Lindos: The Living City of Homer I – with pictures by Sir Frederic Leighton, P.R.A.

Lindos: The Living City of Homer I – with pictures by Sir Frederic Leighton, P.R.A., by Theodore Bent (1891)

[A little-known article, not available elsewhere digitally we believe, by Theodore Bent published in Black & White, 28 February 1891, pp. 109-10. (For some background, see after Bent’s text.)] 

Frederic Leighton, ‘St Paul’s Bay, Lindos’, c. 1867.

“The illustrations before us are reproduced from studies made by Sir F. Leighton at Lindos, one of the most ancient of all Hellenic towns, the foundations of which carry us back far into those mystic ages, when early Egyptian enterprise first reached the soil of Hellas. Three mythical brothers, Ialysos, Camiros, and Lindos, divided between them the Island of Rhodes, the first halting place reached after crossing the open sea; they built three towns and called them after their own names, and long before the capital of the island came into existence, Lindos was there, carrying on her trade with Egypt. Of these three coëval towns, mentioned by Homer in one line, Lindos alone survives, thanks to its harbour and its prominent position on the eastern coast.

“As you descend the steep olive-clad hills behind Lindos on muleback, the city lies at your feet spread out as on a map. A narrow promontory there breaks into several small bays, two of which form the harbours, and the city lies between them; just the very site that those early navigators looked for, so that whichever way the wind might blow ingress and egress from one of the ports could be effected. A similar instance occurs at the town of Cnidos on the opposite coast, at the end of the Doric Chersonese, and at many a ruined site on the Ægean shores like harbours can still be seen.

Frederic Leighton “Lindos, North Harbour”, c. 1867.

“The harbour, to the north, is spacious; but despite the protection of some small islets it is very dangerous when the S.E. wind blows. Beneath the waves on a calm day, with the aid of a tin cylinder with a glass bottom – an instrument used by the fishermen of today in searching for the haunts of the sponge or the octopus – you may see the foundations of an ancient breakwater long since ruined. The harbour to the south is well sheltered by high rocks; but it is very shallow now, and only available for small craft. At the extremity of the peninsula, on an abrupt rock rising some 600 feet from the sea, now stand the massive battlements of the castle constructed on the site of the ancient Hellenic acropolis by the Knights of St. John, who, during their tenure of the island of Rhodes, held Lindos as second only to the capital in strategic importance.

“The road descends rapidly as the town is approached. It is flanked on either side by tombs of departed Greeks, rifled and overthrown centuries ago. The flat-roofed, whitewashed houses of the fishermen are tightly wedged together in the narrow valley. Most of these consist only of one large room of uniform arrangement. The family sleep on a raised wooden däis, on which at night time they unroll their mattresses. Painted trunks, spread with Oriental carpets, contain all their worldly goods. Chairs are unnecessary, for they sit cross-legged on the floor and take their meals off a circular board raised half-a-foot from the ground. A great feature of the Rhodian household is the innumerable plates hung for ornament on the walls. Twenty years ago these plates were all of the famed Rhodian pottery, but they have now mostly found their way to European bric-a-brac collectors, and willow-pattern plates and coarse French pottery supply their place.

“Lindos is the reputed home of the Rhodian ware, though direct proof is wanting. One thing is certain, that nine-tenths of the specimens extant come from here, and at the neighbouring village of Archangelos potteries are still to be found. The legend of the exiled Persian potters who worked here in the days of the knights may possibly be true.

Frederick Leighton “House Interior, Lindos”, c. 1867.

“The walls of the peasants’ houses at Lindos, are decidedly decorative, especially if they chance to have the old groined and mullion windows dating from the days of the knights, many of which buildings are still left. On festival days home-made embroideries are hung up from strings, rich in colours, and of elaborate device; the water jars, facsimiles of the amphoræ of bygone ages, contribute to the picturesqueness, and the quaint, much-prized, sacred pictures, with the ever-burning oil lamp before them, shed a holy glamour over the whole.

“In remote island towns, like Lindos, you may still find the women of the old Greek type. In Rhodes, unfortunately, of late years, they have abandoned their quaint, rich-embroidered, costumes; only on such remote islands as Astypalæa and Nisyros can these be found; but the men still adhere to their long, loose baggy trousers, their fez, their embroidered waistcoats and red shoes. On a feast-day as they dance on the flat housetops the old circular dance of the East, which Homer describes, the peasants of Lindos still afford us a living picture of the past.”

J. Theodore Bent.

[Leighton’s pictures, sketches and drawings that featured in the above original article include: – “Lindos Looking North” (page 109); “A Curiosity: A Gothic Archway” (outline sketch) (page 109); “South Harbour” (page 109); “North Harbour” (page 109); “An Interior” (page 110 ); “The True Greek Type of Woman” (page 110). NB: these titles are not necessarily Leighton’s own.]

A little background to the above article

Lindos, Rhodes, by moonlight 2022 (photo © Christos Irakleidis)

Quickly, before taking his wife Mabel to South Africa to explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe at the end of January 1891, Theodore Bent seems to have been persuaded by a new popular magazine, Black & White, to write two articles about the Rhodian city of Lindos, really to act as wrap-around texts for some paintings, drawings, and sketches of Lindos and Rhodes by Sir Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), the great English artist of his day and President of the Royal Academy.

It has to be said, no information has surfaced so far as to whether Bent and Leighton were friends or why such a piece should have been written, other than it was for the earliest issues of a new magazine (Bent’s piece was published over two editions), and the editors wanted to launch it with the work of ‘personalities’; the magazine was pitched as having a focus on illustrations – to compete with names such as The Graphic and The Illustrated London News.

Sadly, the quality of Leighton’s published paintings in reproduction is poor in these two original Bent pieces and they do not appear here (their titles are listed below Bent’s texts for those interesting in finding them). Replacing them are freely available versions of the popular artist’s works relating to Lindos and Rhodes, and very lovely they are.

Leighton was 37 when called in to Rhodes during a tour of the Levant in 1867. His memories of his stay in Lindos and the area of Neochori (Rhodes Town – non-Turks then could not stay within the walls of the Old Town) stayed fresh with him for the rest of his life, and he used remembered scenes as backdrops in many of his most popular works. Indications of his feelings for Rhodes appear in (1) his letters home and, (2) his diary:

1)  Royal Steamer, Adriatic, 28 Nov [1867]: “My Dear Papa…  I told you, I believe, in my last how much I had enjoyed and, as I hope, profited by my stay in Rhodes and Lindos… The weather, which was very beautiful at the beginning – indeed during the greater part of my stay in the Island – was not faithful to me to the end; it broke up a few days before my departure, and, to my very great regret, prevented my painting certain studies which I was very anxious to take home: on the other hand, I had opportunities of studying effects of a different nature, so that I can hardly call myself much the loser as far as my work in Rhodes was concerned.”

2) About a year later, on a subsequent trip to Egypt he writes in his diary how a sprig of basil sets him off reminiscing:  “As I smell it I am assailed by pleasant memories of Lindos – ‘Lindos the beautiful’ – and Rhodes, and that marvellous blue coast across the seas, that looks as if it could enclose nothing behind its crested rocks but the Gardens of the Hesperides; and I remember those gentle, courteous Greeks of the island…  and the little nosegay, a red carnation and a fragrant sprig of basil, with which they always dismiss a guest…”

As for Bent’s text – it’s hack work, cobbled together in an obvious hurry, although his easy, affable style comes through – the same style that was to make his books on Greece (1885), Zimbabwe (1892, and Ethiopia (1893) so popular.

In actual fact, there is a little conceit going on, for although Theodore and Mabel did visit Rhodes in 1885, it was only for a matter of a few days and they never sailed down to Lindos, nor made the lengthy journey there on equids. There are no references in Mabel’s diary to going further than Filerimos, and Theodore would most certainly have written of any Lindian visit in the late 1980s among his many articles on the Eastern Mediterranean. He did publish a review of their days in Rhodes town in 1885, and one or two references in it echo in his two efforts for Black & White. Other echoes sound too – from the pages of such actual visitors (their works surely known to Bent) as Tozer and Newton, and armchair scholars such as Cecil Torr. Bent, in the interests of his own art, was not averse to making things up if needs must…

Click here for Bent’s follow-up article in a later issue, viz “Lindos: The Living City of Homer – II”. Black & White, 14 March, pp. 173-4.

Click here for Bent in Black & White, an Introduction.

 

Lindos: The Living City of Homer – II (With pictures by Sir Frederic Leighton, P.R.A.)

Lindos: The Living City of Homer – II (With pictures by Sir Frederic Leighton, P.R.A.), by Theodore Bent (1891)

[A little-known article, not available elsewhere digitally we believe, by Theodore Bent published in Black & White, 14 March 1891, pp. 173-4. (For some background, see after Bent’s text below.)] 

Frederic Leighton “Winding the Skein”, 1873-8, The view is possibly of Lindos’ North Harbour (Art Gallery of New South Wales)

“A walk round Lindos brings one face to face with the ruined architecture of many ages. A short distance from the modern village to the west is a Doric tomb of rare elegance, a large sepulchral chamber hewn in the freestone rock, with a façade showing engaged columns, upon which have been architrave, frieze and cornice, and upon that four marble altars. South of the acropolis are the seats of the ancient theatre cut in the rock, and at the foot of the cliff is another ruined temple, perhaps that of Zeus Polieus, one of the protecting deities of the place.

“It is on the acropolis itself that objects of great interest are found. Here are still to be seen traces, identified by inscriptions, of the far-famed Shrine of Athena Lindia, which stood on the cliff above the sea. Greek legend attributes the foundation of this temple to Danaos and his daughters, and the fame of its sacred relics was great in classical times. Here was kept a brazen cauldron, with a Phœnician legend on it, dedicated to the shrine by Cadmus; here was a model of a female breast in electrum, the offering of Helen on her return from Troy; and here was a copy of the ode, in letters of gold, in which Pindar immortalises the Olympic victory of the Rhodian Diagoras; in short, the reliquary of Athene Lindia was only surpassed by those of Delos or Delphi. Now all that remains of this once favoured shrine, to which merchants from Egypt and Phœnicia sent their offerings, is built into the walls of the fortress which the knights of St. John erected on the cliff.

