The Newry Telegraph for Thursday, 3rd January 1895:
“Mrs Theodore Bent – The Queen of Explorers: Curious as it may seem, foreign exploration is one of the paths where the most feminine women have followed the example set them by their husbands and brothers. Of course, this has been especially the case in every kind of missionary enterprise, and one has only to recall the achievements of Lady Baker, Lady Burdon, Mme Dieu la Loy [sic], Mrs Peary, and more recently Mme Bonnetain note 1 , to prove that even great explorers have not hesitated to take with them on their perilous journeys those whom they had chosen for their life companions.
The subject of our sketch, Mrs. Theodore Bent, is a striking example of all a woman can do in the way of cheerful endurance and intelligent observation. Her name is less well-known than that of her husband, one of the most distinguished Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, for, as she sometimes observes, ‘There is not ink enough in a family for two’, but the valuable additions to exploration literature published by Mr Bent owe not a little of their interest to his wife, for she keeps careful notes of everything that occurs during their journeys note 2 , and, when any excavations are to be done, generally takes charge of one party whilst her husband looks after another.
Mrs Bent, who is a light, graceful-looking woman, well-known in the cultured portion of London Society, belongs to an Irish family, famous in the annals of County Wexford, the Hall-Dares of Newton-Barry; she rode almost before she could walk, and early displayed remarkable pedestrian powers.
During the last ten years Mr and Mrs Bent have together achieved twelve exploration expeditions in some of the roughest and least known corners of Southern Asia, that vast and mysterious domain of which the world even now knows little. They began their travels by an expedition to the less well-known islands of Greece, and while there made some interesting archaeological discoveries; this first attempt taught them a great deal, and now Mr H M Stanley himself could not rival Mrs Bent as organiser and manger of an exploration party, for long experience has shown her what to avoid, and narrowed down her list of absolutely indispensable necessaries to a small compass.
It is interesting to note that Mr Bent’s book on Mashonaland was one of the first works published on that now much-debated portion of our Colonial Empire.
Of late years Arabia has become to both husband and wife the most interesting portion of the universe. There is probably no place in the world of which so little is known, and which is more full of practical dangers to exploring Europeans, for the native population, though civilised after a fashion, are extremely cunning and dishonest, and have a great hatred and contempt for anything they don’t understand.
Nowadays so much is talked about rational dress, cycling costumes, and the relative value of a divided skirt and knickerbockers, that it is interesting to know that Mrs Bent’s ideas on the subject are simple and the result of long experience. Her costume never varies, for she has found the same kind of dress equally useful in South Africa, Arabia, and the Isles of Greece. Her outfit, which is very pretty and even conventional, consists of a tweed coat and skirt coming down below the knees, breeches, gaiters, and stout shoes. The skirt is full, being pleated; and by a clever arrangement invented by the wearer herself it can be altered accordingly as to whether it is wanted for riding or walking. With this costume is worn a pith hat and gause veil.
Mrs Bent, whenever it is possible, rides on horseback, and she cannot speak too highly of the intelligence and faithfulness of the horse as compared to that of a camel or mule.
Every detail concerning the outfit and internal economy of their expeditions is left by Mr Theodore Bent to his wife, and so on her hangs the heavy responsibility of keeping in health and making comfortable a larger or smaller party, which often includes guides and servants belonging to the country which is to be explored.
Like most travellers, this lady has found that the less she and her nomad husband see of spirits and wine the better, and so with the exception of a little brandy for medicinal purposes, the whole party travel on tea, beef essence, and condensed milk, while quinine is the most important item of the medicine chest.
It should not, however, be thought that Mr and Mrs Bent spend their whole life in travelling through wild and inaccessible regions; they generally pass the season in their delightful London home, which is a veritable museum, full of curious and beautiful things gathered together during the course of their owners’ many expeditions. Mr Theodore Bent has generously presented many of his most precious archaeological finds to the British Museum, but his own store is extremely valuable and curious. Mrs Bent makes a point of collecting anything specially feminine in the way of ornaments or habilaments, and some of the shawls and face veils presented to her by Arabian magnates throw a strange light on the manners and customs of the East.
The subject of our sketch was at one time proposed for election to the Royal Geographical Society, but she little values official recognition of dignities, and the matter has remained in abeyance note 3 .”
“Christmas Day [Naxos in the Cyclades, 1893] was a downpour and as our rooms are not watertight [it] came in through doors and windows. The wind howled and our prospects of food were faint. A wild duck, that was found just before luncheon, cheered us however so much that we ate it all but a wing, which I prudently cut off to keep…”
Well, here indeed is a unique and long-awaited Christmas present for those who like to try and keep up with the breathless Bents over their twenty years (roughly 1880-1900) of exploring and excavating around the Levantine littoral (Greece and Turkey), Africa (North and South), Southern Arabia, and other lands.
As part of the new digitisation programme of the Roman and Hellenic Societies’ (London University) manuscript collection, Mabel Bent’s travel ‘Chronicles’ (as she calls them), and some of her husband’s (Theodore Bent) notebooks, are due to appear online in early 2022 (mostly using ‘a Bookeye 4 Kiosk book scanner to capture the image data and BCS-2 imaging software to process and format the images once they have been transferred from the scanner’).
This means you will soon be able to delve into all of Mabel Bent’s manuscript ‘Chronicles’ (except for the missing Ethiopian tour volumes of 1893 – anyone know where they are?), and one or two of Theodore’s notebooks as well (significantly some of his Hadramaut jottings).
Researchers who now cite Bent’s monographs and published papers on Great Zimbabwe, Aksum, Yemen, Greece and Turkey, etc., will soon also be able to refer to his wife’s on-the-spot accounts, adding new details, dimensions, dangers, and the odd fresh dinner duck as well!
Following their work at Great Zimbabwe in 1891, the Bents were minor celebrities both in the UK and overseas; 1892 saw the first edition of Theodore’s Ruined Cities of Mashonaland. Barely taking a breath, the couple prepared for a trek to Aksum (Ethiopia) in the early months of 1893, and a monograph soon followed – The Sacred City of the Ethiopians (1893). Bent’s interest in early civilizations to the west of the Red Sea now enticed the two travellers to its east, and into the mysterious and dangerous Wadi Hadramaut (modern Yemen), marking the start of Theodore’s final field of study. In effect, it would kill him.
Brand Bent now went into overdrive in the summer of 1893 – meetings, finance and support were sought, inter alia, from the Royal Geographical Society, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the British Museum, the India/Foreign Office…
The couple had just a few months to put everything in place, including a full programme of self-promotion. Theodore lectured and sent out press releases, Mabel gave a series of interviews to newspapers and periodicals, two appear below, with transcriptions, and they are typical of many!
Interview with Mabel Bent for The Lady of the House* (later the Irish Sketch/Irish Tatler), 15 September 1893
“In the present day travelling has been made so easy that under the auspices of Messrs. Cook & Son it is possible to make oneself acquainted with all parts of the civilised world at a cost which is – comparatively speaking – trifling, and one can go to India, for instance, in a shorter time than it took our ancestors at the beginning of this century to make ‘the grand tour of Europe’, without which no young man of position was supposed to be educated! But all travellers now-a-days are not content with the stereotyped tours ‘personally conducted’ (excellent and convenient as these undoubtedly are), and of late years we have heard of journeys which involved considerable risk and privation, and resulted in most important antiquarian discoveries.
