Death of a noted Baildonian – Theodore Bent, 5 May 1897
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]
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.
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.”
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.
It seems Theodore Bent visited Cycladic Amorgos, briefly, twice, once for Orthodox Easter in 1883 (April 28 – 1 May, Old Style) and then again in February the following year. Mrs Bent presumably joined her husband for the first visit (although Mabel does not make this clear), after they had been to Tinos for the “great pilgrimage on the Greek March 29th, that is in the beginning of our April 1883”. There are no first-hand accounts of Amorgos in Mabel’s Chronicles, but she makes clear in her 1884 diary that “During the last week of my stay [on Antiparos], T went to Amorgos. I was not well and remained for further rest. I joined [him] on the steamer Eptanisos at Paroikia on Ash Wednesday, February 27th, after having waited a day and a night as the weather was stormy”. Theodore chose to end his great book on the Cyclades (1885) with an account of these two visits, suggesting how much he/they enjoyed this lovely and fascinating island that acts as a stepping stone between the distinct styles of the Cyclades and the Dodecanese.
Bent’s Amorgos chapter in The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks is well known and can be easily found freely on line. Less well known is the article he wrote first for Macmillan’s Magazine, Easter Week in Amorgos (1884, Vol. 50 (May/Oct), 194-201; reprinted in Littell’s Living Age, Vol. 162 (1884), 402ff), and on which he generously based his chapter, no doubt supplementing the latter with material from his second visit (a Cycladic figurine he acquired there is in the British Museum). Thus a longish, edited, extract from the Macmillan’s piece follows, and will, we trust, entertain and perhaps inspire an Easter visit for 2020!
EASTER WEEK IN AMORGOS – J. Theodore Bent
“This, the remotest island of the Cycladic group, and the bulwark, so to speak, of the modern Greek kingdom, would well repay a visit at any other time than Easter week, for its quaint costumes and customs, and unadulterated simplicity; but Easter week is the great festival of Amorgos, and is unlike Easter in other parts of Greece, for the Amorgiotes at this time devote themselves to religious services and observances, which now scandalise the more advanced lights of the Hellenic Church, and greatly annoy the liberal-minded Methodios, Archbishop of Syra, in whose diocese Amorgos is situated, and who cannot bear the prophetic source for which this island is celebrated, and would stop it if he dared; but popular feeling, and the priests, who gain thereby, prevent him.
“The steamer now touches here once a week a dangerous enemy, indeed, to these primaeval customs, but pleasanter than a caique so we availed ourselves of it, and carried with us a letter of introduction to the Demarch of Amorgos from the head functionary in these parts, the Nomarch of the Cyclades. It is seldom calm between Amorgos and her neighbours; the full force of the Icarian sea runs into a narrow channel which separates her from some smaller islands. This fact, again, prior to the advent of the steamer, tended to keep the Amorgiotes to themselves.
“The first object which struck us was the costume of the elderly women; that wretched steamer has brought in western fashion now, so that the younger women scorn their ancestral dress, but the old crones still seem to totter and stagger beneath the weight of their traditional headgear. There is a soft cushion on the top of the head, a foot high at least, covered with a dark handkerchief, and bound over the forehead with a yellow one; behind the head is another cushion, over which the dark handkerchief hangs half way down the back, and the yellow handkerchief is brought tightly over the mouth so as to leave only the nose projecting, and is then bound round so as to support the hindermost cushion. This complicated erection rejoices in the name of ‘tourlos’, and is hideously grotesque, except when the old women go to the wells, and come back with huge amphorae full of water poised on the top of it, plying their distaffs busily the while, totally unconcerned about the weight on their heads. Naturally a head-dress such as this is not easy to change, and the old women rarely move it until their heads itch too violently from the vermin they have collected within. We only saw the rest of the old Amorgiote costume on a feast day; with the exception of the ‘tourlos’, the silks and brocades of olden days are abandoned in ordinary life.
