Love in the Levant – archaeologist William Paton’s encounter with a Greek goddess – Kalymnos, 1885

Love in the Levant – the true story of an aristocratic British archaeologist and his profound love for the goddess he encountered on a remote Greek island – and Mabel Bent’s account of meeting her.

Another in our Greek island series: “The Bents – great friends of… ”

Love at first sight

W R Paton with his sister Mary aged 2 or 3
W R Paton with his sister Mary aged 2 or 3

William Roger Paton was born in Scotland on September 2nd 1857. He studied Classics at Oxford and London and moved on to law for a while in London. However, the legal world was clearly too staid for William, whose real interests lay further afield in literature and archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean. One wonders whether Oscar Wilde had his friend William Paton in mind when he wrote “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

On one of his trips to the region in the late summer of 1885, his ship anchored off-shore near the village of Pothia on the Turkish-controlled Greek island of Kalymnos. Standing on the deck of the steamer, he could not have known that his life was about to take a turn which would see him married within just 3 months and a father before a year had passed.

Few large ships called at Kalymnos in those days; there was no dock and such ships had to anchor well out to sea. As soon as a ship was spotted, a scramble of small boats would go out to meet it to take off alighting passengers and maybe to make a few drachma from the ship’s passengers. The local boys would hope to come back with a coin or two by entertaining the passengers with their diving skills as they retrieved coins thrown from the deck.

Pothia harbour
Pothia harbour as Paton might have seen it. One of the small boats used to embark and disembark passengers. Photograph taken from the deck of a ship anchored in the harbour (photograph courtesy of Manoli Psarra)

Leaning on the rail, Paton’s eyes were intractably drawn to one of the small boats. In it sat the young girl who would become his wife and the mother of his four children. His fate was sealed at that very moment in time.

He instantly made up his mind. Quickly getting his baggage together, he disembarked into one of the small boats. To the surprise of the boatman, in perfect Greek, he asked where he could find accommodation on the island. The boatman agreed to take ‘O Lordos’  note 1  to the most important man on the island, the Demarchos, or Mayor. As he rowed toward the shore, singing the praises of the Demarchos,  he added, with a nod of his head toward the boat which had so captivated Paton, “that young girl is his daughter.”

Emmanouil Olympitis - Demarchos of Kalymnos and Irini's father
Emmanouil Olympitis – Demarchos of Kalymnos and Irini’s father (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Paton got on well with the Demarchos, Emmanouil Olympitis, who very much impressed the younger Paton. He was successful in the sponge fishing industry, for which Kalymnos has always been renowned, and the family was much respected by the people of Kalymnos for the defiance that Emmanouil’s grandfather had shown toward the occupying Turks.

However well the two men got on, it must have been a bolt out of the blue the very next day when Paton proposed marriage to his daughter, Irini. People were outraged and, on a more lawless island, this might have been the end of Paton’s amorous advances, and his life to boot! But wise Emmanouil Olympitis was far above all that and countered by trying to delay on the basis that a trousseau needed to be arranged. With dogged persistence, Paton told him he would arrange everything and that he wanted Irini just as she was.

And what of Irini’s feelings in all of this? Of course, Emmanouil Olympitis would not have allowed his daughter to enter into marriage against her will. We learn from the autobiography of Irini’s daughter, Augusta, from later conversations with her mother, that Paton’s emotions were mirrored in Irini’s own; she described him as a ‘fair, blue-eyed god’.

Paton stayed in Kalymnos for a month and he and Irini grew ever closer – but he had to return to Britain leaving Irini in Kalymnos. While in Britain, he wrote her long letters every single day.

On Paton’s return to Kalymnos, two months later, signalled by tender telegram messages to Irini from each port of call along the way, they married in November 1885 – he 28 and Irini 16 years of age.

Paton and Irini at Rattray, his cousin’s home North of Aberdeen
Paton and Irini at Rattray, his cousin’s home north of Aberdeen (photograph courtesy of William Paton)

Shortly after their marriage and their honeymoon in Symi and Rhodes, they moved to Paton’s Scottish estate, but neither Paton nor Irini were happy in Scotland and both pined for Greece. From Mabel Bent’s diary entry, we know they were back in Kalymnos by March 1886. Later that year, in August, their first son George was born in Irini’s mother’s house on the Turkish coast at Gümüşlük near Bodrum.

Theodore and Mabel Bent visit Kalymnos

At the beginning of 1886, the British explorers Theodore and Mabel Bent were travelling around the islands of the eastern Aegean looking for likely sites to excavate, but they were constantly thwarted by the Turkish authorities to whom Bent was known.

Theodore and Paton were acquainted. It’s thought that they first met as a result of their connections with the British Museum or as members of the Hellenic Society. Their various papers on their respective archaeological excavations were published by the same journal, sometimes in the same issue. They each also had a close relationship with the classicist (and later Bishop of Lincoln) E. L. Hicks, who co-authored publications on ancient inscriptions from both Theodore and Paton. They would have been very well aware of each other’s work.

However, it seems that it was actually Mabel’s inquisitiveness which drove their decision to visit Kalymnos. She wrote in her diary:

“I am most curious to see a young lady of Kalymnos, aged I hear about 16 and just married to a Mr. William Paton of Granholme in Aberdeenshire. Her father’s name is Olympites, a sponge merchant and very rich. Everyone has heard of ‘O Ouiliermos’  note 2  in the neighbouring islands.”

They arrived in Kalymnos on Wednesday March 17th, 1886. The next day Mabel wrote:

“We were lucky enough to fall in with a clean little English steamer, lanthe, where we had a most comfortable flealess night and a very calm passage here. We started about 6 and arrived about ½ past 12 yesterday.

This is a very populous town of large houses filled with rich sponge fishers who have a reputation in these regions of being thieves, liars and cheats. We were sorry to hear that Mr. Paton had returned to England 2 days ago, leaving his wife at her father’s as she does not wish to undertake the long journey till the summer of next year.”

So Theodore missed meeting Paton in Kalymnos. Whether Theodore and Paton ever met on their overseas travels we don’t know – but they certainly trod in each other’s footsteps.

It would seem that Theodore and Paton had more than just a passing physical resemblance to each other. On Kalymnos, this created some confusion on the island:

“We were very much amused on landing to hear William has returned’. ‘No, it is his brother.’ ‘He is exactly the same.’ ‘How very like he is.’ ‘No, it is not him.’ And these sentences never cease to be buzzed round wherever Theodore goes. At the British Museum they have been taken for one another and a gentleman came and shook hands with him and said ‘When did you come’ and then ‘Oh! Excuse me. I thought you were the son-in-law of Olympidis’.”

Meeting Irini’s father Emmanouil Olympitis

But one man, at least, was not fooled by Theodore’s apparent likeness to Paton. He approached Theodore, saying in English:

‘This is the father-in-law of Mr. Paton and I am the brother-in-law of Mrs. Paton.’

Thus was Theodore introduced to Emmanouil Olympitis, the Demarchos of Kalymnos and the father of Irini, Paton’s wife. Mabel continues:

“So on invitation we entered the café and gave our history, in Greek, to the crowd. The brother asked us to come and take a walk in their garden, so we were removed to an orchard of young lemon and orange trees. Chairs were procured and we sat on ploughed beds, damp, so that one had never to forget to be always trying to sit on the highest leg of the chair for fear of overturning. He would talk English which we had constantly to help out with Greek so we sat silently for a long time till I shivered loudly and we were led silently home.”

Meeting Mrs Irini Paton

Mabel continues, but it should be stressed that she is writing her diary for herself and a small number of friends and family and, as such, her tone may at times seem to border on the insensitive and the rude:

“We announced that in an hour we would call on Mrs. Paton. Accordingly they prepared themselves. We entered a mud-floored hall littered with broken machinery; up dirty marble stairs with a rusty banister and reached a drawing room where some matting had been thrown down, but rolled up where it could not pass under the chest of drawers. A quantity of pieces of embroidery bought during the honeymoon to Simi and Rhodes were plastered round in an absurd way. The chest of drawers had a green table cover falling over the front of it, over that a large cotton antimacassar and on top a large pier glass smashed in 4 bits, some hanging out.