“Everywhere in Lindos one comes across reminiscences of the knights and their Gothic architecture. The narrow streets, with arched passages over them, are very like those one sees in the capital of the island, and date from the years subsequent to the great earthquake in 1481 which destroyed all the towns in Rhodes, as can be seen from the coats-of-arms and inscriptions thereon. The arched supports were doubtless suggested by the great catastrophe; the palace of the Grand Master, the celebrated street of the knights, all suffered in like manner, and had to be restored, and everywhere the supporting arch was erected, giving a quaint and unique aspect to the streets.

Frederic Leighton, c. 1867, a view from Monte Smith, Rhodes Town, looking towards Ialysos and the hill of Philerimos.

“In Lindos and the town of Rhodes one finds lovely bits of fifteenth century Gothic, far from the legitimate home of this system. Ogival niches and flamboyant arches blend curiously with classic columns; one Christian church has columns from an ancient temple; the tombs of the Grand Masters de Julliac and de Milly are ancient Greek sarcophagi, for the knights were distinctly adaptive. For example, the sculpture of the mausoleum was utilised for the decoration of their castle at Halicarnassus, and the ruins of the temple of Athene served the same purpose at Lindos.

“There are quaint old apartments in the castle containing relics of the knights, and ornamented with landscapes in fresco with Gothic legends; over a chimney piece is sculptured the fleur de lis of France, and on the walls of the room are the arms of the order and of the Grand Master who built the castle.

“‘Our Lady of Lindos’ is the name of the modern Greek church, the lineal descendant of Athene Lindia. It has an elaborately carved screen to shut off the Holy of Holies from the vulgar gaze, and is rich in quaint frescos and much-kissed pictures, showy though tawdry, as every Greek Church is, and on its bell tower is the coat of arms of the Grand Master who built it, proving that the Catholic Knights maintained pleasant relations with their Greek subjects. After the memorable siege and fall of Rhodes in 1522, every Catholic left the island, 4,000 in all, and their convents and churches were converted into mosques for the conquerors. Now in Lindos not a single Catholic is to be found, and comparatively few in the European quarter or Neomarash, just outside the walls of the capital, for no Christian is allowed to reside within.

Frederic Leighton “Greek Girls Picking up Pebbles by the Sea“, 1871 The scene is the beach of Rhodes Town, looking over towards the Turkish coast – the Bents sailed these straits several times. (The Pérez Simón Collection, Mexico)

“There are more Turks in Rhodes than in most Greek islands, it being a favourite place of banishment for political exiles, and, of an afternoon, veiled Turkish ladies may be seen walking to and fro near the windmill on the sandy spit busily engaged in picking up black and white pebbles. Every house and courtyard in Rhodes is paved with these, and once the islanders drove a thriving trade by exporting them to Egypt.

“Each veiled lady owns a pile of stones – day by day she adds to it; and from her happy hunting ground she might enjoy, if she were so inclined, lovely views of the lofty mountains of Caria jutting out in finger-like peninsulas into the Ægean Sea not twenty miles away.

J. Theodore Bent.

[Leighton’s pictures, sketches and drawings that featured in the above original article include: – “Street of the Knights” (page 173); “Street in Rhodes” (page 173); “The Acropolis” (page 173; “Marash” [page 173 ]; “Arched Street” (page 174). NB: theses titles are not necessarily Leighton’s own.]

A little background to the above article

Lindos, Rhodes, by moonlight 2022 (photo © Christos Irakleidis)

Quickly, before taking his wife Mabel to South Africa to explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe at the end of January 1891, Theodore Bent seems to have been persuaded by a new popular magazine, Black & White, to write two articles about the Rhodian city of Lindos, really to act as wrap-around texts for some paintings, drawings, and sketches of Lindos and Rhodes by Sir Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), the great English artist of his day and President of the Royal Academy.

It has to be said, no information has surfaced so far as to whether Bent and Leighton were friends or why such a piece should have been written, other than it was for the earliest issues of a new magazine (Bent’s piece was published over two editions), and the editors wanted to launch it with the work of ‘personalities’; the magazine was pitched as having a focus on illustrations – to compete with names such as The Graphic and The Illustrated London News.

Sadly, the quality of Leighton’s published paintings in reproduction is poor in these two original Bent pieces and they do not appear here (their titles are listed below Bent’s texts for those interesting in finding them). Replacing them are freely available versions of the popular artist’s works relating to Lindos and Rhodes, and very lovely they are.

Leighton was 37 when called in to Rhodes during a tour of the Levant in 1867. His memories of his stay in Lindos and the area of Neochori (Rhodes Town – non-Turks then could not stay within the walls of the Old Town) stayed fresh with him for the rest of his life, and he used remembered scenes as backdrops in many of his most popular works. Indications of his feelings for Rhodes appear in (1) his letters home and, (2) his diary:

1)  Royal Steamer, Adriatic, 28 Nov [1867]: “My Dear Papa…  I told you, I believe, in my last how much I had enjoyed and, as I hope, profited by my stay in Rhodes and Lindos… The weather, which was very beautiful at the beginning – indeed during the greater part of my stay in the Island – was not faithful to me to the end; it broke up a few days before my departure, and, to my very great regret, prevented my painting certain studies which I was very anxious to take home: on the other hand, I had opportunities of studying effects of a different nature, so that I can hardly call myself much the loser as far as my work in Rhodes was concerned.”

2) About a year later, on a subsequent trip to Egypt he writes in his diary how a sprig of basil sets him off reminiscing:  “As I smell it I am assailed by pleasant memories of Lindos – ‘Lindos the beautiful’ – and Rhodes, and that marvellous blue coast across the seas, that looks as if it could enclose nothing behind its crested rocks but the Gardens of the Hesperides; and I remember those gentle, courteous Greeks of the island…  and the little nosegay, a red carnation and a fragrant sprig of basil, with which they always dismiss a guest…”

As for Bent’s text – it’s hack work, cobbled together in an obvious hurry, although his easy, affable style comes through – the same style that was to make his books on Greece (1885), Zimbabwe (1892, and Ethiopia (1893) so popular.

In actual fact, there is a little conceit going on, for although Theodore and Mabel did visit Rhodes in 1885, it was only for a matter of a few days and they never sailed down to Lindos, nor made the lengthy journey there on equids. There are no references in Mabel’s diary to going further than Filerimos, and Theodore would most certainly have written of any Lindian visit in the late 1980s among his many articles on the Eastern Mediterranean. He did publish a review of their days in Rhodes town in 1885, and one or two references in it echo in his two efforts for Black & White. Other echoes sound too – from the pages of such actual visitors (their works surely known to Bent) as Tozer and Newton, and armchair scholars such as Cecil Torr. Bent, in the interests of his own art, was not averse to making things up if needs must…

Click here for Bent’s earlier article the previous month, viz “Lindos: The Living City of Homer – I”. Black & White, 28 February 1891, pp. 109-10.

Click here for Bent in Black & White, an Introduction.

 

 

The skeletal material excavated on Antiparos in 1883/4 by Theodore Bent

Some recognition, after 137 years, for the skeletal material excavated in 1883/4 on the Cycladic island of Antiparos by Theodore Bent.

“The skull from the Greek tombs at Antiparos placed in my hands for examination by Mr. Bent is that of an adult male of middle age.” [J.G. Garson, M.D., Royal College of Surgeons, in J.T. Bent ‘Notes on Prehistoric Remains in Antiparos’. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. XIV (2) (Nov 1884), 134-41] (NHMUK PA HR 12070, RCS 5.3162, FC 531B. Photo courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London, 2022)

Theodore Bent’s first rung on the archaeologist’s ladder, as it were, is represented by his few weeks in late 1883 and early 1884 excavating some prehistoric graves on Antiparos in the Greek Cyclades (see map below). Bent writes “I was induced to dig at Antiparos, because I was shown extensive graveyards there. Of these, I visited no less than four on the island itself, and heard from natives of the existence of others in parts of the island I did not visit…” (Researches Among the Cyclades, 1884, p.47)

As to how this all came about is revealed in his wife’s ‘Chronicle’:

“… we only found, besides bones, 2 very rough marble symbols of men and women, little flat things and some broken pottery.” Mabel Bent’s diary (18/12/1883 ?) recording their first ‘excavation’ at Krassades, Antiparos (Hellenic Society Archive, London)

“Tuesday [1883, December 18th?]. Rode 1½ hour to the nearest point to Antiparos carrying only our night things and a card of introduction from Mr. Binney for Mr. R. Swan who has a calamine mine on this island. Crossed in about 10 minutes [from Paros]. Found the population all enjoying the feast of St. Nikoloas who replaces Neptune. At one house I was obliged to join in the syrtos holding 2 handkerchiefs. We sent a messenger to Mr. Swan and knowing he would take 3 hours to return, rode to meet him. Met Mr. Swan who more than fulfilled our warmest hopes. He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc. So, we manifesting a great wish to dig too, he got men and we opened 4. They were lined and paved with slabs of stone and the people must have been doubled up in them, they were so small; we only found, besides bones, 2 very rough marble symbols of men and women, little flat things and some broken pottery.” [The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, vol 1, Oxford 2006, pp 21-2]

The Swans' house
What is thought to be the house of Robert Swan at Krassades, Antiparos. The Bents may well have been based there for their excavations in late 1883, early 1884 (photo = Alan King)

The Scottish engineer Robert Swan (1858-1904), and his brother John, were at that time working for a French mining company and were settled on the western coast of Antiparos around the site known today as Krassades – his house, where the Bents spent the night, having excavated some of the famous Cycladic figurines (which he sold to the British Museum) and the skeletal material, can still be seen. The next day (19th December 1883?) the Bents went back to Paros for Christmas and the New Year, not returning to Antiparos to undertake more excavations until 4 February 1884 (for three weeks). Mabel does not provide much information on this second campaign:

Some of the “little marble figures” recovered by the Bents from the area of Krassades, where the skeletal material was uncovered  (in Bent, J.T. 1884. Researches among the Cyclades. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 5, 42-59).