“The demarch received us rather gruffly at first; he was busy with the weekly post which had arrived by our steamer. He distributes the letters, there being no postman in the island. But when his labours were over he regaled us with the usual Greek hospitality, with coffee, sweetmeats, and raki, and then prepared to lay out a programme for our enjoyment. ‘Papa Demetrios’, said he, ” is the only man who knows anything about Amorgos.” So the said priest was forthwith summoned, and intrusted with the charge of showing me the lions of Amorgos. ‘We had better visit the points of archaeological interest first’, said he. ‘Next week we shall be too busy with the festival to devote much time to them.’ So accordingly the three next days were occupied in visits to remote parts of the island, old sites of towns, old towers and inscriptions, whilst the world was preparing for the Easter feast.
“I do not propose to narrate the usual routine of a Greek Easter, the breaking of the long fast, the elaborately decorated lambs to be slaughtered for the meal, the nocturnal services, and the friendly greetings of these everybody knows enough; but I shall confine myself to what is peculiar to Amorgos, and open my narrative on a lovely Easter morning, when all the world were in their festival attire ready to participate in the first day’s programme.
“First of all I must take the reader to visit a convent dedicated to the Life-Saving Virgin (Chozobiotissa), the wonder of Amorgos. It is the wealthiest convent in Greece next to Megaspelaion, having all the richest lands in Amorgos and the neighbouring islands, besides possessions in Crete, in the Turkish islands, and elsewhere. The position chosen for this convent is most extraordinary. A long line of cliff, about two miles from the town, runs sheer down 1,000 feet into the sea; a narrow road, or ledge, along the coast leads along this cliff to the convent, which is built half way up. Nothing but the outer wall is visible as you approach. The church and cells are made inside the rock. This convent was founded by the Byzantine emperor, Alexius Comnenus, whose picture existed until lately, but they suffer here frequently from rocks which fall from above, one of which fell not long ago and broke into the apse of the church and destroyed the picture of the emperor.
“We entered by a drawbridge, with fortifications against pirates, and were shown into the reception room, where the superior, a brother of the member for Santorin, met us, and conducted us to the cells in the rock above, to the large storehouses below, and to the narrow church, with its five magnificent silver pictures, three of which were to be the object of such extraordinary veneration during Easter week. The position of this convent is truly awful. From the balconies one looks deep down into the sea, and overhead towers the red rock, blackened for some distance by the smoke of the convent fires; here and there are dotted holes in the rock where hermits used to dwell in almost inaccessible eyries. It is, geographically speaking, the natural frontier of Greece. Not twenty miles off we could see from the balcony the Turkish islands, and beyond them the coast of Asia Minor. Our friendly monks looked too sleepy and inert to think of suicide, otherwise every advantage would here be within their reach.
“Three of the five silver eikona in this church were to be the object of our veneration for seven days to come. One adorns a portrait of the Madonna herself, found, they say, by some sailors in the sea below, and is beautifully embossed and decorated with silver; one of St. George Balsaniitis, the patron saint of the prophetic source of Amorgos; and the other is an iron cross set in silver, and found, they say, on the heights of Mount Krytelos, a desolate mountain to the north of Amorgos, only visited by peasants, who go there to cut down the prickly evergreen oak which covers it as fodder for their mules.
“We were up and about early on Easter morning, the clanging of bells, and the bustle beneath our windows made it impossible to sleep. Papa Demetrios came in dressed exceedingly smartly in his best canonicals, to give us the Easter greeting. Even the demarch and his wife were more genial and gay. At nine o’clock we and all the world started forth on our pilgrimage to meet the holy eikons from the convent. The place of meeting was only a quarter of a mile from the town, at the top of the steep cliff, and here all the inhabitants of the island from the villages far and near were assembled to do reverence.
“I was puzzled as to what could be the meaning of three round circles like threshing floors, left empty in the midst of the assemblage. All round were spread gay rugs and carpets, and rich brocades; every one seemed subdued by a sort of reverential awe. Papa Demetrios and two other chosen priests, together with their acolytes, set forth along the narrow road to the convent to fetch the eikons, for no monk is allowed to participate in this great ceremony. They must stop in their cells and pray; it would never do for them to be contaminated by the pomps and vanities of so gay a throng. So at the convent door, year after year at Easter time, the superior hands over to the three priests the three precious eikons, to be worshipped for a week.
