Mortimer Wheeler follows Theodore Bent to Great Zimbabwe, 1958

Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1956 (Wikipedia).

Unmissable (if you can access it) – this 1958 episode of the BBC archaeology series ‘Buried Treasure’, in which  Sir Mortimer Wheeler scrambles over the site of Great Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia). The 1891 explorer of this still-astonishing monument, Theodore Bent, is unfairly (only for this blog, of course) dismissed in Wheeler’s exposé as a ‘gullible antiquary’: Bent was paid to give some sort of explanation, and he did. ‘No ancient site in the world’, mutters Wheeler lugubriously through his pipe, ‘unless maybe for the Pyramids and Stonehenge, is more clogged than Zimbabwe with sticky romance…’ Wheeler explores the awe-inspiring stone ruins in the controversial company of Roger Summers, then Chairman of the Southern Rhodesia Historical Monuments Commission. The title of the episode is unhelpful – King Solomon’s Mines – but the programme is a delight for the fabulous black and white filming, and the sight of Wheeler in shorts chasing hippopotami. For modern interpretations of the Great Zimbabwe site, you must, of course, look elsewhere.

 

Greek Dress at the Hellenic Centre, London – 4 February until 2 March 2014 – with Bent references!

Greek Dress at the Hellenic Centre, London – 4 February until 2 March 2014 – with Bent references!

Marylebone, in Central London, might seem an unlikely place for an exhibition of Greek costume, but it is the home of the Hellenic Centre, a focus for philhellenes and London’s Greek community.From 4 February until 2 March 2014, there was a rare opportunity to see an impressive range of Greek dress outside its native land. As part of the event (on Friday 28 February, 7.15pm), Ann French, Textile Conservator at the Whitworth Art Gallery, the University of Manchester, used selected embroideries from the 1914 pioneering  embroidery exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London, to trace their individual collecting histories and reveal the different contexts, interpretations and values placed on them within UK based collections and museums.  This exhibition, which drew on the leading collections of the day, primarily from the archaeologists R M Dawkins & A J B Wace, of Greek Embroideries displayed, for the first time in the UK, historic Greek Embroideries as an art form. The exhibition included several pieces from Mabel Bent’s collection and Ann refers to them in the last five minutes or so of her talk in a fascinating account of how, on Mabel’s death, one of her Karpathos frocks found its way back to Greece! The talk was called “Old Embroideries of the Greek Islands and Turkey: An Exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club 1914: A Celebration and Commemoration”, and can be seen on the video linked here, entitled ‘Patterns of Magnificence’.

The ‘Syra British Cemetery’ – Syros

I was prompted to write more about the ‘Syra British Cemetery‘ after reading Gerry Brisch’s fascinating account of the life of one the Bents’ friends and key ‘fixers’, Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul to Syra, William Binney, who helped ease the Bents’ travels around the Cyclades by way of letters of introduction to mayors, priests and other prominent figures throughout the islands.

These days, the island of Syros doesn’t figure too prominently on the radar of many non-Greek visitors to the Cyclades, and the three cemeteries, Orthodox, Catholic and British, on the road between the lower town and the ‘Catholic’ upper town, receive even fewer visitors.

After the Greek War of Independence started in 1821, the then-sparsely-populated Syros grew rapidly to become the commercial and administrative centre of the Greek Aegean world, earning it the sobriquet of ‘The Capital of the Cyclades’. Theodore and Mabel Bent were constantly drawn back to the island because of its position as the transport ‘hub’ which enabled them to explore further afield in Greece and beyond (see the interactive maps of their travels)

The Syra British Cemetery
The Syra British Cemetery

The ‘Syra British Cemetery’ illustrates the importance of Syros to Her Britannic Majesty’s Foreign Office following the foundation of the modern Greek state in 1832, until its pre-eminence was later eclipsed by King Otto’s new capital of Athens and its port of Piraeus. Like other British overseas cemeteries, located in many a corner of a foreign field, the Syros cemetery reveals some of the human sacrifices of those who served the Empire and suffered sickness and death far from home.

As Gerry Brisch tells us, the ‘Syra British Cemetery’ holds the grave of the Bents’ friend, William Binney, whose tombstone epitaph reads:

To the memory
of William Pryor Binney
H.B.M. Consul
Divisional Manager Eastern
Telegraph Company
Born in Halifax Nova Scotia
Canada
the 21th 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 I21.

The grave of William Binney
The grave of William Binney

Although the grave of HBM Consul William Binney, is the grandest in the tiny cemetery, there are also the graves of two former British consuls.

The grave of St. Vincent Lloyd
The grave of St. Vincent Lloyd

Binney’s predecessor, St. Vincent Lloyd, had been HBM Vice-Consul for the state of Wallachia in 1838 where he later made a name for himself by supporting the 1848 revolutionaries who went on to found the united Romanian state. December 14th, 1861 sees him promoted to Consul in Syros where it would seem he remained until his death in 1884. Part of his epitaph reads:

Sacred to the memory of St. Vincent Lloyd Esq., for many years H.B.M. Consul Syra, who died here 25th February 1884, in the 74th year of his age.

Lloyd’s promotion had been prompted by the death of another HBM Consul in Syra, Richard Wilkinson, in 1861. Two Wilkinson graves tell the story of tragic family grief.

The grave of Richard Wilkinson
The grave of Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson had been born in Smyrna, now Izmir, in 1783 and died in Syros on 26th September, 1861. Records exist showing him as HBM Consul in Syros in 1838 , one of five consuls stationed in important cities throughout the fledgling Greek state, the others being in Patras, Pyrgos, Napoli and Piraeus. With the exception of the Patras Consul, their role was primarily trade, highlighting the commercial importance of the island of Syros at that point in its history.