“That an Irish lady should be the most distinguished member of her sex in this respect is distinctly gratifying to our patriotic feelings, and her countrymen and women may be justly proud of Mrs. Theodore Bent, who has shared with her husband all the dangers of exploring remote districts, and in assisting in his geographical research. Mrs. Bent is a daughter of the late Mr. Hall-Dare, of Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford, and her mother was Miss Lambart of Beau Parc, Meath.
“Although Mrs. Bent’s travels usually occupy a considerable portion of each year, and her home is now in England, she always manages time for an annual visit to Ireland; and the lace industry established by her family at Newtownbarry for the benefit of the tenantry and cottages in the vicinity has still a staunch supporter in the subject of this sketch. As to the journeys accomplished by Mr. and Mrs. Bent, it is, unfortunately, only possible to give a brief outline, but doubtless most readers are aware that the recent discussion at the Royal Geographical Society arose by reason of the wish of several members to confer on Mrs. Bent the distinction of being a ‘Fellow’ of that body of notable travellers. Those who were against the admission of ladies have temporarily, at least, gained the day, but Mrs. Bent has not experienced the slightest disappointment about the matter, as she never sought a ‘Fellowship’, and is quite content with the privileges she already enjoys.
It is about nine years since Mr. and Mrs. Bent started for Athens, and made themselves acquainted with the most interesting portions of Greece, returning next year to the Cyclades Isles, and bringing back to the British Museum many valuable relics dug out of the ruins at Antiparos. In Egypt, too, some successful digging was accomplished, and also at an Egyptian town near Thrace**, while at Cilicia this adventurous couple discovered Olba and the famous ‘Korycian Cave’. A long tour through Persia and over the Caucasus preceded their celebrated expedition to Mashonaland, and last winter they went to Abyssinia, where they made several valuable discoveries and returned with a collection of curiosities for the British Museum.” (The Lady of the House (later the Irish Sketch/Irish Tatler), 15 September 1893, p.19)
* “The ‘Lady of the House’, in addition to a variety of literary contributions of merit, has a specially attractive feature in its publication this week… Mrs Theodore Bent is the subject of the ‘Society Portraits’. Mrs Bent is a daughter of the late Mr Hall-Dare of Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford, who was married to Miss Lambart of Beau Park, Co Meath.’ (Dublin Daily Express, Friday 15 September 1893)
(The very popular ladies’ periodical The Lady of the House was published in Ireland, appearing 1880-1924, when it joined with The Irish Tatler and Sketch. It was favoured for its content and production standards, photographs, etc. Although it mainly covered items to do with appearance and being ‘at home’, the newspaper also looked at matters political, economic, and societal. It was the brainchild of the Dublin advertising company Wilson Hartnell, being planned initially as a monthly or bimonthly format for advertising, in particular a marketing forum for Messrs Findlater & Co., a wine merchant and grocer whose clientele were primarily the upper middle class ladies of Dublin. “Although [showcasing] philanthropic, titled ladies in its early years, the readership, as is clear from reader engagement and advertising, were middle- to lower-middle-class women throughout the country who held some purchasing power but who did most or all of their own housework”.)
** Rather an odd reference. The Bents never dug in Egypt (apart from burying the remains of a picnic below the Sphinx in 1885!). Perhaps Mabel is thinking of their work on Thracian Thasos in the late 1880s).
Interview with Mabel Bent, 2 November 1893, in the Irish weekly The Hearth and Home
“Undaunted by the experiences of her late tour through Abyssinia, Mrs. Bent, whose portrait appears on this page, is busily engaged preparing for one of her most important journeys yet undertaken by her, for Mr. Bent has chosen South Arabia as the scene of his next explorations, and, as usual, his wife will accompany him. Mrs. Bent has just returned to London from a round of country visits, and having only a few weeks to make all the necessary preparations finds her time fully occupied. However, she kindly gives some interesting particulars of the prospective tour. Leaving London in November, Mr. and Mrs. Bent hope, if all goes well, to remain in Arabia until March or April, 1894, when they will return direct to England, as the intense heat which sets in about that time makes it necessary for the inhabitants of northern latitudes to leave so enervating a climate. Mrs. Bent invariably undertakes all arrangements connected with the baggage, chooses camp furniture and provisions, but limits all supplies to the minimum, as a large amount of the baggage would only increase the difficulties of travelling in places where the explorers are often partly dependent on the natives when they strike their temporary camps, and require the ‘impedimenta’ of the journey to be taken to the next halting-place. Mr. and Mrs. Bent’s ‘travelling residence’ will consist of two beds or three tents, sufficient furniture and hammock beds (all of which can be quickly put up and taken down), while canned meats, essence of beef, and tea, are the principal provisions to augment local supplies, and a medicine chest is also taken by Mrs. Bent.’ Whose travelling costumes are chosen with a view to roughing it, and consist of serviceable dark serge gowns, plainly made.
“Mrs. Bent has already visited every quarter of the globe, with the exception of Australia and she is thoroughly familiar with native life in Persia, Africa, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt. In all these long and laborious journeys she was the only woman of the party , and frequently was obliged to cook and look after the domestic arrangements generally. She has often been admitted to the closely-guarded Eastern harems, and her northern tours extend as far as Norway,* but, as one can readily understand, she hardly considers European countries worth including when talking of the places she has travelled through. Gifted with great artistic taste, Mrs. Bent’s personal collection of curiosities include many beautiful things brought from abroad, and, as our readers are doubtless aware, ‘The Bent Collection’ in the British Museum is one of the most interesting in that venerable building.” (Interview with Mabel, 2 November 1893, in the Irish weekly The Hearth and Home)
*Mabel writes elsewhere that she met Theodore Bent in Norway.
A recent photo sent in by Alan King as he steamed by Syrna (Σύρνα, anciently Syrnos) in the Dodecanese – minuscule and inaccessible, thus happily tucked away from Cycladic summer silliness just to the west – steered us to the Bents’ writings on an islet they were determined to see in early Spring 1888.
Theodore, after a cursory inspection of the terrain around the landing place on April 9th, wrote a note for The Classical Review (1888, Vol. II (10), p.329). If he did remove some of the obsidian blades he refers to, then they are not it seems recorded elsewhere:
“The small island rock, anciently known as Sirina, now as Agios Joannis, occupies a somewhat important position in the Aegean Sea, as one of the stepping-stones by which the earlier inhabitants of Karia must have travelled westwards; it has two good harbours, one to the north, and one to the south, and is placed midway in a long stretch of sea between Karpathos and Astypalaea, in both of which islands traces of this prehistoric race have been found. Having carefully examined Anaphi, an island lying to the west of this line of route, and having found there no traces whatsoever of this early population, and knowing that Astypalaea, Amorgos, Naxos and Paros are full of their tombs, I was considerably interested in discovering in the ruins of a square fortress on Sirina quantities of obsidian knives, which at once identified this rock with the race in question, and proved to us that they made use of it as a halting-place on their way to and from the marble quarries of Paros; in fact Parian marble, objects of which are so frequently found in their tombs, would seem to have been their chief quest in these westward migrations.”