“… As I have been very lazy about my Chronicle, I will only say that there I stayed 3 weeks [February 1884], during which time we did lots of fishing, sometimes with dynamite, which is against the law and very dangerous, but the fishermen here did it… A good deal of grave digging was also done and a good many pots of earth and marble found, also knives of volcanic glass, little marble figures and a little silver one also, very rough, and some personal ornaments of brass and silver…” [The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, vol 1, Oxford 2006, pp 45-6]

Altogether, Theodore Bent records having opened around 40 graves at two of the sites they explored, referring to Krassades as the ‘poorer’ (i.e. earlier):

“And now a few words about the graves themselves. In the first place those on the western slope are very irregular in shape: some oblong, some triangular, some square ; they generally had three slabs to form the sides, the fourth being built up with stones and rubbish. There was always a slab on the top, and sometimes at the bottom of the grave. They were on an average 3 feet long, 2 feet wide, and seldom more than 2 feet deep. In every grave here we found bones, chiefly heaped together in confusion, and most of the graves contained the bones of more bodies than one. In one very small grave we found two skulls, so tightly wedged together between the side slabs that they could not be removed whole.” [Notes on Prehistoric Remains in Antiparos, pp. 137-8]

“May 7, 1884. Skull from an ancient [cemetery?] found in the Island of Antiparos one of the Cyclades. An account of the excavations in which it was found is published by the donor in the Athenaeum for May 3rd 1884. Thought to belong to a period previous to the 16th cent. BC. Presented by Theodore Bent Esq, 43 Great Cumberland Place, W.” (RCS : Register of Accessions or Donations, 1862-1886,  Ref: RCS-MUS/3/1/6. © Royal College of Surgeons, reproduced with permission). In his famous book covering the two seasons (1883-4) he and his wife Mabel spent touring the region (The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks, 1885), the young archaeologist makes a reference to having returned to London with the skeletal material uncovered on Antiparos and that a skull was donated to the Royal College of Surgeons, who briefly published it, according to the science of the time:

“The skull from the Greek tombs at Antiparos placed in my hands for examination by Mr. Bent is that of an adult male of middle age.” [‘Notes On An Ancient Grecian Skull Obtained By Mr. Theodore Bent From Antiparos, One Of The Cyclades’, by J.G. Garson, M.D., Royal College of Surgeons, in J.T. Bent ‘Notes on Prehistoric Remains in Antiparos’. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. XIV (2) (Nov 1884), 134-41; Biographical note:  ‘J.G. Garson, M.D., F.Z.S., Memb. Anthrop. Inst., Anat. Assist. Royal College of Surgeons, and Lecturer on Comparative Anatomy at Charing Cross Medical School’]

And that might have been that for this Early Cycladic individual, but the Bent Archive felt that he deserved more attention, and the Royal College of Surgeons was approached to see if they had any information on the subject. There was good and bad news – Yes, the skull appears in their registers [Register of Accessions or Donations, 1862-1886,  Ref: RCS-MUS/3/1/6], but, No, it was probably destroyed in the Blitz, when about a third of their collection was lost. But, their archivist continued, try the Natural History Museum, where some items had been transferred before the war.

Our approach to the Museum revealed that, indeed, the skull was there in South Kensington, and not just a skull, but another skull fragment, a pelvis, and also a considerable assemblage of ribs and assorted long-bones. This was a new discovery. Bent makes no mention of returning with such a large collection – and nor have the bones been catalogued or studied; indeed, without such study there is no way of knowing how many individuals are involved, nor from which site they came. We know that Bent made at least two investigations of burials sites on Antiparos, and Mabel Bent in her diaries also refers to finding bones on Paros and perhaps elsewhere. Without further research it is not possible to say whether all the material is from the significant and early Krassades site.

In the early summer of 2022, the Natural History Museum took the first ever photographs of the skulls and fragments of a pelvis, and have very kindly given their permission for us to reproduce the cranium mentioned by the excavator in his laconic footnote on page 409 of his 1885 monograph – “The  skull I  presented  to  the  Royal  College  of  Surgeons.” It has not been seen by anyone outside a museum drawer for almost 140 years, and very far from the sunny Cyclades.

Finds from Krassades in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Other finds from Krassades in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, possibly dating to the era of the skeletal material recovered by the Bents. (photo= Alan King)

Mabel Bent was to become the expedition photographer on the couple’s subsequent annual journeys to the Levant, Africa and Arabia, but not for the trip to the Cyclades, alas, or we might have been able to see the skull before in some way  (it is also rather strange, perhaps, that it seems never to have been drawn for any of Bent’s articles).

In any event, the artefact is respectfully presented here, and it is gratifying to bring this individual from an early Mediterranean culture to a wider audience for the first time (August 2022). Hopefully a project to sort, classify, and catalogue all the Natural History Museum Bent Collection material can be undertaken to see whether further scientific analyses might be appropriate: the last decade or so has seen considerable interest in the prehistoric past of the region (e.g. the work of Colin Renfrew et al. not far away at Keros and Daskalio, off Naxos).

We will keep you posted.

For those interested in a bibliography on the subject, we can list for you, inter alia:

Bent, J.T. 1884. Prehistoric Graves at Antiparos. Athenæum, Issue 2949 (May), 569-71.

Bent, J.T. 1884. Researches among the Cyclades. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 5, 42-59. [With J.G. Garson].

Bent, J.T. 1884. Notes on Prehistoric Remains in Antiparos. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. XIV (2) (Nov), 134-41.

Bent, J.T. 1885, The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks: 403 ff. London: Longmans, Green and Co.

Bent, M.V.A. 2006. Mabel Bent’s Travel Chronicles Vol 1, Greece: 21-22, Oxford: Archaeopress.

King, A. 2021. Of Crows and Swans and Calamine – the Archaeology Theatre of Antiparos, April 2021.

Papadopoulou, Z. 2017. Πρόσφατες αρχαιολογικές έρευνες στην Αντίπαρο (Recent Archaeological Researches in Antiparos), https://www.academia.edu/38788690/

 

Map of the scene

Read how to use the interactive map.

An index to the Hellenic Society’s digital version of Mabel Bent’s Cyclades diary

Mabel Bent’s notebooks in the library of the Hellenic Society, London (the Bent Archive).

The recent scans by London’s Hellenic Society (2021/2) of Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronihttps://www.archaeopress.com/Archaeopress/Collection/The-Travel-Chronicles-of-Mrs-J.-Theodore-Bentcles’ (written between 1883-1897) have provided a wonderful opportunity for researchers to see the diaries of this remarkable traveller first-hand and explore their contexts. Her husband, Theodore Bent (1852-1897), relied on them extensively when writing up the results of the couple’s expeditions for his talks, articles, and monographs.

Bent’s map of the Cyclades from the first edition of his 1885 book (archive.org).

The work that helped launch Theodore’s reputation, and see him starting to think of himself as an ‘archaeologist’, was, of course, his The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks, completed in November 1884 – Bent was an incredibly quick writer – and first published in London in 1885, subsequently running to several editions. It is the first such travel account in English and still today features in any credible bibliography on this much-loved region – some might add, come high summer, too much-loved.

The opening lines of Mabel Bent’s first ‘Chronicle’, introducing us to the Cyclades and dedicated to her sisters and aunts (The Hellenic Society, Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0).

Mabel’s first ‘Chronicle’ covers the Bents’ tour of the Cyclades over the winter of 1883/4 and there is a litany of evidence of her diary entries appearing almost verbatim in Theodore’s text.

Theodore and Mabel Bent (the Bent Archive).

It should just be added that the couple had made an earlier trip to some of the Cycladic islands in the spring of 1883, and Theodore would have used his own (now lost) notebooks to add certain passages to his book, e.g. his chapter on Amorgos, an island not visited by the pair together in 1884, when Theodore made a second visit sans spouse. It will immediately be seen that Theodore has not assembled The Cyclades chronologically, for that you will need to follow Mabel’s diary. The couple hopped around rather, depending on the weather, steamer sailings, and other factors, which explains why some islands get more than one mention in her notes.

An extract from Mabel Bent’s ‘Cyclades’ notebook, 1883/4 (The Hellenic Society, Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0).

Because of the popularity and importance of it, for example the couple’s excavations on Antiparos helped define what is identified today as the prehistoric ‘Cycladic Culture’, Mabel’s diary covering these islands (that encircle Delos, and hence the name), in its freely available, digital format, will from now on be referenced and footnoted copiously. The Hellenic Society’s version is in pdf format and provided below is an index to the main islands and a concordance with the chapters in the first edition of Bent’s The Cyclades, as appearing in the online version of that godsend, the Internet Archive. The relevant page numbers are shown, i.e. for the Bents’ account of Anafi, see page 49ff in the Hellenic Society’s scan of Mabel’s notebook, and page 86ff in Theodore’s The Cyclades.

Please note: the Hellenic Society pdf is large and may well take several minutes to load, once open you can enter the page number to take you to the island you want. In Theodore’s column, clicking on the page number will take you to the island in his book! Happy travels! Καλό ταξίδι! 

Island Mabel’s Notebook (PDF) Theodore’s The Cyclades
Amorgos (not visited by Mabel?) 469
Anafi 49 86
Andros 74 269
Antiparos 32, 69 394
Delos 71 229
Folegandros 65 194
Ios 58, 69 151
Kea 87 448
Kimolos 20 41
Kithnos 84 428
Milos 25 57
Mykonos 71 209
Naxos 34 329
Paros 31, 33 372
Santorini 49, 51, 57 104
Serifos 9 1
Sifnos 17 21
Sikinos 62 170
Syros 7, 83 304
Therasia 45 149
Tinos 72 231

All Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicles’ have been transcribed and are available from Archaeopress, Oxford.

An edited version (2002) of Bent’s Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks is also available from Archaeopress, Oxford.