“A standard led the way, the iron cross on a staff followed, the two eikons came next, and as they wended their way by the narrow path along the sea the priests and their acolytes chanted montonous music of praise. The crowd was now in breathless excitement as they were seen to approach, and as the three treasures were set up in the three threshing floors everybody prostrated himself on his carpet and worshipped. It was the great panegyric of Amorgos, and of the 5,000 inhabitants of the island not one who was able to come was absent. It was an impressive sight to look upon. Steep mountains on either side, below at a giddy depth the blue sea, and all around the fanatical islanders were lying prostrate in prayer, wrought to the highest pitch of religious fanaticism. Amidst the firing of guns and ringing of bells the eikons were then conveyed into the town to the Church of Christ, a convent and church belonging to the monks of Chozobiotissa, and kept in readiness for them when business or dissipation summoned them to leave their cave retreat. Here vespers were sung in the presence of a crowded audience, and the first event of the feast was over. Elsewhere in Greece on Easter day dancing would naturally ensue, but out of reverence to their guests no festivities are allowed of a frivolous nature, and every one walks to and fro with a religious awe upon him.
“Monday dawned fair and bright as days always do about Easter time in Greece. Again the bustle and the clanging of bells awoke us early. There was a liturgy at the Church of Christ where the eikons were, and after that a priest was despatched in all hurry up to the summit of Mount Elias, which towers some 2,000 feet above the town. Here there is a small chapel dedicated to the prophet, and this was now prepared for the reception of the eikons by the priest and his men, and tables were spread with food and wine to regale such faithful as could climb so far. Meanwhile we watched what was going on below in the town, and saw the processions form, and the eikons go and pay their respects to other shrines prior to commencing their arduous ascent up Mount Elias. It was curious to watch the progress up the rugged slopes, the standard-bearer in front, the eikons and priests behind, chanting hard all the time with lungs of iron. Not so my friend the demarch, with whom I walked. His portly frame felt serious inconvenience from such violent exercise, so we sat for a while on a stone, and he related to me how in times of drought these eikons would be borrowed from the convent to make a similar ascent to the summit of Mount Elias to pray for rain, and how the peasants would follow in crowds to kneel and pray before the shrine.
“It is strange how closely the prophet Elias of the Christian Greek ritual corresponds to Apollo, the sun god of old; the name Elias and Helios doubtless suggested the idea, just as now St. Artemidos in some parts has the attributes of Artemis. When it thunders they say Prophet Elias is driving in his chariot in pursuit of dragons, he can send rain when he likes, like Zeus of ancient mythology, and his temples, like those of Phoebus Apollo, are invariably set on high, and visited with great reverence in times of drought or deluge.
“After the liturgy on Mount Elias the somewhat tired priests partook of the refreshments prepared for them, for Phoebus Apollo was very hot to-day, and the eikons were heavy, and my host, the demarch, enjoyed himself vastly, for his pious effort was over, and the descent was simple to him. All the unenergetic world was waiting below, but we who had been to the top felt immensely superior, and Papa Demetrios gaily chaffed the lazy ones on the way to vespers in the metropolitan church for their lack of religious zeal. Here the eikons spent the second night of their absence from home. I was very curious about the next day’s proceedings, for on Tuesday the eikons were to visit the once celebrated church of St. George Balsamitis, where is the prophetic source of Amorgos. So I left the town early with a view to studying this spot, and if possible to open the oracle for myself before the crowd and the eikons should arrive. It is a wild walk along a narrow mountain ridge to the Church of St. George, about two miles from the town. Here I found Papa Anatolios, who has charge of this prophetic stream, very busily engaged in preparing for his guests. A repast for twenty was being laid out in the refectory, and he said a great deal about being too much occupied when I told him I wished to consult his oracle.