Theodore makes no mention of the hassle getting to this tricky rock. They had hired a fine schooner from Syros a month or so before in early 1888 to cruise up and down the Turkish coast opposite Rhodes, and the skipper, Captain Nikolas, had no intention of breaking her up for insignificant Sirina. But the Bents, as often as not, get their way. Mabel tells the tale in her diary – first a skirmish from her and then a broadside from her husband:
“Sunday [April 8th, 1888]. Well, this morning we set sail, but not before dawn, for Sirina, as we thought, and with the scirocco we should have sailed south of Tilos, which lay directly in our way. We were busy in the cabin, but I peeped up and saw we were steering straight for Nisiros, north of Tilos. So I told Theodore and he proposed to go up and row with the captain, but I said I would make less formal enquiries. I said to [first mate] Grigoris, ‘We are going north of Tilos it seems?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But very far north! We are going to Nisiros.’ ‘Well! I suppose we shall tack soon, for we shall no doubt pass Tilos as close as we did Rhodes.’ The wind was quite fair for Tilos. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say he could not help it, and I said, ‘How soon shall we tack for the south?’ ‘We are going inside Nisiros.’ ‘But why?’ ‘To go to Kos!’
“So Theodore went up and there was a frightful, awful row. Now Grigoris said he did not wish to go to Sirina at all, and would not go there, and there was no water or harbours and many rocks and no lighthouse and he was always considered a most noble man, and honourable, and so on. ‘Very well’, said Theodore, ‘Go straight to Syra and we will go to the judge and the consul,’ etc.
“Later, with [our dragoman Manthaios] as a go-between we said if we could not go south, we did not mind going to a small island called Levitha on the way to Syra. This was agreed upon and we did not care a bit. It rained. I looked out again and saw that now we were going south of Nisiros and close to Tilos, past Kavos Kryos and Kos, where we had agreed to anchor for the night far to the dim north. ‘Where are we going now, Andreas?’ ‘To that place,’ [the crewman replied] very sulkily. ‘What place?’ ‘To Sirina!’ Of course we have lost hours by going so far north and are now fearing a calm.
“Next morning [9th April ] about 10 we reached Sirina and landed after luncheon. We walked across the island to the sea at the other side, where there is a deep bay. Here was a sort of farm, a very irregular enclosure of loose piled stones and very thick walls. The only thing with mortar was the oven. An old woman came out of the dark hut where she was shut in and brought us out little square blocks of wood to sit on, and she directed Theodore to where there were some old stones and so I returned to the ship with one man and the rest went off, but finding the earth all gone and only foundations on rocks they returned, and we set off again in the afternoon.” (Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent, Vol.1, Oxford, 2006, p.252-3).
All rather a storm in a seacup, and the frivolous couple’s scamper contrasts unbelievably with the reality of an incident on the island many years later, 7 December 1946, when a medical team,* including Lawrence Durrell as it happens, was sent from Rhodes on a Greek warship to assist the sick and wounded of the vessel Athina Rafiah (originally the SS Athena), carrying Jewish immigrants to Israel, which was wrecked there, with around 800 survivors coming ashore. Sadly eight of the refugees, among them children, perished in the aftermath of the wreck and are buried on the island. There is a lonely monument there to them all.
* ‘With Durrell on Rhodes, 1945-47’, by Raymond Mills, in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 33, No. 3, Lawrence Durrell Issue, Part 1 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 312-316.
Travel writer Alan King falls for the ‘Karpathos Lady’, kindly allowing followers of the Bents to share his own fascination for her… It makes quite a story!
On the Turkish-controlled island of Karpathos, shortly before midday on Monday, April 20th, 1885, a 6000-year-old female figure, hidden under a carpet, carried on the back of a man from Anafi, was smuggled onto a ship in Pigadia harbour, never, to this date, to return to her island home.
This is the story of her kidnap and of how she later travelled the world under her new name of the ‘Karpathos Lady’.
During the winters between 1882 and 1890, the British travellers Theodore and Mabel Bent would leave their home in London’s fashionable West End to meander around the Greek islands and the Turkish coast in search of adventure in the exotic Levant. Theodore Bent’s main interest was archaeology and their itinerary would be designed to take them to locations where there were opportunities to excavate new sites.
In March and April, 1885, they visited the island of Karpathos and came upon a limestone statue of a naked female, baring all. When they left the island, six weeks later, the Karpathos Lady went with them.
A desert diversion
Three months before, in mid-January, the Bents had travelled from London to Dover where they boarded a ferry to Calais to connect with the train which would take them on the first stage of their latest adventure.
Travelling via Paris, they reached an uncharacteristically snowy Marseilles on January 14th and the next day were on board the M.M. Tage heading for the somewhat warmer climes of Egypt, where they arrived 7 days later.
It was a birthday jaunt for Mabel who, on January 28th, climbed a pyramid at sunset and later wrote: “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 … it felt odd to be alone with the Pyramid and the moon.” note 1
Mabel was clearly over the moon about her 38th birthday celebration, however, there was another motive for the Bents travelling to Egypt. With their ‘holiday’ over, they had work to do and February 4th saw them aboard the S.S. Saturn, bound for the island of Rhodes, although Bent’s sights were really set on excavating on neighbouring Karpathos.
He’d become aware of four potential dig sites on Karpathos. However, the Turks were cracking down on such unlicensed archaeological activities. In addition, after the publication of his article in 1883 about the islands of Chios and Samos note 2 , in which he criticised Turkish rule, he feared he would have difficulty obtaining the necessary travel permits for the islands he wished to visit. At that time, Egypt was still effectively Turkish territory and Bent figured that he would more easily slip into the Turkish-occupied Greek islands from Egypt rather than the usual point of entry of Istanbul.
In the event, when the couple reached Rhodes, it became evident that the Turkish governor, or Pasha, Khamel Bey, was going to make life difficult for Bent. Not surprising really; at the time of Bent’s critical article about Chios and Samos, Khamel Bey had been Pasha on the nearby island of Lesvos and had become embroiled in the fallout from the article.
Khamel Bey refused to allow them to travel to Karpathos on the Turkish government steamer and the couple were forced to take a circuitous, clandestine route using the Greek steamer Roúmeli and small local caiques. After stopovers on the islands of Nisyros and Tilos, they finally made landfall on Karpathos, at Tristomo Bay, in the north of the island, on March 6th, 1885.
The Karpathos Lady appears
The main town of Pigadia had been their intended destination, but after an horrendous 9-hour overnight voyage from Tilos, bad weather forced them to take shelter in the wide, protected bay of Tristomo before continuing on their way next morning. But bad luck dogged them again. Two sudden gusts of wind took the sail and mast overboard and they just managed to limp into the small harbour village of Diafani where they found another boat and crew to continue their journey south. After a further seven and a half hours, they reached Pigadia, not far short of two whole days after having left Tilos, just 100 kms distant.
Bent was to encounter yet more problems. It seems that word from Rhodes had preceded his arrival on Karpathos and the Turkish authorities were aware of his intentions. Under scrutiny from the Turks, he found it difficult to excavate on Karpathos as he’d planned; he wrote while in Pigadia: “Here there are evidences of pre-historic inhabitants, the graves of whom I was unfortunately unable to open owing to the presence of the Turkish authorities …”
At this point however, Bent seemed unaware that he already had in his possession the most important object of his entire mission on Karpathos. His somewhat downbeat sentence above continues: “… but I was able to obtain a large stone figure of a female idol.” note 3
The Karpathos Lady had appeared. Her fate was now sealed.