The Bent Collection Scanned: From the Archive of The Hellenic Society, London

Part of the Bent Collection of diaries and notebooks in the archive of the Hellenic Society, London.

In the late 1920s, Mabel Bent’s niece, Violet Ethel ffolliott (1882-1932) transferred the care of her elderly aunt’s travel diaries, as well as some notebooks of her husband’s, Theodore Bent (1852-1897), archaeologist-explorer, to the Hellenic Society in London.

Both Theodore and Mabel had been associated with the Hellenic Society since the 1880s, but this institution, having to do, broadly, with things Greek, might at first glance appear an odd choice as a long-term home for these memoirs of travel and exploration associated with remote corners far away from the Eastern Mediterranean; only about half the couple’s twenty years of adventures were primarily dedicated to Greece and Turkey, the other portion, more often than not, found them dusty and deep in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

The three boxes containing the Bent Collection of diaries and notebooks in the archive of the Hellenic Society, London.

And after all, Theodore was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, whose orbit was the whole world, and the latter often funded and supported Bent’s expeditions; in return, he wrote and lectured for them constantly until his early death. So why not leave the Bent notebook collection to the RGS Mabel? A possible answer might be linked to the infamous scandal involving women RGS Fellows in the early 1890s. Mabel was on the list for the second allocation of Fellowships to noteworthy women travellers just at the time the RGS Committee voted against the idea, and women were not readmitted until some twenty years later. Proud Mrs Theodore Bent might well have remembered this obvious slight and opted to lodge her travelogues in the archives of the sociable and patrician Hellenic Society instead.

Whatever the reason, the Bent Collection has remained in three stout boxes in a secure library room in Senate House, London, ever since, available for private research on request (although Mabel’s ‘Chronicles’, as she called them, have since been transcribed and published by Archaeopress, Oxford, in three volumes).

However, advances in scanning techniques, and associated software, not to mention generous support, very appropriately, from the AG Leventis Foundation in this case, now mean that the Bent notebooks can be reproduced digitally, facsimile, ink blots, doodles and all, without risk to the original delicate material.

To quote the specialist involved: “For the vast majority of the time I am using a Bookeye 4 Kiosk book scanner to capture the image data and BCS-2 imaging software to process and format the images once they have been transferred from the scanner… When digitising a volume each page is saved and formatted as a single 600DPI TIFF file, all these files are then collated and converted into a single, readable book format PDF.”

The expeditions
The Bents’ spheres of influences  1883-1897 (©Glyn Griffiths, the Bent Archive).

And, most importantly of all, they are available, open-access free, to anyone, anywhere in the world, with an interest in 19th-century travel into those regions that attracted Theodore and Mabel Bent – from Aksum to Zimbabwe.

Accordingly, these notebooks have now been scanned and a digital catalogue produced. All Theodore’s notebooks in the archive have been finished, and all Mabel’s too  – n.b. her 1896/7 volume covering Sokotra and Aden, the setting for the couple’s final journey together, was scanned last and is available here. (It should be noted here too that the diaries covering the Bents’ expedition to Ethiopia in 1893 were apparently never given to the Hellenic Society for some reason, and, for now, assumed lost – always the hardest word for a traveller to utter.)

Mabel's Dodecanese Chronicole
Mabel’s Chronicle cover for 1885 (The Hellenic
Society, London).

 

So, what follows will take you to some very faraway places indeed – you only have to click to be transported (our pages and maps on the Bents’ explorations provide useful background information):

Greece and the Levantine Littoral

Mabel Bent (1883/4): The Greek Cyclades

Mabel Bent (1885): The Greek Dodecanese

The ‘Karpathos Lady’ (©The Trustees of the British Museum
Licence CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

[Mabel used the term ‘Sporades’ for this diary, but the archipelago the couple travelled through in early 1885 is better known today as the Dodecanese. Their great acquisition on this trip was the unique and controversial ‘Karpathos Lady‘, held in the British Museum. The Bents never explored in any depth the group the guidebooks call the Sporades now.]

 

Mabel Bent (1886): From Istanbul, the islands along the way (including Mitilini, Chios, Samos, Patmos, Ikaria, Samos, Kalymnos, Astypalea) and down the Turkish coast

Mabel Bent (1887): Central Greece and the Northern Aegean (including Evia, Meteora, Skiathos, Thessaloniki, Kavala, Thasos, and Samothraki)

Mabel Bent (1888): The west coast of Turkey (including Smyrna, Istanbul, Broussa, and as far south as Kastelorizo)

Theodore Bent (1888): Inscriptions from Patara, Lydae, Lissa, Myra, Kasarea, Nicaea, etc.

Mabel Bent (1890): Further researches along the Turkish coast (including Mersin, Tarsus, ancient Cilicia, the discovery of ‘Olba’, and into Armenia)

Bahrain and Iran

Mabel Bent (1888/9): Researches in Bahrain and a ride, south–north through ‘Persia’ (including Persepolis, Shiraz, Isfahan, and Tehran)(I)

Mabel Bent (1889): Researches in Bahrain and a ride, south–north through ‘Persia’ (including Persepolis, Shiraz, Isfahan, and Tehran)(II)

Mabel Bent (1889): Researches in Bahrain and a ride, south–north through ‘Persia’ (including Persepolis, Shiraz, Isfahan, and Tehran)(III)

Mabel Bent on her camel in the Sudan in 1896 (a detail from a rare RGS lantern-slide).

Africa and Egypt

Mabel Bent (1884/5): Egypt (before steaming to the Greek Dodecanese)

Mabel Bent (1890/1): South Africa and the expedition to Great Zimbabwe (I)

Mabel Bent (1890/1): South Africa and the expedition to Great Zimbabwe (II) 

Mabel Bent (1895/6): Sudan and the western Red Sea littoral

Theodore Bent (1895/6): Sudan and the western Red Sea littoral

Mabel Bent (1897/8): Alone in Egypt (‘A lonely, useless journey’)

The Bents made three attempts to traverse the Wadi Hadramaut between 1893-7 (The Hellenic Society, London).

Southern Arabia

Mabel Bent (1893/4): Wadi Hadramaut (first attempt, via Mukalla) (I)

Mabel Bent (1893/4): Wadi Hadramaut (first attempt, via Mukalla) (II)

Theodore Bent (1893/4): Wadi Hadramaut (first attempt, via Mukalla) (I)

Theodore Bent (1893/4): Wadi Hadramaut (first attempt, via Mukalla) (II)

Mabel Bent (1894/5): Wadi Hadramaut (second attempt, via Muscat, Oman and the discovery of Abyssapolis/Khor Rori)

Theodore Bent (1894/5): Wadi Hadramaut (second attempt, via Muscat, Oman and the discovery of Abyssapolis/Khor Rori)

Theodore Bent (left) at a campsite in Sokotra in 1897 (photo by Mabel Bent).

Mabel Bent (1896/7): Sokotra and Aden (this volume has not yet been scanned [Feb 2022])

Theodore Bent (1896/7): Sokotra

Theodore Bent (1896/7): Sokotran glossary and notes (Bent’s final notebooks)(I)

Theodore Bent (1897): East of Aden (Bent’s final notebooks)(II)

Coda

Mabel Bent died at her London townhouse, 13 Great Cumberland Place, on 5 July 1929 at the age of 82. Her Times obituary (6 July 1929) includes that, “as an experienced photographer and accurate observer, she was of enormous assistance to her husband and famous for the explorations in distant lands which she undertook with [him]. This was at a time when it was much more rare than it is now for a woman to venture forth on such journeys […] During her long widowhood [Theodore died a few weeks after scribbling in his final notebook above, in May 1897] of more than 30 years, Mrs. Bent was well known in literary and scientific London. She was a good talker, with an occasional sharpness of phrase which was much relished by her many friends.”

And would there be any ‘sharpness of phrase’ about seeing her ‘Chronicles’ now scanned and widely available? Did Mabel intend them for publication? Apart from the fact that Theodore relied on his wife’s notebooks for the provision of background details in his monographs, articles and lectures, the chronicler has left one or two clues within her pages.

First page of Mabel Bent’s 1886 ‘Chronicle’. The diarist was fond of an ornate entry (The Hellenic Society, London).

From ‘Room 2’ of the Hôtel de Byzance, Constantinople, in February 1886, Mabel confides, in one of her happiest diaries it seems: “I must begin my Chronicle somewhere if I am to write one at all and as in this matter I am selfish enough to consider myself of the first consideration because I write to remind myself in my old age of pleasant things (or the contrary) I will begin now.” Thus we know, at least, that they were for her to read later in life, and that she intended her aunts, sisters, and nieces to share her adventures. (There are several asides such as, “We have constant patients coming to us and I am sure you would all laugh to hear T’s medical lectures.” And “You must excuse these smudges as I am sitting cross-legged on T’s bed.”).

There is also certainly nothing in her millions of words that could be considered as indiscreet, let alone anything close to libel – or nuptial intimacy for that matter – although there is a little false modesty and coquetry here and there. (Only two or three pages have been removed from the entire series of notebooks.) What is omitted, invisible, becomes visible and striking, however. In all her diaries there is not one reference to the losses of her childhood – her poor mother, her difficult father, and her two dead brothers.

But the most obvious hint that Mabel, at the very least, might be aware of a potential wider interest in her ‘Chronicles’ is the letter still preserved (in the 1885 volume) from her friend, Harry Graham, who shared in some of their travel that year, complimenting her thus: “I carried off your Chronicle… and… I never enjoyed these hours more than when reading it in the train coming down here yesterday – as soon as I have finished it I will send it you back – but why oh why don’t you publish it? It simply bristles with epigrams and I am certain would be a great success! You ought to blend the 2 Chronicles into one and I am sure everyone would buy it.”

Well. Perhaps not everyone. Mabel’s Chronicles are not great travel literature. They are her on-the-spot recollections of long days spent trekking, exploring, digging, dealing with villagers, arguing with minor officials; they are snatches of gossip, snobbishness, likes and dislikes, barking dogs, vicissitudes, poverty and pain; they are delightful souvenirs of music, dancing, colourful costumes and wonderful meals.