“On entering the narthex Papa Anatolios still demurred much about opening the oracle for me, fearing that I intended to scoff; but at length I prevailed upon him, and he put on his chasuble and went hurriedly through the liturgy to St. George before the altar. After this he took a tumbler, which he asked me carefully to inspect, and on my expressing my satisfaction as to its cleanness he proceeded to unlock a little chapel on the right side of the narthex with mysterious gratings all round, and adorned inside and out with frescoes of the Byzantine school. Here was the sacred stream which flows into a marble basin, carefully kept clean with a sponge at hand for the purpose lest any extraneous matter should by chance get in. Thereupon he filled the tumbler and went to examine its contents in the sun’s rays with a microscope that he might read my destiny. He then returned to the steps of the altar and solemnly delivered his oracle. The priests of St. George have numerous unwritten rules, which they hand down from one to the other, and which guide them in delivering their answers. Papa Anatolios told me many of them. These and many other points Papa Anatolios told me, and I thanked him for letting me off so mercifully. To my surprise on offering him a remuneration for opening to me the oracle he flatly refused and seemed indignant.
“About midday we heard the distant chanting of the procession, and soon the three eikons and their bearers were upon us. After the liturgy was over and the religious visit paid, we had a very jolly party in the refectory. Papa Anatolios produced the best products of the island lambs, kids, fresh curdled cheese, wines, and fruits and it was not till late in the afternoon that we started on our homeward route, still chanting and still worshipping these strange silver pictures from the convent.
“We were all rather tired that evening on our return from the oracle, so next morning the bells failed to wake us early, and I was glad to learn that the eikons had started on a visit to a distant place where I had already been, Torlaki, where is an old round Hellenic tower; so during the early part of the day I strolled quietly about the town. I was strong enough that evening to walk down to the sea-shore to see the arrival there of the eikons, with their wonted accompaniment of chanting and festivity. The little harbour village was decked with flags, the caiques and brigs were also adorned, and a good deal of firing was going on in honour of the event.
“That night the eikons and I passed by the harbour certainly to my personal discomfort, for never in the course of my wanderings did I rest under a dirtier roof than that of Papa Manoulas. He is a proverbial Greek priest, having a family of eleven children; he keeps a sort of wineshop restaurant for sailors, and excused the dirtiness of his table by saying that men had been drunk in his house the night before. He cooked our dinner for us in his tall hat, cassock, and shirt sleeves, and then put me to sleep in a box at the top of a ladder in one corner of the cafe, which was redolent of stock-fish, and alive with vermin. I wanted no waking next morning, and was pacing the sea-shore long before the eikons had begun their day’s work ; it was fresh and bright everywhere except in Papa Manoulas’ hole.
“To-day was to be the blessing of the ships, and as every Amorgiote, directly or indirectly, is interested in shipping, it was the chief day in the estimation of most. When the procession reached the shore the metropolitan priest of the island entered a bark decorated with carpets and fine linen, carrying with him the precious eikon of the Life-Saving Madonna (Chozobiotissa); he was rowed to each ship in turn, and blessed them, whilst the people all knelt along the shore, and as each blessing was concluded a gun was fired as a herald of joy. The rest of the day was spent in revelry. I was glad not to be going to pass another night under Papa Manoulas’ roof, for I felt sure that it would be dirtier than ever. Friday and Saturday were passed by the eikons and priests in complimentary visits, and liturgies in the numerous churches in and around the town. I did not accompany them on these journeys, and persuaded Papa Demetrios to come off with me on an excursion, for he too was tired of these repeated ceremonials, and was not sorry to transfer his eikon to inferior hands. The week’s veneration for the eikons was at an end, and the Amorgiotes were now prepared for enjoyment. Every one knows the beauties of the Greek syrtos, as the dance goes waving round and round the planetree in a village square, now fast, now slow, now three deep, now a single line, and then the capers of the leader as he twists and wriggles in contortions. Here in Amorgos the sight was improved by the brilliancy of one or two old costumes. One lady especially was resplendent; her ‘tourlos’ was of green and red, her scarf an Eastern handkerchief such as we now use for antimacassars, coins and gold ornaments hung in profusion over her breast, her stomacher was of green and gold brocade, a gold sash round her waist, and a white crimped petticoat with flying streamers of pink and blue silk, pretty little brown skin shoes with red and green embroidery on them. She was an excellent dancer, too, a real joy to look upon. The men wore their baggy trousers, bright-coloured stockings, and embroidered coats; but the men of Amorgos are not equal to the women. The beauty of an Amorgiote female is proverbial.