Evading the Turks
Bent left the statue in Pigadia with the man who’d sold her to him, planning to collect her when he finally left the island.
He’d been hoping to excavate the sites of the four ancient cities of Karpathos. With Posidonia and Arkessia in the south of the island effectively off the agenda, his only recourse was to travel to the isolated north, well away from the inquisitive eyes of the Turks, to investigate Vrykounda on the north-west coast and the presumed site of Nisyros on the islet of Saria.
Shortly before Easter, in preparation for their journey, they arranged to leave some of their baggage in store in the Custom House in Pigadia with the aim of collecting it as they departed the island some weeks later. Of course, one very important item, the Karpathos Lady, was already in Pigadia, awaiting collection at the house of the man who’d sold her to Bent.
They travelled north to Olymbos and on to Vrykounda where they started their excavations at the site of the ancient city, with a break to celebrate Easter in Olymbos and Diafani. Visiting Saria after Easter yielded nothing but disappointment and they returned to Vrykounda.
Their digs at Vrykounda yielded some interesting finds which later ended up in the British Museum.
Their excavations in the north of the island completed, they returned again to Diafani and set out from the village in a small boat for the journey south to Pigadia to retrieve their stored baggage, and, of course, the Karpathos Lady. They planned to take the Greek steamer, Roúmeli, from Pigadia, which would carry them out of Turkish jurisdiction to Greece, but, to their horror, shortly after leaving Diafani, they saw the steamer heading north toward Diafani. Incredibly, they managed to flag it down by waving their umbrellas so that the captain would know they were the British passengers he’d taken from Rhodes to the island of Nisyros some weeks before. The Roúmeli had already called at Pigadia and was en-route to Diafani before proceeding on to the island of Kassos. They persuaded the captain to return, after Diafani, to Pigadia, with the help of 13 British pounds (some £800 or €900 at today’s value), much to the annoyance of some the passengers already on board.
Mabel’s diary account takes up the story of what happened when they arrived in Pigadia and how their loyal Greek dragoman, Manthaios Simos from Anafi, was given the special task of retrieving the 40kg statue while Bent kept the Turks occupied with “much raki”:
“Manthaios set off to run to the house where was a very hideous statue, more than the size of a baby, half a mile off. Theodore and the Turks sat down at the café … At last I saw Manthaios tearing back with the burden [of 40kg] on his shoulders and very soon they reached the ship and all was on board . . . we were safely off . . . ‘Oh!’ I could not help exclaiming ‘How thankful I am to be under the Greek flag’. And indeed with 3 umbrellas in the cabin, though all in disrepair, what now had we Britons to fear from Turks?”
“We sat down to luncheon at 12 in gay frame of mind and then I heard how Manthaios had run to the house and found it locked and had broken the door open, found the statue, wrapped it up in what he carried for the purpose, and ran back. Theodore was in the meantime drinking much raki with the Harbourmaster and other Turks, having been to the custom house and told an old woman to take a long time carrying the things, one by one, very slowly to the boat and thinking Manthaios would never be back; as I could see Manthaios I was luckier. When Manthaios appeared, Theodore could see that the statue showed behind and told him so, but Manthaios said ‘No matter’ and rushed on to the boat and then went back to say goodbye to the Turks. Theodore saw them spot the statue and whisper together and shrug theirshoulders“.
The raki had done its job well!
Mabel continues: “… so now we are in possession of the most hideous thing ever made by human hands.”
So thought Mabel of the Karpathos Lady. If only she could have known that, 130 years later, the beauty of this “very hideous statue” would finally be recognised for all the world to see.
The Get-away Ship
The steamer Roúmeli was probably an unknowing accomplice in the kidnap of the Karpathos Lady. She’d been plying her way around the islands for just a short period before her two encounters with the Bents. On the first occasion she took them from Rhodes to Nisyros. Her second encounter saw her being flagged down to return to Pigadia where she picked up the Karpathos Lady. Read more about the Roúmeli
And so, shortly before midday on Monday 20th April, 1885, the Karpathos Lady left her island home and started out on the odyssey that would ultimately see her travelling the world. With her went the possibility that the most important archaeological artefact from the island’s past would ever assume its rightful place as an icon of the island. Even today, few islanders know of her existence and still fewer are aware of the story of her dramatic abduction.
The odyssey begins
Passing to the south of Karpathos and after a 3-hour stop in Kassos, the captain of the Roúmeli set a course for the next stop on the escape route from the Turks, the Greek island of Kythira, aiming to sail across the Libyan Sea, parallel to the southern coast of Crete, before steaming north and out of Turkish-controlled waters.
During the night, some hours after leaving Kassos, maybe in fury at the loss of a goddess he might have sought to seduce, the great god Zeus unleashed his winds upon the Roúmeli and her passengers. Mabel wrote: “We had a fearful night of storm, pitching, rolling … and fears of falling on the floor … Much splashing took place and water flew over the ship”. Roúmeli battled bravely on, but next morning, close to the island of Gavdos, the captain was forced to turn the ship around and head back for the shelter of Kali Limenes (Fair Havens), at the most southerly point in Crete, where the ship carrying St. Paul, on his journey from the Holy Land to Rome, is said to have rested before encountering its own winds near Gavdos: “a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land … and no small tempest lay on us”. note 4
Arriving at the safe haven of Kali Limenes in the early afternoon of Tuesday, Roúmeli waited out the storm until 8 o’clock in the evening, when the winds abated sufficiently to allow the captain to continue on through the night. Wednesday morning saw them off Paleochora, the most westerly outpost of Crete, before Roúmeli turned north, finally entering the safety of Greek waters, close to the island of Antikythira, at 10 o’clock. A sigh of relief must have been breathed by Bent and Mabel.
At midday, the Roúmeli docked at the Kythira port of Kapsali. The Karpathos Lady had made it to Greece. Sadly, her stay was to be lamentably short.
During the few hours’ stopover in Kythira, the Bents arranged for papers to be drawn up to cover the true origin of the Karpathos Lady. Mabel tells us: “At Kythera a ‘manifesto’ was made and signed by the captain, saying he had picked us, and our cases, up in Turkey, and by the Kythera customs people to say we had not started from there.”
From Kythira, sailing overnight, Roúmeli arrived at her home island of Syros on Thursday, April 23rd, and the Bents checked into their usual haunt of the Grand Hôtel d’Angleterre from where Bent wrote to the Keeper of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum:
We returned from Karpathos yesterday and had hoped to catch a steamer which would have brought us and our things straight to England. Unfortunately we shall have to wait a week at least, and as we have so much plunder we cannot take the Marseilles route … but of course now we shall not reach England till the middle of May. We were fairly successful in Karpathos, finding a large number of rock cut graves unopened which have produced pottery, etc … I have likewise got a good-sized statue of one of those quaint figures which I got at Antiparos last year; it is of stone and nearly a yard long.
That “good-sized statue” was, of course, the Karpathos Lady, who spent the final few days of her time in Greece locked up in the Custom House in the port town of Ermoupoli, where the Bents often stashed their “plunder”.
It was not until some 10 days later that the Bents found a ship that could take them at least part of the way on their journey home. And so – the Karpathos Lady finally left Greek soil from the island of Syros at 07:00 on Saturday May 2nd, 1885, never, to this day, to return.