“Perhaps it is water”. Fever stricken in the Goddam heights. One of the final pages in Bent’s last notebooks, April 1897 (The Hellenic Society, London).

And how few are the references to limb and life. Just hours from complete malarial collapse, east of Aden, in the alarmingly named heights of ‘Goddam’, Theodore scribbles, in his final notebook, only weeks from his death at 45, “… but feverstricken we were delighted to get away. Apparently this corner of Yemen is particularly feverish. All those who go in from Aden appear to be ill. Perhaps it is [the] water…”

There are certainly passages that reflect her times, too, and which are inappropriate today. Great travel literature? Clearly not. But great travel writing – accounts of wonderful endurance and reflections of courage, attitude, apogee of empire, and spirit – most certainly.

A preference for Fruit Syrup from Sainsbury’s. A jotting in one of Theodore Bent’s last notebooks (The Hellenic Society, London).

It’s also nice to know the couple apparently liked their fruit syrup from J. Sainsbury!

And tonight we have for you… Mr. Theodore Bent!

Lecturing with lantern-slides (Youtube: Victorian and Albert Museum)

There is no denying that Theodore Bent worked incredibly hard: if not travelling he would be planning the next expedition, fund-raising, researching, writing up, or lecturing. For the approximately twenty years of his travels (coming to style himself more and more as an ‘archaeologist’) he would return to London in the spring of each year (with the odd exception) and immediately begin to think of publishing and publicising his finds – he had always depended much on self-promotion and PR for the funding and support of his subsequent researches; he had good contacts with the press and would submit progress updates to them assiduously from far-flung outposts, via Reuters and other agencies.

An unscientific trawl through the press cuttings of the time shows how Theodore reached the peak of his ‘fame’ in 1893-4, after a trio of consecutive hits – Great Zimbabwe, Aksum, and Wadi Hadramaut. He and his wife were soon London celebrities and news and details of their adventures was syndicated widely at home and abroad.

Mabel was tasked with sorting out her photographs and ensuring that they were ready for transferal to lantern-slide or printer’s plate. There was also the constant process of unpacking and caring for case after case of acquisitions: archaeological, ethnographical, botanical, and zoological. The couple would quickly make decisions on what they wanted to keep for themselves, and exhibit in their London townhouse, and what they would offer to museums (for a remuneration if possible).

What is particularly striking is how quickly Theodore would settle to study and write up his monographs (frequently asking other specialists for contributions). His hard-pressed publishers (mostly Kegan Paul and Longmans) usually had them announced and on bookshop shelves within six to nine months of Bent’s return from the field.

Model of Bent’s ‘Elliptical Temple’, from R.N. Hall, ‘Great Zimbabwe, Mashonaland, Rhodesia’, 1905, opp. page xl.

And within short weeks of reaching home again – from the Levant, Africa, or Arabia – Theodore was ready to give talks and lectures, all over the UK, to the relevant grand institutions of the day, and before the great and the good (in the spring of 1892 even William Gladstone came along to hear). Mabel’s job was to have the lantern-slides ready, and any artifacts neatly labelled for display.

Other display aids might be needed – perhaps a 3D model (e.g. of his famous ‘Elliptical Temple’ at Great Zimbabwe), and then there was the commissioning of maps from the famous London cartographers Edward Stanford to be seen to.

Detail from a lantern-slide (1896) of Mabel Bent on her camel in the Sudan.

What follows here, taken from newspapers and journals, is a chronological list (with no claims to completeness) of Theodore’s talks and presentations, giving a very good sense of the explorer’s Yorkshire-bred proclivity for hard graft. An interesting additional discovery seems to suggest that there was even an attendance charge for his talks in the provinces! The Newcastle Daily Chronicle for 2 March 1892 records that to hear Theodore lecture in Tyneside would cost you the equivalent of c. £3 today for a seat in the main hall, or c. £1.50 in galleries – money well spent! At another event we hear that Theodore’s ‘remarks throughout were admirably illustrated with a large series of photographic and other views of the places which were visited on the tour. The photographs were the production of Mrs. Bent, and incidentally Mr. Bent mentioned, in apology for some of the views which were somewhat wanting in sharpness, that the technical difficulties of photography, on account of the intense heat and other causes in Arabia, were almost inconceivable.’ (Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 19 October 1894). Complete sets of Mabel’s lantern-slides survived until the early 1950s, when they were discarded by the Royal Geographical Society, deemed too faded and damaged to merit keeping. A huge loss.

Bent lecturing locals at the the Mounds of Ali, Bahrain, in 1889 (opposite page 24, the Bents’ ‘Southern Arabia’, 1900)

It takes very little imagination today to see Theodore in front of the camera presenting a sequence of his own mini-series – The Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant, The Persian Gulf, Africa North & South, and Southern Arabia. Let’s hope one day they will appear – on National Geographic perhaps!

 

 

Theodore Bent’s Talks, Presentations, and Lectures (some dates are approx) note 1 

1883 [The Bents make their first visit to Greece and Turkey in the spring]

1884 [The Bents in the Greek Cyclades]

  • 8th May: ‘A general meeting of the Hellenic Society will be held at 22, Albermarle Street on Thursday next [8 May], at 5 p.m., when Mr. Theodore Bent will read a paper on a recent journey among the Cyclades.’ [The Athenaeum, No. 2949, May 3, 1884, p. 569]

1885 [The Bents in the Greek Dodecanese]

  • 14th September: ‘At the meeting of the British Association in Aberdeen… in the Anthropological Section, Mr J. Theodore Bent read a paper to show that the study of tombs in the Greek Islands was conducive to a knowledge of ancient and forgotten lines of commerce.’ [South Wales Daily Telegram, Friday, 18 September 1885]

1886 [The Bents in the Eastern Aegean and Turkey]

  • 24th June: At the annual meeting of the Hellenic Society in London the Hon. Sec. read a short paper by Mr. Bent on ‘A recent visit to Samos’.

1887 [The Bents in the Eastern Aegean and Turkey]

  • 23rd June: At the annual meeting of the Hellenic Society in London, Mr. Bent gave a short account of his work on Thasos.

1888 [The Bents in the Eastern Aegean and Turkey]

  • 11th September: ‘At the meeting of the British Association at Bath… in the Anthropology Section, Mr. J. Theodore Bent contributed a paper on sun-myths in modern Hellas.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 12 September 1888]

1889 [The Bents in Bahrain and Iran]

  • 17th September: At the meeting of the British Association at Newcastle, ‘in the Geography Section Mr Theodore Bent read a paper on the Bahrien Islands, in the Persian Gulf, in which he dealt with the position and general features the two islands, character of the seas, and the pearl fisheries and other features.’ [Dundee Advertiser, 20 September 1889]
  • 2nd December: ‘The meeting of the Geographical Society on Monday at Burlington House [London] was one of exceptional brilliancy, and was fully attended. Mr J. Theodore Bent… read an interesting and exhaustive paper on the Bahrein Islands in the Persian Gulf. This was rendered the more interesting by some realistic photographs, thrown on a white screen as dissolving views, and taken by Mrs Bent on the spot.’ [The Queen, 7 December 1889]

1890 [The Bents in the Eastern Aegean and Turkey]

  • 30th June: ‘Royal Geographical Society. Mr. J. Theodore Bent read a paper at the fortnightly meeting of of this society, held last night in the theatre of the London University, on explorations he had made in Cilicia Trachea.’ [Daily News (London), 1 July 1890]
  • 22nd July: Theodore Bent reads his paper ‘Notes on the Armenians in Asia Minor’ to the Manchester Geographical Society [MGS, Vol. 6, 220-222]
  • 5th September: At the meeting of the British Association at Leeds, in the Anthropology Section, Mr Theodore Bent read a paper on the Yourouks of Asia Minor, who, he said, were the least religious people he had ever heard of; but the religion honesty was deeply implanted their breasts. No more polygamous people existed anywhere, a Yourouk regarding himself as a disgrace unless he had six or seven wives. As a consequence womanhood bad sunk very low among them.’ [Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 6 September 1890]

1891 [The Bents are away all year exploring the remains at Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes]

  • February (uncertain date): Theodore Bent lectures on the Castle Line Garth Castle on his way to Cape Town. [As recorded in Mabel Bent’s diary, 10 March 1891. Mabel does not give the title of the lecture]

1892 [The Bents return early in the year from South Africa, leaving for Ethiopia at the end of it]