“My stay in Amorgos ended thus gaily. Next day the relentless steamer called and carried me off to other scenes.”
For an excellent introduction to the Bents on Amorgos, see the site simply called The Cyclades.
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!
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 (click for the online catalogue) 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 collection of Theodore and Mabel Bent and 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 features several of the Bent’s finest pieces 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! (One other is in store at the V & A, and two more from Nisyros are untraced – if you have them, let us know!) 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’.
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’ 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
Divisional Manager Eastern
Born in Halifax Nova Scotia
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
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.
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.
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
Born in Smyrna Dec 12 1783
Died in Syra Sep 26 1861
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:
to the memory of
born Aug. 1, 1853 died Oct. 27, 1855
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
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.
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.
A superficially unremarkable photograph sent in recently by Anafi specialist Prof. Margaret Kenna contains a remarkable clue. The clue is a family name – Simos – on a plaque commemorating benefactors to the Association of Anafi Islanders (Greek Cyclades) in the early 1950s: a relatively prosperous family, thanks to one Matthaios Simos.
There is an archetype waiting for psychoanalysts to explore – the dragoman, the person you employ to facilitate your travel in foreign lands. Wiktionary helps here (if you want more, you are on your own): ‘From Middle English dragman, borrowed from Old French drugeman, from Medieval Latin dragumannus, from Byzantine Greek δραγομάνος (dragomános), from Arabic تُرْجُمَان (turjumān, “translator, interpreter”)’.
What type you get depends on your luck – from an Aristotle to a Zidane – and all travel narratives contain them, none more so than our great 19th-century accounts. And Theodore and Mabel Bent had an extraordinary one: not their first, Kostandinos Verviziotes (for the couple’s 1882/3 visit to Greece and Turkey), nor their second, George Phaedros from Smyrna, who started with the Bents as they left for the Cyclades in the winter of 1883. Theodore and Mabel engaged George on the recommendation of Mr Dennis at the Smyrna consulate. That he was only a moderate success may be inferred by Mabel’s initial lack of enthusiasm when he joins them again, at Ermoupolis, Syros, in December 1883. Apparently he enjoyed a drink, but he was also a grumbler and a terrible sailor – a distinct disadvantage when island-hopping, out of season, on small ﬁshing boats. By Naxos, a few weeks later, the Bents had had enough of him, and one day, high up in a mountain village, they ﬁnd themselves sitting in a warm room, and, “When Mr. Konstantinides our host came home he found 10 people drying their clothes, us two and Phaedros, Mr. Swan, and a man called Mantheos, a native of Anaphi who is to show Mr. Swan mines there…” George was dismissed on Naxos in January 1884 – with just five words in Mabel’s notebook: “We left Phaedros at Naxos”. The Bents went on, of course, to explore Anafi a few weeks later.