The M.M. Erymanthe took them from Syros to Messina in Sicily where, with fortuitous timing, they boarded the Maréchal Canrobert for the overnight leap south to the British colonial island of Malta, a busy staging post on the route between Britain and its colonies in the Indian subcontinent and beyond.
In Malta, they found it “not so easy to find a ship for London as we had thought, most of them being crowded at this season, and lots of people waiting for passages.” It was 6 days before they could secure a passage, with less than an hour’s notice, on Friday May 8th, on the cargo ship Restormel, carrying grain from Odessa to London.
One final act of subterfuge was necessary: “[The Restormel] is not a passenger ship and we are to be smuggled into the chartroom and there concealed; when we reach London our baggage to be supposed to be travelling alone”.
Sometime around May 20th, 1885, the Karpathos Lady finally landed on British soil, a month, and almost 7,000 km, after her odyssey had begun on the back of the Bents’ man-servant in Pigadia.
Mabel’s final entry in her chronicle for the adventure they’d embarked upon four months earlier reads simply: “We reached home via Millwall Dock in safety with our 24 pieces of the most varied luggage, and I am more convinced than ever that there is no place like it.”.
Descent into the Underworld
Given Mabel’s opinion of the statue, it’s hard to think that the Karpathos Lady would ever have been a house guest or graced the entrance hall of the Bents’ home near London’s Oxford Street. Indeed, Mabel may even have been more forceful about the ‘other woman’ in her husband’s life, for we know that, a year later, the Karpathos Lady was sold by Bent to the British Museum.
Alas, there her odyssey faltered, and for the next 110 years or so, the Karpathos Lady was consigned to the dingy basement of the British Museum to confront her shades, hidden from public view, despite her then being, and still remaining, the oldest Greek statue in the Museum’s collection!
Rebirth – the odyssey continues
After over a century of confinement in the ‘Underworld’ of the British Museum, the Karpathos Lady finally emerged into the daylight of the modern world. Her ‘rebirth’ came when her beauty was recognised by Dr. Peter Higgs, the Curator of the Department of Greece and Rome at the Museum. Dr. Higgs told us “The Karpathos Lady – a grand name for a wonderful object (if not to everyone’s taste). I can hold my head up high and admit that I brought her out of obscurity where she was languishing unloved in the basement and persuaded my colleagues to put her on display. Now she has toured the world!”
Thanks to the keen, professional eye of Dr. Higgs, the Karpathos Lady remained on display for a number of years, bringing pleasure to the many millions of visitors to the Museum.
In January 2010, BBC Radio 4 broadcast the first of a 20-part weekly series, produced in conjunction with the British Museum, entitled ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’. The series met with great critical acclaim and the Museum embarked upon creating a touring exhibition based on the objects featured in the radio programme.
Inexplicably, the Karpathos Lady was not included in the BBC Radio series, nor did she become part of the initial touring exhibition. However, after the first exhibition venue in Abu Dhabi in 2014, her beauty and importance were once again acknowledged and she replaced another exhibit as a permanent member of the touring exhibition. Her debut, later that year, was in Taipei, Taiwan – her first journey outside Europe. Japan followed in 2015 with exhibitions in Tokyo, Kyushu and Kobe. She jumped continents in 2016 and visited Perth and Canberra in Australia before heading back to Asia in 2017, where she wowed them in Beijing and Shanghai; Beijing attracted 340,000 visitors and Shanghai 8,000 visitors on its first day alone. 2018 saw her back in Europe for the exhibition in Valenciennes in France. In May 2019, she returned to Asia for a 4-month gig at the Hong Kong Jockey Club where the organising Hong Kong Heritage Museum highlighted the Karpathos Lady as one of the top exhibits – an accolade indeed for an object that had been almost overlooked.
All a long, long way – and a long, long time – from her Karpathos home.
Return to her Ithaka
Since her return to London from Hong Kong, the coronavirus pandemic has clipped the wings of many a traveller, the Karpathos Lady included, but our hopes are high for her further, future travels.
The travels of the Karpathos Lady have not, to date, included Greece, where she would surely be welcomed as a home-coming heroine. However, maybe one day, she will finally find her way back to her very own Ithaka – her island home of Karpathos.
‘Bring Her Home’ – sign the petition
The Archaeological Museum of Karpathos in Pigadia dedicates a small part of a display cabinet to an artefact which should be the pride of the island and its people. How appropriate it would be if the REAL Karpathos Lady could be proudly displayed for all to see.
With this in mind, we’ve started a campaign aiming to persuade the British Museum and the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports to negotiate the loan of the Karpathos Lady to Greece. The idea is for a ‘summer season’ in Pigadia, hopefully in 2022, where tourists and locals alike could admire the beauty already seen by so many across the world, establishing her rightful role as an icon of the island of Karpathos.
Please visit the ‘Bring Her Home‘ web page to ‘sign’ the petition to be sent to the British Museum and the Greek Ministry – it takes less than a minute. Why not tell your friends about the campaign and get them to visit the web petition page? http://karpathoslady.click
1998-2014 On public display at the British Museum, London, England 2014-2015 December 13-March 15 National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan 2015 April 18–June 28 Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan 2015 July 14–September 6 Kyushu National Museum, Dazaifu, Japan 2015-2016 September 20-January 11 Kobe City Museum, Kobe, Japan 2016 February 13-June 18 Western Australian Museum, Perth, Australia 2016-2017 September 8-January 29 National Museum of Australia, Canberra, Australia 2017 March 1-May 31 National Museum of China, Beijing, China 2017 June 29-October 8 Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China 2018 April 19-July 22 Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, France 2019 May 18-September 9 Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong
The essential data
British Museum number: 1886,0310.1 Description: Limestone female figure.
A thick slab worked flat, with beak nose, pointed breasts and vulva triangle left in high relief on the front. The eyebrows are marked by incised lines. Above the slit in the vulva triangle are four incised lines to represent the pubic hair; below is a horizontal groove. Function: Her stylised form is very striking and raises many questions, as her original significance remains a mystery. One possibility is that she is a fertility goddess, testimony to the importance of female fertility at this time. Cultures/periods: Neolithic (late) Production date: 4500BC-3200BC Excavated/Findspot: Bourgounte (Vrykounda), Karpathos, Greece Materials: Limestone Height: 660 mm Width: 354 mm Depth: 200 mm Weight: 40 kg Condition: Broken off below the hips. Rejoined below breasts. Purchased from: James Theodore Bent Acquisition date: 1886 Conservation: January 8, 1998. Remove dowel and base, light clean. Reason: Permanent Exhibition. Removed object from base and dowel from object mechanically aided by hot water to dissolve the plaster. Slightly cleaned with Wishab sponge (vulcanized latex, filler).
Note 1: In her Chronicles, Mabel is not specific about which pyramid she climbed but we might suppose that it was the Pyramid of Menkaure. She writes: “After dinner we went out in the bright moonlight and Theodore and Mr. Head’s brother went to visit the Sphinx but I preferred to go up the Pyramid, as I had not done it on Monday.” The entry for the previous Monday talks of her visit to the Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinos): “We visited the Sphinx and when we got to the Pyramid of Mycerinos we found we had no candle …” Return from Note 1
Between December 1883 and March 1884, Theodore and Mabel Bent were travelling around the Cyclades in search of ancient sites that they could excavate.
In December 1883, they stayed for a single night on the island of Antiparos, as Mabel recounts, “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.”