The epitaph on Richard Wilkinson’s grave reads:

Sacred to the memory of
Richard Wilkinson Esqr.
H B M Consul in Syra and its
dependencies
Born in Smyrna Dec 12 1783
Died in Syra Sep 26 1861

The childern's grave of John and Helene Wilkinson
The children’s grave of John and Helene Wilkinson

The other Wilkinson family grave holds the tiny bodies of John Wilkinson and Helene Wilkinson; John died in October, 1855 aged just over 2 years, while Helene survived just a few days over 3 months of age and died in January, 1856, three months after the death of her elder brother. Were they Richard Wilkinson’s grandchildren, or possibly even his own children conceived late in life? Either way, the grave evokes a time of great sorrow for Richard Wilkinson and his family.

One can only imagine the added heartache that the misspelt epitaph would have caused:

Sacred
to the memory of
John Wilkinson
born Aug. 1, 1853 died Oct. 27, 1855
and of
Helene Wilkinson
born Oct. 17, 1855 died Jan. 28, 1856
Suffer the little children to come unto
me, and forbid them not for such is the
Kingdom of Godt (sic)
Mark X, 14

Syra New British Cemetery
Syra New British Cemetery

During the First World War, Britain was fighting in two campaigns in the region, one against the Turks at Gallipoli, the other against the allied German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces on the Macedonian front. The seaborne lines of communication and supply for these campaigns ran through the Aegean Sea, and the islands of the Cyclades were a favourite hunting ground of German submarines.  British war graves were to be found on several islands of the Cyclades, mostly containing the bodies of sailors and soldiers washed ashore from torpedoed ships. Many came from the sinking of the transport ship ‘Arcadian on April 15th, 1917. In 1921, the small ‘Syra British Cemetery’ was extended to take the scattered graves from all the islands. It contains 111 British graves including those of 30 sailors. See the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for detailed information.

Grave of an unknown sailor
Grave of an unknown sailor in the ‘Syra New British Cemetery’

Some forty years after the Bents’ travels in the Cyclades, another British traveller, Vincent Clarence Scott O’Connor, retraced the footsteps of the Bents through the islands and drew upon Theodore’s experiences and writings. O’Connor’s book, ‘Isles of the Aegean’, was published in 1929. While following Theodore to the village of Langada on the island of Amorgos, O’Connor met a kafeneion (café) owner whose grisly account supplements the history of the ‘Syra New British Cemetery’:

. . . I went over to the Kapheion, where the life of every little town and village in Greece moves upon the surface. The owner joined us at a table and began to talk of his experiences during the Great War. “During the war,” he said, “English ships constantly passed up and down the Aegean to Salonica, Egypt and India. Some were sunk, and we became accustomed, even here in Amorgos which was out of the way of their traffic, to finding the bodies of their dead floating on the sea. One of these ships, the Arcadian, was torpedoed off Siphnos, and one day as I walked along the cliffs at Acroteri with my gun, looking for partridge, I saw a cask floating on the sea. I got a boat and went out to it, and found the bodies of two British soldiers in khaki who had been drowned. I brought them ashore and buried them, together with eight others, who had been cast upon the rocks one by one. I got the Papa to come with me and recite the burial service over their remains, which he willingly did for they were Christian men. We desired their souls to rest in peace. Their identification discs I handed to the Greek control at Livadhi. Two years after these events British officers came here from Syra, photographed the graves I had made, measured their distance from the sea, and took away their bones for burial in the British cemetery on that island. But I found afterwards that the body of one man had been overlooked, and there were other fragments that had come on shore; these I carried up on my back to our cemetery here and buried them, asking the Papa once more to read the service over them; and for this I paid him. I was glad to do these things, for they were Englishmen, and Christians.”

I never managed to find the final resting place of that last man buried in the Langada cemetery – maybe you can be more successful – let us know.

Langada cemetery
Langada cemetery, Amorgos, where the last British body washed ashore from the ‘Arcadian’ was given a Christian burial

Matthaios Simos – Anafiot dragoman extraordinaire!

The plaque in the Anafiot Association of Athens in the 1950s, recording the Simos family as benefactors (courtesy of Margaret Kenna).

A superficially unremarkable photograph sent in recently by Anafi specialist Prof. Margaret Kenna contains a remarkable clue. The clue is a family name – Simos – on a plaque commemorating benefactors to the Association of Anafi Islanders (Greek Cyclades) in the early 1950s: a relatively prosperous family, thanks to one Matthaios Simos.

In his nineties, the Bents’ Greek friend and dragomános, Matthaios Simos, from the Cycladic island of Anafi. He sits (Athens (?) in the 1930s (?)) with a cat between two of his granddaughters – Maria (left) and Irini (photograph © Andreas Michalopoulos 2010).

There is an archetype waiting for psychoanalysts to explore – the dragoman, the person you employ to facilitate your travel in foreign lands. Wiktionary helps here (if you want more, you are on your own): ‘From Middle English dragman, borrowed from Old French drugeman, from Medieval Latin dragumannus, from Byzantine Greek δραγομάνος (dragomános), from Arabic تُرْجُمَان‎ (turjumān, “translator, interpreter”)’.

What type you get depends on your luck – from an Aristotle to a Zidane – and all travel narratives contain them, none more so than our great 19th-century accounts. And Theodore and Mabel Bent had an extraordinary one: not their first, Kostandinos Verviziotes (for the couple’s 1882/3 visit to Greece and Turkey), nor their second, George Phaedros from Smyrna, who started with the Bents as they left for the Cyclades in the winter of 1883. Theodore and Mabel engaged George on the recommendation of Mr Dennis at the Smyrna consulate. That he was only a moderate success may be inferred by Mabel’s initial lack of enthusiasm when he joins them again, at Ermoupolis, Syros, in December 1883. Apparently he enjoyed a drink, but he was also a grumbler and a terrible sailor – a distinct disadvantage when island-hopping, out of season, on small fishing boats. By Naxos, a few weeks later, the Bents had had enough of him, and one day, high up in a mountain village, they find themselves sitting in a warm room, and, “When Mr. Konstantinides our host came home he found 10 people drying their clothes, us two and Phaedros, Mr. Swan, and a man called Mantheos, a native of Anaphi who is to show Mr. Swan mines there…” George was dismissed on Naxos in January 1884 – with just five words in Mabel’s notebook: “We left Phaedros at Naxos”. The Bents went on, of course, to explore Anafi a few weeks later.