Mrs. Paton is a fine big girl who might pass for 20 but some say 14. She had a pretty new dress, quite out of keeping with the place, her wedding ring and a splendid diamond one on her middle finger and a pink coral one on the other middle finger. Her face is good looking but not very pretty. She was very quiet and very much more ladylike than her sister, a coarse rough girl with a dirty snuff-coloured handkerchief on her head, a loose black jacket and a green skirt, much too long in the front. She brought us coffee and jam and seemed very respectful to Mrs. Paton.”

Mabel’s comment that Irini was ‘a fine big girl’ was made without her being aware that, at the time, Irini was 15-16 weeks pregnant. How Mabel would have relished writing about that, had she known! This fact might partly explain why Irini was reluctant to travel back to Scotland with Paton in March 1886.

With Mabel’s inquisitiveness about Irini Paton sated, she and Theodore left Kalymnos for Astypalea on Saturday March 20th, 1886.

The Olympitis house
The Olympitis’ house where Paton and the family stayed while in Kalymnos (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

The Olympitis’ ‘beautiful’ house on the quayside at Pothia where the family stayed while in Kalymnos and where Theodore and Mabel would have met Irini. Augusta wrote : ‘It was the biggest house with the best accommodation on the island and was situated on the quayside with only a large pavement between it and the sea, which, with its anchored coloured boats, full of sponges and brilliantly coloured fishing equipment, was a sight to gladden my heart.’

The house was demolished in the 1970s and the current Olympic Hotel was erected in its place – ‘the best accommodation on the island’. The hotel is still run by members of the Olympitis family.

Return to Scotland

Irini with George, Thetis and John in Aberdeen before 1900
Irini with George, Thetis and John in Aberdeen before 1900

We know from Theodore and Mabel, and from the birthplace of Paton’s first son George, that Irini did not go back to Scotland in 1886, however, Augusta’s autobiography records them being there for much of the time during the first four years of their marriage. Their daughter, Thetis, was born in November 1887 in Aberdeen followed by a son John, in 1890, born at the family seat of Grandhome.

Irini always called Paton ‘Willie’, the name used by Augusta in her wrtings.

George, Thetis and John taken in Aberdeen
George, Thetis and John taken in Aberdeen (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Irini was a devout Orthodox and was unhappy not to be able to worship in her faith, there being no Greek Orthodox church in Aberdeen. She was also uncomfortable that her children were not ‘properly’ Christened in ‘that austere Presbyterian cathedral’ which she went through the motions of attending each Sunday, listening to Willie reading the lesson in his ‘carrying sonorous voice’.

The couple were still deeply in love and there were happy times in Scotland. Paton’s family and friends had welcomed Irini as its own. However, neither of them could stand the climate and Paton was never happy running the affairs of the estate. As soon as the children were old enough, he accepted an assignment for a new excavation in Asia Minor.

The house by the Aegean sea

Irini and Paton in Samos
Irini and Paton from the same photo studio in Samos at around 1900 when the family were living in the house at Gümüşlük (photographs courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Irini’s mother, Palia, had a property on the Turkish coast at Gümüşlük near Bodrum, where Irini and Paton’s first son George had been born. Palia owned much of the land around and a simple house existed on the property, close to the sea. She’d built a small chapel on the hill for the few local Christians. The happiest years for all the Paton family were those spent at the house. Paton and Irini’s youngest child, Augusta, or Sevastie, was also born in the house and her first few years were spent there. For Paton it was perfect. He could take himself off, sometimes for many months, and immerse himself in his work while still being able to return home, at times, for Irini and the children. For the children, it was an idyllic adventure playground and Augusta writes evocatively of those ecstatic days.

Thetis - probably taken in Greece
Thetis – probably taken in Greece (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

But Irini was doing other things while in Gümüşlük as well. Paton’s great-grandson, also William Paton, provides us with an insight from a publication by Paton, originally in French – “Myndos is a town which knows well how to hide its inscriptions. The inscriptions that I published in the ‘Bull. de corr. hell. (volume XIV)’ do not come from the town itself but from the surrounding area. The town and its cemeteries only provided two inscribed stones. The two that I added were found, in the final days, in the rubble of a church near the Halicarnassus Gate. We owe them to excavations carried out without my knowledge by Mrs. Paton.”

Mama and Augusta
“Mama and Augusta” – Irini with Augusta around the time of their departure from Greece (photograph courtesy of William Paton)

As Paton’s work in Asia Minor came to an end, the spectre of leaving Gümüşlük weighed heavily on Irini. The boys were approaching the age when boarding school in England beckoned – John had already spent time there. During the period the family were in Gümüşlük, George and John had attended a school in Kos while Thetis was schooled in Smyrna (present-day Izmir).

George and Thetis believed to have been taken in Greece (photograph courtesy Emmanuel Olympitis)
George and Thetis believed to have been taken in Greece (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Irini and Augusta left Gümüşlük to meet Paton and the boys in Kalymnos. Irini was heartbroken to leave the home where she’d been so happy. She was never to see the house again.

The family came together again in the Olympitis house on the quayside of Pothia in Kalymnos, where they celebrated Christmas 1905.

Paris

Thetis believed to have been taken while in France
Thetis believed to have been taken while in France (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

But, for the ever-driven Paton, time was dragging in Kalymnos and, early in 1906, he uprooted the family in favour of the Parisian suburb of Viroflay, near Versailles.  There, Irini and Augusta learned French and made friends. Irini was happy that she could go to the church of St. Julien le Pauvre  note 3 . They were content with life in Viroflay.

Brittany

But, once again, Paton moved them on, this time to a villa by the sea on the coast of Brittany at Peros Guirec. Irini was never happy in the period she spent in Brittany.

A sad, sad ending

It was in Brittany that the first signs of Irini’s illness appeared; she was often in great pain. One of her kidneys was damaged and had to be removed. In October 1908, she was admitted to a hospital in Paris where the successful operation was carried out. Irini was free from the pain she’d suffered.

The day came to leave the hospital and Irini’s best friend, Delphine, was helping her to dress amid happy laughter while Paton was pacing around outside in the corridor. Suddenly Irini clutched at her chest and said in Greek ‘Pono’  note 4 . She collapsed into Delphine’s arms and died. She was 38 years old. Paton ‘went quite beserk’ and ripped his shirt to shreds in his uncontrollable grief.

William Paton in later life on Samos, (c) Endre Kemeny

The fairy-tale romance had ended. Paton was 51, George 22,  Thetis 21, John 18, and Augusta just 8. Irini had been the source of all the love that had brought happiness to Paton and the family since that first vision of her, all those years ago, in a tiny boat bobbing on the waters of Pothia Bay. William Paton was a broken man.

Mabel’s diary entries are taken from the book The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I. ©2015 Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress. Reproduced by kind permission. Get the book or download the e-book.

● The author wishes to thank Emmanuel N. Olympitis for his enthusiastic assistance in providing material and invaluable information for this article.

● The author wishes to thank William Paton, Paton’s great-grandson, for his suggestions and contributions from the family archives.

● Some of the material for this article was derived from the autobiography of Augusta Paton (Kemény), William and Irini Paton’s daughter. The autobiography is currently available only in Hungarian. Read a short biography of Augusta Paton.

● The images used in this article may be subject to various copyright restrictions.

Notes

Note 1: O Lordos – literally ‘the Lord’ – used to describe a gentleman of high status. Return from Note 1
Note 2: O Ouiliermos – The transliterated Greek phonetic spelling of ‘William’ with the masculine nominative ‘os’ ending added. Return from Note 2
Note 3: St. Julien le Pauvre is actually a Melkite Greek Catholic church which has its roots in the same beliefs and rites as the Greek Orthodox Church. Return from Note 3
Note 4: Pono (Πονώ) – I have pain. Return from Note 4

Mabel, Theodore, and Thomas Cook & Son

“Thomas Cook (22 November 1808 – 18 July 1892) was an English businessman. He is best known for founding the travel agency Thomas Cook & Son.” (Wikipedia)

Mabel, Theodore, and Thomas Cook & Son

In the news once more, the seemingly persistent vicissitudes of the once-venerable Thos Cook & Sons (and all so symptomatic of British management for decades, especially in terms of brand stewardship) have sent the Bent Archive (late August 2019) back to Mabel’s diaries for references to the eponymous tour operator – for the couple, like thousands, tens of thousands, of travellers– relied upon Thomas Cook (1808-1892) for their occasional Nilotic episodes in the 1880s and ‘90s. The entrepreneur began his Egyptian tours in 1869.