In the short time they were there, on the basis of information provided by Robert Swan, they visited an ancient burial site and found, and opened, four graves. This initial dig prompted their return a few weeks later for a longer visit in the hope that it would yield further finds.
The British Museum Objects
On May 30 1884, just a few months after his Antiparos digs, Bent wrote to the Keeper of Antiquities at the British Museum: ‘Do you care to make me an offer for my figures, vases, ornaments, etc., from Antiparos? It occurs to me that a collection of this nature is rather lost in private hands.’See some of the objects excavated by Bent in Antiparos.
In the event, the additional finds from the site, and from another they excavated on that second visit, surpassed their expectations and would lead to the establishment of Bent’s future reputation as a credible archaeologist, or, depending on your point of view, with some justification, an ‘illegal excavator’ note 1 . The objects he took from Antiparos he later sold to the British Museum, where they remain today.
Bent was the first player on stage and he wrote about his excavation work in 1884 note 2 but omitted to disclose the precise location of his two excavation sites.
Following Bent, some fourteen years later, in 1898, the Greek archaeologist Christos Tsountas took the stage when he located a site which he attributed to Bent’s initial site at a place he named as Krassades, but knowledge of exactly where Krassades lay was lost over the ensuing years.
For well over a century, the location of Bent’s site remained a mystery and the theatre stood silent. Only recently, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou, has the location of Krassades been pinpointed and the footlights have once again illuminated the scenery and the actors involved.
But the answer had always been there, hidden between the lines of Bent’s book and Mabel’s chronicles, ready to be revealed in conjunction with a little local research.
In 2017, Dr. Zozi published a paper note 3 , in Greek, in which she describes rediscovering the location of Krassades. Unfortunately, Dr. Zozi’s paper slipped under the radar of The Bent Archive.
On a visit to Antiparos in September 2019, unaware of Dr. Zozi’s discovery, I resolved to try to put together the pieces of the 130-year old jigsaw puzzle which would reveal: 1) the house of Robert and John Swan, in which Theodore and Mabel Bent stayed while on the island; 2) the site of the calamine mine managed by Robert Swan; and 3) the precise location of Bent’s initial dig. Together they form the three scenes for the set of the “Archaeology Theatre of Antiparos”.
Theodore's and Mabel's books
The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks – Theodore’s classic book of his and Mabel’s adventures in Antiparos and the other Cyclades islands can be found in this print version, which also contains additional information about the Bents and their travel itinerary.
William Binney seems to play a small but important part in the story. He was Her Brittanic Majesty’s Consul to Syra (Syros) during much of the time of the Bents’ travels around the islands. He facilitated their travels by way of letters of introduction to important figures on each island they visited, one of whom was Robert Swan on Antiparos. Many of the Bents’ finds were illegally exported out of Greece, usually via the port of Syros, and one wonders whether William Binney’s role should be extended to include his services to the Bents in this area. Read more about William Binney.
Robert McNair Wilson Swan was born in Scotland in 1858, making him 3 years younger than Bent. His biography tells us that he worked in Greece as a ‘mining expert’ from 1879 to 1886. He would have been around 25 years old when he and his brother, John, first met Theodore and Mabel Bent in Antiparos in December 1883. We deduce that he’d been working on the island for around four years at that stage.
Christos Tsountas was a highly-respected Greek archaeologist. He was born in 1857 and died in 1934. Aside from his other important areas of work, notably Tiryns, Mycenae and Syros, he investigated ancient burial sites on several islands in the Cyclades in 1898 and 1899, including Antiparos. It was he who coined the term “Cycladic civilization”.
Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou
Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou is Head of the Department of Classical and Prehistoric Antiquities of the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades. Among other projects, she has been the driving force in rediscovering, and continuing work at, the site of Bent’s first excavation, now known as Krassades.
In December 1883, Theodore and Mabel Bent visited the island of Paros, and, during their visit, they made the 10-minute hop across the narrow strait to the neighbouring island of Antiparos, armed with a letter of introduction from the British Consul in Syros, Richard Binney, to a Scottish engineer, Robert Swan, carrying out mining operations on Antiparos. They stayed for just one night with Swan and his brother John, but this brief encounter sowed the seeds of a friendship which would last for many years. Over the following few weeks, they saw more of Swan, who joined them on parts of their island-hopping odyssey.
This budding friendship was in stark contrast to that which Bent had feared he would encounter in Antiparos after advice from his muleteer in Paros. Bent writes:
The Pariotes look down on their neighbours with supreme contempt and call them kouroúnai (κουρούναι), or crows … and my interest was excited about the crows into whose nest we were about to deposit ourselves; but, as it turned out, we found our home for three weeks at Antiparos, not amongst the crows, but in the hospitable nest of the Swans — two English brothers, who work calamine mines on this island, and who not only assisted us in our digging operations, but gave us the rest that we much needed.
Mabel’s chronicle echoes Bent’s endorsement of their new-found friends and tells us of a conversation, on that first night, which would spark Bent’s interest and bring the travellers back to Antiparos for a longer stay just a few weeks later. Mabel writes of that first visit:
Rode 1 1/2 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. Crossed in about 10 minutes. Found the population all enjoying the feast of St. Nikoloas who replaces Neptune. At one house I was obliged to join in the syrtos holding 2 handkerchiefs. We sent a messenger to Mr. Swan and knowing he would take 3 hours to return, rode to meet him. Met Mr. Swan who more than fulfilled our warmest hopes. He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc. So, we manifesting a great wish to dig too, he got men and we opened 4. They were lined and paved with slabs of stone and the people must have been doubled up in them, they were so small; we only found, besides bones, 2 very rough marble symbols of men and women, little flat things and some broken pottery.
So, in early February 1884, the couple returned for a longer run with a script which saw Bent excavating 40 ancient graves, yielding a plethora of unique finds. Those finds, now in the British Museum, essentially wrote the text-book for our understanding of early Cycladic culture.
Although Bent’s work during his 2 weeks on Antiparos led to his being recognised as a serious archaeologist, we know little about his day-to-day activities. Unusually, Mabel’s chronicles do not give us as much information as on some of the less important islands they visited.
We do know he left for a visit to Amorgos for a week, leaving Mabel with the Swans to recover from a bout of ill health. We also know from Bent’s book, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks, that he took a day off to go fishing on St. Simeon’s Day note 4 when his workers refused to work on the Saint’s day. Even on his day off, he used the time to gather material for a magazine article entitled ‘Fishing in Greek Waters‘, which he later incorporated into the book. You can read the gripping story in The Cyclades book or in the free online ebook, In Greek Waters, on our sister site.
Bent and Mabel both mention that they stayed at Robert Swan’s house but give us few clues as to exactly where that house was. We know his first excavation was at the suggestion of Robert Swan who ‘in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc.‘ But where was that road and hence the excavation site?
The following sections try to answer these questions. These ‘answers’ are not definitive and are hypothetical assertions based on researching the island’s recent industrial history, speaking with local people and visiting potential sites. We welcome discussion and further information from any source and will update this article as new information becomes available or any of the assertions are proved to be false.
We have one ‘hard’ piece of evidence. Bent tells us that his first excavation site was “on the slope of the mountain, about a mile above the spot where the houses were”. He saw the ‘houses’ submerged in the narrow stretch of sea between the island of Tsimintiri and the southern shore of Antiparos near present-day Aghios Georgios. Using this fact, I’ve tried to bring together discrete pieces of Bent’s and Mabel’s writings and local exploration and research to come up with the most probable positioning for all three of our sort-after locations.