There is a sad letter (in English) from George folded into Mabel’s 1883/4 diary asking for remuneration, and although diversionary, no apologies are given for including it here, just skip it if you wish:

[C/O British Consulate Smyrna 1st February /84] Dear Mr Bent I am happy to learn from your favours of 20th January which I received on the 30th of the same, that both you and Mrs Bent are quite well. I have been always thinking of you how you managed with the continuation of your excursion, and how you got on with the unusual rough winter of this year exposing yourselves so, to the mercy and providence I dare say of God. As regards my passage to Smyrna after we departed, you will please learn that your hopes did not prove as expected for I did not escape of what I was fearing. The wretched steamer ‘Eptanisos’ which took you from Naxos on Monday the 7th of January 1884, did not come back to that island to pick me up for Syra until Wednesday the 9th January, (and about noon) and subsequently she kept going so slow, that I missed the Messageries steamer for Smyrna which was leaving Syra (bound for that town) on the same day. I have been waiting consequently six days in Syra and was obliged to spend almost all the money you gave me at Naxos, (viz: the 100 francs) that is to say in expenses for the Hotel in Syra, in changing my broken and shabby hat, and in paying for my passage or fare ticket to Smyrna which brought me home almost penniless. And my wife had already spent also, what I had sent her from Syra in buying some necessary things for the house, with the cause of the holidays etc. So my friends who expected me to return quite a rich man, contemplating, in their idea and opinion that I was getting £T5 [Turkish pounds] per day in consideration of the winter season travelling, were quite disappointed to find that I was obliged and in need to borrow money off them. Mr Dennis also told me that he did not think it was right for me to pay out of my pocket my passage to Syra and back and the expenses for the delay in waiting you in Syra etc., etc. As regards the salary I do not exactly appreciate the opinion of my friends, but I think it is fair that you should make a little allowance for the winter season, that is to say if you do not find it so inconvenient, so as to make it worth my while, as I am a fellow with a family as you know. I left Syra on the evening of Monday 14th January. I don’t know where you have spent that fearful evening and night but it was in my destiny to find myself in a most violent gale, but fortunately in a brave Arab steamer with Greek captains which was fighting with the elements of the nature that night and stand up like a giant against them. All the plates and glasses are broken and the water found its way in to the cabins. We overtook a steamer called ‘Simiotis’ and saw her bow deeped into the water and we thought she was going to be lost but we learnt that she turned back to Tinos. We kept up but we suffered until we faced the Bay of Smyrna. The impression of that night is still very brisk in my memory. But the necessity of a man is superior to the impression of fear. Although I foresee still bad weather going to be, I made up my mind to come and accompany you again and to be at Syra on the 16th February with the hopes that we shall ahoy the caïques and you will pay for my passage, etc. Please send through Mr. Binney some money for my travelling expenses, etc., enabling me thus to make my start. With my best regards to Mrs. Bent and Mr. Swan. I remain yours sincerely…  George Phaedros.

This proved a letter in a bottle however and no reply to him is referenced. Within a few days of Phaedros’ abandonment, a whiskery Ariadne on Naxos, and Matthaios Simos (Mabel Bent spells him a multitude of ways over the next fifteen years, but ‘Manthaios’, awkwardly, seems to predominate) gets the top job as dragoman for the Bents, and begins a partnership – friendship really – with Theodore and Mabel that continues until 1897 and Theodore’s death. Missing only two or three seasons, Theodore (using the English telegraph station at Ermoupolis to reach him) wires Matthaios from London that he might be, on such and such a date, at Syros, or Rhodes, or Chios, or Alexandria, or Port Said, or wherever, to act as their translator, guide, cook, lodgings officer, victualler, foreman and general factotum. This small and wiry islander, who waited to marry until he had finished his career with the Bents, having by then sufficient resources, ‘plusios’ even, and a good catch. (As was the case with so many young Greeks who ventured far afield to escape difficult conditions back home.) Matthaios left his footprints in the sands of Southern Arabia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Socotra, Yemen, as well as all around the Aegean.

It is fascinating to see in print and photographs how such a relationship developed. In his great book “The Cyclades”, this is Theodore in 1885: ‘My first experiences [of the islands] were made with the assistance of a dragoman; but, on better acquaintance with the language, I learnt to despise his services, and took as servant a native of one of the islands, who became invaluable in assisting me to discover points of folklore which without him it would have been impossible to arrive at.’

A modern registry listing of the birth (1846, no. 6) of Matthaios Simos on Anafi (courtesy of Margaret Kenna).
Theodore Bent’s own reckoning of expedition costs to the Sudan in 1896, showing Matthaios’ payment at line 6 (The Bent Archive).

In the Community offices of Anafi, two hours’ ferry ride away and a little southeast of Santorini, the early registers of births (men only) record the arrival of Matthaios in 1846, son of a subsistence farmer, like nearly every other child. The chance that led him to Naxos and a meeting with the Bents in 1884, aged nearly forty, alters his life (there is a later reference by Theodore that he might have had a tobacco shop on the island as a younger man). In Mabel’s 1897 ‘Chronicle’, the year of her husband’s death, there is a list of travel costs payable, in Theodore’s hand. Matthaios’ wages for the trip to Socotra and Aden are £50, about £5000 today, and a huge sum for a Cycladic farmer at the turn of the 19th century; he is able to effectively retire to Anafi, marry, have a family (his descendants are now in Athens and no Simoses remain on the island), and tell of his adventures in foreign lands as dragoman and friend to an extraordinary English couple. He died in the mid-1930s, five years after Mabel’s death.