  • 22nd February: ‘At a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, held in the theatre of the University of London last night, Mr. J. Theodore Bent read a paper entitled “Journeys in Mashonaland, and Explorations among the Zimbabwe and other ruins”’. [London Evening Standard, 23 February 1892]
  • 2nd March: ‘Although Lord Randolph Churchill declined the [Tyneside Geographical] society’s invitation to lecture on Mashonaland, Mr. Smithson was fortunate enough to secure the services of Mr. J. Theodore Bent, one of the Council of the Royal Geographical Society and of the British Association. Mr. Bent and his wife embarked on an adventurous journey into Mashonaland, and conducted excavations and explorations among the Zimbaybe [sic] ruins —the supposed “Land of Ophir”. Mr. Bent will deliver his lecture on the subject next week – on Wednesday, March 2nd.’ [Lovaine Hall; admission charged is to be 1 shilling (c. £3) in main hall, and sixpence (c. £1.50) in the galleries!] [Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 26 February 1892]
  • 23rd March 1892: ‘At the meeting of the Anthropological Institute to be held to-morrow evening, Mr. Theodore Bent will read a paper on the archaeology of the Zimbabwe Ruins, illustrated by the optical lantern [i.e. Mabel’s photographs]. I hear that Mr. Gladstone has expressed his intention to be present, and that Mr. Bent will on this occasion make special reference to the manners and customs of the early inhabitants of these remote regions of South Africa.’ [Birmingham Daily Post, 22 March 1892]
  • Before 13 April: ‘Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bent’s party was successful and interesting [at their London home]. Her sister, Mrs. Hobson, and few intimate friends assisted Mr. Bent and his fellow-traveller, Mr. Swan, in explaining the relics [of Great Zimbabwe] to the learned and unlearned, to the latter of whom the trophies… might otherwise have seemed just so many rudely carved old stones, instead of being silent witnesses of the ancient civilisation and worship traced out by Mr. Bent in the wonderful walled fortresses of Central Africa.’ [Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser, 13 April 1892]
  • 5th August: At the meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh, in the Anthropology Section, Mr Theodore Bent read a paper on ‘The Present Inhabitants of Mashonaland and Their Origin’. [St. James’s Gazette, 6 August 1892]
  • 7th September: At the 9th International Congress of Orientalists (opened in the theatre of the London University, Burlington-gardens), ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent [in the Council Room of the Royal Geographical Society] gave an account of the more recent discoveries among the ruins of Zimbabwe and its neighbourhood.’ [London and China Express, 9 September 1892]
  • 19th October: At a gathering of the Manchester Geographical Society in the Cheetham Town Hall, Mr. J Theodore Bent gave a talk on the Zimbabwe Ruins in Mashonaland. [Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 20 October 1892]
  • 13th November: ‘Mr. Theodore Bent will deliver a lecture on “Mashonaland and the Ruins of Zimbabwe”, at the South Place Institute [Finsbury, London].’ [Colonies and India, 12 November 1892]
  • 1st December: Mr. Bent lectured in Gloucester Guildhall, for the Literary and Scientific Association, on Mashonaland. [Gloucester Citizen, 7 December 1892]
  • 7th December: ‘… at the Royal Spa Rooms, Harrogate. Mr. Theodore Bent, F.R.G.S., lectured on “The ruined cities of Mashonaland”, his interesting remarks being illustrated with excellent limelight views.” [Knaresborough Post, 10 December 1892]

1893 [The Bents in Ethiopia until early spring, leaving for the Yemen at year end]

  • 19th June: At the annual meeting of the Hellenic Society, ‘Mr. Theodore Bent spoke of his researches in Abyssinia.’ [The Globe, 20 June 1893]
  • 18th September: At the British Association meeting in Nottingham, Mr. J. Theodore Bent reported ‘to the Committee on the Exploration of Ancient Remains at Aksum.’ [Nottingham Journal, 19 September 1893]
  • 20th October: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent, the African traveller, delivered an address before the members of the Balloon Society, at St. James’s Hall [London].’ [London Standard, 21 October 1893]

1894 [The Bents make their first foray into the Yemeni interior, being home in the spring. They return to the region (via Oman) at the year end]

  • 21st May: ‘There was an overflowing meeting last night… at the Royal Geographical Society [London] to welcome back Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bent from their journeys in Southern Arabia.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 22 May 1894]
  • 10th July: ‘At the London Chamber of Commerce, in the Council-room, Botolph-house, Eastcheap… Mr. J. Theodore Bent delivered an address on the expedition which he and his wife made last winter to the Hadramut Valley, South Arabia.’ [Home News for India, China and the Colonies, 13 July 1894]
  • 14th August: At the meeting of the British Association in Oxford, ‘Mr. Theodore Bent read a paper on the natives of the Hadramaut in South Arabia.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 15 August 1894]
  • 2nd October: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent lectured at a meeting of the Balloon Society on the subject of the explorations which he and Mrs. Bent made a few months ago in South Arabia, and the occasion was taken advantage of to present Mr. Bent with the Society’s gold medal.’ [Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore), 25 October 1894]
  • 11th October: ‘Mr. Theodore Bent, F.R.G.S., who formerly resided at The Rookery, Low Baildon (now the residence of Alderman Smith Feather), delivered a lecture… at the Bradford Mechanics’ Institute, before the members of the Bradford Philosophical Society, upon his recent travels in Arabia.’ [Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 19 October 1894]
  • 25th October: ‘There was a numerous attendance at a meeting [of the Liverpool Geographical Society] held in connection with this society, at the Royal Institution, in Colquitt-street, last evening, when Mr. J. Theodore Bent, F.S.A., F.R.G.S., gave an interesting lecture on “The Hadramaut: a journey in Southern Arabia,” which was illustrated by a series of photographic slides.’ [Liverpool Mercury, 26 October 1894]

1895 [The Bents return from the Hadramaut coast in the spring and leave for the Sudan at the year end]

  • 6th June: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent read last night a paper on “Journeys in Southern Arabia” in the Lecture Hall the University of London.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 7 June 1895]
  • 12th June: ‘Lord and Lady Kelvin received a brilliant and distinguished company last night in the rooms of the Royal Society in Burlington House’, when the Bents presented photographs and finds from Southern Arabia. [St James’s Gazette, 13 June 1895]
  • 1st July: ‘Mr. J. Theodore Bent delivered a lecture at the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, at Hanover-square… The lecturer dealt with the Hadramaut, and Dhofar, the frankincense and myrrh countries.’ [Globe, 2 July 1895]
  • 18th September: ‘At the close of the British Association meeting at Ipswich, Mr. Theodore Bent gave a paper on “The Peoples of Southern Arabia”.’ [St. James’s Gazette, 19 September 1895]
  • 7th November: The Royal Scottish Geographical Society – Glasgow Branch. The Anniversary Address will be delivered in the Hall, 207 Bath St… at 8 o’clock , ‘by Mr. J. Theodore Bent, on “Southern Arabia”. Sir Renny Watson Chairman of the Branch will preside. Admission only by Ticket, two of which have been forwarded to each Member of the Branch.’ [Glasgow Herald, 6 November 1895]
  • 8th November: ‘In connection with the Royal Geographical Society, a lecture was delivered… by Mr. Theodore Bent, in the National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street [Edinburgh]. The subject of the lecture was Arabia, and it was illustrated by lime-light views. There was a good attendance.’ [Edinburgh Evening News, 9 November 1895]

1896 [The Bents return from the Sudan in the spring and leave for their last trip together, to Sokotra and Aden, at the year end]

  • 1st June: Mr. Bent read a paper on the Sudan to the Royal Geographical Society, London.
  • 13th October: Mr. Bent lectures on Arabia at the Royal Victoria Hall, London. [South London Press, 17 October 1896]

The above, it seems, was Theodore Bent’s final lecture. The lantern flame flickers and disappears.

 

Note 1: See Bent’s Bibliography for the texts of many of these talks/lectures.
Return from Note 1

Mrs Theodore Bent – The Queen of Explorers

“Like most travellers, this lady has found that the less she and her nomad husband see of spirits and wine the better, and so with the exception of a little brandy for medicinal purposes, the whole party travel on tea, beef essence, and condensed milk…”

To mark Mabel Bent’s birthday (28 January 1847) this year (2022), let’s read more from a rare article on her from an arcane newspaper – The Newry Telegraph, 3rd January 1895, published by an unknown publisher in Newry, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. It seems that it is an original editorial by an unknown author and not a piece syndicated from any other contemporary English source. There is every chance that it was written, or co-written, by Mabel’s sister Frances Maria Hobson, wife of the Rector of Portadown (a corner of that devout triangle, Newry, Portadown, Armagh. The wagging finger to the intemperate above is a clue perhaps, ironic rather as Theodore’s fortunes derived in part from brewing!).

Mabel in her prime and on her way to explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes in 1891 (presumably a studio photo from Cape Town or Kimberley, the Bent Archive)

The featured photo, probably from Cape Town in 1891, shows Mabel in her prime and on her way to explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes. Mabel’s confident air presages the Bents’ imminent fame as they join the cadre of the nation’s most popular and best-known adventurers. Their work in the Eastern Mediterranean is behind them, their celebrated Arabian expeditions ahead.  Thus this article in The Newry Telegraph that follows reflects this prestige awaiting Mabel in 1895 perfectly, as well, of course, as the attitudes and jingoism of the day. And no excuse is ever needed for an oblique reference to another extraordinary traveller, Raymonde Bonnetain.

So, without further exposition,  we join parlour-readers, heads and arms on their antimacassars, of The Newry Telegraph for Thursday, 3rd January 1895:

Mabel Bent, Queen of Explorers (The Newry Telegraph, 3 January 1895)

“Mrs Theodore Bent – The Queen of Explorers: Curious as it may seem, foreign exploration is one of the paths where the most feminine women have followed the example set them by their husbands and brothers. Of course, this has been especially the case in every kind of missionary enterprise, and one has only to recall the achievements of Lady Baker, Lady Burdon, Mme Dieu la Loy [sic], Mrs Peary, and more recently Mme Bonnetain  note 1 ,  to prove that even great explorers have not hesitated to take with them on their perilous journeys those whom they had chosen for their life companions.

The subject of our sketch, Mrs. Theodore Bent, is a striking example of all a woman can do in the way of cheerful endurance and intelligent observation. Her name is less well-known than that of her husband, one of the most distinguished Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, for, as she sometimes observes, ‘There is not ink enough in a family for two’, but the valuable additions to exploration literature published by Mr Bent owe not a little of their interest to his wife, for she keeps careful notes of everything that occurs during their journeys  note 2 ,  and, when any excavations are to be done, generally takes charge of one party whilst her husband looks after another.

Mrs Bent, who is a light, graceful-looking woman, well-known in the cultured portion of London Society, belongs to an Irish family, famous in the annals of County Wexford, the Hall-Dares of Newton-Barry; she rode almost before she could walk, and early displayed remarkable pedestrian powers.

During the last ten years Mr and Mrs Bent have together achieved twelve exploration expeditions in some of the roughest and least known corners of Southern Asia, that vast and mysterious domain of which the world even now knows little. They began their travels by an expedition to the less well-known islands of Greece, and while there made some interesting archaeological discoveries; this first attempt taught them a great deal, and now Mr H M Stanley  himself could not rival Mrs Bent as organiser and manger of an exploration party, for long experience has shown her what to avoid, and narrowed down her list of absolutely indispensable necessaries to a small compass.

It is interesting to note that Mr Bent’s book on Mashonaland  was one of the first works published on that now much-debated portion of our Colonial Empire.