Some background; Jan Morris, none better:  “Thomas Cook, the booking clerk of the Empire… and ‘leave it to Cook’s’ had gone into the language. Cook’s had virtually invented modern tourism, and their brown mahogany offices, with their whirring fans and brass tellers’ cages, were landmarks of every imperial city. They held the concession for operating steamers on the River Nile: all the way up to Abu Simbel the banks of the river were populated by Cook’s dependents…’ (‘Pax Britannica, The Climax of an Empire’. London 1998, page 64)

The Bents’ first reference to the firm is in early 1885. Theodore and Mabel are off to explore the, then Turkish, Dodecanese, but opt to start with the steamer from Marseilles to Alexandria, via the Straits of Messina, and a brief detour to Egypt. Mabel busies herself with her diary:

“In the evening of Saturday [17th January 1885] we went out to see Stromboli. We could dimly distinguish the fire but when lightning swept low on the sea behind it the whole black form of the island was shown. We went very slowly, whistling through the Straits of Messina. We ought to have been in Alexandria on Tuesday but only got to the desired port about 2 o’clock on Wednesday [21st January], quite as glad to get into the Land of Egypt as ever the Children of Israel were to get out. We had our little feelings as we sat in a boat with a Union Jack and ‘Cook’s Tours’ upon it. We got through the custom-house very well and my box of photographic things was never opened anywhere though it was hastily put into a box with ‘Matière Explosive, Dynamite’ upon it.” (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa’. Oxford 2012, page 6)

Some Pyramid scalers in 1885 (the year of Mabel’s ascent), by J. Pascal Sébah. Obviously clambering all over them was the thing to do back then; it is not recommended today.

Moving on from the port of the famous Library, a few pages further in her diary Mabel details their sightseeing around Cairo – and, of course, at the Sphinx and its sentinels. Then, as now, tourists everywhere are suspended by their heels and well shaken; Mabel, in charge of the Bent coffers, is having none of it: “Monday 26th [January 1885]. By the bye, [Thomas] Cook, when asked, would send us to the Pyramids for £3 and I think we only paid £1 and 1 franc.” (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa’. Oxford 2012, page 11)

The Bents’ first visit to Egypt was carefree and fun; Mabel’s diary pages read whimsically and breathless in 1885. Not so in 1898. Theodore’s (early, aged 45) death in May 1897 – Jubilee year – deprived Mabel of the focus for her life: the need to be somewhere else remained, but now with whom? And why? Typical of her she made plans immediately to visit Egypt on a ‘Cook’s’ tour in the winter of 1898 and chronicled the trip, ending with a return via Athens. The melancholy heading she gives this section of her diary is – ‘A lonely useless journey’. Her writing reveals her understandable depression. It makes unhappy reading, contrasting so markedly with her opening thrill of being in Cairo on that first visit with Theodore in 1885.

No doubt encouraged by her relatives, Mabel elected to put together for herself a ‘Cook’s Tour’ to Egypt and the Nile. But, often a mistake to revisit sites of earlier happiness, Mabel’s Egyptian pages echo a series of muted contrasts, sighs, and signs of near despair. That image of a confident, smiling Mabel climbing the Giza Pyramids on her birthday in 1885 is not the one that reappears as she groans ‘so sadly to Mr. Aulich’ of the Cairo Hôtel d’Angleterre, or rides ‘alone and unknown and unknowing’ around the great sites.

The famous travel company, however, is soon on the scene. They do their best to cheer her up: “Wednesday 19th [January 1898]. Port Said… We reached Ismailia about 10 p.m. I landed myself quite unaided and got to bed while the people [Thomas] Cook’s man was looking after, and a lady met by a government officer, were still in the custom house. I took a walk in the town next morning and started for Cairo… I was horrified by a note from Mr. Aulich, the manager of the Hôtel d’Angleterre, to say neither he nor the [Grand] Continental had a room and one had been taken in the Hôtel du Nil. I dined among many Germans, with their napkins tucked under their chins, leaving their elbows on the table and picking their teeth. My cupboard had such smoky coats hung in it that I dared not put in my dresses. Friday 21st [January 1898]. I went and groaned so sadly to Mr. Aulich that a garret was found for me – no bell or electric light – and thither I took myself before dinner. As I was in the Mouski, I thought I could walk in the bazaars so I put on my hat and made the best of my opportunity. Saturday 22nd [January 1898]. I went to Cook’s arsenal and chose a saddle to come with me with one of my own stirrups. On Saturday also I did all my final shopping and remembered when we were last here (or last but one). How we laughed …” (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa’. Oxford 2012, page 268)

“Tuesday 25th [January 1898]. Embarked on ‘Rameses III’, a very comfortable ship.” The Thomas Cook First-Class passenger steamer ‘Rameses’ (236x30ft). From an original archive photograph. © Thomas Cook Archives 2012.
A few days later, Mabel takes, on one of Cook’s fantasy barges, to the river – that river – that has fed Egypt for millennia: “Tuesday 25th [January 1898]. Embarked on ‘Rameses III’, a very comfortable ship. I had a tiny cabin, the last one to starboard, but made myself very snug; the passengers chiefly American. About 20 English, of whom 13 with strong Scotch accents, and a few Germans. All the Germans for Wadi Halfa and none of the Americans or Scotch. Cook’s programme was carried out daily, it being announced at dinner the night before. It was very strange the first day riding alone and unknown and unknowing in such a troop. (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa’. Oxford 2012, page 269)

Mabel is writing on her Nile cruise boat. By 1904 the Cook Nile fleet comprised all these paddle-steamers (P.S.) for First Class passengers: ‘Rameses’ (236x30ft); ‘Rameses the Great’ (221x30ft); ‘Rameses III’ (200x28ft); ‘Amasis’ (170x20ft); ‘Prince Abbas’ (160×20 ft); ‘Tewfik’ (160x20ft); ‘Memnon’ (131x19ft). The steam ‘dahabeahs’ included the ‘Serapis’ (125x18ft); ‘Oonas’ (110x18ft); ‘Nitocris’ (103x15ft); and ‘Mena’ (100x18ft). Although Cook’s still have records for most of their steamers that travelled the Nile between 1890-4, they have no details for the period 1895-1900 and no booking records for Mabel’s journeys have been found (Cook’s Company Archivist, pers. comm., 2012).

Over the next few weeks (February 1898), Mabel makes several more references to Cooks as she visits the great sites and sights. The company, it seems, provides all comforts and care:  “Thursday, February 3rd [1898]. Medinet Habou, Colossi, Dier el Bahàri, Gourna Ramesseum, and after tea I did the Luxor Temple alone; so nice and quiet and much less lonely than among so many strangers. Up to this we had awfully cold weather. I had, besides the Cook’s blanket and quilt, 2 blankets of my own, a shawl, dressing gown, newspaper, cloak and Ulster on my bed.” (The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa. Oxford 2012, page 270)

On 22 February 1898 Mabel, at Luxor, meets John Mason Cook (1834-1899), the only son of the founder. (Wikipedia)

On 22 February 1898 she has a visit by the famous man himself: “Reached Luxor Tuesday evening, but did not go to live ashore at the Luxor Hotel till Wednesday. Mr. Cook came on board that evening with Major and Mrs. Griffiths, off his dahabeyah ‘Cheops’, which we had been towing all day. (‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Volume 2, Africa’. Oxford 2012, page 273)

Although with only a year to live, Mabel’s ‘Mr. Cook’ here is John Mason Cook (1834-1899), the only son of the founder, Thomas. The Luxor Hotel, to the east of Luxor Temple, was established by Cooks to accommodate the increasing number of tour groups along the Nile.

After Theodore’s death Mabel met the designer Moses Cotsworth in the Middle East and provided another Cook’s story. Moses had sailed to Beirut in December 1900 to visit the Sun Temple at Baalbek. In Beirut, he was ‘stranded in quarantine’ at Thomas Cook’s travel bureau. It was too late in the season for tourists to attempt the overland journey to Jerusalem and he was unable to afford a private guide. While waiting there he overheard a conversation between some other travellers who were also trying to attempt the same trip. Professor G. Frederick Wright and his son, Fred, were talking to Rossiter S. Scott from Baltimore, USA. They all wished to travel to Jerusalem. Wright invited Cotsworth to join their party as between them, and Scott, they could afford to hire a guide. The party set out for Damascus by the narrow-gauge railway over the mountains of Lebanon taking a slight detour for Cotsworth to visit Baalbek. By 17th December they had reached Damascus and organised a caravan of mules to carry them to Jerusalem. They had no tents but ‘depended on finding shelter wherever we should happen to be.’ In Hineh they sought shelter in the house of a Russian priest and had to remain there for two days to escape a snowstorm. Once on the move again they passed Lake Huleh where they were accosted by a Bedouin gentlemen who spoke English and asked them to drink coffee with him. The party then planned to visit the southern end of the Dead Sea. Wright recounted that ‘In this we were joined by Mrs. Theodore Bent, whose extensive travels with her husband in Ethiopia, southern Arabia, and Persia, had not only rendered her famous but fitted her in a peculiar manner to be a congenial and helpful travelling companion.’