At camp on Socotra: Matthaios Simos, background, with Theodore Bent, assistant Ammar, and Ernest Bennett. From Theodore and Mabel Bent ‘Southern Arabia’ (1900), facing page 365. Private collection.

Mabel took his photograph on several occasions, the final one in Bent’s last camp, on Socotra in 1897: Theodore is on the left, taking down notes for his arcane dictionary of Socotran dialects. As well as their assistant Ammar, an unmistakable English figure in a topee, one Ernest Bennett, sits to the right. And between the two, just in the background, and alas not clear, stands a middle-aged man in his working clothes… this is Matthaios Simos. (There is also another splendid image of him sitting on a Sudanese camel.)

Early 1896, Matthaios Simos at his chores, behind a tent (right) in the Elba Mountains, Sudan (photo by Mabel Bent, from the Bents’ ‘Southern Arabia’, 1900, opp. page 304).

There was another serendipitous meeting for Matthaios Simos. The writer Vincent Scott O’Connor travelled in the Cyclades in the 1920s and found his way to Anafi. O’Connor had a copy of Bent’s book on the islands and jumped at the chance of an interview with Theodore’s famous (at least on Anafi) dragoman. He records him one evening, up in Chora, “The story-teller relaxed from his labours; a fine little old man with a curved nose and clean-cut features…” Manthaios tells of how he ‘saved’ the Bents from pirates on Samos in 1886: “At Samos,” he said, “there were pirates, who had made up their minds to kidnap the English travellers, and for that reason my master was unable to leave the island. It was I who circumnavigated their wiles… But it was not in these isles that we had our greatest adventures, it was in Arabia… Mrs. Bent was always eager to press on. One night we slept in a damp spot, and while there I had a dream in which I saw two horses and a chariot in Anaphe; but there was no driver, and one of the horses fell down and died. The chariot was overturned. My interpretation of the dream was that this portended a disaster to our party. But Bent only laughed at my fears. He said dreams were nothing but dreams. Nevertheless, as I expected, Mrs. Bent fell seriously ill of a fever which each day grew worse. She could ride no more, and the Arabs refused to carry a Christian, especially a woman. But the Sheikh put his shoulder to one end of the litter, as I did to the other; and so we carried her till the rest of them became ashamed and each took his turn. We arrived at the sea and the Sheikh sent out some milk for the lady, but she was so ill that she could not retain it and daily she became worse; yet she went on, saying that it was only a little fever, and she would not hear of our abandoning the journey… I decided then to act upon my own initiative, and a dhow having come into the harbour, I spoke to the Captain and contracted with him to take us to Aden. Then, for I knew how obstinate are these English, I went to Bent and said, ‘Kyrios, why not take ship to Aden?’ ‘Nonsense,’ he replied, ‘you know very well that there is no ship.’ ‘Maybe, Kyrios, but suppose that there were one, would you take it?’ ‘Well! Yes,’ he said, ‘I would, for she is very ill.’ I took him to the top of a hill and showed him the Dhow at anchor! So we started; but on arriving at Aden, there was a ‘quarantine’ and Madame was not allowed to land. The Governor however intervened in her favour and a doctor came at once to see her. He was only just in time, but her life was saved. It was after this that Bent himself began the illness that ended in his death… All were agreed that here was a great traveller, one like unto Odysseus himself.”

And the same, of course, must be said of the dragomános extraordinaire, Matthaios Simos, of Anafi in the Cyclades, and all points south-east!

(The excerpts above are mostly taken from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent, Vol. 1’, Archaeopress, Oxford, 2006)

Mabel Bent and Matthaios Simos on their camels near Mohammad Gul, Sudan (1896, detail). From a photograph (February 1896) by Alfred Cholmley. Glass lantern slide (detail), LS/217-10. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

 

Mabel and the Virtue of Patience

On 21 December 2017 an email arrived in the Bent Archive inbox; an enquirer wrote:

I have in my possession a little book (roughly 2 inches x 2.5 inches) by Mrs. Theodore Bent titled ‘Patience Pocket Book’, can you tell me anything other than is listed on your website quite briefly? It states it was published by J. W. Arrowsmith of Bristol, printed in London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Limited… It is a fascinating little piece of history and one would assume it kept Mabel amused during her mourning period, however given that it was ‘different’ to her other works what do you know about its fruition?

We replied the same day:

Thanks so much for your interesting email: you are lucky to have a copy of this rare little book! Sorry, we can’t add much other than the same sort of ideas you will have. It seems that Mabel and Theodore liked to travel with cards to amuse themselves now and then on their travels over many years, so we can assume that Mabel would have played from an early age with her brothers and sisters in Ireland, and, as you say, would then have continued with ‘patience’ in her widowhood…The Bodleian Library has a copy of the book and inside is a folded letter from Mabel dated just ‘May 6’ to the card-game specialist and collector F. E. Jessel, who was keen to see Mabel’s ‘little whist markers’. She writes that she would have replied to him earlier, but having “…only just come home from Jerusalem…I wonder if you could call tomorrow afternoon after 4 as then I am sure to be at home. If not we must fix another time. Yours faithfully, Mabel V. A. Bent”. Jessel included Mabel’s book in his standard English bibliography on playing cards (1905, 18, item 100).

Just over a year later, thanks to the generosity of John Beale, a copy of this very rare and tiny book is now in the Bent Archive’s collection. It was published in Bristol in 1903 by J. W. Arrowsmith.