Of late years Arabia has become to both husband and wife the most interesting portion of the universe. There is probably no place in the world of which so little is known, and which is more full of practical dangers to exploring Europeans, for the native population, though civilised after a fashion, are extremely cunning and dishonest, and have a great hatred and contempt for anything they don’t understand.

Nowadays so much is talked about rational dress, cycling costumes, and the relative value of a divided skirt and knickerbockers, that it is interesting to know that Mrs Bent’s ideas on the subject are simple and the result of long experience. Her costume never varies, for she has found the same kind of dress equally useful in South Africa, Arabia, and the Isles of Greece. Her outfit, which is very pretty and even conventional, consists of a tweed coat and skirt coming down below the knees, breeches, gaiters, and stout shoes. The skirt is full, being pleated; and by a clever arrangement invented by the wearer herself it can be altered accordingly as to whether it is wanted for riding or walking. With this costume is worn a pith hat and gause veil.

Mabel on a camel in the Sudan in 1896.

Mrs Bent, whenever it is possible, rides on horseback, and she cannot speak too highly of the intelligence and faithfulness of the horse as compared to that of a camel or mule.

Every detail concerning the outfit and internal economy of their expeditions is left by Mr Theodore Bent to his wife, and so on her hangs the heavy responsibility of keeping in health and making comfortable a larger or smaller party, which often includes guides and servants belonging to the country which is to be explored.

Like most travellers, this lady has found that the less she and her nomad husband see of spirits and wine the better, and so with the exception of a little brandy for medicinal purposes, the whole party travel on tea, beef essence, and condensed milk, while quinine is the most important item of the medicine chest.

Frances Hobson, Mabel’s sister, and possible co-author of the ‘Newry Telegraph’ article featured here (The Bent Archive)

It should not, however, be thought that Mr and Mrs Bent spend their whole life in travelling through wild and inaccessible regions; they generally pass the season in their delightful London home, which is a veritable museum, full of curious and beautiful things gathered together during the course of their owners’ many expeditions. Mr Theodore Bent has generously presented many of his most precious archaeological finds to the British Museum, but his own store is extremely valuable and curious.  Mrs Bent makes a point of collecting anything specially feminine in the way of ornaments or habilaments, and some of the shawls and face veils presented to her by Arabian magnates throw a strange light on the manners and customs of the East.

The subject of our sketch was at one time proposed for election to the Royal Geographical Society, but she little values official recognition of dignities, and the matter has remained in abeyance note 3 .”

Notes

Raymonde Bonnetain (1868-1913), African explorer (archive.org)

Note 1: : 1) Florence, Lady Baker or Florica Maria Sas (1841–1916), Hungarian-born British explorer; 2) Phoebe Esther Burdon, née Alder (1829–1898), Far-Eastern traveller; 3) Jane Dieulafoy (1851-1916), French archaeologist, explorer, novelist, and journalist. She crossed swords with Mabel Bent, as it were, in Persia in 1889; 4) Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch Peary (1863-1955) was an American author and arctic explorer; 5) Raymonde Bonnetain (1868-1913), travelled to Africa in 1892, taking her seven-year-old daughter with her. Reputedly she was the first European woman to see the Niger River, and compiled her reminiscences in her travelogue Une française au Soudan: sur la route de Tombouctou, du Sénégal au Niger (1894). (For more travellers linked to Mabel see the post ‘In Exalted Company‘.)
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Note 2: A reference of course to Mabel’s travel diaries, or ‘Chronicles‘ as she called them.
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Note 3: This is a reference to the long-running scandal over admitting women as Fellows to the RGS.
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Brand Bent: Two interviews, September & November 1893

Detail of a lantern-slide showing Mabel Bent on a camel in the Sudan in 1896. Next to her is the Bents’ long-suffering dragoman, Manthaios Simos from Anafi in the Greek Cyclades.

Following their work at Great Zimbabwe in 1891, the Bents were minor celebrities both in the UK and overseas; 1892 saw the first edition of Theodore’s Ruined Cities of Mashonaland. Barely taking a breath, the couple prepared for a trek to Aksum (Ethiopia) in the early months of 1893, and a monograph soon followed – The Sacred City of the Ethiopians (1893). Bent’s interest in early civilizations to the west of the Red Sea now enticed the two travellers to its east, and into the mysterious and dangerous Wadi Hadramaut (modern Yemen), marking the start of Theodore’s final field of study. In effect, it would kill him.

Brand Bent now went into overdrive in the summer of 1893 – meetings, finance and support were sought, inter alia, from the Royal Geographical Society, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the British Museum, the India/Foreign Office…

The couple had just a few months to put everything in place, including a full programme of self-promotion. Theodore lectured and sent out press releases, Mabel gave a series of interviews to newspapers and periodicals, two appear below, with transcriptions, and they are typical of many!

Interview with Mabel Bent for The Lady of the House* (later the Irish Sketch/Irish Tatler), 15 September 1893

Mabel Bent’s interview for ‘The Lady of the House’, 15 September 1893 (photo: The Bent Archive).

“In the present day travelling has been made so easy that under the auspices of Messrs. Cook & Son it is possible to make oneself acquainted with all parts of the civilised world at a cost which is – comparatively speaking – trifling, and one can go to India, for instance, in a shorter time than it took our ancestors at the beginning of this century to make ‘the grand tour of Europe’, without which no young man of position was supposed to be educated! But all travellers now-a-days are not content with the stereotyped tours ‘personally conducted’ (excellent and convenient as these undoubtedly are), and of late years we have heard of journeys which involved considerable risk and privation, and resulted in most important antiquarian discoveries.

“That an Irish lady should be the most distinguished member of her sex in this respect is distinctly gratifying to our patriotic feelings, and her countrymen and women may be justly proud of Mrs. Theodore Bent, who has shared with her husband all the dangers of exploring remote districts, and in assisting in his geographical research. Mrs. Bent is a daughter of the late Mr. Hall-Dare, of Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford, and her mother was Miss Lambart of Beau Parc, Meath.

“Although Mrs. Bent’s travels usually occupy a considerable portion of each year, and her home is now in England, she always manages time for an annual visit to Ireland; and the lace industry established by her family at Newtownbarry for the benefit of the tenantry and cottages in the vicinity has still a staunch supporter in the subject of this sketch. As to the journeys accomplished by Mr. and Mrs. Bent, it is, unfortunately, only possible to give a brief outline, but doubtless most readers are aware that the recent discussion at the Royal Geographical Society arose by reason of the wish of several members to confer on Mrs. Bent the distinction of being a ‘Fellow’ of that body of notable travellers. Those who were against the admission of ladies have temporarily, at least, gained the day, but Mrs. Bent has not experienced the slightest disappointment about the matter, as she never sought a ‘Fellowship’, and is quite content with the privileges she already enjoys.

It is about nine years since Mr. and Mrs. Bent started for Athens, and made themselves acquainted with the most interesting portions of Greece, returning next year to the Cyclades Isles, and bringing back to the British Museum many valuable relics dug out of the ruins at Antiparos. In Egypt, too, some successful digging was accomplished, and also at an Egyptian town near Thrace**, while at Cilicia this adventurous couple discovered Olba and the famous ‘Korycian Cave’. A long tour through Persia and over the Caucasus preceded their celebrated expedition to Mashonaland, and last winter they went to Abyssinia, where they made several valuable discoveries and returned with a collection of curiosities for the British Museum.” (The Lady of the House (later the Irish Sketch/Irish Tatler), 15 September 1893, p.19)

* “The ‘Lady of the House’, in addition to a variety of literary contributions of merit, has a specially attractive feature in its publication this week… Mrs Theodore Bent is the subject of the ‘Society Portraits’. Mrs Bent is a daughter of the late Mr Hall-Dare of Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford, who was married to Miss Lambart of Beau Park, Co Meath.’   (Dublin Daily Express, Friday 15 September 1893)

(The very popular ladies’ periodical The Lady of the House was published in Ireland, appearing 1880-1924, when it joined with The Irish Tatler and Sketch. It was favoured for its content and production standards, photographs, etc. Although it mainly covered items to do with appearance and being ‘at home’, the newspaper also looked at matters political, economic, and societal. It was the brainchild of the Dublin advertising company Wilson Hartnell, being planned initially as a monthly or bimonthly format for advertising, in particular a marketing forum for Messrs Findlater & Co., a wine merchant and grocer whose clientele were primarily the upper middle class ladies of Dublin. “Although [showcasing] philanthropic, titled ladies in its early years, the readership, as is clear from reader engagement and advertising, were middle- to lower-middle-class women throughout the country who held some purchasing power but who did most or all of their own housework”.)

** Rather an odd reference. The Bents never dug in Egypt (apart from burying the remains of a picnic below the Sphinx in 1885!). Perhaps Mabel is thinking of their work on Thracian Thasos in the late 1880s).

Interview with Mabel Bent, 2 November 1893, in the Irish weekly The Hearth and Home

Mabel Bent’s interview, 2 November 1893, for the Irish weekly ‘The Hearth and Home’ (photo: The Bent Archive).

“Undaunted by the experiences of her late tour through Abyssinia, Mrs. Bent, whose portrait appears on this page, is busily engaged preparing for one of her most important journeys yet undertaken by her, for Mr. Bent has chosen South Arabia as the scene of his next explorations, and, as usual, his wife will accompany him. Mrs. Bent has just returned to London from a round of country visits, and having only a few weeks to make all the necessary preparations finds her time fully occupied. However, she kindly gives some interesting particulars of the prospective tour. Leaving London in November, Mr. and Mrs. Bent hope, if all goes well, to remain in Arabia until March or April, 1894, when they will return direct to England, as the intense heat which sets in about that time makes it necessary for the inhabitants of northern latitudes to leave so enervating a climate. Mrs. Bent invariably undertakes all arrangements connected with the baggage, chooses camp furniture and provisions, but limits all supplies to the minimum, as a large amount of the baggage would only increase the difficulties of travelling in places where the explorers are often partly dependent on the natives when they strike their temporary camps, and require the ‘impedimenta’ of the journey to be taken to the next halting-place. Mr. and Mrs. Bent’s ‘travelling residence’ will consist of two beds or three tents, sufficient furniture and hammock beds (all of which can be quickly put up and taken down), while canned meats, essence of beef, and tea, are the principal provisions to augment local supplies, and a medicine chest is also taken by Mrs. Bent.’ Whose travelling costumes are chosen with a view to roughing it, and consist of serviceable dark serge gowns, plainly made.