The location of the Swans’ house is key to finding Bent’s initial exploratory dig site in December 1883 and his subsequent, more extensive digs a few weeks later.
Theodore and Mabel Bent had been staying in Paroikia in Paros, and Bent tells us that they left early for the journey to Antiparos: “On the next morning early we started for Antiparos, a desolate ride of two hours to the point where the ferry boat takes passengers across.” Mabel’s chronicle contradicts Bent’s timing: “Rode 1½ hour to the nearest point to Antiparos”.
Mabel writes that Swan’s house was a 90-minute ride (in one direction) from Antiparos town where the ferry landed the couple: “We sent a messenger to Mr. Swan and knowing he would take 3 hours to return, rode to meet him. … He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc. So, we manifesting a great wish to dig too, he got men and we opened 4.”
These events all occured within the same day so, timing, and Bent’s subsequent description of the location of the dig site, pins down the approximate location of the house.
Mabel noted in her diary that they visited Antiparos on December 18, however, that date needs to be clarified. Bent says it was St. Nicholas’ Day (December 6). With the 12 days old-style/new-style calendar shift that Mabel always factored in, it would confirm Mabel’s date of December 18 note 5 . In 2018 on that day in Greece, there were 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight with the sun rising at 08:35 and setting at 18:07. The actual times would vary slightly according to the longitude of a specific location, but the interval would be the same. Over the intervening 134 years, a few seconds of drift may have to be factored in. Also, without further research, it’s not certain that there was a universal Greek time or whether, more likely, it changed with longitude, and, the relationship between the ‘clock time’ and sunrise may not have been as now. However, this is all self-balancing and we still end up with around 9:30 hours of daylight.
We have to assume that Bent and Mabel would not be travelling by mule in the dark. Adding up Mabel’s chronicled day should give us the amount of time remaining for Bent’s exploratory dig:
Paroikia to Pounda 1:30 (Mabel’s lower reckoning)
Awaiting the boat to come from Antiparos 0:15
Festivities (Mabel tells us they joined in) 0:30
Ride to the Swans’ house 1:30 (although Bent tells us it was 2 hours)
Resting at the Swans’ house (say) 1:00
This totals, conservatively, 5:00 hours, leaving just 4:30 hours for Swan to organise the men for digging, to travel to the site from Swan’s house, excavate 4 graves and travel back. Therefore, the site must have been VERY close to the Swans’ house.
Bent tells us, almost exactly, where the dig site was:
A rock in the sea between Antiparos and the adjacent uninhabited island of Despotiko is covered with graves, and another islet is called Cemeteri, from the graves on it. The islands of Despotiko and Antiparos were once joined by a tongue of land, which was washed away by the encroachment of the sea on the northern side; and in the shallow water of the bay, between the islands, I was pointed out traces of ancient dwellings … I was able to discern a well filled up with sand, an oven, and a small square house. … A clever fisherman, who knows every inch of the bay, told me that pottery similar to that I found in the graves was very plentiful at the bottom of the sea near the houses. It is on the slope of the mountain, about a mile above the spot where the houses were, that an extensive graveyard exists. It is not unlikely that the submerged houses form the town of which this was the necropolis.
Taking our assertion of the proximity of Swan’s house to Bent’s initial dig site, would locate the house to be 1 to 2 kms north of the present-day village of Aghios Georgios.
While researching another, unconnected, story in Aghios Georgios, I mentioned my Bent search to a local man, Tassos G… . This conversation threw up a tantalising possible candidate for the Swans’ house. “If you follow that track up and over the hill, you’ll come to a building which was owned by a French mining company” he said. “It’s used as a farm building now but it’s not an average local house – look at the stonework”.
After leaving Tassos’ house, I immediately took the track he’d indicated. The house he’d described was indeed more high-status than the usual farm building. It’s now being used to store hay. There are some additional buildings around it with another largish building across the track.
Part of the house has been demolished and the existing walls represent approximately two thirds of the original length of the house.
The stones forming the walls are of a regular shape and have either been cut or carefully selected; by comparion, the other large building mentioned, on the opposite side of the track, is of a much rougher construction.
An element of decorative embellishment can be seen in the door and window lintels, being curved and formed from stones rather than a simple straight piece of timber. All the internal walls were at one time rendered.
While looking around the site, I noticed SOMETHING QUITE AMAZING – but more of that a little later.
The track continues on up the hillside and eventually reaches a large mining site to the north of Mount Profitis Ilias at Koutsoulies. Could this road have been the one which Mabel writes about: “He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves.”
Further investigation yielded more ‘evidence’ as set out in the following sections.
The Municipality of Antiparos’ official website states: “Mining activity on the island began in 1873, when the state ceded the exploitation rights to these deposits to the Elliniki Metalleftiki Etaireia [Greek Mining Company]” note 6
Another account of mining activity tells us: “Limonite ore, from which iron containing pockets of azurite and zinc are extracted, can be found on the western slopes of Profitis Ilias of Antiparos. The Greek Mining Company began mining operations in 1873 and started mining zinc from Kaki Skala. In 1900 the mines were taken over by the French Company of Lavrion” note 7
This second account mentioning the French Company of Lavrion would seem to tie in with Tassos’ statement about the house having been owned by a French mining company.
In searching for the calamine mine, I was initially drawn to the site of the mines at Koutsoulies, however, being on the north slope of Profitis Ilias somewhat casts doubt on this being the site of Swan’s mine. Additionally, the track from the house to those mines twists and turns around the folds of the mountain, probably a distance of 8-10 kms or so. Why would Swan live so far from the place of his work? The house indicated by Tassos is not in a ‘desirable’ location: it’s not in a village, or a town, it’s not by the sea. There had to be another reason why the mining company had built the house at that location. The calamine mine just had to be closer to the house, and, remember, in a very short space of time, Swan had gathered up a team of men to help Bent on his initial exploratory dig.
A kilometre further on from the house, the track passes above a ravine showing clear signs of quarrying with heaps of mining spoil to be seen, not yet fully overgrown. A kilometre further on, a track leads down to the ravine bed and closer examination of the quarry can be made. To the untrained eye, some of the loose spoil looks iron-based (ferric) with rust-red patches revealing its presence – a possible indication of calamine. The extent of the quarry can be clearly seen on the map in this article when switched to satellite view.
Bent writes of the local man named Zeppo:
On the opposite side of the island to the village of Antiparos, about two hours on muleback over the mountains, are a few scattered houses gathered round the calamine mines. Here we were staying, close to our graveyard, and here Zeppo has his store and dispenses his goods to the miners.
So, Bent’s writings would seem to support our assertion that the calamine mines were close to Swan’s house and hence his initial dig site. Were those “few scattered houses gathered round the calamine mine” the ‘farm’ buildings I’d seen?
Bent’s statement in relation to calamine extraction, “I could find no trace of any ancient works here [Antiparos]“, supports the premise that the quarry near to the Swan’s house was from the modern era.
Bent was relatively restrained in his excavations on Antiparos, given the number of sites he was told about, and one would like to think that he thought he’d leave some for future generations of archaeologists. He writes:
I was induced to dig at Antiparos because I was shown extensive graveyards there. Of these I visited no less than four on the island itself, and heard from natives of the existence of others in parts of the island I did not visit.