The title page proclaims: ‘A Patience Pocket Book, plainly printed, put together by Mrs Theodore Bent’, and as Mabel’s preface explains: ‘This tiny booklet, with its hundred games, condensed into few words, recommends itself by its plain print, small size, and light weight. It hopes to be your constant companion as a reminder of games, which you, perhaps already know, as many of them are very ancient but of which it is easy to forget the details. it will be as simple for a Patience player to understand as a knitting book is for a Knitter, and to beginners, the unravelling of its mysteries will be a new game of Patience.‘ Judge for yourselves, here are Mabel’s ‘Rules and Abbreviations’ in her own words: “In counting the value of cards, A. counts 1, Kv. 11, Q. 12, K. 13. Ace packets are always piles in ascending sequence, i.e. Ace, 2, 3, &c. (Asc. seq.). King packets in descending sequence (desc. seq.), i.e. K., Q., Knave, &c. Sk., or Stock, means all the cards, one or more packs. Lines are perpendicular; Rows are horizontal. R.H., or Rubbish Heap, on which cards are played, which cannot at the time be used, and which gradually must be worked off. Piquet pack excludes all below 7. If you want to divide the packs and play a 1 pack game, after having used 2 packs, take out 4 suits, without minding if they all have the same backs. When all the cards are thus in suits it is easy to take out the low cards for a Piquet pack. One may help one’s self by Running Cards. When the Ace and King packets of one suit have respectively 6 and 7, move the 7 from the King packet, or pile, to the Ace pile, and continue till a place is found for (say) a 10 on the Ace pile, or vice versa. F.S. means Follows suit; N.F.S., Not Follows suit. With the help of these rules beginners will soon become experts.’

Good luck! Among the 100 games, favourites include: Neighbourly Love, Home Circle, Patchwork, Great Pyramid, Grandmother’s Game, Great Grandmother…

Mabel ran a small bookshop in Jerusalem in the early 1900s and presumably this miniature volume, the size of a biscuit, would have been stocked there, perhaps with her other book, the very esoteric AngloSaxons from Palestine; or The Imperial Mystery of the Lost Tribes (London: Sherratt & Hughes, 1908), the reading of which, indeed, requires great patience!

Mabel Hall-Dare: Chronicles of Mrs. Theodore Bent… reviewed by Janeite Kelly (Dec 2018)

Mabel Hall-Dare: Chronicles of Mrs. Theodore Bent… reviewed by Janeite Kelly (Dec 2018)

“A unique life brought again to life because of surviving journals. Reading about the diaries – how clear the writing is, for instance – and seeing samples (even of doodles) is part of the delight in these books.”

And delighted we are to post up this kind review of Mabel Bent’s Chronicles by “Georgian Gems, Regency Reads & Victorian Voices”:

Do click on the link above to read the full review, which begins:

“Dedicated editors/biographers and small presses sometimes turn up the most exciting books. This post concerns the three books of travel edited and compiled by Gerald Brisch from the travel diaries of Mabel Bent, née Mabel Hall-Dare.”

Meet Mabel’s Mother – Frances Anna Catherine Hall-Dare (née Lambart).

A happy tip-off from Paul Frecker has led to the discovery of a fine and rare portrait of Mabel Bent’s mother, Frances Anna Catherine Hall-Dare (née Lambart) (c. 1819-1862). The photograph was taken in the studio of the celebrated portraitist Camille Silvy (Camille Silvy Collection, Album 5 (Daybook Volume 5), 1861-62, number 6506, albumen print, 20 November 1861, 38 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, London).

Camille Silvy (1834-1910), from a French aristocratic background, established himself as one of the leading portrait photographers of his time. He moved to London in 1859 and bought Caldesi and Montecchi’s studio on Porchester Terrace. He kept daybooks with the details of each sitter, the date, and a file print, and these (with five members of the Hall-Dare family), are now in the National Portrait Gallery’s archives, London (a search on their fine site will provide more information).

Frances, born c. 1819, was the daughter of Gustavus Lambart and Anna Butler Stevenson. She married Robert Westley Hall-Dare, son of Robert Westley Hall-Dare and Elizabeth Grafton, on 18 April 1839, with whom she had six children. She was born on the Lambart estates of Beau Parc, Co. Meath (see image), before residing in her first marital home at Temple House, Sligo (now a hotel – go stay!). Then, after her husband’s disgrace, trial, and one-month prison sentence, the family moved to Newtonbarry (now Bunclody, Co. Wexford); Hall-Dare subsequently bought and redeveloped Newtonbarry House as the family home, just outside the village, across the trout-brown and lovely Slaney. The family also maintained extensive properties in Essex and rented homes in London, including 49 Eaton Place, where Frances died after a long and painful illness on 2nd September 1862. She was buried in the Hall-Dare plot/vault at St Mary’s Theydon Bois, Essex, on 6 September 1862, aged just 43 (Burial record 422).

This photograph, dated 20 November 1861, was taken just 10 months before she died. (Paul Frecker’s website adds that the cause of death was, alas, cancer of the womb.) Her son, also Robert Hall-Dare, made a sad entry in his diary (private collection) a year after her death, September 1863: ‘Just a year ago on the 2nd September 1862 my dear mother was taken from this world. We were at Eaton Place, a house my Father had taken – She had been sinking for some weeks rapidly, and at last was only conscious for a few hours in the day. Before that she, when free from pain, used to talk to us much and gave me advice which I hope I may never forget.

Mabel also recalled her mother, some 40 years later:

My baby eyes first looked out on an extremely beautiful bit of this world, for I was born at Beauparc, in the county of Meath, my grandfather Gustavus Lambart’s place, which, being situated on a very high bank at a sharp curve of the River Boyne, seems as if it were upon an island looking straight down the river… So much did this view please me the first time I can remember seeing it, that, having arrived in the dark one night, the following morning about four or five o’clock my wretched mother was startled from her sleep by shrieks and shouts to find me jumping up and down as hard as I could at the window, a manifestation of my ecstasy of delight at the sight of the snow and icicles and all the wintry beauty spread before me…‘ [(Mabel V.A. Bent, ‘In the Days of My Youth: Chapters of Autobiography’, M.A.P., 10, (Mainly about People): A Popular Penny Weekly of Pleasant Gossip, Personal Portraits, and Social News, Issue 240 (17 January 1903), pp. 72-3].