There is a sad letter (in English) from George folded into Mabel’s 1883/4 diary asking for remuneration, and although diversionary, no apologies are given for including it here, just skip it if you wish:
[C/O British Consulate Smyrna 1st February /84] Dear Mr Bent I am happy to learn from your favours of 20th January which I received on the 30th of the same, that both you and Mrs Bent are quite well. I have been always thinking of you how you managed with the continuation of your excursion, and how you got on with the unusual rough winter of this year exposing yourselves so, to the mercy and providence I dare say of God. As regards my passage to Smyrna after we departed, you will please learn that your hopes did not prove as expected for I did not escape of what I was fearing. The wretched steamer ‘Eptanisos’ which took you from Naxos on Monday the 7th of January 1884, did not come back to that island to pick me up for Syra until Wednesday the 9th January, (and about noon) and subsequently she kept going so slow, that I missed the Messageries steamer for Smyrna which was leaving Syra (bound for that town) on the same day. I have been waiting consequently six days in Syra and was obliged to spend almost all the money you gave me at Naxos, (viz: the 100 francs) that is to say in expenses for the Hotel in Syra, in changing my broken and shabby hat, and in paying for my passage or fare ticket to Smyrna which brought me home almost penniless. And my wife had already spent also, what I had sent her from Syra in buying some necessary things for the house, with the cause of the holidays etc. So my friends who expected me to return quite a rich man, contemplating, in their idea and opinion that I was getting £T5 [Turkish pounds] per day in consideration of the winter season travelling, were quite disappointed to ﬁnd that I was obliged and in need to borrow money off them. Mr Dennis also told me that he did not think it was right for me to pay out of my pocket my passage to Syra and back and the expenses for the delay in waiting you in Syra etc., etc. As regards the salary I do not exactly appreciate the opinion of my friends, but I think it is fair that you should make a little allowance for the winter season, that is to say if you do not ﬁnd it so inconvenient, so as to make it worth my while, as I am a fellow with a family as you know. I left Syra on the evening of Monday 14th January. I don’t know where you have spent that fearful evening and night but it was in my destiny to ﬁnd myself in a most violent gale, but fortunately in a brave Arab steamer with Greek captains which was ﬁghting with the elements of the nature that night and stand up like a giant against them. All the plates and glasses are broken and the water found its way in to the cabins. We overtook a steamer called ‘Simiotis’ and saw her bow deeped into the water and we thought she was going to be lost but we learnt that she turned back to Tinos. We kept up but we suffered until we faced the Bay of Smyrna. The impression of that night is still very brisk in my memory. But the necessity of a man is superior to the impression of fear. Although I foresee still bad weather going to be, I made up my mind to come and accompany you again and to be at Syra on the 16th February with the hopes that we shall ahoy the caïques and you will pay for my passage, etc. Please send through Mr. Binney some money for my travelling expenses, etc., enabling me thus to make my start. With my best regards to Mrs. Bent and Mr. Swan. I remain yours sincerely… George Phaedros.
This proved a letter in a bottle however and no reply to him is referenced. Within a few days of Phaedros’ abandonment, a whiskery Ariadne on Naxos, and Matthaios Simos (Mabel Bent spells him a multitude of ways over the next ﬁfteen years, but ‘Manthaios’, awkwardly, seems to predominate) gets the top job as dragoman for the Bents, and begins a partnership – friendship really – with Theodore and Mabel that continues until 1897 and Theodore’s death. Missing only two or three seasons, Theodore (using the English telegraph station at Ermoupolis to reach him) wires Matthaios from London that he might be, on such and such a date, at Syros, or Rhodes, or Chios, or Alexandria, or Port Said, or wherever, to act as their translator, guide, cook, lodgings ofﬁcer, victualler, foreman and general factotum. This small and wiry islander, who waited to marry until he had finished his career with the Bents, having by then sufficient resources, ‘plusios’ even, and a good catch. (As was the case with so many young Greeks who ventured far afield to escape difficult conditions back home.) Matthaios left his footprints in the sands of Southern Arabia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Socotra, Yemen, as well as all around the Aegean.
It is fascinating to see in print and photographs how such a relationship developed. In his great book “The Cyclades”, this is Theodore in 1885: ‘My ﬁrst experiences [of the islands] were made with the assistance of a dragoman; but, on better acquaintance with the language, I learnt to despise his services, and took as servant a native of one of the islands, who became invaluable in assisting me to discover points of folklore which without him it would have been impossible to arrive at.’
In the Community ofﬁces of Anaﬁ, two hours’ ferry ride away and a little southeast of Santorini, the early registers of births (men only) record the arrival of Matthaios in 1846, son of a subsistence farmer, like nearly every other child. The chance that led him to Naxos and a meeting with the Bents in 1884, aged nearly forty, alters his life (there is a later reference by Theodore that he might have had a tobacco shop on the island as a younger man). In Mabel’s 1897 ‘Chronicle’, the year of her husband’s death, there is a list of travel costs payable, in Theodore’s hand. Matthaios’ wages for the trip to Socotra and Aden are £50, about £5000 today, and a huge sum for a Cycladic farmer at the turn of the 19th century; he is able to effectively retire to Anaﬁ, marry, have a family (his descendants are now in Athens and no Simoses remain on the island), and tell of his adventures in foreign lands as dragoman and friend to an extraordinary English couple. He died in the mid-1930s, ﬁve years after Mabel’s death.