Cook’s, of course, went bust inevitably and finally in September 2019 and  future Mabels will no longer take to their beds, board, berths, flights, guides, and countless other services. Nor will their agents still greet them, smiling, at stations, harbour-sides, arrival gates, and pullman halts.  Never more (unless reincarnated) will there be, Morris again, “Thomas Cook, the booking clerk of the Empire…”? All aboard? All abroad?

Mabel’s diary extracts are from Volume 2 of her Chronicles.

VIDEO – Manolis Pelekis: A lament for the great tsabouna player from Anafi

Circa 1885 map showing Anafi, east of Santorini. It is a detail from the map illustrating Bent’s 1885 classic – ‘The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks’. Anafi was home to the great tsabouna player, Manolis Pelekis.

VIDEO – Manolis Pelekis: A lament for the great tsabouna player from Anafi.

The Bent Archive has been slow with its tribute to the late Manolis Pelekis (†2019) – legendary Anafiot citizen, musician and tsabouna player; for many decades no Anafi island event (Greek Cyclades, east of Santorini) was ever complete without his plaintive accompaniment…

Manolis Pelekis playing on Anafi one Easter (photo: The Bent Archive)

Theodore and Mabel Bent, tsabouna serenaded, travelled in the Cyclades in 1883/4, recording many occasions of musical evenings in their writings; here is Mabel in her diary in early 1884 making reference to an Anafi ball (probably hearing somewhere the skirls of the tsabouna):  “After dinner a fine tall handsome niece of Matthew’s called Evtimia Chalaris [appeared], dressed in a beautiful old costume of silk, violet flowered brocade skirt, green velvet bodice, gold embroidered stomacher and a short pink satin jacket edged round the cuffs and down the front with pink fur… There was a regular ball and the Demarch danced most actively.”

The Matthew referred to is the Bent’s long-serving assistant Matthew Simos, who was born on Anafi.

Theodore Bent’s tsabouna, now in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

A year later, 1885, Theodore Bent acquired a tsabouna of his own – it is now on display in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. The couple were great collectors of things to make music with – wherever they  travelled to. The British Museum has some of their instruments from Zimbabwe, and  the Pitt Rivers also holds a lyra from Karpathos and various Cycladic pipes made from eagle bones, and other items. It’s time for a themed display with musical offerings for enthusiasts.

The main difference to the instrument played by Manolis Pelekis (over 100 years later) is that Bent’s Oxford tsabouna lacks the poignant brass cross on the chanter…

RIP Kyrie Manolis; listen to him play…

(The video of Manolis is an excerpt from a longer YouTube film you can see here.)

The tsabouna has a special place in the repertoire of the Cyclades and greater Greece; its history and etymology are fascinating. Take a look at our video exploring Theodore’s relationship with the instrument.

Coincidentally, on Santorini, just two hours east of Anafi (although it took the Bents close to twenty), you will find the musician Yannis Pantazis who crafts his own instruments and demonstrates them in his artisan workshop in Santorini, at SYMPOSION by La Ponta, in the traditional village of Megalochori.


The legend of Kera Panagia and the tragic story of the hermit monk Vasilis

The beach at Kera Panagia

The idyllic beach at Kera Panagia is said by many to be the most attractive on Karpathos with its crystal-clear waters and the beautiful church of the Panagia perched on the heights above.

But how many visitors know the legend of the origins of the church and the tragic story of the hermit monk, Vasilis, who looked after it?

In 1885, Theodore and Mabel Bent spent 6 weeks on Karpathos and, on Friday March 6th, they visited Kera Panagia where they met an aged Vasilis, who told them his sad story.

Theodore wrote about their visit in an article, On a Far-off Island, published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (Vol. 139, Feb 1886), 233-244), while Mabel, as ever, took to her diary to pen a colourful account of the day.

Theodore’s account of the visit

This account is taken from the book The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks (get the book or download the e-book).

“… our other friends arranged a sort of picnic for us, to a lovely spot called ‘Mrs Madonna’ (Kera Panagía), where a church contains a miraculous picture, and is looked after by a well-known old hermit-monk called Vasili.

The church of Kera Panagia
The church of Kera Panagia

The church is at the foot of a narrow gorge down by the sea, amidst tree-clad heights, which culminate in Mount Lastos, the highest peak in Karpathos, 4000 feet above sea-level. Close to this church there is a water source, which springs right out of a rock: it is icy cold and clear, and all around its egress the rock is garlanded with maidenhair; mastic, myrtle, and daphne almost conceal it from view. To this spot, the most favoured one in the island, our friends took us.

a miraculous picture
“a miraculous picture”

“In 1821 a Cretan refugee whose flocks had been destroyed by the Turks, vowed a church to the Panagià if she would lead him to a place of safety. So, says the legend, she conducted his boat here, where he found water, fertility, and seclusion, and here he built the church he had vowed.

“Once a year, on the day of the Assumption, the Karpathiotes make a pilgrimage to this spot; for the rest of the year it is left to the charge of poor old Vasili, who told us the very sad story which had driven him to adopt this hermit life.

“A few years ago he lived in the village, with his two sons and one daughter. She married a sea-captain, a well-to-do sponge-fisher, who owned a boat and much money he said.

“On one of his voyages, the sponge-fisher took with him Vasili’s two sons, and on their way they fell across a boat manned by pirates from Amorgos. The pirates shot the captain, boarded the caïque, and strapped the two brothers to the mast. After they had cleared the boat of all they could find, they sank it, and shortly afterwards some other sponge-fishers found the two brothers fastened to the mast at the bottom of the sea. They gave notice to the Government, and a steamer was despatched from Chios in pursuit of the pirates, and the bodies were brought home and buried. It was but poor satisfaction to old Vasili to hear of the capture of the murderers.

His daughter shortly afterwards married again, and left Karpathos, and he, with his broken heart and tottering step, donned the garb of a monk, and came to end his days at Kera Panagía, where he lives in a little stone hut alongside the church, and tills the ground, lights the lamps before the sacred pictures, and rings the church bell.”

Mabel’s diary entry for the day

This account is taken from the book World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I.(Get the book or download the e-book).
While Theodore, in his article, recounted the history of the church and Vasilis’ story, Mabel opted for a gastronomic account of the ‘picnic’. On the following day she wrote:

“Yesterday was really a day to be marked with a white stone. We had a delightful picnic to Kyriá Panagía. The company were 3 Turks, one of whom could speak no Greek, 2 English, 4 Greeks, 3 of whom could speak Turkish. There was also an Albanian cook who could speak no language but his own and that no one understood, and 2 soldiers.

Theodore and Mabel might be described today as foodies. Theodore’s writings and Mabel’s chronicles are peppered with details of food and drink. Read about their passion for mizithra cheese and about Mabel’s menus.
“We arrived first. I riding 2 hours on a bone-shaking road. The latter part was through pine woods smelling sweetly and with big single white peonies and arums. M 1 at once set to work to cook a chicken, or rather aged cock, and was ready with brandy to offer the Turks on their arrival, and at one o’clock we all were seated round a waterproof rug of ours with 2 glasses, few plates, and a moderate amount of forks and spoons. We talked English together. The Turks talked Turkish together, but of course then and there determined to send the soldiers off for a lamb to be eaten à la Palikári 2 for dinner. We 2, the 2 Sakolarides 3 and a certain Manolakakis 4, in whose house the Kaïmakam 5 lodges, went on a long hot rocky walk, and I think I got a little sunstroke, for I had a great pain in the back of my head which is gone today very nearly. We at length found ourselves at the source of a stream springing out of a bed of maidenhair under great big myrtle trees. It was such an enchanting spot.

A spring close by
A spring close by

“At 4 o’clock we sat cross-legged round a heap of mastic bushes and rosemary, and on this bed was laid the lamb who had been borne on a spit through his head and his hind feet tied to it.