The painting here shows: ‘Beauparc – Lady Lambert’s House’. Mabel Hall-Dare was born here, in County Meath, Ireland, on January 28, 1847. From a watercolour by Garrett Scanlan. (Reproduced with the artist’s permission).

Theodore and the Sabouna (video)

The sound of the sabouna, or the Greek bagpipe.

The strains of this instrument would have been very familiar to Theodore and Mabel as they journeyed from island to island. At the time of their travels, the sabouna was still one of the most popular folk instruments for the islanders. Its prominence probably linked to some degree with the goats and sheep the islanders were raising.

Every part of the animal was used. The milk was used to produce the delicious mizithra cheese enjoyed by the Bents, while the meat formed the key element of many local dishes that we still enjoy today – even the entrails were used for the ubiquitous dish, kokoretsi, and the Easter soup, magiritsa. The wool and hide, of course, found many uses.

Maybe somebody, hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago, scratched their head searching for other uses for the goat’s inedible skin. With a gurgling, a squealing and a wailing, the sabouna was born.

Theodore was never too adoring of the melancholy sound of the instrument. ‘that wretched Grecian substitute for the bagpipe’ he wrote on Anafi, and in Karpathos he describes it as ‘a species of bagpipe, being a goatskin with the hairs left on, which palpitates like a living body when filled with air. These instruments are romantic enough when played by shepherds on the hillside or in the village square as an accompaniment to the dance, but they are intolerable in the tiny cottages where women tread their flannel.

Despite his apparent dislike for the sabouna, one does wonder whether he really had a sneaking admiration for ir. While in Karpathos, he acquired his own sabouna and brought it back to England where, after his death, it eventually found its way to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Did Theodore ever learn to play this wretched Grecian substitute for a bagpipe – we’ll never know – but it would be nice to think he at least tried.

During the 20th century the sabouna’s popularity faded and it’s only in recent years that a small number of traditional musicians has embraced the instrument and is bringing about its revival. One of these musicians is Yannis Pantazis who crafts his own instruments and demonstrates them in his artisan workshop in Santorini. Yannis is an outstandingly versatile musician who fell in love with the sabouna on first hearing before he even knew what it looked like. Ever since, he has devoted his life’s work to the plaintive-sounding Greek bagpipe and the other instruments in his collection such as the lyre, the panpipes and the flute as well as traditional percussion instruments. Pop in and see him if you’re in Santorini – you will undoubtedly end up ‘gigging’ with him as he demonstrates and enthusiastically talks about the history and mythology attached to each instrument.

There’s a final twist in this tale of Theodore and the sabouna. On the 11th January 1884, he and Mabel came ashore in the south of Santorini having travelled by sail-boat from the neighbouring island of Anafi. They landed near the small church of Aghios Nikolaos, ‘a little white thing under a red rock’ wrote Mabel. Taking a rough track, after some difficulties, they finally reached the hill-top village of Akrotiri just before dusk. Eating only what they’d carried from Anafi, they slept the night in the tower of the Venetian castle.

That very tower, known as La Ponta, was the first workshop of Yannis Pantazis where he constructed and played the instrument seemingly both loved and abhorred by Theodore. Yannis had never heard of the Bents but he believes Theodore’s accounts of the sabouna are some of the earliest records we have in modern times of the playing of the instrument.

La Ponta has cast a powerful spell over the course of the past 130 years, bringing into its orbit, two key figures, generations apart – one who experienced and documented the popularity of the sabouna in its heyday, the other spearheading the vanguard of the renaissance of the instrument today.

One hopes Theodore would have approved!

Discover more about Yannis Pantazis, his workshop and performance space

SYMPOSION by La Ponta Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/symposionsantorini

SYMPOSION website at https://www.symposionsantorini.com

Incidentally V: Margaret Kenna, and the Bents on Anáfi in 1884 – ‘Kalamiotissa’

The fifth in Professor Margaret Kenna’s Theodore and Mabel Bent-related series of ‘incidentals’ covering the Cycladic island of Anáfi is all to do with the great monastery site at the western end of the island; that celebrated monument built on the foundations of an ancient temple that perhaps sanctified the locale where Jason and Medea sported – having landed safely in a terrible storm from Crete. But Prof Kenna will fill you in… Margaret is a retired social anthropologist from Swansea University who has been carrying out research on Anáfi, and among Anáfiot migrants in Athens, since 1966. She has written two books and many articles in English about her research: Greek Island Life: Fieldwork on Anafi (2nd edition 2017, Sean Kingston Publishing), and The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Dissidents in the 1930s (2001, Routledge). A Greek translation of the second book was published in 2004 by Alexandreia Press. Many of her articles, in English and in Greek translation, can be found on the websites: academia.edu and ResearchGate. She has also written several booklets which can be found in tourist shops on the island: Anafi: a Brief Guide; Anafi: Island of Exile; The Folklore and Traditions of Anafi, and The Traditional Embroideries of Anafi. She was made an Honorary Citizen of the island in 2006.

This fifth ‘talk’ in Professor Kenna’s thyme-scented series happily coincides with one of Margaret’s regular trips to the island (early June 2018). Go search her out if you are there!

We very much hope you enjoy it and will look out for forthcoming Anáfi ‘talks’ soon on our site; by all means send in your comments to the Bent Archive!

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The Bents visit the Lower Monastery/ Temple of Apollo: earlier, and later, visitors

“On January 10th 1884, the Bents went by boat along the south coast of the island with their host, the ‘demarch’ Chalaris, and their guide Matthaios, to the Lower Monastery ‘of Kalamiotissa, on a promontory’, as Mabel writes. She does not mention the huge peak (1476 feet/ 459 metres) of Mount Kalamos above it, although Theodore does: ‘a gigantic mountain rock’ (1885: 50).