Of the four sites he visited, he excavated only two: “I opened some forty graves from two of the graveyards”. Just these two sites yielded a vast number of finds, all of which are now in the British Museum (view the objects in the British Museum).
Subsequent excavations by Tsountas and Dr. Zozi yielded a smaller number of finds, some of which can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (see earlier image).
The first site
I’ve tried to establish earlier that Bent’s first excavation site was close to the Swans’ house and close to the calamine mine.
The fortuitous conversation with Tassos about the French mining company house led me to explore the track he’d pointed out to me.
I found the house and, on walking around the immediate area, I saw to my utter amazement, just across the track from the house, some fairly recent excavations of, what looked like, graves identical to those described by Bent. How could this possibly be? Bent’s original excavations would have eroded or been overgrown over the past 130 years, so somebody had been excavating here recently.
Back at the Bent Archive base, on receiving my report of finding these new excavations, the team started scouring the Internet for any recent references to Bent’s excavations on Antiparos. They came upon an advance notice of a lecture note 8 which was to have been given to The Archaeological Society at Athens in December 2018 – just 9 months previously. The presenter was to be Dr Zozi Papadopoulou. A précis of the lecture stated: “In recent investigations by the Ephoria of Antiquities for the Cyclades, the Krassades site was relocated [located once more] and a cluster of graves, some undisturbed, were explored.”
With no contact details for Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou, the Bent Archive sent an email to Demetris Athanasoulis, Director of The Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades, who forwarded the message to Dr. Zozi, to which she replied:
The site of Krassades has been located in the last decade about 1km north of the modern settlement of Ag. Georgios in Antiparos. We actually excavate part of the cemetery with very interesting findings. I am sending a link directing you to one of my articles with informative photos included (pp 357-359). The “southeast site” you mentioned has not been identified yet…
Dr. Zozi’s reply arrived after I’d left Antiparos. The information in the article which she references note 9 in her email looks to be extremely interesting and, armed with this new information, a return visit beckons soon after travel is permitted following the current (2020/21) pandemic.
Her reply confirmed what I’d deduced from the lines of Bent’s book and Mabel’s chronicles, and from my researches on Antiparos – the exact location of Bent’s first excavation site, the location of the Swans’ house and the location of the calamine mine.
The second site
Neither Bent nor Mabel provide us with any precise information on where the second site was located, although Jörg Rambach in Early Cycladic Sculpture in Context(Marthari et al. (eds), Oxford, 2017, ch. 7) suggests in the area of Apantima or Ag. Sostis. Bent only gives us two vague geographic references.
One reference tells us that it was “to the south-east of the island”. This could lead us to believe that it was somewhere on the peninsula, south or west, of the present-day village of Soros.
The other reference provides the information: “In Antiparos the inhabitants had their obsidian close at hand, for a hill about a mile from the south-eastern graveyard is covered with it.”
SO – a project for a future (very long) visit to Antiparos – find an obsidian needle in an obsidian haystack in the south-east of the island!
Dr. Zozi’s reply seems to confirm that the location of Bent’s second site is still unknown:
The “southeast site” you mentioned has not been identified yet.
As with any complex plot, the individual players each add their part to the overall story and serendipity often plays a major role.
In 1884, Bent published his article, Researches Among the Cyclades in the Journal of Hellenic Studies note 10 , describing his excavations on Antiparos. Around the same time, he was also writing his book, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks note 11 , in which he included much of the text of the previously published article, save for a short appendix, Notes on an Ancient Grecian Skull. Aside from this appendix, the text of the article and the book are largely identical with the notable exception of the first paragraph. In the article he writes:
It is first of all necessary to state why I chose Antiparos as a basis for investigation on this point: firstly, because during historic times…
The version in his book contradicts that of the article:
On ascertaining the existence of extensive prehistoric remains at Antiparos I felt that it would be a satisfactory spot for making investigations — first, because during historic times…
Both versions continue identically and both contain the second paragraph starting:
Secondly, I was induced to dig at Antiparos because I was shown extensive graveyards there.
In the article version, Bent is suggesting that he chose Antiparos in advance because, from the considerations he sets out, he foresaw that he might find remains there, whereas, in the book version, his considerations were only entered into following the meeting with Robert Swan and his excavations on that first brief visit.
Although Bent was always on the look-out for potential dig sites wherever he roamed, one might assume, given that he only intended to stay overnight, that his reason for visiting Antiparos was other than archaeology. It would seem that he came as a ‘tourist’ to visit “the celebrated grotto” for its medieval historical interest, about which visit he wrote extensively in his book. His archaeological interests lay much further back in history and, for Bent, Antiparos was “a place without a history.”
It can be said therefore that the discovery of the Krassades site was a result of two supreme examples of serendipity. Firstly, in Robert Swan’s stumbling upon the graveyard while making the road to the calamine mines and, secondly, in Swan’s mention of the graves on that first night, without which, Bent might never have proceeded to dig on Antiparos. Maybe it was always in Swan’s mind to mention his finding of the graves, and Mabel’s account makes it sound as though the subject might have been on his agenda: “He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc.”
Robert Binney, the British Consul in Syros, played his part well in bringing Swan and Bent together.
We don’t know for sure, but it would seem that Swan made no monetary gain from bringing the site of the graves to Bent’s attention, nor for assisting him during the Bents’ 3-week stay on the island (although Bent himself stayed only for 2 weeks, leaving Mabel with the Swan brothers on the third week, suffering from poor health). Robert Swan and the Bents became close friends from that point on and Swan later drew some element of fame from accompanying Bent on his expedition to Great Zimbabwe.
Bent, of course, gained the greatest applause and accolades. As an established author of books and journal articles, and as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, he had all the right contacts to finally make his name as an archaeologist, aided by his sale to the British Museum of the Antiparos finds, his article Researches Among the Cyclades, published in 1884 in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, note 12 and the publication of his best-selling book The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks note 13 in 1885.
Christos Tsountas played a key ‘linking’ role, some 15 years after Bent’s excavations. Probably working from Bent’s writings, and being able to find local people with personal recollections of his visit in 1884, he identified Bent’s excavation site and named it as Krassades. He was also the first to methodically excavate the site using sound archaeological practices.
That ‘link’ provided by Tsountas, was picked up over 100 years later by Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou who successfully located, once again, the Krassades site and has produced detailed and modern analysis of older parts of the site as well as new areas of interest. Her work on the site continues.
The last words of the script should rightly be spoken by Dr. Zozi, to rapturous applause from the audience:
“May I take the opportunity to also express the wish that the skeletal remains come back to the island.”
Should Dr. Zozi’s wish be granted, expect to see a sequel to this story, possibly entitled ‘Of Crows and Swans and Calamine – A Wish Come True’.
We leave it to you, the audience, to make up your own mind, from the script we’ve compiled, as to who should share the applause in the “Archaeology Theatre of Antiparos”.
Note 4: In the Othodox Calendar, St. Simeon’s Day is April 27th. Simeon is also honored, together with 70 other apostles, on January 4th. Those who are named after Simeon, or Symeon, can celebrate their name day on either of these days. However, Theodore and Mabel Bent were in Antiparos on this second visit in February 1884 so Bent may be mistaken in his reference to this saint’s day – or he was being hoodwinked by his workers? Return from Note 4