“We then tore him limb from limb by hand and all gnawed. I never saw a funnier scene or a merrier meal. After the lamb’s bones were cleaned by the 8 sets of teeth, the Kaïmakam examined the shoulder blades and prophesied peace and quietness, then more sheep’s cream and then home.

“We went half way together and the Kaïmakam and Co. went to Apéri, and we and Mr. Frangisko Sakolarides to Volátha. Having been taking lessons from Hassam Tachrí Effendi, the secretary, I was able to say ‘Teshekür edérim’, ‘Thank you’, to the Kaïmakam. We were led to the café by Mr. Frangisko Sakolarides and given coffee and were very glad to get home safely with only starlight to help us, and I had to walk some way.

“In the little church at Kyriá Panagía, which is quite good and not ruined, there were lots of scribbled names and one of the Greeks said, ‘Now we will write up your name’ and I said ‘Oh, not my name please’, they said ‘Why?’ and I said it was not our custom in England to write our name in churches.”

Research and contributeWe’re always searching for more information on the topics and people we write about. Can you add more information about Kera Panagia or old Vasilis, or about the Sakolarides or Mr. Manolakakis? Please contact us using the ‘Comment’ form on this page or on our ‘contact us’ page.

References and copyright

The account from Theodore is taken from the book The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks: The Selected Writings of J. Theodore & Mabel V.A. Bent, 1885-1888, edited, with additional material, by Gerald Brisch. Copyright ©2015 Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress. Reproduced by kind permission.

The extract from Mabel’s diary is taken from the book World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral, transcribed from Mabel’s original hand-written chronicle, with additional material, by Gerald Brisch. Copyright ©2006 Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress. Reproduced by kind permission.

Pictures copyright ©2019 Alan King and inAid Ltd.

Notes

Note 1: Mabel uses ‘M’ to refer to Manthaios Simos, the Bents’ dragoman for many of their travels throughout Greece and beyond. Manthaios was a native of the island of Anafi. Return from Note 1

Note 2: Palikári (‘rogue’, ‘bandit’) is much used in a familiar form to mean ‘pal’, buddy’, etc. Lamb ‘banditstyle’ exists in older recipe books for a slow-cooked dish of lamb chops, oregano, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cheese and potatoes, similar to kokinistó. It seems, however, that Mabel and her pals devoured their lamb spit-roasted. NOTE: See the comment below, received after the publication of this article, from Deppy Karavassilis-Patestou, the Greek vblogger. Return from Note 2

Note 3: Mr. Frangisko Sakolarides was the Greek dragoman and interpreter for the Turkish Kaïmakam, or Governor. It seems he was present on the day with his wife. He and his family are mentioned several times throughout Mabel’s chronicle. Return from Note 3

Note 4: The Manolakakis family was prominent on Kárpathos at the time. An Emmanuel Manolakakis published Karpathiaká (1896), a valued monograph on the history and culture of the island. Return from Note 4

Note 5: The Kaïmakam was the Turkish Governor of the island. Return from Note 5

Death of a noted Baildonian – Theodore Bent, 5 May 1897

Death of a noted Baildonian – Theodore Bent, 5 May 1897

James Theodore Bent.(1852-1897). Photograph (date unknown) from the ‘Illustrated London News’ 15 May 1897 (private collection).

Theodore Bent died on this day (5 May) in 1897. The adventurer was susceptible to malarial infections ever since his visit to Andros in the Cyclades in 1884. The diary of his wife Mabel, his permanent travel companion, records this initial event: “Wednesday [12 March 1884, Gavrio, Andros]. I did not go to bed or undress last night. I had no bed to go to and T’s temperature was a little over 104. I rolled myself up in my fur cloak and screwed myself up on the corner of the bed and would have been more comfortable if there had been no fleas. The doctor came last night and this morning. He says it is from cold. I don’t know what it is… The doctor, who constantly strolled in and screamed at T, is only an old man with some knowledge of herbs. He wanted to give T kina and was not at all satisfied that quinine was the same thing.” [The Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol. 1, 50-51, Archaeopress 2006]

The Bents’ hospital bill from Aden, 11 April 1897. Note the extras, among which are those colonial staples: whiskey, ‘Bovril’, and ‘Brands Essence of Chicken’. If the charges were in £UK, the amount today would be around £10k (Hellenic Society and the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies, London).

This predisposition did not prevent Bent from risking his health in dangerous conditions in the Levant, Africa and the Middle East for the next 13 years, until, on his last explorations, he and Mabel found themselves malaria victims and stretcher-cases east of Aden in the spring of 1897. Mabel’s book Southern Arabia (1900) has the full, and very sad story. Thanks to their long-term Anafiote dragoman, Matthew Simos, the couple were taken by boat back to Aden, where they recovered somewhat in the infirmary there (their hospital bill has outlasted them both).

After a few weeks they were fit enough to travel, and an unnamed steamer took them via Suez to Marseilles. It seems that southern France disagreed with Theodore and his malarial symptoms returned. Alarmed, Mable rushed with her patient by train and ferry to their London home, where he died a few days later on 5 May 1897.  On Theodore’s death certificate, Dr A. Elliot M.D. registered that the cause of death was “Malaria 6 weeks, Pneumonia 5 days”. The recurrence of fever as the predominant symptom tends to suggest that Theodore’s illness on his final tour was more likely to have been malaria rather than other diseases such as pneumonia or dysentery, although it would be consistent with other infections such as typhoid: there would seem to be no reason to question the diagnosis.

Theodore Bent’s (1852-1897) birth certificate (30 March 1852), confirming his birth place as Liverpool (an uncle was Lord Mayor). Several sources incorrectly cite Baildon in Yorkshire as his place of birth (Crown Copyright).

His early death (he was just 45) prompted eulogies in America and Europe, such was his reputation as a cavalier explorer and archaeologist. His many achievements can be seen via this link. It seems appropriate to quote from (among dozens of obituaries) the following from his local newspaper, The Shipley Times of Saturday, 15 May 1897 (the town of Shipley is a few miles from Bradford and Baildon, where Theodore grew up; the paper also misinform us of Bent’s place of birth incidentally):

“Death of a noted Baildonian – The death recently took place at his house in Great Cumberland Place, London, of Mr Theodore Bent, the well-known traveller and archaeologist. He was the only son of the late Mr James Bent, of Baildon, and was born in 1852 in the house at Low Baildon now occupied by Mr Smith Feather. Mr Bent was educated at Malvern Wells, Repton School, and Wadham College, Oxford, where he took his honours in the history school. After his marriage, in 1877, to Mabel, daughter of the late Mr Robert Westley Hall-Dare, D.L., of Newtonbarry House, County Wexford, and Wennington House, Essex, he, with his energetic and accomplished wife, spent several months each year in exploring little known districts and sites, from which he never failed to reap a rich harvest of geographical and archaeological knowledge. Mr Bent was an excellent linguist; he spoke modern Greek like a native. One of his earliest visits was to the Republic of San-Marino, on which he wrote an interesting little volume. He travelled extensively in Greece and Asia Minor, and in 1885 published a volume on “The Cyclades; or life among the Insular Greeks”. He afterwards visited the Bahrein Islands, on which he contributed a paper to the Royal Geographical Society. Perhaps he is best known by his investigations of the Zimbabwe ruins in Mashonaland, which he and Mrs Bent visited in 1891. The narrative of this interesting expedition has gone through several editions. In 1893 they visited Abyssinia, and made some valuable investigations among the ruined cities of that country. The last and fatal visit was the third visit to Southern Arabia, where Mr Bent succeeded in adding considerably to our knowledge of the Hadramut country. In 1895-96 the western shores of the Red Sea and the north of Suakim was the scene of Mr and Mrs Bent’s explorations, and here amongst the coast some remarkable remains of old Roman gold workings were discovered. Thus year after year Mr Bent continued to do good work for archaeology and geography, and he has at last fallen a martyr to his zeal. Mr Bent’s death will be a great shock to a wide circle of friends, to whom his kindly, genial, unaffected disposition had greatly endeared him. He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Royal Geographical Society; of the latter he had been a member of Council. On October 11th, 1894, Mr Bent delivered a lecture to the members of the Bradford Philosophical Society on his travels in Arabia.”

Theodore and Mabel’s grave and memorial (on the far right) in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Theydon Bois, Essex.