Fig. 1: Mount Kalamos, in the distance, at the eastern end of the south coast of Anafi (M. Kenna).

“A bit of dynamite fishing from rocks along the south coast took place during the boat trip. Mabel writes the initial of the person involved, Theodore tactfully says ‘one of our men’, for then, as now, dynamite fishing is illegal and extremely dangerous. In the 1960s many male villagers had missing fingers or limbs (dynamite was not mentioned to me in the explanations I was given for these injuries), and in the 1980s, two Anafiot men, a father and son, were killed while using it.

“All that Mabel says of their visit at the monastery is this: ‘The Monastery is a very curious place, built on the site and with the stones, and using much of the old building of a temple of Apollo’ (for the diary references, see Bent, M. 2006: 32-34).

“The church of the Lower Monastery and the monks’ cells are indeed built inside the ruins of an ancient temple of Apollo. The myth is that Jason and the Argonauts were caught in a storm and saved by a flash of light thrown by Apollo, revealing the island to them (one derivation of the island’s name is ‘Revelation’, a parallel to another island sacred to Apollo, Delos, a name which also means ‘to reveal’). Anafi was later a place of pilgrimage to the temple of Apollo, and to other temples built on the site, and became rich enough to have its own coinage.

Fig 2: The Lower Monastery church visible over the wall of Apollo’s temple, summer 1966 (M. Kenna).

“The Monastery is called ‘Lower’ because there is another very small one, founded in 1715, on the peak of Mount Kalamos. Until 1887 the ikon of the island’s patron saint, Panayia Kalamiotissa (the Virgin of the Reed), was housed in the Upper Monastery chapel, and it was then brought down to the Lower Monastery. The Lower Monastery had been visited by Ludwig Ross in the 1830s (probably on the same visit as the one on which he sketched the sarcophagus described in another blog entry) and a decade later the archaeologist and epigrapher Hiller von Gaertringen would not only visit the Lower Monastery (because of his interest in the temple) but also photograph it, and the Upper Monastery chapel as well. He published the Anafi inscriptions in Inscriptiones Graecae Vol XII, 3: 54-68, numbers 247-319 (referred to here as I.G.). A photocopy can be found in the museum in the village.

Fig. 3: Hiller von Gaertringen’s photo of the Lower Monastery during his visit, c. 1898.

Fig. 4: A ‘measured drawing’ by Laurits Winstrup, Danish architect, of the layout of the temple and monastery buildings. The wall in the photo above is at the top of this drawing (from Margit Bendtsen ‘Sketches and Measurings: Danish Architects in Greece, 1818:1862’. Copenhagen, 1993: 361).

“At the time of the Bents’ visit, the three monks there were mourning the death of their Abbot the previous day (how Chalaris had not heard of this is not mentioned), so the Bents did not stay long. Theodore does however mention that ‘the monastery now belongs to one at Santorin’ (1885: 50). Later events make it clear that another Abbot was appointed, and, indeed, there was one during my own time on the island (when there no monks at the Lower Monastery) who also acted as village priest. It was only after this Abbot’s death in the 1990s that the Lower and Upper Monasteries became ‘holdings’ of the Monastery of Profitis Ilias on Santorini, and renovations were carried out and other changes made.

Fig. 5: The Lower Monastery in 2016. Part of the ancient wall can just be seen bottom left (M. Kenna).

Fig. 6: Inside the Lower Monastery, showing the wall of one of the temple buildings, summer 1966 (M. Kenna).

Fig. 7: The temple building in the photo above, summer 1988 (M. Kenna).

Fig. 8: The temple building ‘secured’ by the regional archaeological service (21st Ephorate), 2015 (M. Kenna).

Fig. 9: Hiller von Gaertringen’s Greek foreman (Angelos Kosmopoulos from the Peloponnese, wearing a fustanella), in the doorway of the remaining temple building, 1898.

“Theodore refers to Apollo in the god’s manifestation as ‘Aeglites’ (‘radiant’ ‘shining’). However, Apollo on Anafi had an epithet that is unique to that location, which appears in some of inscriptions which Hiller recorded. This epithet is ‘Asgelatas’. Some scholars say this is a variant of ‘aigletes’, radiant, and others relate it to Asclepios/ Aesculapius, god of healing, son of Apollo – so would the epithet mean ‘father of Asclepios’? There are other more controversial interpretations, see ‘Apollo and the Virgin’ in History and Anthropology 2009, available on the websites: academia.edu and ResearchGate. Theodore would surely have known about this epithet as Ludwig Ross had described it (see line 3 of the text in I.G. XII, 248, below).

Fig. 10: One of the inscriptions referring to Apollo as ‘Asgelatas’ (I.G. 248, line 8).

“In the summer of 1966, Richard McNeal visited the island and discovered another such inscription, not recorded by Hiller. It is a dedication of an altar and reads, in translation, ‘To Apollo Asgelatas, on behalf of (my) son Aristogenes’. He asked me to take a photograph of it and to make a ‘squeeze’ (papier-maché impression). The Greek word ‘Asgelatas’ is in the third (last) line.

Fig. 11: The ‘Asgelatas’ altar, summer 1966 (M. Kenna).

“Another of the inscriptions recorded by Hiller refers to celebrating the rituals of the ‘Asgelaia’

Fig. 12: An inscription recorded by Hiller, mentioning the ‘Asgelaia’. I.G. 249, line 22.

“And what they were, we don’t really know – although they could be an occasion at which men and women traded insults, repeating what is said to have taken place on Anafi when Jason and the Argonauts were insulted by Medea and her women. The women derided the men for only having water (instead of wine or oil) to pour on the sacrificial fire offered to Apollo in thanks for their safe arrival on the island (as reported by Apollonios Rhodios in Argonuatica Book IV, line 1730).