Mabel took his photograph on several occasions, the final one in Bent’s last camp, on Socotra in 1897: Theodore is on the left, taking down notes for his arcane dictionary of Socotran dialects. As well as their assistant Ammar, an unmistakable English figure in a topee, one Ernest Bennett, sits to the right. And between the two, just in the background, and alas not clear, stands a middle-aged man in his working clothes… this is Matthaios Simos. (There is also another splendid image of him sitting on a Sudanese camel.)
There was another serendipitous meeting for Matthaios Simos. The writer Vincent Scott O’Connor travelled in the Cyclades in the 1920s and found his way to Anaﬁ. O’Connor had a copy of Bent’s book on the islands and jumped at the chance of an interview with Theodore’s famous (at least on Anaﬁ) dragoman. He records him one evening, up in Chora, “The story-teller relaxed from his labours; a ﬁne little old man with a curved nose and clean-cut features…” Manthaios tells of how he ‘saved’ the Bents from pirates on Samos in 1886: “At Samos,” he said, “there were pirates, who had made up their minds to kidnap the English travellers, and for that reason my master was unable to leave the island. It was I who circumnavigated their wiles… But it was not in these isles that we had our greatest adventures, it was in Arabia… Mrs. Bent was always eager to press on. One night we slept in a damp spot, and while there I had a dream in which I saw two horses and a chariot in Anaphe; but there was no driver, and one of the horses fell down and died. The chariot was overturned. My interpretation of the dream was that this portended a disaster to our party. But Bent only laughed at my fears. He said dreams were nothing but dreams. Nevertheless, as I expected, Mrs. Bent fell seriously ill of a fever which each day grew worse. She could ride no more, and the Arabs refused to carry a Christian, especially a woman. But the Sheikh put his shoulder to one end of the litter, as I did to the other; and so we carried her till the rest of them became ashamed and each took his turn. We arrived at the sea and the Sheikh sent out some milk for the lady, but she was so ill that she could not retain it and daily she became worse; yet she went on, saying that it was only a little fever, and she would not hear of our abandoning the journey… I decided then to act upon my own initiative, and a dhow having come into the harbour, I spoke to the Captain and contracted with him to take us to Aden. Then, for I knew how obstinate are these English, I went to Bent and said, ‘Kyrios, why not take ship to Aden?’ ‘Nonsense,’ he replied, ‘you know very well that there is no ship.’ ‘Maybe, Kyrios, but suppose that there were one, would you take it?’ ‘Well! Yes,’ he said, ‘I would, for she is very ill.’ I took him to the top of a hill and showed him the Dhow at anchor! So we started; but on arriving at Aden, there was a ‘quarantine’ and Madame was not allowed to land. The Governor however intervened in her favour and a doctor came at once to see her. He was only just in time, but her life was saved. It was after this that Bent himself began the illness that ended in his death… All were agreed that here was a great traveller, one like unto Odysseus himself.”
And the same, of course, must be said of the dragomános extraordinaire, Matthaios Simos, of Anafi in the Cyclades, and all points south-east!
(The excerpts above are mostly taken from ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent, Vol. 1’, Archaeopress, Oxford, 2006)
On 21 December 2017 an email arrived in the Bent Archive inbox; an enquirer wrote:
“I have in my possession a little book (roughly 2 inches x 2.5 inches) by Mrs. Theodore Bent titled ‘Patience Pocket Book’, can you tell me anything other than is listed on your website quite briefly? It states it was published by J. W. Arrowsmith of Bristol, printed in London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Limited… It is a fascinating little piece of history and one would assume it kept Mabel amused during her mourning period, however given that it was ‘different’ to her other works what do you know about its fruition?”