Mabel was devastated by the loss, and her own full potential as an explorer and photographer was never to materialise; she died in 1929. The couple are buried together in the Hall-Dare (Mabel’s Essex and Irish family) plot in St Mary’s, Theydon Bois. Go visit, take some flowers.

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

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

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

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

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

A Socotran tree, by Theodore  Bent (1897).

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

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

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

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

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

       Modern-day Qalansiyah, Socotra (Google).

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

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

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

The Bents and thoughts of and for Beira, March 2019

‘The Agnes steaming up the Pungwe River’.

Thoughts of and for Beira. The terrible floods caused recently by Cyclone Ida in Zimbabwe and Mozambique have tragically inundated Beira, in the central region of the country, where the great Pungwe slides into the Indian Ocean. The Bents knew Beira in late 1891. Mabel Bent writes in her diary as their party heads down east to the sea, and home, from Umtali. Nature then, as now, cares nothing:

“[Wednesday, October 21st, 1891.] Ink all dried up. Hens too tough to eat. Rode among hills. I had a weary time as I had a toothache or neuralgia and felt many a time as if I would tie my horse to a tree and walk. We found no water for a long way; ridge after ridge we climbed, always hoping for water in the next valley. At last, having left the track to seek water, Theodore said, ‘We must go back to the last water’. But I cried, ‘Anything but to go back! I don’t care how far we go now onward to Beira’. ‘Very well. We’ll go on!’ said Theodore…” (Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicles’, Vol 2, Africa, page 141)

At last the Bents reached the Pungwe. In their day the river was navigable the 40 km or so from Beira only as far as Mpanda’s village and Neves Ferreira – and then only in the right season – by a few small steamers (reminiscent of the ‘African Queen’ for those who know the book/movie). One of these was ‘The Agnes’: “a fine, comfortable, flat-bottomed vessel built after the style of those boats one meets with on European lakes. She is the property of Messrs. Johnson and Co.” (D.C. De Waal, (trans. J.H. Hofmeyr de Waal), ‘With Rhodes in Mashonaland’. 1896, Cape Town, page 142)

Mabel continues: “At 2 next day [15/16 November, 1891] we rowed in a boat with about 25 others to the ‘Agnes’ at Neves Ferreira and went ashore… We went on board about 6. There were only Mr. Maunde and ourselves 1st class, but we were not sorted into classes at all and masters and servants, black and white, all eat at the same table in relays, for the saloon is very small and cockroachey [sic]. At 8.30 the dozen mattresses were served out and I rigged up my hammock and we all slept on deck. I went to the saloon and Theodore held up my dressing gown, for there were people there, and I undressed and in the morning made my toilette in the same way. We started at 9, to stop at 12, but at 11 got stuck on sand, so had to stay till 8 when the tide rose. We reached Beira about 12. The river is not interesting, though here and there are pretty huts nestling among palms, bananas and mangroves. We saw many rhinoceri and only one crocodile. We crossed what seems a lake to get to Beira, a most horrid place with few houses and much sand.” (Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicles’, Vol 2, Africa, page 158)

The popular Christian nurses Blennerhasset and Sleeman are a little more kindly about the place: “The said town [Beira]… may be described as a long flat reach of sand, over which a few tents were scattered. There were also two iron shanties, and that was all. The place looked, even from afar, the picture of desolation.” However they enjoyed the scene more two years later on their way out: “In 1893 we founds streets, stores, and charming houses of the American chalet type”. (R.A. Blennerhassett and L.A.L.  Sleeman, ‘Adventures in Mashonaland, by Two Hospital Nurses’. 1893, London, pages 61, 324)

The Bents left poor Beira on the S.S. Norseman around 24th November 1891, for their home journey south and onwards to Cape Town and London.

The illustration is ‘The Agnes steaming up the Pungwe River’. From a sketch by ‘Mr. Doyle Glanville’. ‘The Illustrated London News’, 15 August 1891, page 202. Private collection.

Mabel – with thoughts of diamonds on the soles of her shoes

The Queen’s Hotel, Kimberley, around 1880.

But let’s focus rather on the Queen’s Hotel, Kimberley; it still stands (at 10/12 Stockdale St). Well into its second century now it is not what it was, of course, but it stands for something. Theodore and Mabel Bent are on their way in early 1891 from Cape Town, by train, to explore the ruins of ‘Great Zimbabwe’ for Cecil Rhodes, and the couple stay at the hotel, a focal point and metaphor, from 26 February to 3 March 1891. The gables of the impressive structure, fashioned after the Dutch Cape Colonial style, bore the legend ‘1881 Queen’s Hotel’, carved in relief on inset panels. We clearly have a fancy brick edifice here, with elaborate, wrought iron verandas. At the time of the Bents’ stay the proprietor was probably one Henry Orkin, but the hotel’s prestige dates from the first phases of the diamond rush in the 1860s, and the later arrival of James and Catherine Jardine (Scots) from Pniel. Catherine bought the single plot, double-storey building and within a few years had added another twin double-storey structure to her hotel. But by the Bents’ arrival Catherine had retired back to Cape Town.

Kimberley, like it or not: the times were as they were, and all roads led to Rhodes. Arguably and extraordinarily, the diamonds from Kimberley (and gold from nearby) were used to buy what became Rhodesia, which went on to become Zimbabwe; and the wealth from these diamonds continues to circulate, somewhere – such forces don’t just disappear, we are talking Wagner here. Much of this (diamond Ring) story materialises within a couple of hundred metres of the Queen’s Hotel, Kimberley, in the second half of the 19th century, around the frenzied wheelers and dealers gravitating to southern Africa in search of fortunes, and totally heedless of the consequences of their activities, then and now. ‘Nothing in the external appearance… suggests either its fame or its wealth’, wrote Lord Randolph Churchill of Kimberley. Formerly ‘New Rush’, the town was named (June 1873) after John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley, and became the capital of the Northern Cape. Few places on earth have generated, so quickly, so much power, greed and exploitation, beginning, in 1871, with a rough diamond of some 83 carats found on the farm called Vooruitzigt, belonging to the brothers De Beer. The story of how most of Kimberley’s mines were gradually acquired by Rhodes and his cockney, maverick sidekick, Barney Barnato, under the corporate banner of De Beers Consolidated Mines, is the stuff of legend and business-school texts. The great workings in the town, the ‘Big Hole’, are a tourist attraction still: ‘[One] of the most astonishing memorials to the impetus of avarice… [The] whole vast mess of the Big Hole was covered in a mesh of ropes, gently shimmering in the hot wind like an enormous spider’s web… The Big Hole, disused since 1914, became the largest man-made hole in the world – a mile round the top and nearly 700 feet deep’ (Jan Morris, ‘Pax Britannica, The Climax of an Empire’, 1998).

Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicle’ for 1891 – Central Africa.

The Bents’ planned adventure of 1891 had been the talk of London’s Royal Geographical Society for several months: ‘Mr. Theodore Bent’s Expedition to Zimbabye: Mr. Bent left England last Friday (January 30th) on his mission to explore the strange ruined buildings in the gold region of South-east Africa. An unfortunate error in our note on this expedition in the January No. of the ‘Proceedings’ escaped correction in proof. It is the Chartered South African Company (not the East African) which has interested itself in Mr. Bent’s archaeological and topographical exploration. This company and our Society have each contributed a grant of 200l. towards the expenses of the expedition’ (‘Geographical Notes’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Feb., 1891), 105).

(1856-1920) (Wikipedia).

Resting at the Queen’s Hotel for a few days, Theodore and Mabel acquired the assets needed for their expedition (north to ‘Great Zimbabwe’) from the ‘Colossus’’ Alberichian lieutenant, Rutherfoord Harris. Dr Frederick Rutherfoord Harris (1856–1920) had qualified in Edinburgh, moving to Kimberley ten years before Mabel meets him. His rise in Rhodes’s service was rapid. Brian Roberts (‘Cecil Rhodes. Flawed Colossus’, 1987) describes him as a ‘coarse, ambitious adventurer… [who] came to be regarded as a loudmouthed braggart and born intriguer, whose penchant for mischief-making caused Rhodes endless trouble.’ But he clearly had something, and after his master’s death he is back in England by 1905, where he was ‘associated with some few finance Cos… and entered the arena of British politics in 1900 as Conservative M.P. for the Monmouth Burghs… Dr. Harris is a keen dog fancier, and is very popular in South Wales, where he spends most of his time’ (W. H. Wills and R. J. Barrett, ‘The Anglo-African Who’s Who & Biographical Sketch-Book’, 1905). Wikipedia adds a sad coda – that his widow, Florence, “hanged herself three months after his death in 1920, apparently overcome by grief”.