“Theodore notes that at the Lower Monastery, ‘In every direction are to be seen inscriptions let into the walls…. It would appear from the inscriptions that this ground was once covered with temples, the principal one being dedicated to Apollo Aeglites, another to Aphrodite, another to Aesculapius, etc.’ (Bent 1885: 50). His work on the inscriptions appears in another ‘blog’ entry (‘Incidentally II’) .

“Of course, and as ever, far the best thing to do is go see for yourselves! The road there is excellent – you can hire a car, scooter, or bike, but the joy is in the walking – there is a coastal path – and in front of you all the way is the tempting and high Kalamiotissa church in the distance. Go on, you can do it!

References

* Bent, Mabel and Brisch, Gerald (ed.) 2006. The Travel Chronicles of Mrs. J. Theodore Bent, Vol I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral. Oxford, Archaeopress.
* Bent, Theodore 1885 (2002). The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks. Oxford, Archaeopress.
* Ross, Ludwig 1840-1852. Reisen auf den griechischen Inseln des ägäischen Meeres (1840-45). Stuttgart, Tübingen, Cotta [https://archive.org/details/reisenundreiser00rossgoog].

Websites
For the Greek Epigraphical Society, see https://greekepigraphicsociety.org.gr/august-2011/#more-440 (accessed 17/03/2018).

Incidentally III: Margaret Kenna, and the Bents on Anáfi in 1884 – My style rocks?

We are delighted to post the third in Professor Margaret Kenna’s Theodore and Mabel Bent-related series of ‘incidentals’ covering the Cycladic island of Anáfi. Margaret is a retired social anthropologist from Swansea University who has been carrying out research on Anáfi, and among Anáfiot migrants in Athens, since 1966. She has written two books and many articles in English about her research: Greek Island Life: Fieldwork on Anafi (2nd edition 2017, Sean Kingston Publishing), and The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Dissidents in the 1930s (2001, Routledge). A Greek translation of the second book was published in 2004 by Alexandreia Press. Many of her articles, in English and in Greek translation, can be found on the websites: academia.edu and ResearchGate. She has also written several booklets which can be found in tourist shops on the island: Anafi: a Brief Guide; Anafi: Island of Exile; The Folklore and Traditions of Anafi, and The Traditional Embroideries of Anafi. She was made an Honorary Citizen of the island in 2006.

This third short ‘talk’ in Professor Kenna’s thyme-scented series involves an island dress: ‘Mabel’s notes; Theodore’s published text; BUT what did Efthimia’s costume look like?’. During the time the Bents were on Anafi in early January 1884, they were fancily entertained by ‘the demarch’, surnamed Chalaris. On the first evening, they asked his daughter ‘Eutimia’, also the niece of their guide Matthaios Simos, an Anafiot, to show them ‘one of the old Anaphiote costumes’….

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Mabel’s notes; Theodore’s published text; BUT what did Efthimia’s costume look like?

“During the time they were on Anafi in early January 1884, the Bents were entertained by ‘the demarch’, surnamed Chalaris. On the first evening, they asked his daughter ‘Eutimia’, also the niece of their guide Matthaios Simos, an Anafiot, to show them ‘one of the old Anaphiote costumes’. (Nowadays the name is more likely to be spelt Efthimia, as that is how it is pronounced).

“Theodore Bent describes her appearance as ‘magnificent’. In his description of the costume he borrows almost word for word from his wife’s account in her diary: ‘[the costume] consisted of a violet silk brocade skirt, green velvet bodice, gold embroidered stomacher [(a ‘stomacher’ is a V-shaped piece of decorative cloth filling the opening of a bodice], and a short pink satin jacket, edged round the cuffs and down the front with pink fur. The headdress somewhat resembled the pina of Siphnos, but is here called ‘the circle’ (ό κύκλος): it consists of a tall wedge of cotton inside, over which Oriental handkerchiefs are gracefully arranged, so that the ends hang down over the shoulders.’ [Mabel’s diary (kindly supplied by Gerry Brisch; 2006) does not mention the pina, but says ‘Her head was very prettily arranged with 2 of the little embroidered towels we use for antimacassars’.] ‘During the last few years this style of dress has been entirely abandoned; those who wore it were laughed at; and Eutimia that evening came in for a good share of ridicule,…’ (Bent 1885: 45).

“So – what did the ‘old Anaphiote dress’ look like? If we look at old engravings of the costume of the women of Sifnos, we can get some idea of how the pina (rather like a dunce’s cap) looked, and the fur-trimmed jacket:

Fig.1: Detail of old engraving of woman of Sifnos wearing the pina, and a fur-trimmed long coat. M-G-F-A de Choiseul-Gouffier, 1782 Voyage Pittoresque de la Grèce. © Benaki Museum Athens.

“A traditional woman’s costume (in the National Historical Museum in Athens) from the island of Amorgos (roughly 32 miles/ 50 kilometres north-north-east of Anafi) possibly helps with what the skirt and bodice looked like.

Fig. 2: Traditional costume from Amorgos (image from National Historical Museum, Athens).

“If we combine elements from the two images, and re-colour according to Mabel’s and Theodore’s description, something like this might be what Efthimia looked like on that January evening…

Fig. 3: Hypothetical reconstruction of the ‘old Anaphiote costume’…. (M. Kenna).

Fig. 4: …. Or, maybe like this? Drawing © Judith Stroud.

“Anyway, perhaps you would like to visit the island this summer and try and find out for yourselves and let us know!…Of course with your copies of the Bents’ jottings in your hands!”

References
Bent, Mabel and Brisch, Gerald (ed.) 2006. The Travel Chronicles of Mrs. J. Theodore Bent, Vol I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral. Oxford, Archaeopress.

Bent, Theodore 1885 (2002). The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks. Oxford, Archaeopress.

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