“Mrs. Bent has already visited every quarter of the globe, with the exception of Australia and she is thoroughly familiar with native life in Persia, Africa, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt. In all these long and laborious journeys she was the only woman of the party , and frequently was obliged to cook and look after the domestic arrangements generally. She has often been admitted to the closely-guarded Eastern harems, and her northern tours extend as far as Norway,* but, as one can readily understand, she hardly considers European countries worth including when talking of the places she has travelled through. Gifted with great artistic taste, Mrs. Bent’s personal collection of curiosities include many beautiful things brought from abroad, and, as our readers are doubtless aware, ‘The Bent Collection’ in the British Museum is one of the most interesting in that venerable building.” (Interview with Mabel, 2 November 1893, in the Irish weekly The Hearth and Home)

*Mabel writes elsewhere that she met Theodore Bent in Norway.

Syrna – a squall and its aftermath in the Dodecanese, April 1888

Shimmering Syrna in the Dodecanese (Alan King)

A recent photo sent in by Alan King as he steamed by Syrna (Σύρνα, anciently Syrnos) in the Dodecanese – minuscule and inaccessible, thus happily tucked away from Cycladic summer silliness just to the west – steered us to the Bents’ writings on an islet they were determined to see in early Spring 1888.

Theodore, after a cursory inspection of the terrain around the landing place on April 9th, wrote a note for The Classical Review (1888, Vol. II (10), p.329). If he did remove some of the obsidian blades he refers to, then they are not it seems recorded elsewhere:

Syrna (Σύρνα, anciently Syrnos) in the Dodecanese – minuscule and inaccessible (click to expand; Google maps).

“The small island rock, anciently known as Sirina, now as Agios Joannis, occupies a somewhat important position in the Aegean Sea, as one of the stepping-stones by which the earlier inhabitants of Karia must have travelled westwards; it has two good harbours, one to the north, and one to the south, and is placed midway in a long stretch of sea between Karpathos and Astypalaea, in both of which islands traces of this prehistoric race have been found. Having carefully examined Anaphi, an island lying to the west of this line of route, and having found there no traces whatsoever of this early population, and knowing that Astypalaea, Amorgos, Naxos and Paros are full of their tombs, I was considerably interested in discovering in the ruins of a square fortress on Sirina quantities of obsidian knives, which at once identified this rock with the race in question, and proved to us that they made use of it as a halting-place on their way to and from the marble quarries of Paros; in fact Parian marble, objects of which are so frequently found in their tombs, would seem to have been their chief quest in these westward migrations.”

Theodore Bent’s short piece on ‘Sirina’ for ‘The Classical Review’ (1888, Vol. II (10), p.329) (archive.org).

Theodore makes no mention of the hassle getting to this tricky rock. They had hired a fine schooner from Syros a month or so before in early 1888 to cruise up and down the Turkish coast opposite Rhodes, and the skipper, Captain Nikolas, had no intention of breaking her up for insignificant Sirina. But the Bents, as often as not, get their way. Mabel tells the tale in her diary – first a skirmish from her and then a broadside from her husband:

“Sunday [April 8th, 1888]. Well, this morning we set sail, but not before dawn, for Sirina, as we thought, and with the scirocco we should have sailed south of Tilos, which lay directly in our way. We were busy in the cabin, but I peeped up and saw we were steering straight for Nisiros, north of Tilos. So I told Theodore and he proposed to go up and row with the captain, but I said I would make less formal enquiries. I said to [first mate] Grigoris, ‘We are going north of Tilos it seems?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But very far north! We are going to Nisiros.’ ‘Well! I suppose we shall tack soon, for we shall no doubt pass Tilos as close as we did Rhodes.’ The wind was quite fair for Tilos. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say he could not help it, and I said, ‘How soon shall we tack for the south?’ ‘We are going inside Nisiros.’ ‘But why?’ ‘To go to Kos!’

“So Theodore went up and there was a frightful, awful row. Now Grigoris said he did not wish to go to Sirina at all, and would not go there, and there was no water or harbours and many rocks and no lighthouse and he was always considered a most noble man, and honourable, and so on. ‘Very well’, said Theodore, ‘Go straight to Syra and we will go to the judge and the consul,’ etc.

Manthaios Simos
Manthaios Simos, the Bents’ long-suffering dragoman, in his nineties in Athens in the 1930s, between two of his granddaughters (© Andreas Michalopoulos 2010).

“Later, with [our dragoman Manthaios] as a go-between we said if we could not go south, we did not mind going to a small island called Levitha on the way to Syra. This was agreed upon and we did not care a bit. It rained. I looked out again and saw that now we were going south of Nisiros and close to Tilos, past Kavos Kryos and Kos, where we had agreed to anchor for the night far to the dim north. ‘Where are we going now, Andreas?’ ‘To that place,’ [the crewman replied] very sulkily. ‘What place?’ ‘To Sirina!’ Of course we have lost hours by going so far north and are now fearing a calm.

“Next morning [9th April ] about 10 we reached Sirina and landed after luncheon. We walked across the island to the sea at the other side, where there is a deep bay. Here was a sort of farm, a very irregular enclosure of loose piled stones and very thick walls. The only thing with mortar was the oven. An old woman came out of the dark hut where she was shut in and brought us out little square blocks of wood to sit on, and she directed Theodore to where there were some old stones and so I returned to the ship with one man and the rest went off, but finding the earth all gone and only foundations on rocks they returned, and we set off again in the afternoon.” (Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent, Vol.1, Oxford, 2006, p.252-3).

Syrna (Alan King, Summer 2021).

All rather a storm in a seacup, and the frivolous couple’s scamper contrasts unbelievably with the reality of an incident on the island many years later, 7 December 1946, when a medical team,* including Lawrence Durrell as it happens, was sent from Rhodes on a Greek warship to assist the sick and wounded of the vessel Athina Rafiah (originally the SS Athena), carrying Jewish immigrants to Israel, which was wrecked there, with around 800 survivors coming ashore. Sadly eight of the refugees, among them children, perished in the aftermath of the wreck and are buried on the island. There is a lonely monument there to them all.

* ‘With Durrell on Rhodes, 1945-47’, by Raymond Mills, in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 33, No. 3, Lawrence Durrell Issue, Part 1 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 312-316.

Citius, Altius, Fortius – The Bents at the Olympics, 1896.

Poster for the first modern Olympic Games, held in Athens in April 1896 (Wikipedia).

Our last post was a tennis party but now it’s the Olympics – not the tearful affair that is Tokyo today (July 2021), but a much happier time, 6th – 15th April 1896, in Athens, Greece, and the first Games staged in the modern era – for there were to be no tiddlywinks, table-football, cat’s cradle, or wife carrying, no scooter racing, just classic events – athletics, cycling (the Bents were very keen), fencing, swimming, no-nonsense, that sort of wholesome thing. (Incidentally, tennis, a sport much enjoyed on the front lawns of Mabel Bent’s Wexford family home,  was also included, the Olympics’ singles being won, fittingly enough for us, by Dublin-born John Boland.)

And, needless to say, Theodore and Mabel can cry out – “We too! We were there!”

Constitution Square, in the era of the Bents, and their base in Athens. Their hotel was located here (private collection).

But let’s travel back a few weeks and months first. On 2nd December 1895, the Bents had set off to explore along the Sudanese coast, reaching as far as Suakin, and en route finding traces of old gold mines. By the end of March 1896 the couple are more than ready to return, leaving Alexandria to spend a few days in Athens – a city much loved by the pair since the early 1880s – before their journey back to their London townhouse near Marble Arch. In the Greek capital, by the way, Theodore is serendipitously recruited by the British School to supervise archaeological excavations at the ancient gymnasium (Kynosarges), before he and Mabel joined the crowds to go watch some events on the opening day of the above-mentioned first modern Olympics, 6th April 1896.

Here is Mabel’s diary for the end of March 1896, abridged somewhat:-

We remained in Cairo till Friday 26th [March]… and embarked on the Khedival steamer for the Pireas… The steamer was most crowded. Theodore had a cabin with 5 Greeks and I was one of 5, for 2 nights. We arrived at the Grand Hotel, Athens, Sunday 28th March. Iannis, the proprietor, Spiro, and the other waiters were warm in their welcome. The town was gayer than I have ever seen a town in Holy Week, as it was being all beflagged and illuminated for the Olympic Games, which were to take place on Easter Monday… We left on April 7th, via Corfu, having seen the first day of the Olympic Games.” (The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent, Vol. 1, p. 325, 2006, Archaeopress, Oxford)

Calendar of events at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens 1896. The Bents attended Day 1, 6th April (Wikipedia).

The Wikipedia entry for the 1896 Games in Athens has an informative  calendar/table detailing all the events over the ten days they were staged. The chart shows us that Day 1 (April 6th) witnessed an exciting, if short, programme of athletics. There seems to have been a brief opening ceremony before George I, the Greek king, at 3 in the afternoon. Two first-place medals were awarded that Monday – the 1500 metres, won by Australian Edwin Flack, and the discus, an American winning, Robert Garrett. (They both received silver medals, the iconic gold not appearing until later Games apparently.)

An artist’s impression of the 100 m at the 1896 Games in Athens (Wikipedia).

Mabel, sadly, gives very little away in her account, she can’t have been much impressed and obviously knew no one there – not even the debonair Dubliner John Boland.  Perhaps in the crowds she could see little:  as well as the discus and the 1500 metres, there were also the heats of the 100, 400, and 800 metres to be savoured.

It seems most unlikely, therefore, that Mabel would have bothered much when the Games ultimately reached London for the first time in April 1908, Theodore having died in May 1897, a year after the events in  Athens referred to above – Citius, Altius, Fortius… indeed.