But thirty years before, in mercantile Kimberley, C. H. Weatherley, the B.S.A.C. Secretary in London, on Rhodes’ instructions, had already prepared Dr Harris to expect the Bents: ‘The Company’s contribution (viz: £200) towards… expenses has been paid to Mr. Bent, who has also been promised the Company’s assistance in the arrangement of his finances in connection with which he yesterday handed me a cheque for £1000. This sum has been placed to the credit of the Kimberley Office account, to be paid by you to Mr. Bent… [Please] provide Mr. Bent with letters of introduction… to any other persons whom you think can render assistance to [him] in his important and interesting expedition’ (B.S.A.C. ‘Out’ Letters, Rhodes House, MSS. Afr. s. 70-84, Folio 262/3, 22 January 1891). The ‘expedition’ was indeed important to Rhodes – Bent’s theories on the ‘Great Zimbabwe’ site suited his colonial ambitions for the territory.

Opening page of Mabel’s 1891 ‘Chronicle’.

Thus set up, by the end of February 1891, the Bents had reached Kimberley, Mabel Bent recording the approach and arrival in her ‘Chronicles’, the indispensable diaries she kept for every year of the couple’s explorations: “We saw Miss Olive Schreiner, the authoress of the ‘Story of an African Farm’ and started at 8 on the 26th [February 1891] for Kimberley, which we reached next morning. The train goes very slowly and stops a good time outside each station and any time else that the driver pleases. Once it went off too soon, without us but kindly came back. Between Worcester and Matjiesfontein we had permission to travel on the cowcatcher over the Hex pass. It was a delightful break in the monotony of the journey over the Karoo desert… On reaching Kimberley [Friday, 27th February 1891] we found that Dr. Harris had engaged rooms for us at the Queen’s Hotel. He belongs to the British South Africa Co. and had been kindly buying our wagons and having them fitted up; also 36 oxen and provisions for four people for 6 months… We went down the De Beers diamond mine, 800 feet, dirty and disappointing, and also went into the compound where black people live for 4 months, only going to the mines – that was more interesting. Most men were dressed in blankets and they certainly seemed to have any amount of trousers, but they were nearly all spread out on the ground or hung up. All the store of diamonds was very wonderful to behold. Very few were comparatively white and many looked like lumps of gum Arabic… On Tuesday [3rd March 1891] we left Kimberley for Vryburg. The wagons were on the train and the oxen and all the provisions, so we took up 10 trucks. We travelled more slowly than ever. One could hear the grasshoppers above the noise of the train…” (Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol. 2, pages 47–49).

Such a place was Kimberley then, and the Queen’s Hotel in Stockdale St. The grasshoppers will, no doubt, remain when the diamonds have gone… honey take me dancing.

People come and go: to the memory of the kind William Pryor Binney, H.B.M. Consul on Syros and friend to the Bents

The kind William Pryor Binney (21 July 1839 – 12 March 1888), date unknown, presumably the 1870s, and perhaps wearing the medal of Chevalier from the King of Greece, or ‘the order of the Saviour and Order of the Iron Cross from the Emperor of Austria’. (From the‘Genealogy of the Binney family in the United States’ 1886)

People come and go; everyone travels; everyone leaves traces of their travels. You will find such a trace on a memorial in the rarely visited Westerners’ cemetery in Ermoupoli, on Cycladic Syros, near the junction of Taxiarchon and Katramadou, on the way to Ano Syros. The cross and monument of some grandeur is of fine Tinos marble; the inscription testifies to the trickiness of English lettering for Greek masons; it was expensive, and the deceased’s family wished to honour a significant man. There is no space for the word ‘kind’:

William Binney’s grave in the Westerners’ cemetery, Syros (detail) (The Bent Archive).

“To the Memory of William Pryor Binney, H.B.M. Consul, Divisional Manager Eastern Telegraph Company. Born in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada, the 21th [sic] July 1839, died at Syra the 12th March 1888. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1, 21.”

The year of Binney’s birth, however, is given as 1840 in an arcane ‘Genealogy of the Binney family in the United States’, published by Charles James Fox Binney in 1886 (Albany, N.Y., J. Munsell’s Sons):

“William Pryor Binney, son of Stephen and Emily (Pryor) Binney, of Moncton, N[ew] B[runswick], was born July 21, 1840; married Polexine [Polyxena/Πολυξένη] Pateraki, daughter of the late George Pateraki[s], of Constantinople. Mr. Binney is the general manager of the submarine telegraph cable in the kingdom of Greece and Turkey, has held the office for twenty-five years past, and in 1884, lived at Syra, Greece. He is H.B.M. consul at Syra. Had no children in 1873. He had the title of Chevalier from the King of Greece and decoration of the order of the Saviour and order of the Iron Cross, from the Emperor of Austria.”

Stephen Binney (1805–1872), William’s father (from ‘Genealogy of the Binney family in the United States’, 1886).

The first Binney to surface, one captain John, of Nottinghamshire, set sail with his wife Mercy in 1678 or 1679, for Hull, Massachusetts. There, with John now a ‘fisherman’ and ‘gentleman’, the couple (with their six children) became the ‘ancestors of almost all of the name’. In the 19th century one of their descendants, Stephen Binney (1805–1872), a merchant of Halifax, and later first mayor, married Emily Pryor (1808 and still living in 1884); the couple had seven children, one of whom was our William Pryor Binney and Mabel remembers him for posterity as ‘kind’. As Halifax mayor, in early 1842 Stephen made the long Atlantic crossing to London with a message of congratulations on behalf of the city to Queen Victoria on the birth of her son (later King Edward VII). During his extended absence his business affairs at home suffered and he sought new opportunities, buying property near Moncton (New Brunswick). From his new base, Stephen Binney set up a successful wharf and shipyard, making a new start as a wholesaler, trading in timber and agricultural produce. With its access to the Bay of Fundy, and William’s father thrived as a merchant ship-owner, with a vessel that bore his own name, the ‘Stephen Binney’.

Pryor-Binney House, 5178 Morris Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J, Canada (Heritage Division NS Dept. of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, 2005)

It was Stephen’s father (William’s grandfather), Hibbert Newton Binney, who forged links initially with the Pryors, when the two families cooperated on the building of a fine house in Halifax in 1831, and which H.N. Binney then bought outright in 1834. The ‘Pryor-Binney House’ still stands at 5178 Morris Street, Halifax.

One of William’s brothers was Moncton’s head of Customs, Irwine Whitty Binney (b. 1841). It was probably Irwine, as prosperous clan head, who supervised in some way William’s funeral in 1888, in the quiet Westerners’ cemetery on Syros. William’s widow, Πολυξένη, being Orthodox, probably rests in the Greek cemetery a few 100 metres away. We don’t know when the couple married (1860s?); Polyxena’s father, George Paterakis, was from Constantinople, and probably of some standing. The Binneys had had no children by 1873.

The former premises of the Eastern Telegraph Company, Syros, now the Merchant Marine Academy of Syros for Marine Deck Officers.

And of William’s career? And how he came to Syros? Follow the money. William, as part of a very  well-to-do and successful extended family who made their livings from commerce, merchant-shipping and the sea, was clearly ambitious to compete and strike out on his own; and quite prepared to travel and leave traces of his own. By the mid 1880s maritime nations were being linked by the invention of undersea cable-telegraphy, and the needs of the British Empire provided a booming market for companies in this sector. One of these was the Eastern Telegraph Company, a consolidation, in 1872, of a dynamic group of telegraphy businesses, involving some 23,000 miles of cabling by the late 1880s. This enterprise, of course, morphed eventually into today’s Cable and Wireless plc. A pivotal routing and operations hub for the Eastern Mediterranean, and British interests East, was based on Syros, and its capital, Ermoupoli, the main ‘port’ for all (‘new’) Greece before the growth of Pireaus around 1900. It was plain commercial sense that the Eastern Telegraph Company’s regional cable station and depot should be built on a (then) disconnected rock (Νησάκι), a hop from Ermoupoli’s seafront. The solid building (which probably housed Binney’s consular office too) still stands and now houses the island’s Merchant Marine Academy.