We replied the same day:
“Thanks so much for your interesting email: you are lucky to have a copy of this rare little book! Sorry, we can’t add much other than the same sort of ideas you will have. It seems that Mabel and Theodore liked to travel with cards to amuse themselves now and then on their travels over many years, so we can assume that Mabel would have played from an early age with her brothers and sisters in Ireland, and, as you say, would then have continued with ‘patience’ in her widowhood…The Bodleian Library has a copy of the book and inside is a folded letter from Mabel dated just ‘May 6’ to the card-game specialist and collector F. E. Jessel, who was keen to see Mabel’s ‘little whist markers’. She writes that she would have replied to him earlier, but having “…only just come home from Jerusalem…I wonder if you could call tomorrow afternoon after 4 as then I am sure to be at home. If not we must fix another time. Yours faithfully, Mabel V. A. Bent”. Jessel included Mabel’s book in his standard English bibliography on playing cards (1905, 18, item 100).”
Just over a year later, thanks to the generosity of John Beale, a copy of this very rare and tiny book is now in the Bent Archive’s collection. It was published in Bristol in 1903 by J. W. Arrowsmith.
The title page proclaims: ‘A Patience Pocket Book, plainly printed, put together by Mrs Theodore Bent’, and as Mabel’s preface explains: ‘This tiny booklet, with its hundred games, condensed into few words, recommends itself by its plain print, small size, and light weight. It hopes to be your constant companion as a reminder of games, which you, perhaps already know, as many of them are very ancient but of which it is easy to forget the details. it will be as simple for a Patience player to understand as a knitting book is for a Knitter, and to beginners, the unravelling of its mysteries will be a new game of Patience.‘ Judge for yourselves, here are Mabel’s ‘Rules and Abbreviations’ in her own words: “In counting the value of cards, A. counts 1, Kv. 11, Q. 12, K. 13. Ace packets are always piles in ascending sequence, i.e. Ace, 2, 3, &c. (Asc. seq.). King packets in descending sequence (desc. seq.), i.e. K., Q., Knave, &c. Sk., or Stock, means all the cards, one or more packs. Lines are perpendicular; Rows are horizontal. R.H., or Rubbish Heap, on which cards are played, which cannot at the time be used, and which gradually must be worked off. Piquet pack excludes all below 7. If you want to divide the packs and play a 1 pack game, after having used 2 packs, take out 4 suits, without minding if they all have the same backs. When all the cards are thus in suits it is easy to take out the low cards for a Piquet pack. One may help one’s self by Running Cards. When the Ace and King packets of one suit have respectively 6 and 7, move the 7 from the King packet, or pile, to the Ace pile, and continue till a place is found for (say) a 10 on the Ace pile, or vice versa. F.S. means Follows suit; N.F.S., Not Follows suit. With the help of these rules beginners will soon become experts.’
Good luck! Among the 100 games, favourites include: Neighbourly Love, Home Circle, Patchwork, Great Pyramid, Grandmother’s Game, Great Grandmother…
Mabel ran a small bookshop in Jerusalem in the early 1900s and presumably this miniature volume, the size of a biscuit, would have been stocked there, perhaps with her other book, the very esoteric Anglo–Saxons from Palestine; or The Imperial Mystery of the Lost Tribes (London: Sherratt & Hughes, 1908), the reading of which, indeed, requires great patience!
Mabel Hall-Dare: Chronicles of Mrs. Theodore Bent… reviewed by Janeite Kelly (Dec 2018)
“A unique life brought again to life because of surviving journals. Reading about the diaries – how clear the writing is, for instance – and seeing samples (even of doodles) is part of the delight in these books.”
Do click on the link above to read the full review, which begins:
“Dedicated editors/biographers and small presses sometimes turn up the most exciting books. This post concerns the three books of travel edited and compiled by Gerald Brisch from the travel diaries of Mabel Bent, née Mabel Hall-Dare.”
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).
The strains of music from 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 (sometimes sambouna and various spellings) 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 it. 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. Mabel has left quick note of the instrument as they heard it in Olymbos, Greek Easter time 1885: “We then went all together to a ball in the outer room of the church. We sat in a heap of people in the middle and round the edge sat mothers, each with a babe and a string of men screwed round in the narrow space left, preceded by the sampouna, pronounced sabouna, or bagpipe…” (From Mabel Bent’s Greek Chronicles, Vol 1, 2006, page 105)
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