Announcement of William Binney’s appointment as ‘Her Majesty’s Consul in the Islands in the Greek Archipelago’ (‘The London Gazette’, 24145/5113, Tuesday, October 27, 1874).

William Binney held the important post of general manager for ETC’s Syros hub by 1883 at least, if not earlier; it is recorded that he had already been an employee for 25 years by around that date. His skillset obviously included diplomacy, and in 1874 we learn that “the Queen has been graciously pleased to appoint William Pryor Binney, Esq., to be Her Majesty’s Consul in the Islands in the Greek Archipelago, to reside in the Island of Syra [Foreign Office, September 5, 1874. The London Gazette, 24145/5113, Tuesday, October 27, 1874, and ‘The Morning Post’ of Wednesday, October 28, 1874].

 

Presumably this appointment helped Binney acquire his gongs, i.e. “the title of Chevalier from the King of Greece and decoration of the order of the Saviour and order of the Iron Cross, from the Emperor of Austria.” His duties would have included looking after his country’s interests and personnel in the region and reporting on the activities of potential rivals. Copies of communications between William and the UK Foreign Office can be found in the FO Volumes of the British Consuls in Greece, in the National Archive, Kew (i.e. 1881 FO 32/534; 1882 FO 32/546; 1892 FO 32/644; 1893 FO 32/653).

And as well as all this, Mabel Bent refers to William as not only fastidious, but ‘kind’ (she adds ‘so’ and underlines it). Theodore Bent met Binney first in Athens, in late November 1883. He became a friend it seems as well as Consul, providing the Bents with information and letters of introduction to contacts in the Cyclades generally. Theodore at this time was not particularly influential and it seems that Binney was being helpful to a British citizen as part of his consular duties. One of the contact names he slipped into Theodore’s pocket was Robert Swan, a Scottish miner on Antiparos. Swan was later to be central to Bent’s expedition to ‘Great Zimbabwe’ for Cecil Rhodes in 1891. But by then Binney was dead.

Let’s leave the last paragraphs on kind William Pryor Binney to Mabel Bent, as recorded in the pages of her Greek ‘Chronicles’. The final reference to his fatal illness comes as a shock:

A watercolour of Syros in the mid 19th century by Edward Lear; ‘that sparkling pile’ he called it.

“[Saturday, 1 December 1883] We had a quick but very rough passage, starting at 7 and getting [to Syros] about 3.30 a.m. Wednesday [28 November]. The ‘Pelops’ was quite new and very clean and I should have slept well but for the fleas. We landed at Ermoupolis at 6.30 and sat on the balcony overlooking the port for 2 hours as there was no bedroom vacant, nor did we get one till 5 o’clock. Mr. John Quintana, H.B.M. Vice Consul on whom Theodore called, came and fetched us and we spent 2 hours at the Consulate in Mr. Binney, the Consul’s room, very large and nice and so tidy. Mr. Binney must be a most orderly man for everything was ticketed and docketed. Theodore called on him in Athens, says he is like a slight Greek, foreign accent and Greek wife.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, pages 7–8]

“[Tuesday, 18(?) December 1883]. Rode 1½ hour to the nearest point to Antiparos carrying only our night things and a card of introduction from Mr.  Binney for Mr. R. Swan who has a calamine mine on this island.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 21]

“[Saturday, 22 March 1884] We fortunately got a room at the Hôtel d’Angleterre [Syros] and thoroughly enjoy ‘taking mine ease in mine inn’. We packed a box of our spoils for England and this afternoon I rode and the others walked to Ano or Upper Syra, a hideous place with a view over this barren island. We got very tired of Syra by Friday and as we found a kaïke of Kythnos or Thermiá we packed and prepared to start. But the strong Boreas would not permit ships to leave the port so after constant expectations up to Sunday morning the 23rd we gave up and went to church, a very poor little place and very ‘low’, according to the wishes of Mr. Binney the Consul. Afterwards we lunched with Mr.  Binney, Mr. Quinney the parson, being there also. N.B. Mr. Binney’s clerk is Mr. Finney.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 54]

“[Thursday, 26 January 1888] We only got to Syra on Thursday. We landed

The Syra British Cemetery
The Syra British Cemetery, Ermoupoli, near the junction of Taxiarchon and Katramadou, on the way to Ano Syros (photo: Alan King).

and found to our sorrow that our kind consul Mr. Binney was dreadfully ill.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 228]

“[Saturday, 25 February 1888] On Thursday… about 4 we left ‘The Town’ [Constantinople] in the ‘Alphée’ for Syra, picking up letters at the post on the way. We had no remarkable fellow passengers and reached Syra on Saturday morning about 4… We went to church on Sunday to a tidy little chapel, which they say will be closed if Mr. Binney is no longer there to keep it up.” [Mabel Bent’s Greek ‘Chronicles’, page 234]

William Binney’s grave in the Westerners’ cemetery, Syros (The Bent Archive).

Kind William Pryor Binney died 16 days after Mabel’s last reference to him, on 12 March 1888, of what she doesn’t say. (Appropriately, the new British Cemetery behind where he lies takes in the scattered Commonwealth war burials from the islands of the Cyclades.) He was not yet 50. Another William took over from him as Consul at Syros, W.H. Cottrell. People come and go; everyone travels; everyone leaves traces of their travels.

[The extracts from Mabel Bent’s diaries are taken from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent’, Vol. 1. Archaeopress, Oxford, 2006]

Over the rainbow with the Bents

Ships played a central role in the lives of the Bents; they were as familiar and essential to the couple as planes and airports are to us.

The Oceania cruise ship ‘Riviera’ shown in the rainbow (the photograph was taken from Rhodes, looking northish, and roughly from the area (‘Kum Burnú’) the Bents had their modest lodgings).

So let’s steam, then, into 2019 along one of the Bents’ favourite waterways – the narrow straits separating Rhodes from Marmaris and the Turkish coast – only the vessels they travelled on in their time were a little different than the Oceania cruise ship ‘Riviera’ shown in the rainbow (the photograph was taken from Rhodes, looking northish, and roughly from the area (‘Kum Burnú’) the Bents had their modest lodgings, in early 1885, being not allowed, as Christians, to overnight in the Old Town).

Mabel notes in her diary: “We are at a clean little inn in the separate village called Neo Marás, the Christian quarter quite close to the sandy and windmilly point Kum Burnú at the north of the isle. It is quite a little walk to the town where no one but Jew or Turk may remain after sun set… There are quantities of smooth black and white shingles which are extensively used for paving floors and court yards in all sorts of designs. The passage outside our door and the dining room too have very pretty patterns.” (‘The Dodecanese; or Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks’, Archaeopress 2015, page 108).

In early 1885, Theodore and Mabel Bent arrived in Rhodian waters, via these extended straits in the photograph, from Alexandria, on the Austrian Lloyd ‘Saturno’ (1845 tons, built in 1868, in service until 1910), and left a few weeks later on the much smaller steamship ‘Ρούμελη’ (297 tons, 155 feet), which linked the smaller islands of the eastern Mediterranean. Originally named ‘Operculum’, and Clyde built, she comes into view several times in Mabel’s diary pages. She was ultimately broken up at Savona in 1933, a few years after Mabel’s death. In another twist of fate, the ‘Operculum’ also covered the South Arabian seas between Aden and Socotra, the setting for one of the last journeys Theodore Bent was to make, in early 1897, months before his death. How wonderful these old ships were, although Mabel was not so fond of this one:

Well! The Roúmeli is a dirty little ship, and Theodore and I slept in the very smelliest cabin, destined for ladies by the English builders. As it was a passage room for all the passengers a quilt was hung across, but the steward was often within our side. At 11.30, two hours after we left Rhodes, we reached Simi and in the dark and by starlight I could see that we remained in a little land-locked bay for 2 or 3 hours. It looked lovely but no doubt by day it looks bare enough and like Chalki, which we got to about 7, a most hideous island, stony like Syra and not even the picturesque town to redeem it. We did not land there; there is a revolution about the tax on sponges and the Pasha of Rhodes was just going there so we came on to Nisiros, which we reached about 12.30.” (‘The Dodecanese; or Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks’, Archaeopress 2015, page 111).

If anyone has an illustration of the ‘Roúmeli’, please let us know!

All together, the Bents sailed over the rainbow here in these waters, between the tip of Rhodes and Marmaris, at least five times – check them out via the interactive map on our site.